Sunday, September 20, 2009

Faith-Related Conversation

Today, I had a conversation that has affected me deeply. I was asked how I viewed a certain controversial topic as a Buddhist. The response I gave was not one that the person was expecting and he wanted to argue with me. There was a very clear tone of disgust in this man's voice as he tried to interpret my words into something that was easier for him to discredit. Sparing you the details, I'll just say that it was a frustrating conversation, and I felt the need to defend myself. But, I didn't want to argue at all with this person and I ended the conversation as quickly as I could while still being polite.

I think that this feeling that I felt tonight, and in fact still feel right now, is going to be something I have to learn to live with. It's too obvious to say something to the effect of, "I'm a Buddhist living in a Christian society so I need to learn to deal with people who don't understand my faith." I don't think that is the case. Most of my Christian friends find my faith interesting, not disgusting. I think the real meat of the matter is that the Dharma can be hard to hear sometimes. The Dharma is some hard-hitting, no bullshit truth! The Dharma doesn't cater to your feelings, and it doesn't try to sugar coat anything. It lays it all out there, and you can take it or leave it.

Fact #1) Life can suck sometimes, and it sucks for everyone, not just you.

Fact #2) The reason why life sucks is probably because of you, not the other guy.

Honestly, that's one of the things I love about Buddhism is that it's shooting me straight! I think anyone who fully adopts those two facts from above, would also be fully adopting the first two noble truths, and be a better Buddhist for it. So my point is: The Dharma can be hard to hear sometimes.

So because the Dharma talks a straight talk, I think it can be hard to explain some of the harsher concepts to someone who might not be so familiar with them. If someone came to me and asked "Why am I suffering?", it would be improper of me to say, "Well, you must have done something wrong! Stop doing it, whatever it is." The remedy to that person's suffering might ACTUALLY BE that very answer... but that is not at all what that person needs to hear, and they probably will not accept it.

I guess what I'm trying to say, as my frustrated rambling thoughts are pouring onto the keyboard, is that ultimately, the reason why the conversation I had went badly was because I chose my words poorly. I was trying to talk about a very sensitive topic, and I probably should have chosen my words a bit more carefully. THIS is a skill I will need to develop!

In Gassho,



  1. Hank,

    You will ALWAYS run into that 10% who be offended by you and want to argue with your because of your Buddhist faith. The best thing you can do is to be calm. So walking away is usually the best thing to do (which is always better than giving a punch to the nose)! As a chaplain, however, sometimes you will end up having to discuss how Buddhism (or Jodo Shinshu specifically) perceives a thing, so you also need to choose your words carefully, and understand where the other person is coming from and what objective they are trying to reach. Sometimes the other person genuinely wants to understand a point about Buddha-dharma, but sometimes it can be also that they expect you to say something "out there" or New Agey" because that's the stereotype of Buddhists, unfortunately, and they want to see the "calm and peace-loving Buddhist" pissed off! Don't play that game! Knowing the most you can about Buddha-dharma can prepare you for those questions out of left-field and having a sense of humor helps too! I find that most people want to ask real questions, but are afraid they might offend. But even if they are offensive, remember the Buddha's example, and that he said that no one is always praised or always blamed.

  2. Yes to the above comment. I'd add that if I react strongly inside myself to someone's aggressiveness, it's a chance for me to look at myself and ask, Why does that impact me so? My personal experience is that people who are uneasy with my Buddhism are very concerned with their idea that Buddhists don't drink. So I learn something about them - that they do cherish their glass of wine and are afraid someone will tell them they can't have it.

  3. Nothing wrong with a little cup of sake every now and then ;)

  4. I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly. Warm, of course. And then - in my case - a nice afternoon nap.