What led you to Buddhism?

I would like to hear from community members about what it was that led you to become interested in and/or begin practicing Buddhism.

I know one man who, after a lifetime of being an "overachiever"—getting straight A's throughout his school years and graduating from an Ivy League university at the top of his class—had a full psychological and existential breakdown, feeling that all the knowledge and skill he had gained was useless because, at a very fundamental level, he didn't even know who or what he was. When he began to study dharma and practice meditation he saw that, "there are some things you just can't learn in school."

I know a woman who once believed that she had nothing to offer anyone but her beauty. She became a successful model but in the process began a long struggle with drug addiction. In the throes of depression and thoughts of suicide, she sought guidance from a Buddhist teacher and, after receiving much instruction, saw for the first time that her life didn't have to be about herself. She said, "Waking up, for the first time, to the reality that I am able to care for and help others was what saved my life."

I know a guy who ate LSD and "saw infinity." Then, when he saw the Buddhist symbol known as the "knot of eternity" he thought, they must know. He sought out a Tibetan Buddhist Sangha to "learn the secrets" and while he didn't gain the mind-blowing metaphysical knowledge that he expected, he did begin practicing meditation and striving to cultivate wisdom and compassion. Regarding his quest for infinity, that last I heard him say about this was, "My discursive mind is infinite enough."

I've read letters from people who practice Buddhism in prison, and have always found it both inspiring and heart-breaking to hear from people who are on the path in such circumstances. I recall reading one letter from a woman that was the saddest story I have ever heard. After a lifetime of unspeakable suffering and tragedy, she had been sentenced just after seeing her boyfriend killed. Yet, this letter ended along the lines of "What else am I going to do while I'm here? I've got to deal with this stuff one way or another." After reading everything this woman had lived through, that she was turning to meditation and requesting reading materials to support her practice was astounding to me.  While reading this month's Tricycle Book Club selection The Heart of the Revolution by teacher and author Noah Levine, I was struck my Noah's recollection of practicing while locked up:

While in jail for my third felony arrest at a young age, at my father's suggestion I began to meditate. That practice gave me the determination and strength to stop taking drugs and drinking. I turned my attention inward and began the process of healing—a process that continues to this day.

Also, in contrast to the people I have mentioned so far, I think it is important to mention that not everybody arrives at the Buddhist path because of some difficult or extraordinary circumstance. It seems that for some, it just happens, no existential dilemma and tragedy needed. I am reminded of this passage by the late great American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck from her interview, "Life's Not a Problem":

I had a fine life. I was divorced—my husband was mentally ill—but I had a nice man in my life. My kids were okay. I had a good job. And I used to wake up and say, “Is this all there is?”

Then I met Maezumi Roshi, who was a monk at the time. He was giving a talk in the Unitarian Church downtown. I was out for the evening with a friend, a woman, a sort of hard-boiled business type, and we decided to hear his talk. And as we went in, he bowed to each person and looked right at us. It was absolutely direct contact. When we sat down, my friend said to me, “What was that?” He wasn’t doing anything special—except, for once, somebody was paying attention.

I wanted whatever he had.

Please feel free to share your own stories! Is there anyone above that you most identify with? What was it for you? As we work with the present and try to build a better future, there is much that can be learned from examining our past.

Monty McKeever

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ClarkStrand's picture

I should add that I completely rejected the Christianity of my southern upbringing, pursuing Zen with singleminded vigor from that point on, until 1983, when I had a dream (or a vision...it's hard to say which) of the cross. I wrote about this in the next to last chapter of my book HOW TO BELIEVE IN GOD: Whether You Believe in Religion or Not (Doubleday, 2009), which offers a kind of Buddhist reading of the Bible. Even after the dream, though, it took almost another 20 years to fully integrate (or "graft," as I sometimes put it) the two traditions together. I'm now a Buddhist meditation teacher whose primary practice is saying the rosary...go figure. Some might call me confused, but if so it's a particularly satisfying confusion, and one that took a long time and a lot of soul searching to work out.

tomhancock's picture

I came to Buddhism gradually. I had no religious training as a child, other that a few rare trips to a Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (RLDS) church.

As a college student, I was 'prescribed' a relaxation method to treat anxiety. At that time (the mid-1970s) Transcendental Meditation was making the rounds, so I tried that. I was pretty faithful to the practice. I took classes in Zen Buddhism and Chinese philosophy as electives, and that also make an impression. I remember the professor teaching the Zen class warning us that Zen was very difficult--even somehow possibly dangerous. Of course, that made it more interesting.

In graduate school I went to Christianity in the Episcopal (Anglican) form. I liked the ritual of it; it was interesting compared to the bland Protestant churches I knew of. My wife and I were married by a minister from her church (Disciples of Christ) and an Episcopal priest.

I always had in the back of my mind, however, the readings I had made into mysticism. Evelyn Underhill's 'Mysticism', Aldous Huxley's 'The Perennial Philosophy', and Philip Kapleau's 'The Seven Pillars of Zen' were important, although I really didn't understand a lot of it at the time.

So it was an accumulation of a lot of small things, no great single moment of insight that 'this is the way.' I feel that I am firmly in the Buddhist mindset at this point in my life, however.

mitaky's picture

I was born in a minority immigrant Buddhist community/family in Calcutta. Growing up I rarely met another Buddhist around me. Buddhism almost disappeared in its land of origin, so much so that I had to hide my religion to avoid explaining my family roots. I had some exposure to Buddhist literature and magazine in the house which struck me as quite different than the predominant Hindu faith and beliefs of my friends. I was most impressed with Kalama sutta, ehipassiko, general openmindedness, inquiry and freedom from dogma and ritual Buddha encouraged. I was not much into mindfulness practice until I encountered serious inner turmoil after coming to United States as a graduate student. It made me question many things. After quitting my civil service job I wholeheartedly devoted my time to the spiritual task of restoring inner peace and knowing myself so I can be of use to others. My simple faith in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha carried me through many difficult times. I feel blessed to be able to walk the path with so many of you here. Much metta and mudita to all.

