Hope you guys don't mind a long post, but I find sometimes putting my thoughts to words helps me figure things out.
I may cringe to read this again at some point in the future, but I understand that this is just a snapshot in time.Up 'til now....
From about 18 years old (1995), I've been shopping around, looking for something different because I wasn't quite satisfied in the tradition I was raised in.
I tried a bunch of stuff out - mostly different pantheons of spiritual/formless beings, only minor experimentation with practices and/or services, lots of reading.
In 2006, after a bad break up, I went back to the tradition I was raised in, partially to find solace, but mostly because the person that left convinced me I was a bad person because I no longer followed that tradition. I wanted approval and forgiveness from that person. I've also spent a large part of my life looking for approval from my folks, which has always pushed me back towards that tradition. Unfortunately, before long I was praying prayers of justice/vengeance towards the person that hurt me; which came directly from the spiritual text of that tradition, so it should've been cool - but deep down inside something wasn't right. I could see synchronicity (serendipity?) in a lot of aspects in my life, but couldn't reconcile that or my beliefs with the beliefs & traditions of this particular faith. Tried many times to read through the spiritual text, but always had to put it down just out of sheer disagreement with the principles being taught. Meanwhile, the organization that embodies the tradition I was raised in has had issues of its own that have made me not want to deal with them any longer. I tried different organizations (like the one my wife attends), but they never felt right and they certainly wouldn't garner the approval of my folks. The end result was that I just didn't feel there was anything in that tradition for me and I feel at 35 I'm more than old enough to make my own decisions, whether my folks approve or not.
Again, back to shopping...
About a year ago, after watching some documentaries, I started giving Buddhism (and other Indian traditions) another look.
My initial readings into Buddhism 15+ years ago left me with some misunderstandings that the documentaries did a lot to correct.
Dealing with some illnesses over the summer finally gave me time to dive into each of those Eastern traditions more fully.
Buddhism is the one that seems to provide the most to keep me interested - reasonable (although difficult) set of ethical guidelines, a very interesting philosophy, a strong practice & development aspect, and the most compelling world view.And the reason for the long life story...
After shopping around so much, I'm a little bit unsteady when it comes to spiritual/formless beings.
On one level, I feel like I can acknowledge the existence of just about any spiritual/formless being, whether as a projection or more.
On another level; especially with all the shopping around, I feel like any faith I develop in spiritual/formless beings without direct experience is going to be flaky at best.
The Lotus Sutra really throws a lot at you.
There's a whole pantheon of characters that I'm unfamiliar with.
It's such a radical expansion on the ideas presented in the Pali Nikayas and the Prajnaparamitas; the former seeming like parables with important lessons, the later more like philosophical discourses on the nature of reality.
It's a little like drinking from the fire hose.
I'm a bit of a literal reader, possibly a weakness due to being a programmer.
I'm not so good when things become symbolic - even Buddhist imagery gives me headaches.
From a literal reading, the things described Lotus sutra can require a huge leap of faith.
My ability to read into the symbolism is almost nil, so I can't really see it from that angle.
I keep reminding myself to keep with the Kalama Sutta and to maintain an objective mind about things - not just feel compelled to accept things on blind faith.
I also remind myself that sentient beings tend to only be able to perceive that which is on our level or lower and that maybe with development of the mind, at some point in the future I might have some direct experience of such things.
I remember when I first started going to the Vietnamese temple here in town, I had real issues with the ideas of Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, and Pure Lands.
Initially, I took the idea of Bodhisattvas on the level of aspects of an Enlightened mind that one should develop (Compassion, Wisdom, Action, etc), the idea of Buddhas as aspirations for my own enlightenment, and the idea of Pure Lands I took as the understanding that one must strive to develop a pure mind in order to attain Enlightenment.
I will say that since then, I've developed a bit more of an open mind towards the existence of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Pure Lands; but as I said before, making the transition from acknowledging the possibility of their existence to faith in their active, participative (non-abiding) existence is very difficult.
RKK's service felt very comfortable and very disorienting at the same time.
The general flow & method of presentation were similar to any run-of-the-mill Protestant Christian service.
The message presented was decidedly Buddhist, but from the angle of faith and centered around a sutra that I've admittedly only read a few chapters from.
I didn't know anybody going in there, so I did feel out of place.
The organizers (and head "preacher") were Japanese, so that felt familiar.
The lady I sat next to was very friendly as well.
The idea of having to buy a new type of mala and chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo every night might be enough to get my wife (ex-SGI) to buy a gun...
But otherwise, if I was more comfortable with the Lotus sutra, I would feel very comfortable practicing there.
I like the message tailored for people living the household life, the people were all very nice, I like the opportunity to interact with more Japanese people, and the vibe was friendly.
In some ways the environment was preferable to the Vietnamese temple I've been going to.
I do have motivation to go back, just not sure when.
Will keep you posted.