Days of Conversion

At one point I converted

At one point I was at Harvard, pacing in the hallway while reading before my Christian Mysticism class. Someone else sat down on one of the benches in the hallway and looked at me for a bit, before asking me about my clothes. I said it pertained to my religious practice and they asked then how I came to Buddhism. I explained that in the fall of 2016 I gave a presentation on the philosophy of Buddhism, based on a comparative religion book I had read and the Stanford Encyclopedia’s entry for Buddha. It was soon after that presentation, although already sympathetic, that I converted. Basically I’d presented the ideas and then came to believe them.

The first book I read exclusively on Buddhism was Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of The Buddha’s Teachings. I would go on to deviate from Buddhism and have a period of confusion wherein I was practicing Hinduism, deeply unsure of myself and what I was doing. I never felt that the formula of the nobles truths was wrong, my issue lie primarily in anatta (not self) and my inability to understand or accept this. I became progressively more frustrated with my Hindu practice. At one point during a family Easter, always uncomfortable now since I quit drinking, my dad reminded me to practice mindfulness. I decided to listen then to a Dharma Talk from Thich and was calmed and renewed.

I found that from the many shallow wells I was digging during my Hindu period I was getting little water. I was smoking a lot of weed and distracted myself from my stress with community organizing. I began to look for something stable to build my life on, as my struggle with anatta remained, it was Thanissaro’s essay No Self or Not Self? that finally freed me. I remembered how when I was earlier in the hospital following my conversion that I found a lot of help from Thanissaro’s talks, particularly the Digging out of Despair set. I printed out With Each and Every Breath and started practicing with more commitment, making a conscious decision to commit to the Thai Forest Tradition. I’ve been practicing in this tradition since.

At some point last summer I was walking through Davis Square when a Planned Parenthood canvasser asked me about my clothes. We went out for pizza in Harvard Square later where I gave her a book of Rumi’s poetry and tried to explain what Dukkha is. Early on in that evening she asked me why I am as devout as I am. It’s not uncommon for converts to have a particular fervor. You don’t leave one religion to join another without good cause. I feel my devotion arises from seeing the sense in the teachings and finding them verifiably true. When you turn a steering wheel slightly to the left and the car follows, it makes sense to deduce that going further left on the wheel will turn the car further left.

An old friend I seldom talk to anymore said I don’t talk about my religious life very much. To the secular people in my life this is certainly true, especially in the trans community where religiosity is often viewed as dangerous or harmful. It’s ever harder to separate the secular and the religious in my life as over time inevitably one encompasses the other. I felt this when I became religious initially as a Wiccan, that rightfully any religion only makes sense when it encompasses your entire life.