stevevickery's picture

I have been interested in Buddhism since high school. The irony of that still surprises me. My social studies teacher, a French Jew, suggested to me that i choose one of the eastern religions since i had mentioned in class my feeling of disengagement from western religious practice (the aftermath of intense family disagreements). I chose Buddhism as a study focus. My reading direction at that time was also stimulated by Alan Watts, Gary Snyder, and other Beat Gen. writers. The true seed of my interest in Buddhist practice was Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. Reading Suzuki's clear minded prose just made so much sense to me.
After twenty years and the death of both my parents, I struggled with myself and finally realized that this teaching from the east was something that still felt real and correct to me. I feel a great affinity for the peaceful quality of Buddhist practice, great respect for the teachings and teachers, and gratitude for the sangha. Looking at it now, I think i was always going in this direction.

luckiedaniels's picture

truth is, nothing in my conscious being ever alerted me to the fact that i would one day find this eastern practice so naturally comforting.

as a child i was never exposed to other spiritual practices & was taught that ANYTHING outside of Christianity was 'pagan' worship. i faithfully attended church on sundays & bible class on wednesdays. i quoted scripture easily. i judged people who did not believe what i believed harshly.

i did all these things but God did not exist in my heart. not personally. not really. God was disposable.

then life shouted... my maternal Grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer & began her transition from this world to the next. as i witnessed the Creator honoring my Grandmother's life by granting her every prayer until death, my Spirit opened to the quest of living life with honor.

i prayed a simple prayer. that God would show me how & where he resided in ME. i wanted to be healed. i wanted to be renewed. i had no idea of what course my life would take {and it has taken many, many turns/twists/dips} but i learned to have real faith... the kind i had never known before.

by shedding first what i didn't believe {Kelly, you're on the right track girl!} i was able to dig deep to discover my own spiritual truth & that knowing sustains me daily.

it exists when no one else understands it OR believes its presence/value in my life. i have learned that it is not important that i find perfect words to explain my belief. what is important is that i LIVE my belief daily. moment by moment.

by sheer volition Buddhism has forced me to embrace a life that is more Authentic. more real. more true. when i fall short, it prompts me to dust myself off & try again & again.

it is the path for me. i know this now more than ever before & as i look back over the past 14 years at where i am today, i know that its presence in my life was NO accident! it was my Destiny!

Peace & OM!:-)

Ian Ross's picture

I am not sure I remember why, but the beginning for me was Buddhism for Dummies which caught my eye I think at an airport book shop. This led to reading more books, some of the Dalai Lama's works and of course the internet and podcasts. From the time I started meditation my wife and family noticed a difference in me for the better, much calmer, quieter and more relaxed. Not perfect in anyway but different. I continue to read and practice on my own and learn something new about myself almost every day.

tomhancock's picture

My wife finds me in a much better state when I'm meditating regularly, too. :)

ToonForever's picture

Me three! It's like night and day - My schedule is often rather crazy, with a lot of travel, and when I don't get my daily meditation it really shows. Cheers :)

gokalyanigo's picture

How did I get here? It was a long complicated journey. I have recently returned to my childhood home, the Southern New Mexico desert, actually a basin, surrounded by the end of the Rockies. I have a cabin in Cloudcroft I spent as much time as I can there, work keeps me traveling. What I have discovered, driving through the basin to Cloudcroft, the desert was my first concept of God, the sunsets, the clouds, that was God to me as a child. I prayed to that God. I would walk into the desert until I could barely see the base, and sit and just be there. I had visions. It was meditation.
Life has dealt me the usual Glory and Hell times. I have "done" just about all religions, even a short stint at one point at New York Theological Seminary. My last and longest spiritual discipline has been with The Naples Community of Mindfulness. I left Naples four years ago for the Southwest and home. Now, with no spiritual community around these parts, I am on my own, with the sky and Tricycle. To me Buddhism seems like the last stop of spiritual exploration. It is back to the beginning, back to the movement of clouds in the basin, of fantastic colors of sky, of dry heat, lizard recognition, and abstract visions of nothing.

eric.hagedorn's picture

Hello Gokalyanigo,
I have not had the courage or time to check out the various Buddhist groups in El Paso or Las Cruces, but there are at least 2 Zen groups in Las Cruces with a small group in Cloudcroft. You may already know about these, but just in case:

I believe the Clear Mind Zen has some connection to Cloudcroft.

I envy the beauty you experience in Cloudcroft and hope you see a brightly colored cophosaurus texanus!

Eric Hagedorn

rich.kooyer's picture

I took a Seminary class as an elective "other traditions" category. I came to believe in the teachings a bit more and thought about practicing as a Buddhist Chaplain in the military rather than my background as a Unitarian Universalist (UU).

I was then confronted by a conservative clergy-member from a western tradition that referred to me as some rather spiteful things while being a UU so I had enough. I wanted something that was more certain and Buddhism gave me that foundation.

gallatin's picture

I first discovered Buddhism about 30 years ago through a book I randomly found on the bookshelves of the military academy I was attending at the time. I ended up checking the book out and never returning it. I still have it and it is on my bookshelf now. I read and dabbled a little here and there over the years. But I didn't seriously begin to practice until several years ago as I was struggling to overcome a multi-decade addiction to cocaine and heroin and all the complications that come with this lifestyle choice.

After rehab, I attended NA and worked steps but the process somehow left me empty (in a "bad" way). I have always been, and still am, agnostic so struggled with the whole higher power idea. The suggestion that I think of "God" as a "group of drunks" or trying to view my NA group as my higher power or some other substitute left me cold. At some level I began to doubt I had enough spirituality left in me, so to speak, to have the promised spiritual awakening. (I now know this was actually a pretty silly thought but that's how I felt at the time.) Also, I could never shake the thought that I was the one who got myself into this mess and I was the only one who could get myself out if it. There were simply too many times I could have put down the pipe or the syringe but I made the decision to keep going.

