Views on religion altered by Buddhist monk

One side effect, among the many others, of spending the first 936 Sundays of my life at a Catholic church service, is that I think I’ve developed a satisfactory understanding of what we religious folk are all about – no fun.

Especially when it comes to being a priest.

Vows of poverty, chastity and obedience scared me away from the clergy faster than the John Jay report.

Growing up, I would combine those oaths into one easy-to-remember vow – the vow of foolishness.

The choice to remain in poverty and 100 percent obedient to a book written 2,000 years ago was a choice to remain ignorant of new concepts in an ever-changing world.

My priest has an email account? I figured he didn’t know what a computer was.

My priest was at the movies? You mean he watches more than just “Passion of the Christ” on repeat?

Ridiculous – I know. But that’s what I thought about all religious people.

Until, that is, I sat down to interview Jangchub Chophel, the 49-year-old, American-born Buddhist monk who’s spending the week at Gannon University.

As I approached him, I was blown away that he not only knew what email was, but that he had been able to navigate the campus Wi-Fi set up and was now chit-chatting on Facebook.

Talk about killing a stereotype – strike one for me.

This is how it should be, I thought. A religion steeped in thousands of years of tradition is adapting to the modern world. Now, if we could get them all to do that.

Next, I expected the typical mumbo-jumbo religious man speak. You know the usual let-me-find-150-different-ways-to-tell-you-that-God-loves-you kind of talk.

What I listened to, instead, was a man who had real feelings and had the audacity to overcome real challenges in a troubled past.

“Everyone I knew went to prison,” said Chophel, who has been ordained for six years. “I ran with a tough crowd.”

By his mid-20s, Chophel, who had a rocky-at-best relationship with his daughter, was working blue-collar jobs when he decided to turn his life around.

“I realized that I was the cause of all my problems,” he said. “I wanted to be a benefit to society, not a drain on it.”

From there, he went on to work with troubled youth and then became a high school history teacher in the Compton area. After years of teaching, Chopel decided he wanted to become a Buddhist monk after being inspired by the Dalai Lama and his teachings.

“I’ve been reunited with my daughter,” he said. “I now have a granddaughter and haven’t been in a fight in 27 years. You can live a good life if you’re thinking about what God would do.”

There goes my notion that all religious people were born with a ready-to-wear Collarino in one hand and a Bible in the other.

Strike two.

Maybe if I hang around these guys for the rest of the week, they’ll break another one of my stereotypes.

And that’s one strike three I wouldn’t mind taking.


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