Closet Buddhism Part II by Amber Nancarrow

I grew up Christian. It’s pretty much typical for white Americans to be Christian, especially before all of these Eastern philosophies, like Buddhism and Hinduism, and things like yoga and meditation became so popular.  So for me, as a white American, to say I grew up Christian is nothing spectacular.  Most people reading this would nod their heads in agreement, saying “Yeah me too.”  My Christian childhood consisted of Sunday school when I was really little—so little I have vague memories of it—and then not really attending church again on a regular basis until I was able to drive myself there in high school.  My family was basically the non-attending-Christian-by-default-of-birth-family.  But, out of a need to heal some old wounds–even as a teenager I did some serious thinking and planning for the bigger picture—those long term goals of getting married and having kids–that I sought to find relief from Church. I went to youth groups at several different Baptist churches around my area for a few months, until I realized that no matter what the youth group leader was preaching, the kids in the room didn’t seem to practice what was being taught to them.  For whatever reason, it had an impact on me that changed my life forever.  I had such deep questions about what religion was and why if this religion was so great why was I not feeling the “love”, “acceptance,” and just all around caring nature I expected to find.  I felt alienated and alone.  So I went my own way.  Like the Buddha as a young prince, I too questioned what “this” was all about.  As I went through college and took various psychology and religion courses, I began my journey into Buddhism.  But, while I knew it was the right fit for me, I never dared tell anyone, besides my husband. And as I learned more and became comfortable with the transition from Christianity to Buddhism along with the teachings of the Buddha, I realized that it was still hard for me to admit this to people.  I felt like I was doing something wrong.  I definitely feared being judged by other Christians, and so I was a Closet Buddhist!  I mean, if there was a textbook definition for “Closet Buddhist” I was it!

This feeling of keeping one’s spiritual path concealed is common for Westerners.  This is especially true if we have family members who are devout Christians.  While Christianity teaches loving others and helping others and caring for others, the participants of that religion are judgmental and defensive towards anything that questions their beliefs.  So, for me, it has always been that fear of the “wrath” of Christian followers that has scared me.  In fact, it wasn’t until I started posting my spiritual thoughts on Facebook that I slowly became comfortable with sharing this inner world with others.  I felt really vulnerable and “open” those first few months of releasing these thoughts to my family and friends.  And when people at my kids’ schools would ask for my friendship in Facebook, I wondered if they would like me after they found out the “real” me. But I rolled with it and along this virtual journey—now almost 2 years—I am now feeling comfortable with what I want to post.  I still feel uneasy about how others view me, but I also realized that everyone will have their opinions. Sometimes the opinions will match, sometimes they won’t.  I can’t expect everyone to understand, agree, or like what I feel is my religious or spiritual path.  All I can do is what will make me happy.  That is, those actions and practices that will lead me to a happiness that is constant, and not subject to the whims of emotional thought. This is a liberation that is personal and unique to each individual.  And if that means I need to keep it to myself, so be it.  I will be a closet Buddhist.

I realized that Buddhism is about understanding yourself, about understanding the reality of nature, of humanity, of the interconnectedness of everything, of misunderstandings and attachment.  Through introspection I can free myself, and it really doesn’t matter if others don’t follow or if the Buddhist practitioners don’t practice what they preach; it only matters what I do. For it is only through myself that I can liberate myself.  And for those reasons alone, I will continue this inner investigation.  It has been worth the journey so far.