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As I barreled down the stretch in my summer term, Heart Of My Heart remarked the exposure to Eastern Religious Traditions I’ve received at NVCC may be more than anything I might get should I attend the Virginia Theological Seminary beginning in 2009. I have perused the VTS Catalog before but to no great extent, so I do not know if there may be more of the same sometime in my future. In any regard, it has been a good experience for me.
Religion 231 was an introduction to religious traditions of the East. Starting with primal and aboriginal belief systems, we also explored Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. We read the chapter on Shinto, but did not cover it in class due to the short summer term. The text also included Sikhism, but we skipped that. That will be summer reading for me when the pressure is off!
There was a lot of ethnic diversity in our class. During the first class, I believe we determined there were no Hindu or Buddhist, so I think we were mostly split between Judeo-Christian and Muslim. It took time for people to begin opening up, by after a safe and non-confrontational atmosphere was set, the sharing that was offered seemed more intimate and heartfelt.
For me, I found a lot of parallels, or what I have referred to as “echoes” within and between the different philosophies and faith traditions and customs we explored. The rites and rituals, prayers and meditation, moral codes and Rules of Life all seemed familiar and somewhat comfortable to me. I took care to not be too comfortable so as to risk offending anyone, but held my convictions lightly as I learned more and more.
Belief in the transcendent, the balance of nature, a sense of honor and duty, finding the Holy and the Divine in any or all things, different covenantal agreements, the use of water in purification rituals, the origin of sacred writings or scripture and their meaning to the various religions; these are some facets of the different traditions that seem to reach across and touch one another. They are concepts or tenets that I find in my own faith tradition. The “I Am” statements of Lord Krishna in The Bhagavad-Gita draw a curious parallel to the “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John. Given more time, I would like to explore that further.  
One particular thing I found quite contrary to my own belief is that Jainism does not advocate euthanasia of any animal.  The Jains will provide the best possible comfort for an ailing creature, but will not kill it. They believe injuring or killing another life will cause injury to their own soul, and that suffering is considered purposeful for the animal in its own lifecycle journey. Having been faced with this decision many times with household pets, this represents one of the politely agreeing to disagree moments between my faith practice and that of the Jains.
It all is becoming a bit of a blur for me now. This is likely due to the rather intense weekend I’ve just had, trying to focus on my three-hour take home essay final exam while completing my last few journal reflections. She did not mis-speak; my religion professor said I was hers for the next six weeks. I have most definitely felt that! But I will have, and will use, the time after this class to reflect more deeply on what I have learned, not only about these different religions, but more so, about myself. I’m glad to have taken this class when I did. I was where I needed to be. But, with that said, where I need to get to now is into Philosophy – that final is tonight, and 50% of my final grade is dependent upon doing well on it.