Friday, April 2, 2010

Reflections (7): I Am a Buddhist


Good Friday feels weird this year.

In years past, making an effort to embrace my Catholic faith during Holy Week was, more often than not, just sheer and utter drudgery. To be sure, there were times when I sincerely felt as if I could literally touch the purity and sanctity of my faith. But, for the most part, the annual pilgrimage to confess before Good Friday, the requisite attendance at mass and the focus on the pain and suffering of Jesus felt rather inauthentic. Empty even.

And then everything in my life changed. Suddenly, the ground below my feet was more solid. For the first time I knew who I was, who I wanted to be, and who I would never be again.

I also began to read. Passively at first. Later, I was gripped by a furious urge to understand that surprised even me. Eventually, it took embracing something outside of Catholicism for me to come to terms with my Catholic faith.


I am a Buddhist.

I write these words with a great deal of serenity and satisfaction. This glorious, ancient practice has helped to bring clarity to my heart in ways that I still cannot comprehend. For me, it is but the logical progression of a person who has embraced the tenants of an ephemeral, yet, ever-powerful movement called Voluntary Simplicity.

If Voluntary Simplicity is my destination, Buddhism is my roadmap.

If Voluntary Simplicity is the cool, misty waters of the Pacific Ocean,

Buddhism is my Surly Long-Haul Trucker:

Let me be clear. While I have embraced the practice of Buddhism, I am still Catholic. Or, at least, as Catholic as the Church says I am. I have yet to find anything inside myself that compels me to abandon my faith. Catholicism, for all its faults and contradictions, is, and always will be, the great enigma of my spiritual life.

What Buddhism has taught me is that I don’t ever have to completely resolve this enigma. I can immerse myself in the waters of my faith, so long as I embrace the path laid out by my heart.

And it is from this path that I write these words today.

[Reflections introductory post]


Japhy said...

Congrats on coming to know yourself! I call myself a "secular Buddhist", meaning I meditate and accept much of the wisdom of the practice, yet I'm not convinced of some of the accompanying theology (reincarnation and such). As a way of living, though, Buddhism has brought me great peace. I'm always glad to hear others find the same.

Annie said...

I grew up Catholic and it never felt like a good "fit". I became a Methodist at the age of 20 (becoming the black sheep of the family), but have a relationship with God and a spirituality I don't think I could have ever achieved in the Catholic church. Best wishes on your spiritual journey!

Unknown said...

Good post.
I've also felt called by Buddhism. Some call it philosophy more than religion (Tho Tibetan Buddhism sure feels like religion to me) and that aspect of it seems to allow for a a multitude of possibilities.

Happy day :)

Fonk said...

Can you elaborate more on what exactly it is that attracts you to Buddhism (the meditation component, for one, obviously), and what keeps you anchored in Catholicism?

I was raised Protestant Christian, but as I entered adulthood and took an objective look at it, it just seemed to ridiculous, as does pretty much every one of the major religions to me. They can each act as good guides for living one's life for those who need such a thing, but the central theology of the religion that you're supposed to believe just seems ridiculous to me (I don't mean to put down you or any readers here - just explaing MY feelings on the matter).

I haven't delved into Buddhism yet, but have considered it for some of the reasons which you vaguely touch on here, based on what I've heard read. However, like you, I know I'd only be able to accept the philosophy, not the theology.

Anyhoo, interesting topic!

Simple in France said...

Interesting--here in France I actually know a lot of people who were once Catholic and are now Buddhist--or who are somewhat in both camps culturally/spiritually.

Given that the Buddhist community in the town I live in is rather well-developed, it's interesting to watch the proceedings of the week as a religious 'outsider.' I'm kind of enjoying it.

I'm not religious, but I always find religions to be interesting, and frequently read about Buddhism--we have a veritable library here at the house since my brother-in-law is a practicing Buddhist. What surprises me about Buddhism is how much there seems to be to understand--how many different authors and texts seem to comprise it.

Jack said...


I guess I've joined your secular buddhism movement. I love the fact that B. is, at its heart, a philosophy.


Sounds like you have found you place when it comes to spirituality. I haven't gotten there yet (just see this post) but I am more at peace than I've ever been before.


