I’m a Buddhist. It’s a pretty new development for me! I grew up Catholic but I was never very good at it. I’ve spent the last 20+ years as an atheist, and to some extent I still am. I started meditating a few years ago to help quiet the storm that always seems to be going on in my head. I’ve also had severe headaches for the past ten years. A regular meditation practice has helped with that as well.
My road to Buddhism has been pretty long. My family isn’t new to Buddhism, though we were Catholic when I was growing up. My achchi (grandmother) was a Buddhist before she met and married my Catholic seeya (grandfather). The rest of her family remained Buddhist. In Sri Lanka, where they were both from, more than 70% of the population is Buddhist. A little over 7% is Christian. Christianity largely came to the country through waves of colonization. First came the Dutch, then the Portugeuse, then the British.
My meditation app doesn’t mention Buddhism or its origins. I’ve taken mindfulness classes offered through work. Workplaces promote mindfulness because of claims they improve productivity and reduce burnout. And a couple years ago I took a meditation class led by a white teacher for a mostly-white room of students.
Each of these experiences have roots in Buddhism but exist apart from them. My gaze turned to meditation as I thought about decolonization and extraction in my own life. I had a gnawing feeling that I was missing something. I may have been missing out on a connection to a part of my culture washed away by invaders.
There are thousands of Western converts to Buddhism. When I visit a meditation space, or log into a session online, almost all the faces I see are white. Many have made connections to Buddhism that I haven’t experienced yet. As I deepen my study of Buddhism, I feel a sense of colonialism attached to Western interpretations of it. There’s the mindfulness classes from my past. There’s the political gaffes packaged under the name “moment of zen” for some reason. In some ways it felt like my religion was being sold back to me, piece by piece.
I wish I had gotten to talk to my achchi about the religion she was born into. I’m focusing my study on the teachings of non-Western authors. I’m inspired by Lama Rod Owens and the Buddhist virtual gathering space he co-founded, Bhumisparsha. The virtual community seeks to reconnect Buddhism with activism and social change. My local meditation society has a BIPOC-only meditation group that I’ve started attending. I’ll continue to look for places where I feel like I belong. I’m excited to continue learning, growing, and discovering a more ancient part of my history.