A Clear-Minded Appreciation of Truth: A Buddhist Conversion Story
Buddhists tend to shy away from using the word “conversion”, but it is certainly an accurate description of what happens to someone who practices Buddhism for a period of time, and something that has happened to me. The Buddhist community accepts everyone into the community of practitioners, whether just dabbling in meditation, trying to find peace in the midst of unpredictable times, or finding a spiritual path for one’s own life. One of the main differences of Buddhist teaching is that one doesn’t have to “convert” or become a Buddhist to become part of the community. In fact, the Buddha himself taught us not to trust something just because someone said it, or because it’s written in a book somewhere, he instead invited his followers to test out what he taught, and if it worked, he encouraged them to follow it to the fullest.
In a sense over the past 2 or 3 years of my own Buddhist practice, I have had the opportunity to test out the teachings of Buddhism, and practiced its teachings in a variety of contexts and seen its effect on my own life. Having done so, I’ve gained a clear-minded appreciation of truth. Indeed, a key component of faith in Buddhist terms is integration. Buddhist faith is developed starting with hearing the teachings, working with them, and having seen some benefit, developing trust and devotion from our own experience of the efficacy of the teaching. From this trust and devotion, we begin to integrate, and make the teachings an even deeper part of who we are. This is my own journey of faith in Buddhism. Beginning with the first time I came to the Shambhala Meditation Center in Phoenix, through my practice journeys through Clear Light Buddhist Center, and now continuing my journey as a Kagyü Buddhist.
Let me also say that this piece isn’t intended to be a long argument of why one should become a Buddhist. It is a collection of thoughts and statements about my own integration of Buddhist teaching into my own life, and hopefully it will inspire others wherever they are on their journey, to go deeper, and to continue journeying.
I’m Not a Christian Anymore (in the traditional sense)
Christianity has been a big force in my own life. From my experience as a Latter-Day Saint, a Congregationalist, and finally as an Episcopalian, all have taught me profound things about compassion, love, and have provided a ground for the values that I now hold. But, I have to acknowledge this point, that I am not a Christian anymore (at least in a traditional sense). I have great respect for the Christian journey of faith, especially in its more liberal and mystical incarnations. In its most pure and beautiful form, it is a journey towards intimacy and union with God. This is strikingly different than the Buddhist journey to enlightenment, to full awakening and authenticity. The Buddhist journey is a non-theistic journey. It is a journey of deep self-examination, self-reflection, and self-discovery.
It isn’t to say that I have given up my connections with Christian community. I have made some of my closest and respected friends and acquaintances within the fellowship of the Episcopal Church. I still value those connections. I can also say that I do take communion in the Episcopal Church because I perceive it as an expression of true community, not a pseudo-cannibalistic meal, a memorial of sacrifice, or atonement by another. I still respect Jesus as a great wisdom teacher, even perhaps a bodhisattva. The wisdom teachings about love and compassion are deep, powerful, and beautiful. So, I may not be a faithful, orthodox, or even moderate Christian anymore, but my connections to the Christian community are invaluable to me and will continue to be for a long time.
I was healed, I am healing, I will be healed
For me, the journey of Buddhism has been, and is a powerful journey of healing. As a Christian, I was never entirely sure whether being who I am was an entirely acceptable thing. In Buddhism, I found healing. I discovered that authenticity and openness is not something to be feared, and instead a part of who I am. But the healing didn’t stop there, it is continuing to happen, as the lotus flower of my mind begins to unfold, I have found parts of myself that I have consciously or not kept suppressed: from the creativity of poetry (I wrote my first few poems during a Shambhala meditation retreat), arrangement of flowers, and even music. It continues to unfold, there have been unexpected moments of playfulness and innocence, in a previously very repressed existence. I’ve even worn shorts outdoors (those of you that have known me for a while know that this is big).
I’m not perfect, and never will be, but I feel a deep healing presence. What’s most incredible is that this healing presence is me being present to myself. The great Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, teaches us that the greatest gift we can give is the gift of presence. And, I can say that this is all the more true when it is applied to ourselves It is the growing ability to be friendly to myself, and to allow myself to open more and more to the beauty of the present moment, and indeed to the glory of life itself. I feel closer to my true nature, my true self. Simple moments are becoming simple moments now where I can simply be present.
A Clear-Minded Appreciation of Truth
In working with my own practice and the path, I have gained a clear-minded, although definitely not perfect appreciation of the Truth (Skt. Dharma). In other words, I have through my own practice, gained confidence in the teachings of the Dharma and its efficacy for my own life. This confidence is such that I trust the Dharma fully. What’s different about this confidence is that it is not exclusionary, it isn’t a conviction that demands that I forsake everything I’ve learned or known in the past. It is a conviction that is truly about integration, and one that is gained through the crucible of experiment.
Everyone who practices Buddhist teaching is eventually, in a sense, converted. When one begins to experience positive changes and benefits in one’s own life as a result of practicing, one cannot help but to develop trust and conviction in the teaching that one has received. Becoming a Buddhist is not so much about turning our back on life, or “setting ourselves apart”. It is, however, about doing just the opposite: ordering our lives so that we have true freedom to live life authentically and realize its full potential.