How would describe your personal religion or beliefs?
What do you mean by non-practising?
I don’t tend to do the things that people think of as being Buddhist, like meditating and vegetarianism. But I believe the general principles. I don’t think that I even believe in actually.
Well, does Buddhism by its very nature actually require you to believe in things?
No, but by saying non-practising it helps other people to understand what it is. When people see Buddhism they think monk and meditation, they don’t see anything else.
So, you mean you can’t chop up bricks and things either?
No, I don’t think they’re Buddhists.
Is this the tradition you were brought up with? What made you either choose it or remain within it?
It isn’t what I was brought up with, because my parents aren’t religious. They do go to the Temple when they’re in Hong Kong, but I would say that is more culture than religion. I found it in Nottingham sort of by accident in a leaflet. That was when I was in my early twenties, I had just moved to Nottingham and I was doing lots of new stuff. I started doing yoga, Pilates, new job, new city. I found a leaflet for the Nottingham Buddhist centre, started attending classes there and it seemed to all make sense. So I just carried on.
Do you think that Great Britain is an equal and tolerant society particularly where religion is concerned?
I think it is, but that’s only within my sphere of experience. But it doesn’t seem to be what’s being portrayed in the media because of all of the bombings and things. But I think this country is still very tolerant. I have known patients at work though from the Indian subcontinent ask a nurse (also from that part of the world) who was trying to comfort them what religion they were, and if they gave the ‘wrong’ answer, push them away and not want to be touched. I’ve seen that more than once and it’s very sad.
Have you ever had any challenges living in accordance with your own beliefs in this country?
No. Being Buddhist isn’t that external.
Do you think that the Human Rights Act has been a good or a bad thing for British society?
It must be a good thing surely. But I suppose it’s something that you don’t think about, as I’ve never experienced any infringements of my own personal human rights. So I’ve never thought about the issues. But yes, it must be a good thing.
What do you think about faith schools? Should parents be free to educate children however they choose, even if this means keeping them away from wider society, or not teaching things which the parents disagree with (e.g. contraception, evolution etc.)
No, no, basically, no!
Would you like to expand on that?
Because, society is people, if you live in this country that is everybody, not just your own little social circle. You need to understand how everyone else works in order to live your life as an adult. How are you going to understand how everything else works if you’re not exposed to everything else?
Should religious individuals running businesses be allowed to discriminate in relation to their employees and customers if their religious principles require this?
Well again no, that’s not right is it? No because, the same rules should apply to everybody. Whoever runs a hotel should follow the same rules and guidelines.
Do you think that democracy is a good thing, and is the voting system that we have here fair and democratic?
Democracy is a good thing, but I don’t really understand how it works, as to whether it is really fair. From an individual perspective, it doesn’t feel like it makes a lot of difference, whatever way you vote. And that’s just the way past elections have made me feel. But I still believe it works.
Do you believe that you have a personal responsibility to vote?
Yes, I do. It’s the same argument, you can’t complain about stuff but not to do something about it. Or at least try to do something about it, even if you feel that it isn’t doing any good.
Is it a problem that the House of Lords are not elected, but still have a role in making law?
Yes, because I don’t understand how they get there. (Helen Hall explains). So the government pick people they want, who agree with them? There’s an implication there isn’t there? That’s not fair.
Do you agree with the presence of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords?
No, but in the same way that I don’t think any of them should be there if there not elected. Historical grounds aren’t good enough.
If you were going to have a second chamber of Parliament, would you have a different system of appointment?
I don’t understand who they represent if they’re not elected, they don’t represent the public do they? So who do they represent?
There is an argument that you have or could have representatives from different sectors of society.
That would be fairer, if they were nominated by different sectors. Because the government have already been elected and have their powers, without picking representatives in the House of Lords as well.
Is it a good or a bad thing that some decisions are made by the EU and devolved assemblies?
I’m not sure. My instincts say that this country should govern itself and makes its own rules, but that can’t apply in relation to Europe as there have to be rules that govern us all. So logically, then yes, it would make sense for Europe to make some rules that apply to all of us.
And what about the assemblies in Wales and Scotland?
I have no idea, what they have done or not done.
How should society hold people with power to account and monitor what they do?
I have no idea……..I think openness and transparency is important, but do we not take that on faith that that’s what they’re doing. I’m not sure that just saying that things should be transparent works, although it sounds good in theory. I do believe in freedom of the press, but again…..I am a member of Amnesty International and I suppose you do need these groups to say that the public is watching you, watching what you are doing. But do they actually work? I’m not sure. I don’t know what the answer is to make it better.
What responsibilities do all citizens owe to the rest of society?
