A couple of my coworkers at work started talking with me a bit in the last week at work about my “conversion,” conversations which took me a little by surprise but were interesting and even fun. I’m fairly confident that these friends ask primarily for academic reasons, but I treat the questions seriously regardless, and I’m always open to having my [admittedly limited] knowledge probed a bit — sometimes people ask questions about things that I haven’t even thought of, and it can be fun to explore their ideas a little.
In one conversation with a friend who so happens to be one of my bosses (mind you, I’ve never felt like my relationship to him was anything but equal), I ended up being asked to recite some Pali, in brief, that I had learned in my studying. I thought it was rather hilarious that in that moment I could not immediately recall anything from memory at all! I think being put “on the spot” just startled me a little, really.
Of course, I did end up recalling a few brief passages (the refuges and five precepts), which I shared and tried to briefly explain in between the various interruptions that invariably occur in a workplace setting. I told him it was rather awkward for me because I didn’t want to look like I was “speaking in tongues” or anything crazy like that.
In other cases, coworkers have had more general questions, many of which seemed to start with an inquiry about how I’ve lost so much weight in the last year (about 90 pounds) or how I manage to be so calm in spite of chaos all around. These sorts of talks have made for a pleasant diversion without teasing my mind too much or getting into anything incredibly “deep.”
When it comes to subjects of religion, I’m not exactly shy about what I spend my free time studying, and I suppose when this is combined with what many of my coworkers see as major differences between my behaviors a year ago and now, I shouldn’t be surprised when people get curious. Most everyone I know comments on my drastic weight loss, and when probed deeply as to my means of restraining myself in matters of food, spirituality invariably comes up, as I find the two subjects quite linked.
That, and it is rather difficult to hide a 1,400 page Nikāya when sitting in the break room. Ha!
I think I’ve picked up a measure of confidence when talking religion and philosophy in general, probably because I no longer feel like I have to have an answer to every question definitively. I don’t have to retort against another person’s views or attempt to convince others to see life the way I do. Further, it is OK to say “I don’t know” when sometimes I really just don’t — and I don’t feel any pressure to make anyone think otherwise.
Moreover, when asked about Buddhism specifically, I am okay saying that I practice in such and such a way and some people do things similarly while others practice differently. There are so many different modes of practice that no single one seems to entirely encompass all that can be said about the subject and I’m not under the impression that my way, or that of anyone else, is somehow superior.
In these recent conversations, it has been impressed upon me just how many people are actually interested in learning a bit about other traditions, but either feel uncomfortable asking or maybe don’t know who to ask in the first place. I try to make myself approachable and completely unassailing about my practice, and I think that is ultimately the main reason why people express their curiosity.
Just as one with a clean house might invite guests in to share entertainment or a meal, if one has a clean mind, it can be left open to share one’s ideas with others. This can be for the benefit of all involved.
Be well, my friends. I will write again soon.