religious activities

I was up in Darjeeling over the week-end and spent my sunday morning walking around the mountainous city in the cool, fresh air they provide us tourists with. I first happened upon a nepalese methodist church hidden behind some trees. I sat in, hoping to catch a bit of the service, but was informed that sunday school would come first, so after chating with one of the elders for a few minutes about his conversion from budhism, i mozied on. A few hundered meters higher up, i came upon a japanese budhist temple where ‘church’ was going on. So i deofed my shoes and sat down on the first floor, tapping a well-used leather tambourine with a time-polished wooden stick. We beat a simple rythm that the large drums up front pounded deep into your body.

Indian and western (european) tourists came by and would also sit down when invited to play along for a while before leaving with a handful of prasad (blessed food). This convinced me that this buddhist ritual was serving a wide-ranging human need for peace and tranquility and that no amount of religious bigotry was going to stop most people from benefiting from it, even if it wasn’t ‘their’ religion.

I then headed on back to the hotel but stoped in at another church for the palm sunday celbration. As i walked in with a mini cloth rose pinned to my shirt, the congregation was singing “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest” in some foreign language. There was a children’s choir up front, a bass guitar, an electric guitar and violin and even a drummer with stylish sunglasses. I felt right at home and smiled.  The effect produced on me by this second religious ceremony was identical to the first. I lost myself in the music and in the crowd. I was happy to not have to think, to be able to calmly meditate, and not to be alone. This is the best side of religion – perhaps even the best feature of human culture period. Moreover, it doesn’t really matter which religion you stumble upon on a given day – most anyone will do – though i must admit the simple purity of the japanese temple worked better on me than the excited emotions of a pentecostal service. Religion is useful – we must learn to use it.

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