coming out buddhist research project

Some months back, I wrote a short little blog piece called “coming out buddhist.” It was one of those pieces that, at the time, was something of a one-off for me. Something I didn’t think was going to be that well-received or end up amounting to much.

As happens, I was wrong. The post generated a good amount of comments, some from unlikely places, and if my statistic-generating tools are any indication, it remains one of my more heavily trafficked bits as of late.

It seems to me that there may be something to this, that there may be something worth exploring further, of focusing my academic skills on, in this little post. So, over the next few months (in my “free time”) I’m going to be doing some research on the subject. And that’s where you come in.

For starters, I want to talk with as many folks as possible about their experiences coming to the Dharma, either fresh for the first time as “converts” (whatever that means) or rediscovering it after some absence or as part of their heritage. Specifically, I’m interested in two separate but related issues: (1) the general experience of “becoming a Buddhist,” or “converting,” or however individuals frame that experience in their lives; and (2) the impact of this choice on their pre-existing relationships with family, partners, friends, coworkers, etc.

How you can help is by adding your voice. If you’d like be included in my research, let me know. Feel free to either leave a comment in this post or contact me directly for more information. If this thing does indeed have legs and ends up being something publishable, know that I am sensitive to privacy concerns; any names or identifying details will be changed in order to protect your privacy and whatever you choose to share will be held in the confidence.

Lastly, a word ought to be said about that phrase “coming out.” I am aware its relationship to the phrase “coming out of the closet,” but in choosing it for my research I am not making the claim that being a Buddhist in this country is at all comparable to being a member of the LGBT community. Members of the latter are subject to legal and institutional discrimination at best, physical violence at worst. Buddhism, to the contrary, is a recognized religion and thus Buddhists enjoy all the legal protections afforded other religions, let alone any cultural cachet “being a Buddhist” may have in certain, hipster-infused parts of the country. So, my use of the phrase in this context (to paraphrase a Very Good Friend who put it much better than I could have and will be getting all due credit when I win the National Book Award) metaphorizes the taboo involved in living a secret life.

Having said all that, if you’re interested in sharing your own story, do let me know. And please forward this post off to anyone you think may be interested or may have something interesting to say.

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9 thoughts on “coming out buddhist research project

  1. Coming out Buddhist can indeed have some dire consequences for some people particularly in America. I know of one person who would likely lose his (elected) job, family and social position if he talked of his Buddhist practice in his area of rampant fundamentalist Christians. As well I read on a blog recently (trying to recall but it slips away just now)that someone had a vanity license plate with a Buddhist theme and their vehicle was repeatedly vandalized. A monk I know of doesn’t wear his robes outside due to harassment by his neighbors. While there is legal protection available due to protection of religious freedom one cannot prosecute an entire community. So religious belief does have it’s perils as well.

  2. I am a professor of Philosophy and Buddhist Studies at Chiang Mai University and Wat (temple) Suan Dok International Buddhist University in Chiang Mai Thailand. I am an American now living in Thailand due to a lot of what you mentioned in your post. I am currently teaching a class at the Ph.D. level about research in Buddhism and the class happens to be in English. My students and I would be happy to help you in any way we can with your research. Feel free to email me.

  3. @ NellaLou: all extremely good points and exactly why I’m doing this project! Care to participate?

    @ Chris: thanks for the comment Chris. I’ll try and contact you via email in the next few days.

  4. I don’t have much of a coming out story. After more than 15 years as a Neopagan, Buddhism is so much more mainstream than what I was doing that it barely got much of a comment. It was certainly better accepted by my largely Christian family.

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  6. Having ‘come out’ as gay to my Christian Mother….which took her some while to get over, I did worry about how I would tell her I have now become a Buddhist. But I ‘fessed up and she was fine. Phew! Sometimes the Universe is on side when you need it! :o)

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