Michael Symonds

Michael G Symonds
Iowa, USA
December, 1999

Life at a cosmic scale

I have had probably nothing but relatively good fortune in my life. I was brought up in Methodist Christianity by a very religious mother who also teaches the religion. I am thankful for this upbringing as it inculcated in me very good behavior and  taught me to have compassion for those less fortunate than myself.

The conflict in my religious life came when I fell in love with a second generation Laotian-American who, of course, was Buddhist. Since young, my religious teachings had given me the belief that those that will be accepted in Heaven are those who followed what God taught through Jesus. However, I had fallen in love with a kind and gentle person who I felt my God was not willing to accept into his Kingdom unless she changed her views. I could not reconcile myself with the belief that the religion one was born into would determine one’s character and fate. As a result, I read up on Buddhism and found that it was far less narrow minded and more tolerant.  In Buddhism, one does not believe simply because one is told to do so.  The Christian Crusades of the past also showed me the pain that resulted when one tried to impose their beliefs on others.

So, I strayed from rigid Christian ideals of simply believing what one was told to believe and I started to question the very existence of a God. I became very curious and anxious to explore what other religions taught. What appealed to me most was Buddhism’s approach of not prescribing dogmas for one to believe but to encourage one to discover, understand and affirm the teachings for oneself. I attended the Des Moines Lao Temple in Iowa during my relationship with this Lao girl. But over time we grew apart and eventually broke up. Since then, partly also because I did not speak the Lao language, I found it difficult to continue my visits to the Laotian temple.

Breaking up with my girlfriend was probably the most painful experience I had to deal with since the death of my only grandpa. Before he died, he had said that he was scared of death. I realized then that my fear of death was real too and that when I die I want to be spiritually mature enough to be comforted and welcoming of death.

I also found I had an interest in acquiring more knowledge. Currently a Junior Computer Science Major at the University of Northern Iowa, I am also a great student with a 3.95 major related gpa. In the next semester, I will commence internship as an aviation software engineer. Nevertheless, I felt that I needed something else in my life to make it meaningful. I thought that on the scale of the universe, and the eternity of time, our lives so small, insignificant and unknowing. I didn’t see any meaning even in creating great software to aid in flight. What will that matter millions of years from now? But through Buddhism, I feel like I am following the right path. I am setting my objectives toward the ultimate goal of nirvana that can be achieved in successive lifetimes. I feel this is a worthy goal in life. If I improve my self in this life then I can die in peace knowing I have done good and used my life wisely.

I am still just discovering Buddhism and hope to some day make practising Buddhism the main priority in my life. At the moment, I feel I need a teacher or friends to guide me. If you live in close proximity and would like to meet to discuss Buddhism or just talk over email, email me at symondm4413@uni.edu