When I went on retreat several weeks ago to meet my teacher and take refuge, I got to have several great conversations with people in my age group who had been practicing for a number of years. One of the questions they asked me after I told my story of coming to Buddhism was, “Does your family know?” My answer was most definitely no. I have kept my practice very quiet from my parents, which has been easy since they live in another state and we haven’t spoken in several months. And so I responded, “No. No I haven’t.”
“Why?” They asked. Not entirely sure how to respond, I went with the default, “it’s complicated.”
It’s complicated. Now that’s the understatement of the year.
When would I tell them, I was asked. Would I tell them at all? I just shrugged and said, “I don’t know. It’s complicated.”
So incredibly complicated. And not just because family interaction is always a bit messy.
They all understood. One person had kept her practice a secret for three years, another for two years. One of the guys who went through the refuge ceremony was in the same place I was (and am). After being raised his entire life Christian and never really being able to connect with the religion, he had decided to follow the Buddhist way. He opened up to me a bit. “How am I supposed to tell my parents I’m a Buddhist now? They’ll go crazy when they find out.”
I knew what he was going through. I knew what they had all gone through, because I found myself in a similar situation. After years of seeking, I found the path for me. Part of me wants my parents to know. The other part of me knows what a shitstorm I’ll find myself in when I do tell them, or when they simply find out. Like I said, it’s complicated.
It’s complicated because I was raised Christian my entire life. I say my entire life. When I was twelve my parents became Messianic Jews. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s basically a fusion of Christianity and Judaism. It was a strange transition for many reasons, the biggest being that no one in my entire family is ethnically Jewish.
It’s complicated because religion was used as a tool in my family to inflict fear and guilt. It was used as a tool of control. I spent my entire childhood grappling with things like fear, shame, guilt, anger, and depression.
It’s complicated because I spent my whole life feeling fraudulent. I had to fake my life in order to survive. I knew my parents religion wasn’t for me. I knew there had to be something else out there, something that didn’t keep me awake at night scared shitless about dying and burning in a lake of fire for eternity.
It’s complicated because I have carried guilt and anger and bitterness with me for years, and one day I got sick of it. I got sick and tired of always being depressed, of always feeling worthless, of always feeling like a failure. I decided to let it all go, to get rid of it all, and I decided that the Buddhist practice was the best way for me. And even though I’ve only been practicing for a few months, I feel like I’ve changed for the better. Part of me wants to tell my family. Part of me wonders why.
Why, after all that, do I care if they know?
What difference would it make, if I told them?
It’s a tricky place to be in. Technically I don’t need to tell anyone about what I do. Buddhism isn’t like Christianity or religions where you have to tell everyone you meet about what you believe. Buddhism isn’t about “winning souls”. Buddhism is about living a life of love, joy, peace, and harmony. It’s about changing yourself for the better so that you can change the world around you for the better. Technically you’re just supposed to live your life and do your practice, and when people see you practicing love and compassion, if they ask, then you tell them.
Maybe it’s just my ego talking. Maybe it’s a part of me that wants validation from them. Sounds like ego talking, and my inner armchair psychologist. I need to spend a lot more time meditating, I guess.