To obey the law. But as to general daily living, it’s very vague. Because you could easily trot out that we’ve all got to be nice to each other, and that would be your duty as a citizen, but it’s a bit meaningless isn’t it? I do sort of generally believe that people should be socially engaged. However, from the Buddhist background there are people who don’t and I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that either.
Why would you say that some Buddhists would say that you don’t have to be socially engaged?
For the pursuit of Buddhist spirituality, in its extreme case there is the need from disengagement with worldly things, and that would include society and all people. And I don’t think I would consider anything wrong with that, because I don’t think that it impacts on other people.
But that is just one strand of Buddhist tradition.
Yes, it is just one, and it is extreme. It’s not the norm for Buddhists.
I didn’t ask, and I should have prompted earlier, which strand of Buddhist tradition would you place yourself within?
I would probably fall in a Chinese tradition I can never remember its proper name, basically of practising compassion for everybody that is at its core.
There’s a goddess figure isn’t there? The Bodhisattva?
Yes, Guanyin…..that I’ve always had the jade pendant of, for years and years. And it was given to me by family friends, even though they’re not Buddhists. It’s just like a Chinese symbol of compassion.
That in fairness, is almost polar opposite of that disengaged stance?
Yes…..theoretically, they are just different paths to enlightenment.
But radically different?
Yes. But I don’t see anything wrong with having to choose that other path, if that’s the way you’re made.
Are you choosing the path if it’s the way you’re made, or is it chosen for you?
Yeah, maybe, yeah.
So why should society support you if you’re someone like that?
Well, they don’t, they support themselves in the extreme. They go and feed themselves in woods and forests. We’re talking the ultimate extreme.
Are there many Buddhists foraging in woods and forest in Great Britain?
There aren’t. I suppose people support some variation of them, like the Buddhist Centre, we would support the teachers because we need them to teach and support our spiritual practice.
Yes, but to be honest I would be a hypocrite to have a problem with that, given my willingness to accept a stipend from the church when the context of my ministry makes it appropriate.
Yes, so the same applies to other religions.
That’s not the same really, they are earning their keep in some sense. It’s not disengaging so much as choosing how you spend your time.
Yeah, I don’t……..I don’t think you can go down the disengagement route and expect society to support you, I don’t think that makes sense.
Do you think that our political leaders reflect society as a whole? If not, could or should this be addressed?
I don’t think they do. They’re a particular sort of person which is why there in power. You don’t get an even mix of people in society in power. You wouldn’t get people like me in power, we’d be rubbish at it wouldn’t we? And I don’t think that forcing it works either. The whole idea of wanting 50% of women in power and deciding that we’ll just make it that way works. I think that if a woman is capable and wants to do it she should have the same chance as a man, but we shouldn’t just bring in 50% women.
In your personal experience of public authorities have they shown and appropriate level of awareness and respect towards your personal needs and beliefs?
I think so, but I don’t think that I have any particular needs or beliefs which need taking into account.
Is it important to you always to act within the law? Are there any circumstances which justify or necessitate breaking the law?
It is important to me to obey the law. Now you’re going to want a reason. Because we all need to function as a society.
Are there any circumstances or countries in which breaking the law might be justified or necessary?
Yes, I suppose for me it’s mainly because of China. Their laws are quite restrictive for things that we take for granted here. So, I think that it is morally justified to break those laws, not that I think I would have the guts to do it myself. And they do, there are lots of people out there who do and are punished for it.
Do you think it changes anything?
No, I don’t think it will for China. I would like to believe it could, because it has done for this country in its history, but I don’t think it will for China.
Do your personal beliefs require you to speak out against injustices affecting third parties rather than yourself?
Yes…they do. And with nursing they sort of consider it part of your job to speak up for the needs of your patients. There is a professional requirement, and I like to think it is backed up by nurses’ moral beliefs. I don’t know whether that is true or not.
Do you think that the Rule of Law is applied equally to everyone in Great Britain?
I don’t actually know, I feel like there are some groups which get prudential treatment, but I have no actual knowledge or examples. People with money basically, because they know to circumvent things or employ people who can do it for them.
How do you feel about the general extension of police powers over the last 15 years?
I don’t feel it has gone too far, but then it doesn’t encroach on my life or experience. So from my perspective it hasn’t gone too far, and it probably is necessary for State security.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
I consider myself a typical, average person. Most of it doesn’t affect the way I live, so I don’t tend to think about it. But I think I, we need to hear of other people experiences, of how it does encroach on their lives, to make sure that we are aware of what is or isn’t happening.
Chikwan Nam is British born Chinese , she grew up in Lincoln with a very typical childhood for someone this background, studying and working in a Take-away. She went on to become a nurse which took her to Nottingham, Australia and then back to Lincoln. She currently works in theatres. She considers herself to be a Buddhist (by choice rather than upbringing), feminist, British Chinese, European and just human.