Some teenagers came to my door recently.
They were Christian missionaries. I didn’t invite them in, but I also didn’t slam the door in their faces. In my estimation there are much worse things teenagers could be out there doing.
They asked me if there was anything they could pray about for me. And when I told them there wasn’t they asked about the Buddha statue on my porch. So I told them that I’m a Buddhist. They said they had never met one before. They asked if I was born in some other country and I told them no, I was born in Missouri. (I think it’s weird that we’ve just accepted that geography plays such a huge role in our religious views. But that’s a discussion for another time.) I did not tell them that Buddhism is a big part of my life or that I write about it regularly. Maybe I should have.
They seemed genuinely curious but I’m not sure if they actually were or if that’s part of the missionary guidebook or whatever. I want to believe they were actually curious. But, either way, I feel like I should talk to anyone who is interested.
I wasn’t as open with them as I could have been. Upon reflection I do regret that. They asked what drew me to Buddhism and I didn’t want to get into it because I thought they weren’t really interested. So I shrugged and said, “I don’t know. It just felt right when I learned about it.” That’s not untrue, but I could have said a lot more and I just didn’t want to. I communicate with people about Buddhism pretty often. I shouldn’t stop to wonder if they’re really interested. If they’re asking questions, I should be answering them.
They asked me to explain Buddhism as briefly as I could and I took a shot at that. I said, “They key idea is just being real. If we can be aware and pay attention, REALLY pay attention to the world around us, then we can start to see things as they really are. We can see the world and our place in it more clearly. And I believe there’s a level of contentment in that that is hard to find in life.”
They asked me if I believe in reincarnation and I said no. They asked if I believe in life after death and I said, “No…but I’m okay with that.”
And that was essentially the end of it. I told them, “I understand you’re trying to do something good and I really hope no one yells at you for coming to their door.” And they left.
I think it was a good interaction. We were friendly to each other. I can imagine they must be disappointed that they didn’t save me.
The truth is that when people find out we’re Buddhist…well, I wonder if we have a kind of responsibility. Because we’re in the United States, it’s a safe bet that those teenagers will never meet another Buddhist in their lives. There just aren’t enough of us. So, I’m glad I was friendly to them, but I wish I had done better. I had the chance to really show up and try to make them remember that meeting a Buddhist was a good experience.
One more thing I want to address is this.
Being a Buddhist is a little lonely sometimes. That’s not to say I don’t know other Buddhists, I do. I just see what church groups are able to do and I’m a little envious.
It’s not that I think we should be sending Buddhist teenagers door to door. I definitely don’t think that. But I do wish more activities were available for us in our communities. There’s nothing to be done about that. Our communities just don’t have enough people. Even the biggest communities don’t have a lot of community building activities.
And…Buddhists don’t really come together the way all other religions seem to, well, at least “western” Buddhists don’t…. The sense of “community” that we get will always be a little weaker because Buddhism, for whatever reason, is usually not something people practice with their families. Sometimes it is, but I can’t even count how many people I know that go away from their families and spouses in order to practice. I don’t think of that as a problem to be solved, but I am curious about why that is. It’s sort of a weird thing that I see that no one seems to be talking about.
Maybe people will point out how their communities aren’t like that, and that’s okay. I’m only talking about what I’ve seen.
Anyway, these teenagers got me thinking about how we can try to do better when curious people approach us and made me wonder about why western Buddhism is the way it is.
What do you think?