Comparative religion is a subject that has always interest me, living in a multi-cultural country, and I have taken two of such subjects under my Masters of Christian Studies: Ministry in a Pluralistic Context and Religion in Malaysia - Islam. Interestingly, my course of work has brought me to two encounters with Buddhism and Islam.
I don't think I have blogged about my very interesting encounter with Buddhism before but here it is.
Several years ago, I was to go for a meeting with my firm's partner with a client in Melaka. He is a very staunch Buddhist and in my assignment on Buddhist Meditation, he actually spent two to three hours with me as I interviewed him on the subject to fulfill the requirement for my paper, God bless him. Anyway, before we went to Melaka, he called my colleague and I into his room.
"I need to make a detour to a Buddhist temple in Melaka for a meeting and they will be serving lunch. I understand both of you are Christians, would you mind eating in a temple?" he asked.
I wasn't expecting this at all but before I could do anything, my colleague chirped, "Sure! Not a problem at all!"
I found myself in a quandary. I only had 2 seconds to to work out the whole chapter 8 of First Corinthians as well as to tackle these two questions: if I say no, will I be given time to qualify and explain myself? And if I do that, how will I explain my colleague's enthusiastic yes?
Two pairs of eyes were on me. I did not have time to think. I have to make a quick decision.
"That should be alright," I replied, but I am sure he noticed my hesitancy. What he did not hear was my silent qualification and continuation to my statement. "Alright for now, but I will reassess it when we are there," I thought to myself.
The drive to Melaka was a worrying one. The what-am-I-going-to-do phrase must have went through my mind several thousand times in the one and half hour journey.
We soon arrived at the temple situated in the core zone of the Malacca Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a typical Chinese temple but it is quite a temple. We were led through the main door, crossed over the main worship area, into a very nice landscaped corridor, passing through another worship area with a huge ballast of idols and urns for joss sticks into a moderately large meeting room.
There was only one old but huge conference table and we were all directed there for a seat and inadvertently I became a temple meeting attendee. I told myself I have to tell my dad this, that I actually attended a Buddhist temple executive committee meeting! (I was then in my church's Local Church Executive Committee and my dad was the Chairman several years before and subsequently the church's lay-leader.)
The meeting evolved around the topic of taxation. The committee wanted advise from my firm's partner on income tax pertaining to the rental they received from houses that devotees donated to the temple. They began referring to an official letter sent by the income tax department to the temple. The person referring to the letter was seated next to me and I noticed that the letter looked old...really old...I leaned over for a closer look and saw the date in the letter...it was in the year 1945...Wow...
"How many houses are we talking about?" the partner asked.
I hope no one saw the expression on my face. I was expecting two, or five at most, but 48? Wow...
It is one experience I will never forget.
Then it was lunch time.
"We have gotten some really nice food from Melaka town. The famous ones. Come, come. Help yourselves."
It was a casual spread and some of the food is still contained in the take-away packages, hence I deduced these were not food that has been offered to idols. I did not at that time have much of a deeper understanding on 1 Cor 8 (not that I do now as well) and I thought to myself (1) food was not idol offerings and (2) the context of lunch was not religious, and so it should be okay, and went ahead and ate together.
But I still wonder to this day if I have made the right decision. I am quite certain I have, but I am not 100% sure.