Recently, my friend’s mom has been gravely ill, so last Saturday I decided to burn some incense at a temple, thirty kilometers outside of Suzhou (太平禅寺 in Taiping Town). And all the time while doing this, I wasn’t sure whether I actually believed this works, but I also wasn’t sure whether that mattered or not. It’s a way for me to think about her and her mom, as I hold three sticks in my hand and smell the smoke.
Once I started treating religion as something that holds mysterious truths, it became easier for me, and I became less cynical about it. Religion isn’t the same as culture, because in the first place it’s about the mystery of the life of which we ourselves are part.
(Buddhism can be both a philosophy as well as a religion. In China it’s definitely practiced as the latter, with wishes for amends in this life rather than the next.)