A reader of The Discursionists has composed an account of his conversion from Evangelical Christianity to Buddhism. To read all about it, click “keep reading.”
First of all thanks to Grant for inviting me to write. And thanks to Terrence for introducing me to the site. You guys are interesting and I think what I like the most are the polite disagreements between everyone. There are some controversial things being posted here and I wonder, if I was still in the church, if I would have the guts to say some of the things the discursionists say sometimes.
I was asked to present a history of my conversion from Evangelical Christianity into Buddhism. The first thing I will say is that I hope to leave people with the perception that this is a personal story, and not an invitation to come over to the cushion. Each person here seems committed to the cultivation of their own faith and their own expanded understanding of the world. It is not my purpose to cause anyone to deviate from their own quest, although I do believe that those who dissent or outright disagree with us on this religion stuff can often be our best teachers.
I attended church regularly; as far back as I can remember. I first accepted Jesus into my heart at the age of 3. I don’t remember actually doing this, but I do remember my mom telling me about it later 🙂 Vacation Bible School was mandatory every summer, and AWANA was a cheap substitute for Boy Scouts. I prayed daily through middle school and high school. Throughout my teens I struggled but walked a relatively chaste line through the temptations of girlfriends and partying. Keeping God in the forefront was a challenge but it was not impossible.
Several life events and a slow turning of the mind led me to eastern thought. It was a slow drip, not a single watershed moment, that got me here. The death of a close friend, the interactions with laypeople within my church, the political agenda of the Christian right, a love of the Beatles’ music, interest in dinosaurs as a kid (and thus a disbelief in straight Creationism), interactions I’d believed I had with God…all of these things and many more combined and continue to explain my movement here. At age 19 I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, and like most 19 year old suckers who read that book, I was fascinated by its romantic view on Buddhism. I would later find out that Kerouac was actually quite a lazy practitioner and ended up reverting back to Catholicism after only a few years! But the initial impact was there, and I soon delved into Zen readings.
For a few years I was what many in the Buddhist community refer to as a “Bedroom Buddhist,” reading books on the subject each night before bedtime. One day in 2003, my wife and I decided to take a trip to the small town of Ridgeland, WI, where we had heard about a Tibetan lama who lived on a farm and taught meditation weekly. I sat for an hour in his meditation hall in silence, counting each breath up to 21 and then starting over again. Lama Yeshe sent us home after tea, and I began to practice meditation routinely after that.
I still hadn’t washed out of my evangelism, though. I brought Buddhist books places I had to have known would cause trouble, including my parents house, and as my book to read on Boundary Waters trips with my dad. Eventually it all came to a head, and looking back, I think I was doing the same thing I had learned about religion in my church as a kid – if you know the answer, go tell it on the mountain. This is in many ways antithetical to the teachings of the Buddha, as it is prone to cause suffering. Indeed it did in my case.
The event in which I had to “decide” was a single argument with my father, in which he implored me to return to the church. I couldn’t go back without completely denying everything I had experienced in my life up to that point. We both ended up sobbing in frustration and not speaking for weeks. But I was past the point where I could return to Christian thought. He thought I was confused and asked me to speak to the pastor of our church.
The pastor and I spoke, and while he was very respectful, it was clear to me that I had long since moved on. One thing he did remind me of was that I had fewer options for Buddhist study in Eau Claire. I think he may have been saying that to dissuade me from Buddhism, but whatever his motives were, the pastor did make a clear point. I needed a place to practice.
Eventually I stumbled upon a study group that meets here each Wednesday, led by an accomplished teacher who presents introductory and higher level courses at varying meditation centers around the country. The home in which we practice has now become a place of refuge for me and I cherish each week there.
I still find it fascinating to read accounts and interpretations of biblical teaching. It’s more of an anthropological thing now, and I hope no one here minds that my approach to the posts is one of curiosity. For some reason didn’t expect the recent accusations of heresy to start floating around. Any time there is a challenge to the orthodox belief system I suppose one should prepare to be called a heretic. I typically reject the idea that anyone _IS_ anything, as the assignment of fixed definitions to impermanent objects and ideas can be a cause of suffering. And it is now quite obvious that even the definition of heresy is up for grabs here….
….Knowing the basics of Christianity is definitely, I think, a basic necessity in being a good citizen. Not only should one at least have a grasping of the concepts of major religions; one should keep in mind that the entirety of Western Civilization was formed under the umbrella of the church, for good or for ill. An awareness of the underpinnings of our ancestral thought processes can greatly help shape our present actions. Knowing why my parents raised me in the church helps me understand their love for me, and their desire for my happiness, and I greatly appreciate all they have done for me and all they continue to do.
My wife, by the way, is still Catholic. We got married in her church and she continues to go to mass with her father weekly. When I am in town (I’m a musician and I play most weekends), I attend with her father and her and it’s good family bonding time. Her priest has great homilies that apply the liturgy to every day life.
I do not espouse the things Buddha taught if I have not experienced their truth. The concept of rebirth still leaves me scratching my head, for example, for the same reason any belief in afterlife leaves me wondering how one can put any faith in a phenomenon they have yet to experience. But this questioning is encouraged within Buddhism. I think I shared this with Terrence – the last teaching the Buddha offered went as follows:
“Believe nothing on the faith of traditions,
even though they have been held in honor
for many generations and in diverse places.
Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it.
Do not believe on the faith of the sages of the past.
Do not believe what you yourself have imagined,
persuading yourself that a God inspires you.
Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters and priests.
After examination, believe what you yourself have tested
and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.”
Thanks again to Grant for the opportunity to share. I hope any comments I’ve made in the past have not offended, and I hope to maintain civil discourse here whenever I post. Please feel free to call me out on posts that either disagree with reality as you understand it, or offer an unpleasant surprise in their candor. One rule of “right speech” in the 8-fold path is not to knowingly or ignorantly offer divisive words. With religion and philosophy this can be difficult. Please know that it is out of ignorance if anything I say crosses the line, and feel free to make me aware of it so I can adjust moving forward.