About two years ago, I took a class at UTEP called Major World Religions where, as the title suggests, we explored the different religions people practice all over the world. One of the requirements of the class was to visit two religious services other than that of our own. Mine being Catholic by default/experience, I chose to go to a Jewish and Buddhist service and found I was especially glad I chose the Buddhist one. I love the teaching of the Buddha, but was unsure about what to expect on my first visit to a temple. It was actually a really great experience to switch up my spiritual routine and learn about something new.
My favorite part was the chanting and the meditation of “Om Mani Padme Hum," one of the main mantras a Buddhist may chant during his or her mediations. (One member of the group described a mantra as something to concentrate on for positive energy and mindfulness.) Once we began chanting, the exact definitions of “mantra” and pretty much every other word stopped mattering because our tentative chanting quickly gained momentum, molding itself into a soft, soothing hum of a song sung by the voices of the group. If you listened closely it seemed you could hear each member singing as if alone or if you broadened your focus, each voice would blend into the whole. It was only my first time, but I noticed I was singing too, despite having started out simply murmuring the words.
Buddhism is widely thought of as a religion, but many Buddhists might argue with that label since they encourage moderation of everything, including worship and because the Buddha is not actually a god, but a teacher or guide. Because Buddhism is actually more of a lifestyle, it can easily accompany a religion such as Christianity since the chanting of the mantras is to help train the mind, body and spirit to be more mindful of one's life and how one interacts with others. There are a few key differences, though: Instead of a priest reading scripture, you have discussions about topics such as karma (what goes around comes around), a bit like a classroom. Instead of praying to ask the divine for something, one prays to cleanse oneself and to work through problems or stresses, in other works to "awaken the inner self" as opposed to asking a higher power. In short, you can be Buddhist with or without a god. At first this was strange and hard to understand, but now it actually makes more sense to me as I don't practice any religion.
But no matter what religion you practice, if any, it is always interesting and mind opening to check out others, like I did for my class. It opens the mind and heart and helps us understand other people. Even if we are different, we can still get along if we can acknowledge and empathize with one another.