Though the ideas I had picked up through the years about Buddhism remained with me, they were pretty jumbled and scatter shot but something within me told me that the answers I was seeking lay there. So I started reading and then attending zazen at a nearby Zen center and have seen going ever since. I have no doubt that I owe my sobriety to my practice. My practice and the Four Noble Truths have become my "higher power" and the Eightfold Path my step work.

I am only now beginning to get the vaguest glimpse what it might mean to be fully in this moment and experience small sense of true compassion means. The journey I am now now has given me a joy and depth that, 5 or 10 years ago, I would not have dreamed possible.

P.S. The above is in no way meant to denigrate AA, NA or any of the associated fellowships. They work for a lot of people but my path lay elsewhere.

wilberton's picture

About 15 or so years ago, at the age of 31, someone gave me a copy of Everyday Zen. I was anti-religion, anti any religion; but, thought it looked interesting so I started reading. When I got to Charlotte Joko Beck's retelling of the empty boat story, I was floored. I saw myself so clearly. I lived life as if there were thousands of people in the boat to be angry at and blame. I started using the phrase "empty boat" to auto-correct my angry reactions and my impatience and I started changing and that's when I realized I had to look into this Buddhist thing a little deeper.

Several years later, my partner, who listened to my Buddhist thought development but wasn't interested, broke her collarbone in a bicycle accident and a week later, while on a plane with a copy of a Sylvia Boorstein book she bought for me, she started reading. She was particularly taken with a passage about physical pain. She told me that on her first reading, her response was F*ck You, Sylvia. And she began reading more Boorstein and some Sharon Salzberg and when we were forgiving ourselves for having mean or angry thoughts we would sometimes say, F*ck You, Sylvia as a joke because we knew her teachings were so wise and truthful.

Just a few months after her bicycle accident, I was in a horrible scooter accident. One on a scale where I feel lucky to be here, thinking, laughing, loving, typing this. And the nine years of my fledgling Buddhist practice that preceded this accident, enabled me to respond with a resiliency I did not even know I had. And it enabled me to look upon the man who hit me, with compassion and not even a tiny flash of anger surfaced. I thank the many Buddhist teachers both in print and in person who I have learned from...if not for their teachings, I fear I would be filled with anger and blame and focused on what I lost instead of what I gained.

Rachael.M's picture

When I was very young, my mother would make my brother and I pray every night. Her and my father were raised Catholic, but they didn't want their children to be raised the same way, so my brother and I were both baptized Episcopalian. As we grew older, we didn't have to pray as much anymore, and eventually we stopped altogether.
When I was in high school, my junior year, I realized that everyone else around me had some sort of religious views, but I hadn't really developed any of my own. I began researching religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc, and I loved learning about them all, but I was mostly interested in Buddhism.
Then, about a year later, His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to speak at a local venue, and I attended with a friend. He was so wise and kind, and he had many of the same views on religion as I did (for example, he taught that everyone is different, and everyone needs to choose the religion that works best for them; there is not one 'right' religion).
After that, I began studying Buddhism a lot more and adhering to different Buddhist ways of life. I have always been prone to anxiety, and I have never felt more at peace than when I meditate. I'm so happy that I found Buddhism, because it has been such a positive influence in my life!

paulsilence's picture

I "discovered" Buddhism in college, perhaps not surprisingly, in an Intro to Philosophy class roughly nine years ago. Before this, all I knew of Buddhism was your typical stereotypical Western ideas. We read a basic, bare bones primer about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, and all I know is that my life hasn't been the same since. Such simple statements, yet such profound, razor edged insights. Since then, my focus of study has been Soto Zen, and I'm happier than I've ever been before. Zen has helped me deal with depression, hair-trigger emotions, and even anti-social tendencies. I feel much more connected with all of my fellow beings, and although there's always room for further evolution, I'm confident in ways I wasn't before.

dharma9's picture

I was raised by my mother to go to church every Sunday and I went willingly. I believed, read my bible, wore a cross around my neck - the whole 9 yards. But in my late teens, at that age when people begin to think for themselves, I had questions that the simple answers given in church just could not satisfy. I found myself drifting from the church and believing in a very different way. The problem is, I didn't know just what it was.

I believed that there could be no god who controlled my life. It was up to me. I believed that my life was mostly dictated by how I lived it. I could pray all day and night, but god wasn't going to answer. I believed that all things in life had a connection, that nothing existed on its own. And I believed that all people created their own happiness or unhappiness. My Christian friend asked me what religion I was, as I clearly wasn't Christian any more. And all I could answer was "I don't know."

20 years passed before I found myself on beliefnet.com taking their "belief-o-matic" survey. And at the end, when I submitted my answers, I was shocked to see that they were calling me a Buddhist. Up until that time I never knew what a Buddhist was. So I went to their Buddhism section to read up and, lo and behold, I found out that I had been a Buddhist all along, I just didn't know it. So I didn't become a Buddhist because of a life changing event, or from spiritual struggle, or because someone talked me into it, or because I read a book. I developed the belief system completely on my own, totally ignorant of Buddhism. And I'm still wondering how that happened. Past life, maybe?

csancheeze's picture

I was raised as a Southern Baptist, practically memorized the Bible and its teachings at a very young age. Found comfort in the teachings of Jesus, but little else within that community. I had different ideas about life and it never seemed like the right fit. I stopped attending church in my teens. Then one summer while home from college I let my parents know that I didn't even know if there was a God or not. After being threatened that I would lose all support from my family I joined the Navy and went to Japan. I went to visit the gardens and a giant Budha statue. The atmosphere was a peace I had never felt before. I later stumbled upon "The Three Pillars of Zen" by Philip Kapleau in a book store. Bought it but, didn't read it until 4 years later. Everything in my life has brought me to this moment. There is nothing that hasn't lead me to Buddhism. I could not be here, had I not gone through there.

