Orange County Buddhist takes on interfaith panel

Warner explained the importance of subjects such as women’s roles, science, and the afterlife in relation to Tibetan Buddhism. (Sarah Black)

Sarah Black

When the image of a Tibetan Buddhist comes to mind, a normal college student dressed in a red cardigan tapping his foot gently in anticipation for his turn to speak, doesn’t usually make the cut.

But that’s exactly what one gets. Alexander Warner, 19, music, is a native Southern California boy from Capistrano Beach, who was born under the Tibetan Buddhist religion, despite the fact most of his family is Catholic.

Last Thursday Warner participated in an Interfaith Panel hosted by the Baha’i Club at Saddleback College. He was a panelist who was determined to set the record straight about the misconceptions of his religion and to tell people what Tibetan Buddhists were really about.

He sits in the middle of the five panelists, between a representative from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and a representative of the Christian religion, calming answering all of the questions given by the moderators of the panel.

“There isn’t just one way to worship,” Warner said. “In this panel, we are not here just to represent our religion, but to show how we practice our religion.”

Since Warner was born, he was raised under the tutelage of a Tibetan Buddhist monk, Lama Norbu Dorje, whom his mother had met during that time. She felt Catholicism, her own religion, was too strict, Warner said, and so she wanted Warner to have another religious perspective.

Dorje, or Master as Warner calls him, died in March 2009, and since then Warner has not taken on a new master.

Talking to Dorje, “was like talking to an angel,” Warner said. “The last lesson he taught me, one week before his death, was that selfish duties call on you to sacrifice your spiritual needs to do whatever it takes, to do what is right according to your heart.”

Warner did wear the traditional red and yellow robes of the Tibetan Buddhists until he was in the seventh grade.

“I was bald,” Warner said. “I [was asked] very awkward questions.”

He was often asked if he had cancer, he said, but shockingly he was never teased.

“[People] just assumed this was how I expressed myself,” Warner said.

But in the midst of his middle school career, Warner decided the restrictions were no longer leading him down the path he wanted.

“I feel like [traditional] Buddhism doesn’t help me gain more information about the world,” he said.

But it has helped him follow the footsteps of finding the motivation to learn more about people, he said.

Warner has now decided to strive for a doctoral in music conducting and to study at the New England Conservatory in Massachusetts to become a high school music teacher.

Right now he is coaching a high school marching band, in hopes of teaching the kids to become smarter by learning music.

“Marching band high school kids are no better than kindergartners,” Warner said, laughing. Teaching music is what he feels will help make people smarter, he said, mentioning the correlation between band students and higher tests scores on the SATs.

But Buddhism is still a strong influence in his life, and coming to the Interfaith Panel was a means to his goal of encouraging others to understand the fundamentals of his religion.

“We worship the skinny Buddha,” he said, clarifying, as the audience laughed. “Not the fat one. That’s Zen Buddhism.”

The Interfaith Panel was about an hour and a half, and 25 people showed to the event. Mehrsa Imani, coordinator of the Interfaith Panel, felt the event was a success.

The event’s continuance is something undecided, Imani said. But as for Warner, while he may not be planning to follow into the traditional monk way of Tibetan Buddhist life, he will continue in the Buddhist religious faith.

“Live life, that’s what the Buddha said. Just live life.”

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