Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?

It is keeping peace and good relations between people,

as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.

- Prophet Mohammed


Day 18

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm having problems discussing the virtues and lessons of Buddhism without coming across as a prick. Everything about the religion creates an environment for smugness. I'm told to remain calm, speaking deliberately, control my emotions, fight the urge of combativeness and avoid hyperbolic and foolish talk. Sounds great and if I was only speaking to other Buddhists, it would be perfect, but that's not the case. Most of the people I'm speaking to are not religious, let alone Buddhist. They find my calm tone more condescending than reasonable. (American liberals often get charged in the same way. Being calm, collected and knowledgeable equates to elitism in the bizzaro world of America civics.)

I think another problem with this interaction comes more misunderstanding than anything.
There are three kinds of people in the world. The first are those who are proud, act rashly and are satisfied; their natures are easy to understand. Then there are those who are courteous and always act after consideration; their natures are hard to understand. Then there are those who have overcome desire completely; it is impossible to understand their nature.
My sister was first exposed to true religious zeal when she was in college. She had grown tired of the routine partying (something that I cherished greatly) and wanted something more. True, she was a bit depressed and lost, but clearly the passion for which some people had for Christ intrigued her. As with many people, first exposure to the pious often leads to irritation. It's very difficult for the non-religious to truly understand the devout. This gap is what turns people off. 

So, when my sister came home and started preaching the "good news" to the family, we were turned off and almost felt a little betrayed. I wondered where my sister had gone. One comment she made clearly stands out even today.
"I'm worried that you're going to go to Hell."
Thanks, sis. But looking back on that, I can understand why she did and, at the same time, I can understand why this comment is so obnoxious to the non-follower. She had been exposed to evangelical Christianity and part of the belief is outreach. In fact, "spreading the word" is the main goal of Christians, but evangelicals tend to use zero tact when doing so. She had fallen so in love with Christianity that her concern was not actually self-righteous (as I took it), but rather it stemmed from her genuine fear that her little brother would be going to Christian Hell. (I've read about Christian Hell and it sounds pretty scary. Luckily, I don't believe in it, but I appreciate the effort.) The issue here isn't whether I was offended by the comment or if she was naive for making such a classless remark, what's at issue is that religious people walk a fine line when discussing their faith with others.

No matter what happens, the pious are bound to step on toes and make others uncomfortable. I'm so uncomfortable with these non-denominational Christians that when I see them on TV raising their hands in prayer, my first thought is that they're either phonies or self-righteous. That's wrong. People should not dismiss and judge them because it's impossible for the secular to understand their nature. The same goes for interfaith conflicts. Brit Hume's comment on Tiger Woods comes to mind.
"He's said to be a Buddhist; I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world."
I've only been doing this for about three weeks and already I've gotten under the skin of my wife, colleagues and friends. Devout followers must use other methods of delivery when attempting to share their faith. Rather than starting lines with, "Jesus told us to..." and "Buddha showed us by..." go with "it helps to" or something else that's more subtle. For instance, I've discovered that meditation really helps sort of my thoughts and relaxes me internally or externally. Rather than saying, "I think you should start mediating because..." I should try a more subtle, "I usually feel really great after meditating." Don't mentioned your preferred deity or prescribed religion just yet. If the religious just spoke to people on a human level first, many would be less inclined to feel anger and resentment.

Save the meta-physical stuff for later. 


  1. Awesome stuff, GWEE. In stating, "If the religious just spoke to people on a human level first, many would be less inclined to feel anger and resentment" you have understood in 3 wks what it has taken me many mistakes (as you so kindly recorded) ;) and years to discover. It is about being real with others and meeting people where they are with what you believe to be the Truth.

  2. I find this calm, deliberate tone intriguing. But I wonder...what about your humor? Please do not mellow out so much that your funny spark is diffused.

  3. Excellent take on the proselytizers!