bwheaton's picture

For me, it was the experience of making some money, getting financially comfortable, and then realizing that I felt "the same" as I did in years, or in decades past. It was an eye opening experience to realize the security is not monetarily based, but rather in your connection to your soul and your spiritual ground.

moonchild53's picture

I became a Zen student around 8 years ago. For years, I experienced this feeling of that there was something out there I needed to search for and through the ups and downs of a pretty abusive marriage (which ironically produced four wonderful children) it remained constant within me. After 29 years I left my ex husband and went searching. A few months later I went on a one day retreat - just out of curiosity - where I first set eyes a Buddha rupa almost 20 feet high. At first sight, my heart sang and I felt as if I had come home. Since then, I have joined a Rinzai Zen group, have a wonderfully profound (but strict!) teacher and I have found my life to be one of wonder and amazement ever since. That's not to say it hasnt been hard because it certainly has. However, I now know daily that I am blessed to have found this path and an answer to the way out of suffering for us all ,,, and it works ! Blessings to you all.

Linda :)

bodhisatvachic66's picture

not real high blood pressure, but I found for me 4'11" 120/80 was still high enough. Read a book, "The Relaxation Response" by Herbert Benson Md. In the book, there is suttle buddhist hints. Meditation is the key for the book and as I looked into this , Dalai Lama person and Buddha I found myself. I found an ungly self-centered human being. I also found true happiness, unconditional love & above all truth. That was 10 years ago and lot's of reading, contemplating, meditating and apologies to myself and others. I'm not perfect, not always nice but I am true. I see myself in others, I try and care for others, end others suffering when I can and after that I have found I sleep better. Think, think, think and the better our thoughts of doing good, the happier we are. Bad thoughts make us sick, doctors don't tell you that.
Namaste my friends.

cjw1103's picture


tara123's picture

Buddhism is a wondrous way of understanding the world around you and your place in it; however, I do not believe one can convert to Buddhism. My spirituality is the most important aspect of my life, but I never "converted." My personal journey to Buddhism has been as natural as breathing. Originally, I wanted to become a minister. My theological studies delved into many religious and spiritual paths, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Baha’i. I even delved into physics and the Universal Field Theory. Religions and belief systems have more in common than not; however, Buddhism is different. It is not a "religion."
Buddhism is incorporated into one's life through meditation and study. Meditation helps one begin to look at life with more love and compassion. For many, this grows into a process of self-education, reaching into the teachings of Buddha to simplify life by following certain precepts such as:
1. Right Living (respecting and protecting all life);
2. Care of Self (avoiding drugs and intoxicants);
3. Right Speech (not speaking against other people); and
4. Karma (understanding that what we do to others will return to us).
As I learned to meditate and becomes comfortable with the feeling of not sleeping, but fully aware of the universe around me, there followed a feeling of oneness with all people, all living beings, oneness with the air inhaled or exhaled, even oneness with the universe as cells seem to separate to become a part literally of something greater than just oneself. There have been many names for this, like "the force," "the web of life," or "the universe." There is not a real conversion to Buddhism, but there is a slow, gentle change of thinking. With a change in thinking comes a change in action and a sense of responsibility for the world around us and worlds beyond that. I do not have to ring a gong, sit cross-legged on a pillow, and wear special robes to give honor to Buddha and to all life. The Buddha lives inside me, around me, in the birdsong that awakens me, and in the words I write to give me hope. To know there need not be a moment of "non-Buddhist" and "Buddhist" will make life easier for those who want to explore the possibilities within Buddhism and the Buddhist community (sangha). To look more deeply into a different way of thought can only expand the mind and be good for an individual.
We are all made of the same energy, and energy never dies it simply changes forms. A gentle exploration of other ways of life may be the first steps on the path toward love and peace.

goodgulf.wizard's picture

I had gained a general understanding of Buddhism from college (religion major), but had always seen it from a distance. While taking Karate I learned that experiences could be spiritual without necessarily being religious. Since then I started reading on the subject. My interest grew and now I meditate each day for 15 minutes. I hope to be making a major move soon and will be looking for a teacher in my new home town. Pocatello, ID. I would love to study Zen. Buddhism for Dummies and The Three Pillars of Zen are the most influential books so far. With all of that said, I am such a beginner.

letting go's picture

raised roman catholic...mother devout...never worked for me
father recently died...hit home the reality of death
mid-life crisis didn't help the illusion of living as if time was unlimited
led to search for possible meaning to life
basic buddhist teachings appeared well thought out and logical to me
just starting out...researching different schools of thought
enjoying the focus

jumoore's picture

For me, it was realizing that I had a lot of trouble accepting Christianity and THAT'S OK! I started reading, opening myself to the experience of what I was comfortable believing, what felt true to me. I read Richard Bach, which saved my life in a bad time. Then I picked up Thich Nhat Hanh, and I was home. I am now reading Pema Chodron a lot, Lama Surya Das. I try to apply lovingkindness practices to every day, which really help me get through the day...as I work for hospice. Buddhism has been the calm in my storm, helping me understand the world. I hope to continue to learn and grow...:)

