Growing up a Buddhist abroad

Hi everyone, I thought I’d take this month to fill you all in about my faith: Buddhism. It sort of ties in with kindness and compassion; so I’m going to try my best to describe how I grew up as one in the 1980’s and 90’s in another country, and how I continue to practise it everyday…

So, both my parents come from Sinhalese Buddhist families. You might think, ‘Well, isn’t everyone in Sri Lanka?’ The short answer is: No!! Just like most of the countries in our world, the people in Sri Lanka speak many different languages and practise different religions. Buddhism just happens to be the one practised by the family I grew up in.

When I was quite young, my parents moved overseas to Zambia, an African nation which gave my father a really good job for the years of my childhood. He made friends with other Sri Lankan families and together they formed a Buddhist group who would get together several times a year and put on events to celebrate significant dates in the Buddhist calendar along with a Sunday School to teach their children the basics of Buddhism. It is during these years that I learned about my heritage and religion. Every May we celebrated the birth, enlightenment and death of the Lord Buddha during Vesak. Families would put up lanterns in their garages and the radio would have Buddhist chants playing non-stop. Some years we would hire a hall and actually put on performances to an audience made up of parents and other friends from other towns. That was quite nerve-wracking as you had to not just memorise songs but steps as well!! Along with these, the group would also help the poorer community in the towns we lived in by organising donation drives. I distinctly remember going to some kind of children’s hospital to give them toys and books. You could say that I learned from a young age how to practise kindness and compassion by giving to those less fortunate than myself. Even when my siblings came along, my parents would always make it a habit to give to those in need. 

five-grid box with four images. top left red box with black letters Growing up Buddhist in Zambia. top right yellowish lanters over car roof. middle image of three girls holding vases in white traditional dress. bottom left woman carrying small child pointing to small child in bed. bottom right small girl in front of table of flowers holding hands together.
As a child in Zambia

We all learned the basics of religion from those first teachers in the Sunday school in Zambia, which was someone’s dining room!! We learned the history and life of the Lord Buddha along with the five moral precepts of Buddhism. My parents and the other families always made sure we learned our own language, Sinhalese, during these classes. It is thanks to these that I can read and write in Sinhalese. A treat for the Buddhist community would be visiting monks from temples in neighbouring Tanzania or those who would be on their way to Sri Lanka. Life back then was quite simple, you could say. We didn’t have the internet, just a collection of books and cassette tapes from recorded radio programs in Sri Lanka.

When we left and returned to Sri Lanka life changed again. By then it was the 1990’s and I was a teenager. My siblings and I grew up into a life dominated by the many TV programs on offer. For my parents it was the Buddhist events that were aired live that were more interesting. Everything was a hundred times more vibrant and louder in Sri Lanka. Vesak was a lavish affair and a trip to Colombo to see the big lanterns was a planned mission. Sometimes I felt as if the whole island was there, and this was about twenty years ago!! Despite this, we found time to visit a temple for special occasions with family and continued our Buddhist learnings and habits of donating to those in need.

four-grid box with images. top left image of large orange statue of Buddha. top right image of colourful blue and orange lanterns. bottom left image of pink and green leaves from tree. bottom right image of large white stupa and trees in front. small box orange in middle 'Celebrating Buddhism in Sri Lanka.'
Sri Lanka and Buddhism

Since the last twenty-odd years in New Zealand we have had the privilege of visiting Buddhist temples here in Auckland. Whether it’s run by Sri Lankan, Thai or Laotian monks, it’s the same. We receive the same feelings of peace and calmness when we step into these temples and our learnings only broaden. My family and I have come a long way since those early days in Zambia. Although my sister resides in the UK, she and her family are actively involved in Buddhist programmes there. They now discuss these with my parents who tell her about some sermons they’ve been listening to on Youtube!! Advanced technology has only made access to things that much easier for us!! 

For those who are brave enough to ask, yes I do listen to some sermons and visit the temple on the odd occasion with my parents. I do practise my Buddhist learnings and can tell you the basics. I am however someone who prefers to act on them instead. From the many years spent away from Sri Lanka, my personal take on being a Buddhist is to live a simple life by following a middle path, observing the five precepts and showing loving kindness to all life around me. My mother has always said that those are all you need to be a Buddhist in these times. I know that there is more to Buddhism than this and for those who are interested there are so many books, blogs, podcasts and teachers out there who can help. All you have to do is go and seek out what resonates with you. From all of the forty-odd years of my life, being a Buddhist has helped me in one thing: respecting and treating others, no matter where they come from, with compassion and acceptance.

I hope this snippet of my past gives you an idea of my religion and my experiences through my life so far. 

Stay safe and well everyone!!

Miss Mahee

large image of lake and trees along bank with mist along edge. light yellow and pink and blue in clouds with slight clouds. large blue letters across top. Loving Kindness. smaller letters underneath in blue. 'Radiate Boundless Love Towards the entire world under this Buddha, Karaniya Metta Sutta
Inspirational kindness quote

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