I’m thinking of Ramadan (in progress through July 5th this year) — trying to figure out why it fascinates me, why I’m drawn to it. Lent, the Christian version, has never appealed to me the same way. Perhaps because no one I knew gave up anything of importance. What’s chocolate in the grand scheme of things…?
But Ramadan — you give up everything during Ramadan, at least during daylight hours. From dawn until dusk, you go without food or drink. Even in the hot desert and tropical countries of Islam, that includes water. Plus all luxuries — perfume, sex during the day hours, as well as (for many observant Muslims) TV, music, games… The list is long. A lot more of a sacrifice than doing without FaceBook…
So what does this have to do w/ Buddhism? Despite the fact that Ramadan’s self-denial is not part of Buddhism, the spirit of reflection, charity, and an attempt to be a better person is clearly congruent with the teachings of the Buddha. And to fast for a month of days? Surely that produces an empathy — feeling the straitened circumstances of the genuinely ‘without.’ Isn’t Ramadan — the discipline of hunger, of doing without, of being mindful of the ‘withoutness’ of others — also a kind of tangled, the Buddhist practice of compassion for all? During Ramadan, Muslims across the world fast in brotherhood. Small children (who are exempt) vie to join the millions of men & women around the globe who fast together.
Once when I was taking a class in meditation, we were just beginning to learn tonglen. We were asked to think of people for whom we would gladly suffer — family members, loved ones, heroes and heroines. And then we were asked to think of what really frightened us. I thought of what frightens me — losing my sense of self, becoming my fragile, mindless mother, as she lay w/out knowledge of past or present, much less future — and breathed for all of us who fear. It was one of the most important things I think I’ve ever done — utterly memorable. Sitting in a small room, I was part of a community dedicated to a common goal: compassion w/ others. Ramadan thus seems quite familiar.
So for me, Ramadan seems far less ‘strange’ than do many religious traditions. Communion, for instance — that seemed weird to me even as a kid. Eat the flesh and blood of your deity?? Yuk! Sorry if that offends anyone, but really? That’s cannibalism! Like I said — even as a child I didn’t get that :).
Of course, I also didn’t get why animals don’t go to Christian heaven. After being told they don’t (by my Sunday school teacher, no less), I figured right then — and told both my teacher and my mother — that I wasn’t interested in heaven if there aren’t dogs and cats and animals. (I haven’t really changed my thoughts on that… 🙂 )
So for these next few days, I’m trying to remember that around the world, vast numbers of people are doing without, so they can be closer to their best selves, and the very idea of holiness, what they see as God. Surely that deserves a moment of respect.