20 June 2012
Religious faith is both deeply personal and a community experience. In the United States, religious communities of many kinds co-exist and sometimes work together in interesting ways.
This week, learn about Buddhism in America. The ancient religion has its roots in India. Today, many forms of Buddhism are practiced in the United States. Hear what American-born clergyman Kusala Bhikshu has to say about the religion’s popularity.
In the state of Tennessee, members of the Catholic religious group, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia’s, lead simple lives of work and service. Not much has changed in their community over the years. But more young women are joining. Some see this as a sign that young people are placing growing value on faith and service.
But first, we hear from Muslim students at a Christian university here in Washington DC. Christopher Cruise tells us how students are dealing with the differences in their religious beliefs.
Catholic University Muslims
CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: The Catholic University of America has welcomed a growing number of Muslim students in recent years. It is not just Catholics who feel at home there. Reef Al Shabnan is a Muslim from Saudi Arabia.
REEF AL SHABNAN: “Being in a religious environment where religion is practiced it makes it more understandable and easier to practice the religion itself.”
She likes Catholic University because of its conservative values.
REEF AL SHABNAN: “Family values, I mean the nuclear family, pro-life the position of the school on those issues go along with my position as well.”
Christine Mica heads the university’s admissions office.
CHRISTINE MICA: “While they may not be Catholic, there is this sense of security and safety of practicing their faith on the campus here.”
Wiaam Al Salmi came to Catholic University from a university with no religious ties. She says faith is a way of life here.
WIAAM AL SALMI: “The environment here is also religious and the teachings that they teach here is similar to the teachings that I grew up with and so going to pray that’s nothing out of the ordinary for them. So they understand.”
In a five-year period, the number of Muslim students more than doubled - from forty-one to ninety-one. Most were from Saudi Arabia. Tanith Fowler Corsi is Catholic University’s Assistant Vice President for Global Education.
TANITH FOWLER CORSI: “We attribute that a lot to our connection with the Saudi Embassy here in Washington D.C., and there has been a conscious effort to develop a good relationship with the embassy.”
Kenny White, a Catholic, says he is good friends with a Muslim student. He says seeing his friend pray has strengthened his own beliefs.
KENNY WHITE: “It’s inspired me. He’s a very faithful Muslim and very devout and that’s inspired me to be even more devout in my faith.”
I’m Christopher Cruise.
MARIO RITTER: You are listening to Explorations in VOA Special English.
More than two thousand years ago, a prince in the area of India began a life of spiritual teaching. His teachings became the Buddhist religion. Today, Buddhism is practiced all over the world. Listen as we visit a religious center in California that prepares boys for Buddhist training.
MARIO RITTER: Boys have their hair removed at the start of a five-day retreat. This gathering gives them a chance to learn about Buddhism’s teachings and the life of a Buddhist monk. Many Chinese Americans go to the Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles. Miao Hsi, director of outreach, says American Buddhism is divided largely along ethnic lines.
MIAO HSI: “This is why there is Chinese Buddhism, there is Tibetan Buddhism, there is Japanese Buddhism, and so on. So I think that right now, we have some form of American Buddhism as well.”
MARIO RITTER: Kusala Bhikshu is an American-born clergyman. He says Buddhism has a long history in the United States.
KUSALA BHIKSHU: “And it now has dug its roots into the soil of America, so there are people, myself being born in Iowa, people who were born in America who are coming as a convert to Buddhism, some becoming ordained as Buddhist monks or nuns, and … and bringing those teachings to everyday Americans.”
MARIO RITTER: The Dalai Lama may be the world’s best-known Buddhist. He enjoys wide respect among Americans. He has some well-known followers, including actor Richard Gere.
There are Tibetan Buddhist centers around the United States. This one near Redding, California, is a teaching and spiritual center. Kusala Bhikshu says his center in Los Angeles brings together several Buddhist schools. He studied under a teacher from Sri Lanka. His center is in a Korean-American neighborhood, and was opened by a monk from Vietnam.
He says Buddhist teachings differ a little from one tradition to the next. At the Hsi Lai Temple, the central teaching is the same: a respect for the tradition, a desire to change because of the American experience, and a search for unity among people of all beliefs.
MIAO HSI: “Every being is connected. It’s like we are connected to this world. So I think we should be working towards harmonizing with one another. Harmony and peace would be something that we should all work towards.”
Buddhists say there is a bridge that links the many forms of American Buddhism. It is the American-born children who share a Buddhist faith and American culture.
MARIO RITTER: It is easy to think that many traditional ways of life have disappeared into the past. But tradition is very much alive for this Catholic religious community in the eastern United States. This group, based on faith and giving, is gaining youth and renewal.
The Dominican Sisters
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia’s is a Catholic religious order in Tennessee. St. Cecilia’s looks and sounds much like it did when it first opened one hundred fifty years ago.
But there is also something new: the voices and laughter of young woman studying to become Dominican sisters. The current group of first-year students is the largest in many years. Sister Catherine Marie is a spokesperson for St. Cecilia’s.
SISTER CATHERINE MARIE: “There are two hundred seventy of us, and our growth of late has been rather extensive. This year, we had twenty-seven young women enter. Last year, it was twenty-three. Great blessings to us.”
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Sister Catherine suspects these women want to look deeper into their faith. Studies have shown that Americans are interested in spiritual issues; yet their involvement in organized religion is falling. She says the Dominican Order was founded during a period of social unrest.
SISTER CATHERINE MARIE: “There was a whole lot going on in the world that was very irreligious. And yet from this emerged an idealism and a wholehearted desire to give of self.”
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: That desire led Sister Kelly Edmunds to join St. Cecilia’s. She remembers how students at the University of Sydney reacted to Dominican sisters who served there.
SISTER KELLY EDMUNDS: “Just to watch them walking down the main boulevard of campus wearing their habits…it was just such a powerful witness! And I had friends in engineering who were like, they knew I was Catholic. So they would say to me, ‘Who are these nuns on campus?’ And so it was a really great witness to me of the power of religious life.”
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Sister Victoria Marie came to St. Cecila’s after completing a study program in civil engineering.
SISTER VICTORIA MARIE: “So it was a big shift in my life to go from utility to relationship, from what am I going to do? To who am I going to be for the Lord?”
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: A religious worker does not spend all day at work or in prayer. Sister Kelly was surprised by how much time she has to simply enjoy life.
SISTER KELLY EDMUNDS: “Just to be outside and to enjoy the beauty of...the beauty of the world and creation. And so we play a lot of sport, we go for walks, we just enjoy each other’s company outdoors.”
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Yet the women do spend a lot of time at religious services, in the classroom and doing work. Sister Victoria admits it can be very busy.
SISTER VICTORIA MARIE: “For a couple weeks after I entered I thought, I just want to lay on the couch for the day, and I don’t think they do that here, you know?”
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Sister Kelly does not believe her spirituality is something unusual. She believes the Catholic Church is in a period of renewal.
SISTER KELLY EDMUNDS: “It’s a really great…a springtime for the Church, I suppose. And there’s a lot of hope and a lot of life.”
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia are active in Australia and across the United States. They teach more than thirteen thousand students at more than thirty schools. I’m Shirley Griffith.
MARIO RITTER: And that’s EXPLORATIONS, a VOA program in Special English. It was written by George Grow and Christopher Cruise, who was also one of our announcers along with Shirley Griffith. I’m Mario Ritter. You can watch video versions of each part of this program on our website, voaspecialenglish.com.
For English learning activities and interactive features, click on The Classroom at VOA Learning English. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and iTunes. Join us again next week for more EXPLORATIONS.