atool's picture

Born in a Jain family used to go to the temple to pray once in a while & was not into the "religion" aspect. Read about the Gotama Buddha in a history book & got amazed by the contents. The Mahavir & Buddha had more less the same message but I looped more on the Buddha. After celebrating my 21st birthday in India with my great grand mother & grandparents I left for Thailand accompained by cousin borther we were on a tour of Asian Countries that started form Kenya, India, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore & back home. In Thailand we visited so many Buddhist temples that I guess that was the time the seed was planted in me. Years later I read about Shambala publications & ordered some books including one by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, that started my journey on the Path of the teachings of the Buddha. An advert in the local newspaper in 2000 annoucing a series of talks by a Theravada Buddhist Monk The Venerable Bhante Wimala -www.bhantewimala.com at the Buddhist temple in Nairobi changed my life. Meeting & talking to Bhante Wimala & his constant visits to Nairobi in the years to come paved my path, that in 2007 January I was ordained as a Buddhist. The Temple has a library & the first book that I read was by Jack Kornfield. I learnt walking mediatation & sitting mediation with Bhante on a 3 day group retreat & then have been attending 10 day Vipassana retreats that are held in Nairobi twice a year at least once a year. Bhante Wimala had brought a Burmese Monk from Myanmar with whom I practised my meditation till he left to go home. I have been reading many books on the Buddha's teachings & now that Bhante Wimala flies in & stays for couple weeks at a go makes it easier for me to learn from him meditation & the teachings. An amazing journey that I have undertaken, meeting many teachers, scholars & also learning from Zen teachers that I met on the Net & also fortunate to have met a novice monk in Nairobi. There are Zen classes that are held once a week, I sat fo rone at our temple. I am getting back on the cushion & on the ground my practise had wavered for sometime, but seem now that need to let go & just meditate. I was interviewd by Linda Heumen for an article that has apprered in The Tricycle 2011 Summer magazine issue - do read it.
The Buddha's teachings are very clear & some of my friends have joined me though our paths are different our goals are the same. Tricycle opened the community through the Net is a very big blessings as there is A virtual SANGA. Thank you
With Metta
Atula Shah (Nairobi, Kenya)

cingallegra's picture

Hi Atula, I read the interview with you one month ago in the paper edition of Tricycle: it inspired me to visit this website. Thank you!

petevanalstyne's picture

I was raised Mormon in Salt Lake City.... That being said, many years passed while I just went with the flow of things. I never really felt completely comfortable with the LDS Church, but it was what I grew up with and what my family believed in. I finally came to a crossroads where I had to decide where I was going in life and what I believed. As such I spent several years reading everything I could about religion in general, Mormonism in particular, Biblical history, anthropology, archeology, etc.... I came to realize that I simply didn't believe, not just in Mormonism, but in any of the Abrahamic traditions. At first this lead me to agnositicism, followed closely by atheism. Then one day I happened to pick up a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called "The Heart of Buddhas Teaching". At first I couldn't grasp the content, but after letting it sit for about a year, I picked it up again and this time it just flowed. I have since read over 20 different books on Buddhism (over the past 3 years) and feel that the teachings resonate with me in a way I never felt in my previous faith. I have started meditation practice on my own since I don't have a Sangha nearby, but there are many good books and CD's to help with that. I truly feel that this is where I was always meant to be.

andapeterson's picture

Back when I was a semi-hippie --too inhibited to qualify for full-hippiedom--during my college days, my fellow hippies and I agreed that the maple trees and flower-filled prairies of the Midwest were made from star-dust, as were we all. We actually took Wordsworth at his word–that the whole world is in a grain of sand. I still believe that.

Many of of my friends (though not I), privileged in all the materials ways, products of white corporate America in its heyday—were disenchanted and alienated from that very privilege I envied. Although they had material comfort, my peers were disturbed by the other products of corporate America: wars, poverty, misogyny, racism, destruction of nature. Those stood in stark contrast against their privilege. So we thought “we are star-dust, we are golden and we’ve got to find out way back to the garden” as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang. Joni Mitchell’s lyrics became our anthem.

Though I didn’t have their economic security, I understood my friends’ desire to be in “the garden,” a place where people came before possessions and profits, and hate took a backseat to love. We had true glimpses of it too—or there would not now be things like yoga studios, and environmental studies and bumper stickers that say “Arms Are for Hugging…” We just weren’t ready yet to go for the Whole Enchilada, coming as we did from the Big Taco of Capitalism.

Now, many years later, at 63 years of age, I am back to searching for the garden. It’s what I wish we had found back then. However, now I am one of this culture’s worst nightmares: I am 63 years old, unable financially to ever fully retire, unmarried and childless. No house. No great pension. No big IRA. No time to amass the attachments that will keep me “safe.” (The reasons for this are numerous and not relevant here). Consequently, I can’t seek comfort and happiness in “my golden years” in the usual ways. I don’t have the money to remodel the kitchen when I feel empty, travel when I feel bored, turn to a mate for solace to share the burdens, or treat myself to a fancy make-over and new shoes when the mate won’t give me the love I want. What’s left to cling to? Some choose drugs and/or alcohol or even food, but though I dabbled in all that, those did not work for me (although lately Heath Bar cookies almost do it!)—My addictions are to people, places and things and now with fewer ways to get a fix, what lifeline to grab?

But loss, I’m beginning to see, has its good side. For example, a benefit of no longer being able to win admiration for your body parts is that ageing can help accelerate the search for what might replace the body. The problem in youth is that young people think they are bodies. Ageing taps you on the shoulder and says “Uh, nope. That was just for a hot minute for the mating dance. Even a chipmunk knows that. ” (Age, as we know, is often kinda blunt). Getting old is like a strip-tease of attachments anyway. Maybe I can make letting go of things—especially those I never had– sexy. Or, as Janis Joplin sang, “when you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.”

The Buddhist idea that attachment is the cause of suffering makes sense to me, but I live in a country where happiness is defined as the opposite: happiness is the result of accumulation of attachments to people, places and things. I would like to say I’m immune to that prevailing definition, but I’m not. However, ever since I learned about the Buddhist idea some 40 years ago in my 20’s, I’ve longed to live in that ideal. So…better late than never.
I think I am being forced to become the one I was looking for. I have the opportunity to achieve non-attachment easier than usual because there is not as much to unglue myself from. A Buddhist would say I’m lucky. As Osho once said, “Barn’s burned down. Now I can see the moon.”
Yeah, right…says ego.
Yeah. Right, I reply as I look up at the moon.

CreativeDad's picture


Thank you for your story. I especially like the "strip-tease of attachments" line. I share your POV.

For many years, I never quite understood the Buddhist principle of "non-attachment" When I finally realized it had more to do with the stories we tell about ourselves and the identities we claim rather than with objects/people/ideas, it was a big deal to me.