See my response to Japhy above. The philosophical aspects of the practice is the reason I can say that I am a buddhist.

SF Kid said...

Philosophy of secular Buddhism - seems OK. May bring you peace and lead you to do good to your fellow man - altho you were already doing that it seems.
But hanging on to the Catholicism in any way???? I left the catholic church (and all the others) in high school and pretty much lost all belief in the supernatural. I'll buy back in the day that it can be verified - not "felt" subjectively.
So what could be more simple that kicking over all the traces of religion? You can be "spiritual" when you are in awe of nature or on a natural high, or meditating, without being catholic or any other label. That would be REALLY freeing and simple.

The Middle Way said...

Yea, I don't think buddhism and catholicism are mutually exclusive. My first teacher, Ethan Nichtern, talks about this on some of his quite popular podcasts (search The Interdependence Project). He sees buddhism as more akin to psychology than anything else, although some like to call it a philosophy, others a religion. Whatever, just words.

Just a heads up: If your practice is anything like mine, the honeymoon period is nice and all, but is (of course) impermanent. Sometimess you'll love your practice, sometimes you'll hate your practice, sometime you'll be indifferent. That's part of the lesson. Try not to let that stuff - the good or the bad - get in the way; just practice.

dtb said...

Woohoo! I consider myself Wiccan, but Buddhism is a very appealing faith from which I pull lots of influence in my practice.

oceana_blue2010 said...

Hello your blog entry comes with great timing as I am an eclectic person but i cannot let go of my catholic faith. I am disolution with the church but not the belief if that makes sense.
I look forward to continue reading your entries.
Its a peaceful place here.

Bright Blessings

Chris Burrows said...

I am an atheist, For years I said I was an agnostic because I didn't want to upset other people.

I decided this was just silly as nobody seemed worried about telling me what they believe.

I do not think there is a God, nor an afterlife.

Life is life, if you are lucky it is great, if you are very poor or very sick it sucks.

Life has no meaning, it just is.

Alexandra said...

Funny. I'm catholic, I pray, I believe in God and always feel happy when I visit a church or go on a retreat. I grew up that way. But there are some things that I find just plain silly. Not about the religion but more about the insitution. But if I don't follow all the rules, what does that mean? I admire Buddism. I love philosophy and am intreguied by human nature and our need to believe in something. At this moment I'm discovering existance. Great post. It really dealt with what I am going through.

M said...

Brilliant. Absolutely. I've been reading up on Buddhism lately myself, I being of a Hindu faith mighthave issues convincing my family for we all have our own drudgeries to deal with. Your progress is quite commendable.

Yoli said...

I have never read anyone who worded how I feel so perfectly, so seemlessly. I too am a Buddhist.

Sara Outdoors said...

I am catholic too. It can be a haul.

I've really loved following your blog over the past year. I started one myself. I'm moving to Alaska in May for the summer on contract work. With any luck I'll stay longer. By following along on your journey it helped me to strike out on one of my own. I unloaded bags and bags of extra stuff the other day to St. Vincent de Paul society. I totally agree with you on the Vol. Simp. movement that less is more and it actually makes you free. But for a few (read: 3) peices of furniture, my entire life could fit into my Corolla. I hope you follow my blog too, I'm going to document my own journey into the unknown. I hope it turns out as positive as your seems to have!

Anonymous said...

Glad you have found Buddhism. I too became interested in Buddhism a couple of years ago. Its focus on the present moment has been very helpful to me. Also, the idea that you don't have to figure everything out, you can just accept things as they are. Sounds like that's been helpful for you too, in that you've found that you can still embrace Catholocism as well as Buddhism. I struggle with questioning whether there is a higher power and/or an afterlife. Buddhism helps me to put those questions aside (at least to some extent!).

Anonymous said...

