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Perhaps I shall first begin by talking about my personal experiences with Buddhism My family originally from Laos are all Buddhist In fact my mother and father are devout Buddhists and attend temple on a regular basis My sisters and brother and I were all raised Buddhist but we did not really learn the meaning behind the practices For example we adhered to many Buddhist traditions such as praying in front of a shrine bowing to the Buddha statue to show reverence holding hand-held prayer wheels and honoring our ancestors on specific days However we were not taught the stories and significances behind such practices Rather we were expected to practice many aspects of Buddhism simply because generations and generations of our ancestors had adhered to these traditions This did not make sense to me however - to accept things solely based on tradition did not seem practical to me My desire to learn more about my Buddhist background coupled with my desire to travel to Southeast Asia led me to travel to China Thailand Laos Vietnam Cambodia and Myanmar last summer It was there that I really learned more about the different aspects that comprise Buddhism the different ways in which it is practiced and how the concept of Buddhist nirvana is understood in many cultures Two experiences which reflect different aspects of Buddhist nirvana to me really stand out in my mind when I think of my travels to Southeast Asia One experience occurred in Myanmar Traveling through the country with a tour operator named Nee provided me with an insight into Buddhism During one stage of the tour Nee led me through the pagoda terraces of a small town in Myanmar where Buddhist novices some as young as 6 7 and 8 years old with shaved heads both girls and boys were celebrating their initiation
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