My teacher then showed me that on the wall surrounding the entire courtyard of the temple there were individual pieces of wood all identical in size with Korean writing painted on them. They were hanging in perfect lines across the entire length of the wall with five or six rows from top to bottom. My co-teacher explained that people wrote their prayers and petitions to the Buddha for various things on those pieces of wood and then hung them on the wall. He read me some of them and most were simple prayers asking for different things such as the health of a loved one, help on a test and there was even one were a little girl had asked that she would be able to stop fighting with her brother. I walked over to the temple itself and looked inside and saw that there were multiple statues of the Buddha inside. There was one large statue in the center surrounded by smaller ones and just like I had seen outside by the large Buddha there were people bowing down in front of the statues, faces touching the ground with their hands lifted in the air palms up.
One of the teachers I was with actually walked around the statue and wrote a prayer on one of the pieces of wood to leave hanging at the temple. As I walked around looking many of the people there smiled at me as they exited the temple offering me a sense of calm as I observed. They were acting upon their beliefs and I could see as they left the temple that they looked refreshed and at peace.
As I contemplated my surroundings I found myself standing in a part of the world that for most of its history had been untouched by Christianity. I was staring at a beautiful temple surrounded by carefully constructed gardens and a giant statue honoring the Buddha but what stood out was the genuineness of the people I watched as they participated in religious rituals that have been practiced over multiple millennia and, which were vital in shaping who they were as people both culturally and individually. And this brief moment reminded me why I have rejected Christianity’s claim of religious superiority as expressed in Christ’s words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me,” (1) because it made one simple fact crystal clear: these people, like their ancestors before them, don’t need Jesus or his God to live good, meaningful lives.
(1) John 14:6-The Gospel of John is of little value in constructing a picture of who the historical Jesus really was and can’t be relied upon to determine what Jesus’ actual words or deeds were. The book is the theology of the author placed into the mouth of Jesus. It’s all but certain that the historic Jesus never said these words.