I had TM training in the 70's when I was a teenager. Dabbled in meditation over the years. Joined a Unitarian Universalist church about 12 years ago when we had our first child.

Like many men, though, I'm coming to terms with aging. That led me into the heart of Buddhism. Can I find some permanence in this impermanent world? As I struggle to hold on to my youth, I sometimes get a glimpse of my folly. More and more, though, I find myself chasing that specter called anatta.

Dominic Gomez's picture

I feel your pain, m'friend. I'll be 59 this year. No one is free of the four sufferings: birth, aging, illness and death. The purpose of the practice and study of Buddhism is to enjoy your life at any given point in its eternally ongoing spectrum.

ron.tan's picture

Generally as a fine young man of 30 this year, I must say I have led a smooth-going life. But in-between I had some ups and downs - I was happy at one moment, and sad at another - coping with sickness and deaths in the family etc. Basically I had to investigate why can't I just have all the UPs, and not the downs.

When I heard the 4 noble truths and eightfold paths, I immediately knew Buddhism was for me. It was logical, yet at the same time, maybe it's because of my karmic links, the teachings resonated so deeply within me. I prayed to Buddha for wisdom, for compassion, and also for a guru to guide me.

I started with the Theravadan tradition, and moved into the Vajrayana esoteric practices in participating in pujas and Yidam practices. I never felt so joyful in what I was doing and I literally could feel the supreme blessings from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. More importantly, my faith grew and i felt confident about my life - the confidence come from the fact that it is not about me, but it is about living a purposeful life of love, compassion and selflessness -- so as to benefit all the sentient beings.

As much as we are in samsara, the Triple Gems brought so much joy, calmness and peace in this present life, and I vow to be a Buddhist in no matter how many more rebirths i have to take before being liberated!!!

Leo Pezzementi's picture

When I first started to investigate Buddhism, I ran across this daily meditation on buddhanet on 9 December 2009. That is the day I became a buddhist. Does anyone know where this comes from?

Mind Garden

Two people wait for a late bus.
One is frustrated,
while the other takes it easy...
Thus, the source of frustration cannot be the bus.

Is there an evil bus-driver out there to be angry at?
The seed of anger lies within.
The "late buses of life" are only conditions which
ripen our anger.
In the end, it is you who cause your state of mind.

The causes of (un)happiness are within your mind.
Take care of your mind then.
It is a garden -
you decide what seeds to plant and nurture.

cingallegra's picture

Falling hard as A-type in a strong competitive environment. Thich Nhat Hanh learned me to be more realistic not only about my opponents at that time but also about myself. The humour of Pema Chodron gave me extra tools to join life in all its aspects. For me, buddhism makes the difference because of the emphasis on practice rather than on wisdom in the books. Doing the same things in a different way: taking time to experience things as they really are and trying to keep an open heart towards others and yourself. And although this continual practice isn't always comfortable (ego's tend to be tough), I'm grateful it came into my life.

MRad60's picture

I relate to some of the posters above who are approaching Buddhism from a Christian background. I was raised Catholic, by parents of Irish heritage who were very pious. From an early age I found it difficult to believe in many aspects of Christianity, much of which I found illogical and absurd, but I was attracted to Catholicism's traditions of contemplative prayer and social justice. I became interested in Zen when in middle school I found Paul Reps' Zen Flesh, Zen Bones and Janwillem van de Wetering's Empty Mirror in the local library. Thomas Merton's books, especially Zen and the Birds of Appetite and Mystics and Zen Masters, also whetted my appetite. In college I found a sitting group and practiced with it for a while. Then my interest in Zen and Buddhism faded for several decades while I pursued a career. I practiced Catholicism, on and off. I married a girl who shared my Irish Catholic backgrouind, and out of a sense of duty we raised our daughter in the Church. We regularly attended Mass until several years ago, when we became disillusioned by what I saw as the day-to-day hypocrisy of the official Church (particularly regarding the child abuse scandals). I tried other denominations and sat with a Quaker meeting for a while. At the same time I became very stressed out by my high-pressure career as a corporate attorney and on the suggestion of a friend I took up meditation and started to practice mindfulness. I immediately started to feel happier and began to read a lot of Dharma books, especially the books of Thich Nhat Hahn, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, and Lama Surya Das. I now love to practice zazen. One interesting tentative result is that I have not abandoned Christianity, but I feel the Church may have misunderstood the teachings of Jesus. Jesus's teachings about love and compassion, loving one's enemies and turning the other cheek make better sense to me now that I have studied a little about Buddhism. The self-centered values of our busy, competitive society, and our cultures of obsessive greed, consumption, punishment and destruction make less sense to me than before. In fact, I am starting to see many aspects of our society as truly crazy. I feel that I actually understand the teachings of Jesus better now that I have integrated Buddhist concepts like emptiness and impermanence, non-self, dependent origination, and the interconnectedness of being, into my thinking. So am I a Buddhist or a Christian, both, or neither? I don't know, but I don't worry about it.

noeman5's picture

I have been into martial arts for a large part of my life, and used meditation as a tool to enhance my focus, but never as a tool for self-examination. I came to a point that I could achieve almost anything I set my mind to, but could find no peace or fulfillment. I took a comparative religions class a few years ago as part of one of my degrees, and was intrigued by Buddhism. It struck a chord with me, it made more sense than any of the "standard" religions I'd been exposed to in my life. I began reading a bunch of the "intro" books and think I have found a good fit. I am more at peace now than any other time in my life. I've been studying the basics for about a year on my own and am now beginning to search for a teacher.

stevierayhall's picture

I went to a Catholic HS for boys and took a world religion class. I had never heard of Buddhism but liked the description of it immediately. I asked my English teacher about it, who was not Catholic, and he recommended Siddhartha. I was immediately hooked, but had no access to it until I lived in San Diego in the 90s. I took a meditation class and was introduced to books by Jack Kornfield and Thich Nhat Hahn. I eventually attended retreats with both of them as well as Lama Surya Das at Esalen and at Spirit Rock. Then Thich Nhat Hahn opened Deer Park Monastery just a few miles away which I consider a miracle as I have the chance to do weekend retreats there for $70 or any Sunday for free. Great question!


