In order to learn more about the 5 major religions of the world, I went on a trip that took me around the world, observing and learning about each individual religion. I will be visiting the Hindu Angkor Wat, Jewish Western Wall, Buddhist Borobudur, Christian Sistine Chapel, and finally the Muslim Kaaba in Mecca. Here is my journal from the trip.
Day 1: Today I left for Cambodia in search of the Angkor Wat temple. This Hindu temple is the largest religious structure in the world. It was built between roughly A.D. 1113 and 1150, when Cambodia was dominantly Hindu, which it is now mostly Buddhist. This temple is dedicated to the god Vishnu, and was built to represent Mount Meru, a place said to be the home of the Hindu gods. Hindu temples typically do not have spaces with many seats and congregational areas, as worship is very individual and private.
Day 2: I have made it to the temple in Angkor, Cambodia. It occupies a space 500 acres around, with a beautiful moat surrounding it. Greenery grows all around the temple, giving it an old look. Inside, many religious structure depict the Hindu gods. It's so huge, it almost appears like a small village! This was a very important and sacred site for Hindus because it is the largest religious structure in the world, as I said, and it is a large part of Cambodian history and patriotism.
Day 3: As I leave Cambodia, I will now begin my journey to the Jewish Western Wall. The wall is often referred to as the "Wailing Wall," but Jews believe this to be a disrespectful or derogatory name. In Jewish history, King Solomon's greatest achievement was building the magnificent Second Temple as a holy space. This temple was then destroyed by Rome when Jews rebelled against their Roman masters in 70 A.D. They destroyed all but one outer wall, deeming it too insignificant to destroy.
Day 4: As I arrive to the Western Wall here in Jerusalem, I see many heartbreaking things. Jews gather, voicing heartfelt prayers. It appears common for them to slip handwritten notes and prayers into the crevices of the wall. A kippah is required by men, and males and females are separated. But there is also a gathering of trash in one of the corners...a few extreme Muslims using this wall as a garbage dump to humiliate the Jews here. The wall itself is huge and holds a very special meaning to Jews. For centuries still, they visit this wall to commemorate the loss of their holiest temple.
Day 5: I am now leaving Jerusalem to head over to Java, Indonesia to take a look at Borobudur, a Buddhist temple. Built around 800 C.E, it was designed by Gunadharma. Its design is said to be in the shape of a mountain or a sacred mandala used for meditating. Physically moving along the path while meditating on the spiritual message of the sutras is meant to help one fully embrace the Buddha’s message of enlightenment.
Day 6: This temple is extremely magnificent.It appears to be in the shape of a sacred lotus flower, including 72 openwork stupas, each one of them containing a statue of the Buddha. The journey up gives one much time to reflect and search for that inner peace that Buddha spoke of so much. The large statues prove how much the people loved Buddha and his message. This temple is sacred to Buddhists because the journey up is supposed to be experienced physically and spiritually. As worshippers climb upward, they are guided by the stories and wisdom of the Buddha to the next level on the journey to enlightenment.
Day 7: Now I leave Indonesia to visit the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Italy. This is where the Pope currently resides, and where many masses for holidays are held. Official papal activity occurs here. The chapel was built in 1473 and was originally used for religious assemblies.
Day 8: The amount of art in the chapel is breathtaking! The extremely high ceiling is covered in Michelangelo's artwork. The ceiling took 4 years to complete and features several scenes from the Old Testament, starting with the Creation of the World and ending with Noah and the Flood. The altar wall adorns Michelangelo's "Last Judgement" painting. Stained glass windows filter light through depictions of various religious occurrences. This chapel is not just for show; it is an important religious location because it is where the new Pope is elected.
Day 9: I now head to my final stop of the trip, Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This is the location of the Kaaba, a Muslim religious structure used for worship. Followers of Islam are expected to pray in this direction 5 times a day, and sometime in their life make a pilgrimage to Mecca to visit the black stone in the Kaaba. Muhammad is believed to have designated the Kaaba as a sanctuary upon returning to Mecca, after it had already been constructed by Abraham.
Day 10: Here I see a sea of Muslim worshipers, all circulating around the Kaaba. They are getting ready to hopefully get to touch the black stone, a stone that is said to have fallen from heaven to guide Adam and Eve to build an altar. There is no fighting, but many people crowd over by the stone to try to kiss it. There is many people praying and admiring the Kaaba in the courtyard. This is the most sacred structure to Islam because it was built by Abraham and his brother, and is viewed as a metaphorical house for God, and is to be worshiped 5 times a day.