When I started school, I was enrolled in a private Catholic school despite being from a family with no religious tendencies at all. We moved when I was 7, before I became a true believer, but the work ethic and basic principles about kindness, right and wrong, etc. that I learned from Sacred Heart have stuck with me. From then onwards, I simply believed that there was a higher power but that we, as humans, had the power to affect our future which would then affect others. I don’t believe that everything that happens to us is planned nor do I believe that we have no larger purpose.

It wasn’t until I went to visit the temple that holds the urns of my grandparents that I wondered if I didn’t have other religious influences as well. While there, I realized there are quite a few Buddhist influences in the way that I interact with others and myself. A few days later, as we embarked on our tour of China, I began to see more and more connections between Zen Buddhism, Confucianism and some of my own values.

Budai near Beipu, Taiwan. Though generally he is not nearly so large or standing when we rub his tummy. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

I had never been to a temple until this trip to Taiwan and China. I’ve never been exposed to Buddhist teachings but there are some things that have simply trickled through as my dad raised me. His father practiced multiple religions through his life. At one time the family was Mormon and later they would be Buddhist. His death is the first that I’ve dealt with in the family. And it is his and his wife’s urns that we visited. It was on this trip that I finally got to say goodbye to them. As I internally made my message and bowed three times, I could only think about times when I visited their apartment in Queens and later Taipei.

But it was during the trip through China, hearing about the history and traditions that have trickled through to my generation, that I realized the depth of the influence my parents, and by extension their parents, had on me. I may not have known the legends of Zen Buddhism but I do know recognize some of their icons. Near Xi’an, there is Da’Cien Temple surrounding the Great Wild Goose Pagoda. And inside is a room dedicated to Budai, the laughing Buddha. This is the Buddha who is always happy, rotund and generally holding money in at least one hand. And despite being 22, I still rub his tummy for luck whenever we pass a statue of him. Though generally he is not nearly so large or standing.

But it is my unconscious practice of some of the basics on Confucianism that surprised me the most. I strongly disagree with his hierarchy of the family that strictly confines the daughter but there are obviously other facets of the philosophy. Loyalty and filial piety play major parts and these two are probably the virtues I agree with and have internalized the most. Above everything else, these two influence how I interact with family, friends, traditions and authority structures. Even with no formal reading or exposure, I learned and valued these virtues.

Analyzing the origins of the various traditions and values I hold, expose my history so easily. My Christian values are rooted in my time in the San Antonio Catholic school system. And my belief in a higher power and slight leanings towards Deism reveal my education in American history, with a particular fascination with the founding fathers. It is only now that I realize how clearly my Chinese Buddhist and, more obvious, Confucianism leanings expose my family’s foundation in China. Maybe it’s time for me to do some more formal study of these religions and philosophies.