PS I was also influenced by other Herman Hesse books like the Magister Ludi (Glass Bead Game) where the main character lives in a society that promotes exercise and daily mediation practice.

BlissfulDelight's picture

I was raised in a Catholic family, however my mom always told me to explore other things if I felt the need to. I thank her for that. I came to Buddhism about a year and a half ago. I was sitting at home thinking of all the "religions" throughout the world and stopped and thought, "Buddhism seems to be the most peaceful and to-the-point religion". I came to realize, though reading Zen Mind Beginners Mind mixed with other books, that Buddhism isn't really a religion but a way of life. The way life is taught to us in a way with a deeper meaning. I feel in love with it. It made me start to realize that life will always be crazy, I will never know what is to come and all I can do is ride the waves. It has been a wonderful experience and I learn more about myself and the blows of life every second of the day. I enjoy appreciating the sound of singing birds, the silence of my home at night and so much more in life. Buddhism helped me cope with my past and present. Mixed with my meditation and yoga practice I feel more at ease. It's simply wonderful.

jenneil's picture

I became interested in Buddhism after reading a novel titled "Breakfast with Buddha" and the novel "Golfing with God" written by a gentleman by the last name of Mercullo.

I was particularly impressed with an analogy in the Breakfast with Budda about our minds being like water in a clear class. When you add dirt to the water and stir it up, it is more difficult to see clearly. Wait until the dirt settles then you can see more clearly.

I found that to be quite practical for the times that I am bothered by something.

I then bought the book "Buddhism for Dummies," that also contained some useful information. I don't understand yet the different sects of Buddism. Buddhism seems to have as many different sects as Christian and Judism.

I then found that although the community where I live does not have a Buddhist Temple, there are monthly services. I am thinking about attending a service to see what it is like, but because I cannot physically sit on the floor, or get up from the floor, I do not know if I would be welcomed.

I was riding with a friend to a meeting and told him about my interest in Buddhism, and he recommended the Tricycle magazine that he receives. So I have recently subscribed to the magazine. I am looking forward to receving it. In the meantime I am reading "Coming Home ... Jesus and Buddha as Brothers" by Mr. Hanh.

JKinkaid55's picture

This is my story and it is not my intent to defame other religions, but this was my journey to where I am now.

I was raised as an Episcopalian. In my mid- 20’s I decided that if I was going to call myself a Christian, I should know and understand all that it meant. So I started an almost 25 year quest to fully understand my religion, and all other major religions and how they relate, or don’t relate to each other. A part of this investigation was to validate my religion against others and to ensure that I was worshiping as God intended.

I studied not just the Christian Bible, but the Pentateuch (The Five books of Moses), the sayings of The Buddha, Taoism, and slightly less, the Koran and Hinduism. I studied commentaries on each religion by persons who either supported or were opposed to each religions teachings or current practice. I studied books on the history of each religion and their holy books (who wrote them and when). The more I studied Christianity, the more I realized that Jesus was a Jewish reformer and not out to start a new religion; and that many of the things in Christianity that we believed and practice came to us through Paul not Jesus. Lastly, I found that many of these things that we followed as Christians would be anathema to Jesus. So as others who came to believe this, I started to investigate Judaism more deeply to potentially convert to Judaism.

I purchased the most authoritative version of Jewish holy books that had extensive commentaries included. But as I read these books and their commentaries, and as I contemplated all that I had read and studied over the decades, and all the discrepancies within the Bible and between the Jewish and Christian versions of the Pentateuch and with the Bible and science, what I found in all the Abrahamic religions was not the hand of God shaping events, but the hand of man. I was absolutely floored and left adrift spiritually.

Then I remembered the teachings of The Buddha that I had read. I remembered how everything he said made sense and was fully supported by science. I also remembered how his story made me feel that I could also attain the happiness and peace he felt. So I bought the Dalai Lama’s book “How to Practice” and began meditating. I started noticing how calmer and more at peace I could be with myself and others. So I bought more books and started attending teachings of both The Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Han and here I am almost 7 years later happier and calmer than I have ever been.

manatee's picture

VERY SIMPLE . . . while Christian mysticism did HELP me stay grounded, I had to go looking for how to 'love with your whole mind' . . . the first place I looked was Buddhist, and in those first days from the point of view of Thich Nhat Hanh. GRATEFUL - GRATEFUL - GRATEFUL . . .


cjrweb70's picture

I reached a point in my life in my late 20's where I knew I needed something spiritual in my life, but I wasn't sure what. I did some research into many religions. One attribute that eliminated any religion from my list was a belief in a "super being." (I just don't believe in it.) That knocked out most of the more common religious practices. I had whittled down the list to Buddhism, Taoism, and Wicca. Admittedly, Wicca has some super being aspects to it, but I didn't see it as a "worship me or be destroyed" mentality, which was what I was trying to avoid. Taoism just didn't seem to have a lot of practitioners in the USA, which would make a practice that much more difficult for me. The Buddhist porridge was just right. I picked up a copy of "Buddhism for Dummies" (I still have the book!) to give me a better idea of the various flavors out there and chose to investigate Zen. I haven't looked back since.

