Sofia Reyes, a recent graduate of the University of Southern California (USC), took an unexpected journey of self-discovery through her enrollment in the course “Religion 342: Buddhist Modernism.” As a student pursuing a bachelor of science in health promotion and disease prevention, Sofia’s main goal was to fulfill her last undergraduate requirement and graduate in the spring of 2022. With a desire for a relaxed schedule, she chose the class without expecting how profoundly it would impact her perspective on religion and faith.
Coming from a strict Christian and Latino household, Sofia had never been encouraged to explore beliefs or practices that deviated from her upbringing. Her upbringing taught her to view non-monotheistic and non-conservative practices as potentially defaming or questioning her faith in God and the Bible. However, Sofia approached the course with an open mind, hoping to gain at least one life skill or self-reflective practice.
Throughout the course, Sofia’s skepticism about other religions and practices began to wane. She realized that preconceived notions can obscure the true essence of religious beliefs, a phenomenon she noticed not only in Christianity and Catholicism but also in Buddhism, as shared by her Buddhist peers in class. Embracing a sense of awareness, Sofia saw the importance of critiquing and addressing issues within one’s own religion and being open to learning from others.
Buddhist Modernism positively changed Sofia’s perception of non-monotheistic beliefs. While always respectful of other people’s faiths, she had never been genuinely curious or interested in adopting them. Now, however, Sofia was open to adopting some Buddhist practices and perspectives, particularly those related to socially engaged Buddhism (SEB). She found common ground between SEB and her Christian values, recognizing the importance of empathy, selflessness, and love for others through service. Sofia was intrigued by the idea of adapting religion to address societal, cultural, and political issues.
Looking to the future, Sofia planned to continue the practices highlighted in the course. She aimed to engage in more conversations about religion and philosophy, breaking the taboo surrounding these topics in American culture. Meditation had a profound impact on her, and she intended to incorporate it more into her daily life for a greater sense of ease and presence in the moment. The idea of introducing meditation to young children also resonated with her.
Reflecting on her experience with Buddhist Modernism, Sofia described it as enlightening, refreshing, and calming. The course exposed her to new aspects of Buddhism, allowed her to gain insight from her classmates and professor, and introduced her to meditation as a source of tranquility.
Though initially overwhelming due to the vast array of new terms and concepts, Sofia recognized that her journey into Buddhism had been rewarding and possibly a result of past well-intentioned actions, as per the principle of karma. With a broader perspective and a newfound appreciation for the unknown, Sofia’s academic experience at USC left her with a sense of fulfillment and readiness to embrace the next phase of her educational journey in pursuing a master’s in public health and working towards health equity for all.