coming out buddhist

the buddha is my dj has been around for a while. When I started, exactly three people read this blog, and I’d known them all for decades. Or, in one case, all my life. So it didn’t matter what I said or how I said it. And, being a newbie, I wanted to attract attention. So I commented on all manner of things out there in the Real World. And I hid little secret and, to me, funny things all over my site, particularly in the alt and title tags for images. I’d post a picture of Cheney, say, and give it a particularly offensive alt-tag, for example.

The problem with alt-tags is that they’re the things that little search engine robots pick up. So, when some schmuck on a discussion board wants to post an asinine picture to make his point about why Star Trek 6 was better than Star Trek 5 but pales in comparison to Star Trek 2, he’d type that offensive phrase into Google and — what’dya know — I get traffic! Just not the sort of traffic I wanted.

(People hot-linking to these two pictures is why I’ve had to comb through my site, change alt-tags, and password protect certain directories. Goddamn internet.)

As a result, when I look at my statistics, I often see the most random search strings that have brought people to these happy digital shores. But today I got saw one that was not only somewhat apropos to what this site is all about but that also made me smile:

how to tell your family you are buddhist

Wow. I don’t think my family ever asked me. Even when Dana and I got married and had a “Buddhist ceremony,” I don’t think anyone in my family batted an eye. Even the Catholics. I never thought about “coming out” as a Buddhist to my family. (Needless to say, this makes me deeply grateful and I think I owe some folks some phone calls.) So when I saw that search string, my first reaction was, I’m sure that coming out as a Buddhist is infinitely easier than coming out as queer.

But then I remembered this post. On second thought, don’t click that link. It’s too depressing. The gist of it is that there are evangelical Christian missionary groups out there that actively target Buddhists because we’re a bunch of idol-worshiping heathens bound straight for hell.

(I’ve always found the “idol worshiper” thing to be the hardest criticism of Buddhists to swallow. Without getting into the deep and very significant theological and spiritual differences between bowing to a Buddha image and praying before a crucifix — why is it so hard for some Christians to understand that bowing to a Buddha image is not at all unlike praying before a crucifix? You don’t consider the latter to be idol-worshiping? Why the former?)

At any rate, now that I’ve gotten ahead of myself and lost my train of thought, I really wanted to write something to this anonymous web searcher who is trying to find a way, no doubt as gently as possible, of breaking the news to her or his parents. “Mom? Dad? I have something to tell you….” And I’m at a loss for words. All I can think is to remember that Buddhism strives to live in the middle, that Buddhism strives to get beyond discriminative thinking, that Buddhists are gently prodded to be mindful and compassionate, and that, above all else, these people you’re coming out to are your family. Embrace them with the same compassion the Buddha exhorts us to embrace all sentient beings, do not condemn or bemoan them their beliefs, and never let them forget that Christ exhorts them to turn the other cheek, to treat others and they would have themselves be treated, and to give the poor and downtrodden the very coats off their backs.

And get thee to a Buddhist sangha for support!

Update: in part due to the encourangement of the commenters below, I am doing more research on this topic. Visit this post for more information on how you can help.

9 thoughts on “coming out buddhist

  1. How to tell your family you’re Buddhist… my heart goes out to this person.

    In my family, I imagine coming out Buddhist had been just about as hard as coming out as a queer, although I wouldn’t really know. All I know is that it’s been an extremely painful experience. I got temporarily disowned by my parents and almost got physically kicked out of their home. The ironic thing is, we’re from Korea, a country where Buddhism had once flourished. Like you said, my parents think I’m an idol worshipper bound straight for hell, and my bro is an evangelical – need I say more?

    “‘Mom? Dad? I have something to tell you….’ And I’m at a loss for words.”

    That’s how I feel too. I’ve thought about doing a series of posts on this subject for a while, but I’m not ready to just yet – need to figure out how I’m going to maneuver the subject without any negativity. But this is definitely something I’ve been meaning to talk about at some point, and when I do, I hope that I’ll have a chance to reach out to people like this anonymous web searcher.


  2. While I didn’t get disowned (after all, I have the only grandchild!), “coming out Buddhist” to my folks was tough on everybody. Their Baptist sensibilities were quite offended and it strained things for some time. They still basically refuse to acknowledge that anything is different.

    That’s OK though – I don’t need them to acknowledge my choice.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. It’s a good reminder that my Buddhist experience is unique to my circumstance, that I’m indeed very fortunate to have been raised by a bunch of open-minded hippies.

    Thank you, too, for sharing your own experiences. I wonder if we’re not on to something here, something that doesn’t seem to have gotten much attention in conversations about the American Buddhist experience. How to negotiate these conflicting identities and responsibilities. How to balance our own particular religious/spiritual convictions with familial obligations or expectations. I have a feeling we’re just scratching the surface!

  4. Yes, I think it’s time to start going beneath the surface. Thanks for alerting me to start thinking more urgently about how I’d like to open the conversation. More from me soon.

  5. Hi Scott,

    Based on my interaction with many Christian chaplains (mostly from Protestant and evangelical backgrounds), any form of genuflection or gesture directed towards any OBJECT can be considered a form of idolatry, and also in a broader sense any excessive devotion or obsession with any person or object other than Jesus Christ, whether money, celebrity worship, even dedication to a job, etc. Also, a “crucifix” would be mostly used by Roman Catholics (the cross that has the body of Jesus affixed), while a “Protestant” cross does not – and probably many evangelicals would consider praying before a crucifix or images of Jesus and RC saints also a form of idolatry. Most chapels I’ve been in don’t have any kind of enshrined object, so it can be used for all forms of mostly Christian services. Therefore bowing before any Buddha image, whether it is a statue, myogo, or other picture IS defined as idol-veneration; I even get asked, “What kind of Buddhist idols should we provide?” by other chaplains! So I think we’re pretty much stuck with the “idol” label unless we decide to chuck out all our statues and scrolls. As far as I am aware (and someone correct me if I am wrong), only the Won Buddhist tradition does not utilize and form of Buddha image.

  6. This piece is really something Scott! I think you should follow up on this, maybe collect other people’s “Buddhist coming out” stories. When we go through difficult situations like coming out, it’s helpful to know that we aren’t alone. You probably wouldn’t guess it, but I “came out” as Buddhist to my own parents. I took my younger brother to see a movie one night and left a letter on the counter.

  7. Ironically, I came to this post from the one about how quiet this blog’s readers are, and I’m now posting.

    ‘Comming out’ was difficult for me more because of my own struggle with accepting the Amida’s compassion that family issues. People have always said they wouldn’t be surprised if I was a Buddhist because of my temprement, which I just found funny at the time. However, I’d been anti-religious and very anti-Christian for years and so the idea of wanting to seriously pursue the Dharma was difficult for me to accept. I’m still the only Buddhist in my family, and there is one vehemently Catholic family member everyone agrees not to tell, but otherwise I have been luck enough that everyone has been pretty accepting of it. I’ve gone, and continue to go, out of my way to not be too obnoxious or preachy about it though. I have a small shrine in my bedroom, and I spent a loooong time making sure that my family was comfortable with the idea before I started to attend weekly services at my local temple.

    The Buddha let the consequences of his actions be the proof of his enlightenment and I think that is the best approach here. If you are confident and humble people will be less threatened by the announcement, and showing that you have not ‘gone off the deep end’ will show others that there is no reason to be afraid of this change.

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