fyrefighter591's picture

I am a native american that was adopted at birth into strongly christian family. I grew up thoughout the New England area as a P.K. and was raised to be a christian. Throughout my life I never seemed to feel a sense of belonging and found myself at odds sometimes with the overall pattern of thinking in todays society. My heroes were the lone wolves that spent their time conquering their mind and living life to protect others. I found Christianity to emphasize prayer as a way to fix things and the belief that God would always answer yes to those who were faithful. I felt that there was little in the way of tools for one to use to fix oneself other than to pray about it. I observed a lot of people falling when the yes did not come. In my ever questioning manner, I found myself contemplating life and our reality. I came up with some interesting observations but felt as an foreign island when I tried to interject my thoughts in certain groups. For some reason,I have always had an Eastern way of looking at things and found myself natural pulled toward eastern philosophy and the culture. Tibetan and Hindu and Japanese cultures and even the Samuari cultures facinated me. I have always tended to over analyze everything including my own reactions and behaviors to my surroundings. Somewhere along the way I came to an understanding of life that made sense to me and developed a certain contentment and balance in my daily living. I found myself watching everything..essentially being what I would term mindful. It took me 46 years to come into contact with Buddhism but one day, I while filling in downtime at work, I decided to type in Buddhism in Wikipedia to see what it was about. As I read, I realized that there was a whole community of people out there that "got it" and quickly immersed myself in learning all that I could. Everything that I had pondered and come to understand on my own had already been found by many others throughout the years. (only they knew even more!) I now have a label for my mental activities and beliefs and practice continually in order to grow and continually learn. As a firefighter/paramedic/ER Rn, I find buddhism integrates very well into my care and understanding of people and helps me maintain my balance during very chaotic times. It's like a well written play that you enjoy daily but know the outcome and look forward to rewriting the ending. It was a long journey to find my path, but everything tends to work out the way it was meant to. Amazing!

ssherm's picture

I discovered Buddhism just last year while visiting Durango, Co with my mountain biking fanatic husband and our four kids. I simply had a 'mini melt down' while waiting for said husband to get back from a ride. It had been over three hours and the kids were becoming annoying; bored and beginning to pick at each other for sheer amusement..... the baby was not taking sound naps in the rental house and I was beginning to lose my temper, actually it was long gone. My mind was building that wall of anger with little bricks of grievances; "I can't believe we came to Durango with four kids." and " why does every bike ride have to take so long?" and "I just want five minutes of peace!" and "when do I get a vacation?" , then of course the baby woke up. Some vacation....

Anyway, after telling the kids to go outside and stay out ( I think I yelled that actually) - I sat to nurse the baby while still feeling the aftershocks of my mental outburst, I was mad, frustrated, lonely and so guilty for all those feelings. I wanted to be anywhere else at that moment. Then I reached over and grabbed the closest book from a shelf of the rental house. It happened to be, 'Buddhism for Mothers a Calm Approach to caring for yourself and your children' by Sarah Napthali. I laughed at the thought of any book ever instilling calmness in me - ha! However, after only one chapter I was wondering if Sarah Napthali had been secretly watching me and writing a book just for me and all my UNcalm ways!

Long story short; I ran to the Durango book store, bought my own copy and have been reading it and rereading it with a highlighter ever since. I'm also hooked on her second book.

I'm not yet ready for 'heavier' books on Buddhism. I'm taking this new discovery very slowly because I want it to be real and not one of my flights of fancy. Also, I live in a very Christian area of the south and I can not even fathom the reactions of my friends should I take the next step! I'm a soccer mom, with a great husband and great kids with a great life..... why would I go rocking the boat with Buddhism? But it speaks to me so clearly!

Lastly, after reading all of the comments above, I had a hint of feeling unworthy of Buddhism because I have had no real strife in my life. I guess I could dig up something up, but nothing like a divorce, cancer, addictions, or abuse of any kind. I'm also perpetually happy - most of the time. I think there are tid bits of my personality that have been Buddhist for many years. So, I'm thankful for that frustrating day that led me to pluck up the nearest book!

wilberton's picture

I love this story. I agree with the other posters. And I add this: I moved from Portland, OR (where "keep Portland weird" is the mantra) to a conservative, Catholic community in NJ. I was astounded by the daily discussion of religion (Catholicism) and god at work and kind of got nervous because I'm gay and Buddhist. But, I approached my life at work the way I approach life everywhere as much as possible: with an open heart. I recently left there after three years and the person I became closest with while there was a woman who was a very, very devout Catholic. A couple of times we talked about our friendship and she told me that her instinct was to keep her distance from me because I'm gay and in our initial discussions that touched on religion I mentioned I was Buddhist. But over time, she came to realize, that I tried to be kind and compassionate to every person I encountered, that I tried to stay away from office gossip and that I accepted her. And I said, we recognized the love in each other. And for the record, she is not my "work friend." She is my friend.

shauna.olsen's picture

No one is unworthy!

Your path takes you where you need to be, when you need to be there. I too have walked a path similar to yours and found books by Karen Maezen Miller and Pema Chodren to be helpful.

Don't worry about the others in your physical community. Look at it this way: perhaps you are there to help them develop their capacity for loving kindness.

Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks for posting ssherm. The main thing I would say is that, one way or another, suffering does happen to all of us, so it is important we work to understand the reality of it no matter where on spectrum we find ourselves. I don't think intense pain and loss is not a prerequisite for practice.

ToonForever's picture

I confess it made me a little sad that you got an "unworthy" feeling. I've found in my short time exploring that we are encouraged to wake up right where we stand (sit?) I loved your story, because it speaks so much to the workaday lives so many of us, including me, lead.

connierose0218's picture

I was raised a Reform Jew in Los Angeles. Religion was not a big part of my life growing up. In my 20s I started reading all the Eastern thought that became really popular in the 1960s as well as exploring more occult studies. I had a friend who was part of the San Francisco Zen Center community in the 1970s, and I know that influenced me. I had studied psychology as an undergraduate and always had a self-reflective orientation to life.

Over the years I've just found myself drawn more and more to Buddhism as a way of life. For me it's definitely not a religious thing, and I'm not even much of a formal meditator. It's just that Buddhism, as I embrace it in my life, just makes sense. All of the things that I used to think were important and necessary in life I've found to be just the opposite.

I love the "stripped downness" of Buddhism, especially Zen. The right here, right now, in your face mindful experience of the present moment. The more I practice this, the better my life is.

Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks for posting Connie