How Buddhism Came to Me
I remember no religion until I started going to church with the black people in my neighborhood. considering the family that I came from, this isnot surprising. I lived in Watts and the “mamas” of the neighborhood were mothers to one and all. The fact that I was the lightest face in the neighborhood meant nothing.
What a joy those meetings were. Singing, dancing in the aisles, clapping and swaying, I loved it. It gave me the basis for music and community even if I had no idea of Jesus and God and everything else that came with it. All I knew was when the meeting was over there would be baked macaroni and cheese, greens, fried chicken and ham at a table where no one else looked like me.
A few years later, my mother married John. The Catholic. And the requirements of that situation were that I had to convert to Catholicism. It is a testament to that experience that the only thing I recall today of it is my slap for calling the priest a magician (he wore big black cloaks, spoke in magic language and could turn blood into wine) and the Act of Contrition. I became sincerely disillusioned upon learning that my friends weren’t going to get into heaven because they weren’t Catholic. My questioning of this and other tenets soon had me back into the world of no religion and no expectations.
Hippiedom became my “hood” after I reached the age of consent. That meant reading, moving outside of myself and into what else was out there…including “The Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda. Whoa! Karma became a reality. Now a lot of things made sense. But, without running off to join an ashram, my education into Hinduism was halted.
With my eyes open to other choices, and an obvious hole in my spiritual development, I started to read about religion. This eventually led to the study of Judaism. With my background, I was immediately drawn to the sufferings of the Tribe of Israel, and converted to Judaism. The God of the Old Testament was familiar. Very clear rules, a history of Diaspora and great food. I had learned that the better the food the closer the “feeling” of religion was to my heart.
Of course, all of this was just a step on the way to Buddhism discovering me. When I learned of the Buddha and the meaning of the teachings, I knew that there was an inevitable truth to it all. Of course, the nice thing about Buddhism is that the statement “People with opinions just go around bothering each other.” That took care of the exclusionary rule of other religions.
But wait, I had converted to Judaism and while not the greatest Jew in the world, there was much there that I was loth to abandon. I kept this running around in my head for quite a while: How could I accommodate my belief in Judaism with my belief in Buddha? The answer came to me in a way that made my life and my spirituality come together in the best way possible. I’m a Buddhist, but in this life, I am supposed to be a Jew.