The only religious thing that I was involved in as a child was the yearly harvest festival, though at assembliy in those days, hymns were sung and the Lord's prayer recited every morning. We also had the hated hymn practice on a Thursday afternoon which always seemed to be taken by a female psycho who seemed intent upon making everyone miss break time to practice some more.
I do remember sitting i one of the rare harvest Festivals looking up at the stained glass windows when i was a kid. There were doves on the outside of the stained glass fluttering around the eaves. I had a very strong sense of their outsideness, which i've often thought about.
My parents never mentioned religion, and I was left to my own devices in religious terms. A teacher once encouraged me to go to Sunday school when I was about eight. I did go, but only the once. My parents weren't impressed with this attempt to include me. Thinking back, the teacher was a nice lady, and I'm sure she meant well.
The 70s and 80s seemed to be a time when religion began to be rolled back. It was seen as the province of other people really - I didn't know anyone who went to church, and though there was always a few churches around, they seemed to be regarded as conveniant landmarks when describing a journey or directions.
Having said that there was a childish interest in esoteria such as ghosts, the afterlife, aliens, death etc etc. You can imagine how pleased I was when my Auntie gave us a box of books and I discovered The Devil and all his Works aged about 9. Part of the allure was the pictures of generally naked witches, but one bit really stuck in my head. Dennis Wheatley - successful author of many thrillers and books about the dark arts such as The Devil Rides Out, believed in reincarnation. He said it made sense to him, and when I read it, it made perfect sense to me too. I've never doubted it since.
As a young man, religion figured even less than it had as a chlid. In secondary school, the assemblies were less, and the religious component diminished considerably. My mate married when we were quite young 18 or so, and in the church I had a real feeling that what he was doing, marriage, was really important and not to be entered into lightly. I had no intention of entering into it at all - and didn't for another 8 years, but when I did commit, it was wth the feeling of the importance of it. I don't feel it was anything to do with the church - we were married in a registry office - but it was something to do with the commitment.
I met my wife in another church -a spiritualist one. this was where I came across other ideas such as psychics and guides and the like. My mate had taken me along once - as i knew he would eventually - and so i went to see what it was like. I wasn't at all spiritual at that time, but was living a very hedonistic lifestyle. This continued, but going to the spiritualist church introduced a different element.
I know people scoff at spiritualists, mediums etc, but what i found was something that was other than you would expect. I now don't go along with the whole spiritualist explanation of the next life and their rather woolly versions of reincarnation. It was very difficult to get any consistent picture of what it was all like, or what it all meant. But they had something.
What the purpose of it is, I'm not sure. They used to bang on about proof - in the face of the rise of science I suppose, and the mediums would sometimes go to great lengths to establish proof where there could never be any. Yet you would get odd messages and pieces of advice, that could not possibly have been inferred, deducted or known. They had something, but I don't think they really developed what they had.
After my wife and I had become Buddhist, we visited a Spiritualist Church again. We weren't kown there, and we didn't know the medium. My wife got the most garbled version of what we were involved in that she laughed out loud. The medium had picked something up - or been told something - but it was clearly beyond whatever intelligence was supplying the message. It was very strange, but in that moment, all credibility was lost. I still feel that they have somethng, but they are unable or unwlling to develop further.
The one thing that I do have respect for is their healing. I don't know how it works, or even whether it does any medical good. What I do know is that you get something given freely with the intention to help. Even the mere knowledge of that is not something you get often from anyone - least of all strangers. The healing does seem quite separate from their other stuff.
Going back a few years, I had gone to University and studied English Literature and Religion purely by chance. I had applied late and taken whatever University had a place. The course was almost an afterthought.
My Tutor for the comparative religion course was Peter Harvey who has been involved in The Pali Text Society, and has written An Introduction To Buddhism. I had little awareness of this at the time, but continued with my hedonistic lifestyle - though I was old enough now to study a bit and try to do as well as I could. I missed the chance of going along to his meditation classes, and learning something of the practice fo three years. The course was brilliant though, and i learnt a lot. One thing it did teach me was that in Buddhism there are moral dilemmas, but it comes down to intent and making the best of a bad situation in order to reduce suffering. If your sincere intention is to reduce the suffering of others, then you won't be far from the mark.
My future wife wrote to me, and we kept in contact. She was invited to a talk by HH The Dalai Lama in 1989, quite out of the blue - she thought at first that it was joke played by one of her friends - and was completely smitten by his aura. From then on her aim was to go to Tibet. She did go to India on her own and travelled around. When we got together we then both went.
By this time I had given up the hedonism. We travelled through Europe, and went to india intending to go to the Himalayas. We never got there. We met a Tibetan man one day and began to talk with him regularly. He seemed to know all about us, and, despite my intending to tell him about things in the West, we found ourselves just listening to someone who knew so much more than I had to offer. It was fascinating. He gave us a few pieces of advice, and we left India for Coventry where my wife is from. The impression he made cannot be adequately explained. Our lives changed.
A year or so later, after the birth of my son, I attended a talk given by a Buddhist Monk. We became involved locally, and thus began our involvement in Buddhsim that continues today.