Wednesday, 11 April 2012
I'm asked from time to time about how I became a Buddhist. I was typing this out today in answer to an open question about conversion, how people came to their beliefs, and I decided to post it.
I was raised un-religiously by my parents. I don't mean they raised me to be an atheist, I just mean that they didn't want to impose their views on me. If I asked, they would say "some people, like Nana and Grandad, believe this. Other people, like your Pake and Oma, believe something else. Noone really knows." Unfortunately for this wonderful parenting strategy, my two sets of grandparents (one Dutch Catholic and one English Protestant) decided to win my sister and I over. I grew up basically a Presbytarian, simply because that church was closest to my house.
I went to a Catholic primary school when I moved down south. Not for religious reasons, it was just a good school. Unfortunately when the Catholics realised I had been brought up de facto Protestant, they decided to try bring me to the light. Later I called it "beating me with the Catholic stick." It was less than effective.
They would try and persuade me that their interpretation was correct and true, even though other people had told me equally authoritatively that THEIR interpretation was right. It was very confusing for young me. I finally started to click that my parents were right; noone was really sure of how the universe worked, but they sure as hell wanted everyone else to follow their ideas.
I started learning about different religions, and thats when I came across Buddhism. One of the first things I remember reading was a story about the Buddha, when a disciple came to him to convert. The Buddha said to the man something like, "you are converting only because you think it is in your best interests to convert. You haven't really thought this through. Go away and come back when you have convinced yourself that my philosophy is sound."
That attitude was so different from anything else I had encountered, except maybe that of my parents. Here was a religious leader who, rather than trying to win converts, was turning them away because he wanted them to really be sure they agreed with him! That has always been fundamental to my understanding of Buddhism; nothing can be accepted as truth. Everything must be examined and fully understood before you take it to heart.