This is a topic I always find interesting, especially learning about other people’s paths towards Buddhism. While I have many friends that grew up culturally with Buddhism, I’ve always wanted to know why someone who grew up in a western culture would be interested in this religion. On the surface, many westeners have the conditions for a happy life, relative to poorer, 3rd world countries. Having a nice place to live, food every month, opportunites for education or meaningful work, and freedom of religion.
I started studying Buddhism when I was in high school, mainly from a feeling that despite all these conditions, there was still an underlying feeling of discontent. My own self studies and attempts to meditate increased when I was in college. By the time I hit my mid 20s, I really felt like my life was moving around in endless circles and I found myself going to a Dharma center. It was a Tibetan center, but I didn’t even really understood what that meant. I just wanted Dharma, and at the time didn’t particularly care where it came from.
I think my situation was very similar to younger Buddhists in my generation. I’m in my 30’s and grew up “culturally” with Catholicism, but it didn’t really stick with me. I could never say at one point I was ever spiritually or deeply binded to it. Looking into Buddhism for me wasn’t about an issue of converting, it was just moving from an idle state to some place that felt like home.
I notice that with many western practitioners, they still have to work through the issues they’ve developed with their former religions; issues that relate to ideas with a God that will take care of everything and having their actions judged. I’ve listened to newly ordained, western Buddhist monastics talking about having to work through this. For many in my generation, this probably hasn’t been as big an issue. This probably was a reason why I didn’t have a great deal of conflict with ideas like rebirth and karma. If it made sense to me, I just kept moving forward in my practice. I didn’t have a great deal of problems with the rituals either because I was more interested in finding out their purposes, rather than getting held back by how culturally “different” or “odd” they may appear.
One older book I would recommend, if you’re able to find it, is Encounters with Buddhism. It’s maybe from the late 1970’s, but its still very relevant and interesting. Below are some videos of other practitioners, talking about their experiences on becoming Buddhists.
Pema Chodron on why she became a Buddhist
A Zen practitioner talks about how someone becomes a Buddhist, and how he worked through conflicts with rituals
A Theravadin monk talks about how he came into monasticism
Venerable Kusala, a well-known Dharma teacher from the Los Angeles area. He talks about how he became interesting in Buddhism and what he came to understand. He says succintly:
“My Life sucked, and I had to die. And my life sucked because I was selfish.”