Being a Buddhist (in Taiwan) today
Aggiornamento: 19 feb 2021
Interview with Ann
Di Rachele Rosina
Ann is a young woman from Taiwan, who is currently finishing her Master’s Degree in Religious Art of Asia at SOAS University of London. She kindly agreed to have a short chat with me about her Buddhist practice: we talked about meditation, being vegetarian, “Sunday classes” and much more. Keep reading about her very personal experience!
Hi Ann! Nice to have this talk with you today. I am very curious about your Buddhist practice, as it is something I am not very familiar with. Have you been a Buddhist since you were born?
Actually no! My family converted to Buddhism when I was 5 yo. My father really enjoys reading and in that period was going through some texts on Buddhism. Once he was walking on the street where I live in Taiwan and saw some posters advertising free classes at the Buddhist centre. So, he started going there and became Buddhist and this how my family encountered this religion.
A Buddhist centre? What is it?
It’s a place where you can learn about Buddhism. Buddhism has different “branches”. In Taiwan, the most important are the Pure Land Buddhism, the Chan (or Zen) Buddhism and the Tibetan Buddhism. They are slightly different from each other, so the meetings and practices are quite different as well. Each of them is organized like a school, with classes and schedules. Also, most of the proper Buddhist centres offer them for free.
How do the “meetings” work?
The meetings are “lessons”, proper classes where you can learn about the Buddha teachings. Everybody can go there, adult and children. Most of the classes are held during the evening, but it really depends on the centre and on the availability of the monks. It’s usually once a week, and the fellows are divided in levels.
The class is divided in two parts: you start with chanting sutras, but it’s very quick, about 5 minutes. Then there is a meditation session: you sit with the master that teaches you the proper way to meditate. After that, there is a short session of walking meditation.
The meditation room is quite spacious and empty, except from some cushions where you sit in the centre, book shelves on the walls and a small shrine, so there is space to walk around. After the walking meditation, there is a break.
The structure of the second half of the class depends on the master, you might talk in groups about your week, with a question in your mind like “what did make you lose your temper? how did you calm yourself?”.
They are very simple questions that can affect you deeply if you really want to change. After that you have 40 minutes of teachings. every week we have different theme.
Ann makes lovely paintings to remember the different mudra!
What do you mean saying that it can affect you?
Well, Buddhism really influence my mindset, encouraging me to a more positive way of thinking. For example, when I went to Paris, there were some issues between the lady who organised the tour and the participants.
Many of the people were Buddhists, and we were discussing some of the problems we were encountering. One of us at some point said very naturally “I really tried to not see things negatively, but I’m not buddha yet, I still have temper”. This is a true Buddhist thought: you can see the changes in your mindset, you are aware of it and you try to control it. You don’t let your mind go free and get angry for nothing! It’s definitely positive affect.
Besides the weekly class, is there something you have to do during the week? Like prayers or “rituals”?
Not really. We are encouraged to chant the sutras every day, but it’s not compulsory, it depends on you.
What about being vegetarian?
Thant’s a good question. I was raised as vegetarian, so for me being a Buddhist involved it. Moreover, I went to a religious high school, so during my studies I was always having also a religious side of it. So, I thought that vegetarianism is something you have follow. That was until three years ago, when I realised that back to the time of Buddha 5 centuries BC, Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. Because of their lifestyle, monks had to rely on people for the food, begging for it, so they would not be fuzzy on what they were eating. Vegetarianism appears later, when the lifestyle was more advanced, so there were communities that supported themselves.
When you can choose, you can actually choose to not eat meat because you have the money and you can prepare your meals. Another example, in Tibet monks are not vegetarians, because of the lack of vegetables.
I met a Tibetan Buddhist in Taiwan and he wouldn’t mind eating meat if the followers offered him some, because he believes it’s not good to refuse their food, as they are supporting Buddhism and they don’t want to discourage them.
However, he also told me that if he could choose to not eat meat, he would be definitely a vegetarian. It’s something that you can choose, it’s up to you!
I have seen on your social account that you make really nice and funny drawings inspired by the Buddhist deities. Are these drawings part of your practice?
Somebody says that drawing is a form of mandala, but for me it’s not exactly like that. If you are a Zen Buddhist, the main part of your practice is meditation, while for example in the Pure Land Buddhism it’s chanting the name of the Buddha and the sutras. Anyway, I like to think it’s part of the meditation. Also, what really matters to me is sharing the Buddhist thoughts: if you share them you give an advantage to the other people, you let them know there is something good that it’s available and that you can approach. I like to are my art and drawings, it makes me feel happy!
Does Buddhism bring your family together?
In my case yes! However, I have many friends of mine that grew up in the community, and for some of them it’s quite different. I am very fortunate, as I really like being a Buddhist but there are some people who were forced to be a Buddhist and go to the Buddhist, so now they are fighting with their families. Their parents try to push them saying “Why don’t you want to come with us to the community?
Buddhism is good for you.” but they just don’t want especially because they are forced since they were young. That can tear the family apart. Something like that happened to a friend of mine for example, it’s really sad. But for me it’s definitely something that helps the bond: my mother is volunteering in a Buddhist museum and loves going to the community, so we share a lot what we are learning about Buddhism, and our relationship is growing stronger. I think it really depends on how you see Buddhism and how you learn about this religion and the choices that you take.
There are some families that convert when they are adult and then they bring this idea of learning to their family and it has a great impact on their family as well. There can be also the opposite case, of course.
Would you like to have a Buddhist family one day?
Yes, I would really like. The ideal would be to have a Buddhist partner. However, I wouldn’t force my children to be Buddhist. I don’t want to make the same mistake of my friend’s family. Even if you know that its good, if you force it you won’t have a good result. However, I would definitely introduce it to them!
Last question. Do you think that if people know more about Buddhism, they could understand better the Chinese culture in general?
Yes, I believe that learning about Buddhism can help to better understand Chinese culture. It spread from China all over Asia, and its heritage is still visible nowadays, both from the spiritual point of view and the material side of it (think about the art that was inspired by the stories of the Buddha, or the stunning sculptures or architecture for example!). It also had great impact on the Country’s history! This is the reason why I am so fascinated by Buddhism; you can definitely see it.
Thank you very much!!