I did not realize you were interested in Buddhism, or I would have made this comment on your post "On Being Lonely." I was the person who commented last on that post, suggesting not getting sexually involved with someone until you are actually in a committed and serious relationship. For me, and I suspect for you, it used to be difficult to even understand the reasoning behind that, let alone put it into practice. I never really felt the need to adhere to the rules of many religions prohibiting pre-marital sex. And even when I initially came across the similar idea of refraining from "sexual misconduct" in the Five Precepts of Buddhism, that didn't really interest me, because I didn't view casual sex as being "sexual misconduct." One thing that really helped me put things into perspective, and gave me a structure and benchmark to go by, was Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh's explanation of the Five Precepts. He explains the Third Precept against "sexual misconduct" in this way:

"Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate my responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect families from being broken by sexual misconduct."

That simple, non-judgmental idea of not engaging in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment was something that made sense to me as being part of living a good, healthy life, and was a benchmark that I thought I could actually live by (and so far, have).

Similarly, Hanh suggests the consumption of only healthy food, and the elimination of toxins, including certain media, for the Fifth Precept. So I look at it this way: could I have casual sex, eat junk food, and watch junk tv all the time? Sure. But I'm striving to be the best person I can be, and those things are not conducive to that goal. It sounds so simple, but taking that view of things has really helped me to cut a lot of negative stuff out from my life.

Ben Barham said...

Spirituality is an amazing thing. I am very jealous of your journey - keep up the good work!

ChuckT said...

Funny - I too am a Catholic (brought into it by adoption as a child) but chose to stay through faith, and I too have admired much of Buddhist and Zen philosophy, although I've only had limited exposure through reading - not actual experience through training, practice, etc. I find it all a bit enigmatic.

Sadly - I think Christians of all stripes are at times Christianity's own worst enemy and the Catholic Church hierarchy seems at times to have a tendency to shoot itself in the foot. That said though - when you really distill much of the "practical" "how to live" teachings of Christ and even the Church - there really isn't much there to disagree with. Spiritually - well either you belive or you don't.

For example - the comment above reagarding sexuality and Thich Nhat Hanh's explanation - sounds pretty in line with Catholic teaching. So why is it respected when coming from a Buddhist teacher but derided when coming from a Catholic?

I really believe this has to do with Christianity's tendency to prozelytize (sp?) and thus setting itself up for accusations of hypocrisy when professed believers fall short (especiall clergy). But remember - they too are human and fall short. Thus the reason for Confession as a means to help acknowledge and repent of our wrongs.

I think we Christians really should focus more on our example (our "practice" if you will) and less on words & theological arguments. Then maybe others would be less predjudiced againt God, Jesus, the "Church" and Christians.

Great post and discussion.

Anonymous said...

You didn't tell me that.


Rebecca The Greeniac said...

Wow... this post really struck a chord with me. I was raised as an athiest, but never quite believed it, or didn't believe it, or... well, you know what I mean. When I discovered Buddhism I was astonished... it was like somebody had taken all of the things that I inherently knew to be true and made a religion out of them.

I can remember being 3 years old and arguing with my parents about reincarnation. Of course at the time I had never heard of the word reincarnation, nor had anyone ever presented the idea to me, I just KNEW that was how it worked. My poor father took great pains to tell me that "dead is dead", but I just couldn't buy it.

People sometimes ask me how I "came to believe" in Buddhism or "decided to believe" in reincarnation. I always say the same thing, "I didn't. I just decided to accept that which I already believed."

So glad I discoverd your blog!

Yours in Frugal Green-ness,
Rebecca The Greeniac

mysophia said...

"Let me be clear" give it a rest Jack, you seem to be confused about what clear means. Another eastern religion...wa wa wa. Why don't you try the foundation for human understanding, and then why don't you try..... and then try.... and then. Get it Jack, grow up.

Ms Hen's said...

Label are not so important.

...just feel the Goodness / the Being Alive inside you. :).

I like what i read in a Wayne Dyer book... be Buddist-like; be Christ-like;..etc.. which means just strive to be live a life you feel is right for you.. .. (and you'll be rewarded with serenity and joy)

I love the non-spiritual group I go to at Trinity church near Wall Street/Broadway.. !!! in NY..

I like that people from all over the world can come together; and from all different political background; and faith; countries; etc...............but in this room with don't discuss individual religion or politics.. just ONE GOD..

It is something amazing to be part of..

I wish you much happiness and peace..

Betty Ann