Monday, December 24, 2007

on being a practicing Buddhist but still a cultural Christian

I think this is an interesting thing to make note of today, as this is Christmas Eve. Although I am now a practicing Buddhist, I will fully participating in Christmas celebrations with my family this evening and tomorrow morning.
What brings this to mind is a bit of conversation about religion I had with a guy I've been seeing and a friend of his over dinner on Saturday evening. Both he and his friend are East Indian, and what is what made the conversation particularly interesting.
I guess my friend was just making some casual conversation, but for some reason or another he asked me about church. We've discussed religion before (I told him about Unitarian Universalism, and I already knew he was a Sikh). I'd told him that I didn't believe in a God but that I went to a church that didn't place so much emphasis on belief as on how one lives one's life. And that my religion is different from my parents, who are evangelical Christians. I've never told him I was studying Buddhism.
Anyway, I was slightly perturbed about him bringing it up because for some reason or another I get painfully shy about discussing my religion. It's an incredibly personal thing to me, and also I'm fairly new to Buddhism and I'm concerned that I might say something that would give a wrong impression. But I think it's mostly just a fear of having my thoughts and feelings rejected.
Anyway, I decided on this occasion that I would tell him that I haven't been actually going to Church, that I haven't been a Christian for several years, and that I was actually now a Buddhist. He seemed absolutely shocked. I'm not really sure why I got that reaction. What surprised me was that he didn't even know that Buddhism originated in India--this was a surprised cause he likes to brag a lot about all the good stuff that came from India--but at least his friend knew about that. His friend asked where there was a Buddhist temple in this area, and honestly I don't know of any. This, I suspect, is a cultural thing. I mean, where they are from it might be assumed that a Buddhist would visit a temple regularly. I would like to visit one from time to time, but I can't see how that would be essential to practicing. My friend thought if I was a Buddhist I was supposed to shave my head. (LOL) I explained that is something I'd only be expected to do if I was a monk.
So, apparently they have a bit of a hard time seeing how someone can be a Buddhist without all the cultural stuff that would come with being raised as a Buddhist in a country that is largely Buddhist. Well, that is just not the situation I am in--no matter how much my personal beliefs and practice are Buddhist, I'm still culturally a Christian. And that is my reality.

1 comment:

infoninja said...

A new relationship and a new experiment with a world religion... it's a tricky thing. But I've been pagan, buddhist and yes I was raised christian so here I am with my tree and gifts and wondering just where spirituality fits into this celebration. I like to think that no matter what your tradition this is about honoring our young. The commercialism cheapens it, but so often western children are completely forgotten to the care of people making less then $10 hr, and this is our time to switch our focus from the office to our little ones. Just focus on the kiddos like St. Nick.

If your new love interest is "shocked" that you are a seeker of truth, then don't be too attached to the boy. Buddha said that it's better to travel alone than to travel with a fool.

And yes, I do shave my head, but only because I like it :) I do know where the local Buddhist temples are, but they're not for the American Buddhist. And I'm perpetually single.

Be the spiritual adventurer and don't let Christmas mess you up. In American culture this holiday has little to do with spirit and much more to do with consumerism. So the moral is, buy you and your Sikh boyfriend something nice, meditate, drink some eggnog, light the yule log, kiss under the mistletoe, watch the stars, and just enjoy the beauty of this moment. As an atheist we also now life is precious and all too short - enjoy it!