Sunday, March 13, 2005

On Being a Refugee

Everyday Stuff: Hubby just left for another three weeks. (Taking a deep breath...trying not to let the weight of all that responsibility squish me). I have a cold and a bad allergic reaction to some make-up I bought this week. My face is puffy, red, hot and bumpy. Yay me.

So I haven't really written much about being a Buddhist. I'd rather do it than talk about it. How did I come to make that decision, you ask? I sat with it for at least 15 years. I started reading about it in high school, and thought about it a great deal since. I continued to read and take Univeristy courses in Asian religions, but my training in Anthropology helped me become very aware of colonialism and the superficial (and sometimes destructive) appropriation of culture and identity. I sort of backed off the "wanting to become" a buddhist at that point. If anyone asked me "And what religion are YOU?" (especially when I did graduate work in Religion and Culture), I'd usually retort that I was not religious but a philosophical Buddhist. Then people would screw their eyes up, which meant "What the hell kinda answer is THAT?" . Buddhism inherently involves practice (meditation). I preferred alcohol and other hallucinogenics.

I defined myself this way for quite a long time. When I started lecturing on Buddhism, I became aware of a slight shift. I noticed, that during my lectures on Judaism or Christiantity - I was speaking as an outsider looking in. When I'd discuss Buddhism, it was from, I noticed, the inside speaking out. It was not intentional, but rather something I was doing, and later observed.

During one semester a few years ago, I facilitated an exploration of the Tibetan Book of the Deadwith a great deal of exuberance and enthusiasm, when my father died suddenly. I was sitting with him in the hospital moments after his death. I was alone and I found myself explaining to him what he was about to experience and what paths he should take. Oh, the irony I am thinking: the Tibetan Book of the Dead is in essence, a tour guide of the afterlife. It's a map of the period between death and rebirth. In this transitional period (space) called a bardo, the "consciousness" has a number of opportunities to realize that all visions and experiences are not "out there" but reflections of the mind and ego.

Later, as I thought about what I had done, I saw how that last conversation with my dad was a defining moment. It was so spontaneous and authentic. The teachings went far deeper than I had realized. I learned of a Buddhist meditation centre in my area, and decided to go. I did not have to ignore my earlier questions of appropriation or conversion to another culture. This was a Shambhala centre. Its founder, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, left Tibet when the Dalai Lama was exiled, and eventually came to the U.S and established a new Buddhist community developed for the West. (Later its Headquarters were moved to Halifax). I felt as if this practice was offered to us, and those "cultural borrowing" question were answered with much satisfaction.

And that was that really. It took about 15 years to transition from believing in Buddhism to doing it. My "convervion" can be likened to experiencing a mysterious illness for many years - having disperate symptoms, and later coming to find out a diagnosis. There is a sense of relief and "now it all makes sense". All the pieces of the puzzle are in place and that picture makes sense.

In terms of my daily life, I guess I want to avoid being a "fundamentalist Buddhist". So, I try to drop the religion-talk and just try and live and speak from where I am in my practice. I still lose patience with my kids and get bitchy with my husband. Its all fodder, really.


Litany said...

Buddhism does make a lot of sense, I feel you!!

Unfortunately, a lot of people will screw their eyes up at you, if you mention any faith other than Christian.

So I tend to just avoid mentioning my faith. I don't know about the rest of the world, but the U.S. is still pretty close-minded about religion.

Litany said...

Sorry about your hubby being away for so long, that would be rough!

Robin said...

In the framework of defining moments+everyday stuff=life, I think Buddhism makes much more sense and has much more valuable (and practical) teachings than does Christianity.

Michelle said...

I personally believe we each have a calling to a personal religion. It doesn't matter whether it is Buddhist, Christianity, Muslim, or even Zoroastrian. Religion, to me, is merely a springing board to finding and realizing the essence of our Creator, however she may be defined in religious texts. So, I applaud you for taking a step in a direction that seems so natural to you. Most people are afraid to take that step because of cultural and societal differences.