Growing up in Malaysia, I was exposed to numerous traditions, cultures and religions at a young age. I celebrated all kinds of public holidays — Thaipusam (a Hindu festival), Chinese New Year, Easter, Eid Al-Fitr (a Muslim festival) and Christmas, just to name a few.
As far as I can remember, I never had a concrete religion. My dad was technically a Christian, my mother a Buddhist. In my early years, I practiced Buddhism, but it never really stuck. To be honest: I ended up learning more about it in a 3-credit World Religion course I took couple of semesters ago than I ever did in my real life.
Though I enjoyed visiting mosques and churches and temples, going to festivals and learning about different traditions, I started to grow tired of organized religion. I didn’t like how political religion could become — how people spent their time arguing their interpretations of religious texts. How terrorists fight in the name of their God. I hated how pious people looked down on those who didn’t believe in their religion, and I hated those who tried to convert others to their ideas as well.
Out of all the religions that I was accustomed to, I liked Buddhism the best. Technically Buddhism isn’t a real religion; it’s more of a teaching. Gautama Buddha was no god; he was a prince who sought to find “enlightenment.” Following Buddha’s “Middle Way,” I took the concepts of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam as well as my concepts, fuse them together to form my own religion. Why limit yourself to one religion? Sure, one could reply that it’s against their religion to worship false gods and other idolatry. But how does one tell what is real and what isn’t? How would you know for certain that you aren’t worshipping a false idol? Now this is making me sound like an atheist, which I am not. I just like to keep an open mind.
I’ve successfully incorporated my religion with my daily life. At 5 in the morning, I used to be greeted by the sound of “Azan,” a Muslim’s call to prayer. First, I try putting myself in that person’s place. In this scenario, I’m a pious Muslim man who gets up around 4am every morning to worship my God. Perhaps this man had a rough life when he was younger. Maybe he was a drug addict who gave up his ways and changed. If that reasoning doesn’t work for me, I’ll try to see things in a more humorous perspective. I’ll perceive the Muslim man as an aspiring artist who everyone thinks has no talent. He is so shy about it that he has to get up early when everyone’s still asleep to practice his singing. When I hear him singing, I’ll tell myself that it’s not too bad and I’ll try supporting him. When he gets famous, I’ll tell all my friends that I’ve rooted him for the very beginning.
Basically whatever bothers me, I try changing of perspective of it and it usually helps. It’s not conventional, but it works for me. In some ways, every person needs to choose their own religion — decide what works for them and pursue it.