One of the many joys of being a Buddhist is the reactions you get from the people who knew you before you were Buddhist.
For example, many relatives of mine think that I have been brainwashed. One summer, I had a relative sit down and tell me that my soul was in danger because I had diverted off the path of Christianity, and that I was under the influence of a cult. As if the Dalai Lama is the equivalent of some cult leader, asking for my credit card info and subverting me to his nefarious ways. I’ve never even met the guy.
When I tried to explain that Buddhism has been around for 2,500 years, and is one of the world’s major religions, and is all about things like peace and compassion, I was greeted with a blank stare. I figured that the silence was a chance to state my case, so I went on to say how Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama had both written books comparing the life of Christ and Buddha, and how similar their messages were.
My relative just shook his head, and went on to tell me that I was going down a dangerous path: I had lost touch with reality. I wish I could tell you that I was not crushed, but I was.
What bothered me was not so much what he said but his lack of open mindedness to something that was different. His unwillingness to discover or even inquire about something felt like a personal insult.
A part of me wanted to sit down and recite verses of the Bible, reminding my relative that he should not judge…and yet here I was judging my relative for being judgmental! The humor of the moment made me laugh, but did not ease my pain for long.
As a result of my passion for Buddhism, I did lose some respect in the eyes of certain relatives. Combine my Buddhist beliefs with the fact that I have been vegetarian for 21 years, and many relatives of mine think I am some kind of a freak.
Now, what is fascinating to me is that even though I am the resident freak of the clan, I am quite possibly the happiest person in the group. You would think this might inspire some questions as to why…but it hasn’t.
Initially, I was not so thrilled about being The Family Freak. I argued for months, wanting vindication for who I was. I mounted campaigns to be restored to my original reputation, but my efforts fell on deaf ears.
The fact that I believed in karma and studied the path laid out by some guy named Buddha just was too much for them.
And when I announced that I was going to get initiated and was considering being a nun, things only got worse.
Eventually, I decided that being a nun was not for me, so I returned to living “in the world”…which meant more comments from some of my relatives. They had hopes that I would come to my senses and give up Buddhism. On the contrary, being back in the world only made me hold on to my beliefs even more.
With time, I came to find joy in being the resident freak of the family. It gives me a lot of freedom and if I say something they think is strange, they just roll their eyes and ignore me. Ironically, I have come to find a state of peace about this whole situation.
So what changed? I came to see that the reaction of some in my family is based in fear. They have a certain view of the world, and to think that the world could be more than what they see is a bit too much for them, right now, to comprehend.
During the course of a discussion with one relative, it became obvious that they felt somehow threatened. People do things for reasons and I realized that my family was reacting out of fear.
Many in my family think that in order to have a good life you have to get a good job, have a family and then die. The fact that life could be more than that is something that scares them for it means that their life was lived wrong. One relative of mine thinks that life should hold no meaning and here I was insisting that life is meaningful.
Having this realization made me re-evaluate all the fights that I had had with some relatives and I saw that their problem was not with me but with what I am representing. They were not attacking the messenger, they were attacking the message.
Immediately, my heart felt more compassionate toward my relatives and pretty soon I realized that the wisest thing to do was to keep my distance and keep quiet. Often in life, you have to pick your battles wisely and I realized that the battle with my relatives was never going to be won the way that I wanted.
As a result, I have never felt happier and wear my badge of resident family freak with pride. With this newfound peace, the arguments with my family have pretty much ended. Occasionally, I will hear how some relatives think I have lost my mind but it does not hurt me anymore.
The whole interaction taught me the importance of having a clear conscience. If your conscience is clear, then there is no reason to feel pain. Only when you are not sure, are you susceptible to being hurt.