Here in the U.S. three out of four Americans currently identify themselves as Christian. Sixty-one percent of Christians, according to a recent Barna Group survey, believe that “a person must either side with God or the devil.” The nonBuddhist Americans that I find it easiest to get along with are progressive Christians, who tend to view most of the Bible as metaphor, and nonreligious or secular individuals, with the obvious exception of the more aggressive, evangelistic sort of atheist that views all religions as equally poisonous.
> Do you feel outcast, are you prepared / happy to speak up about your religion?
I wouldn’t use the word “outcast.” That is a bit too strong. I am comfortable with feeling like an outsider or "extraterrestrial visitor" in the U.S.A. I have felt that way as far back as I can remember, even in my childhood (my interests and values have always been unpopular). Being an outsider is an advantage, as I see it, because it allows me to see things that people in the mainstream often miss. I value this.
Choosing when to disclose that I am a Buddhist, however, is almost like advanced math for me sometimes. There are many calculations involved. My parents know and have gradually come to see the benign influence of Buddhism in me, but some family members would be deeply hurt by this information, so I protect them from this with my silence. My friends know, of course. At work I am a bit cautious, concerned that the words "I am a Buddhist" might create confusion and convey false information, because many Americans bear a tangle of false impressions of Buddhism. I remember talking with a man at a workplace in the 1990s who was certain that Buddhism had something to do with Hare Krishnas and controlling people. I did not succeed in disabusing him of these errors. If someone displays intelligence, benevolence, and openness or unconventional perspectives, I might share this information at an appropriate time, if the subject of my religion comes up. If someone were to make a false comment about Buddhism in my presence, I would correct it. I recently decided to add the word “Buddhist” to my Facebook profile after much pondering.
> Do you feel culturally disconnected, alien, out of the mainline…?
> Are you sometimes tempted to simply go with the flow and do as others do?
No, I try to take my religious commitments seriously, if that’s what you mean. I do not find alcohol, abusive speech, killing living beings, and the like attractive at this point in my life, but I do love the teachings of the Buddha. I have no intention of turning away from the Three Jewels.
"No matter how long you stay in the forest in retreat, if its effect on you is just to produce haughtiness, you are using Dharma to cultivate more obscurations. If its effect is arrogance and not caring about anybody else, then there is something wrong. The medicine has become poisonous...If you scorn others you will not attain emancipation..." Geshe Lhundub Sopa, Steps on the Path to Enlightenment: A Commentary on Tsongkhapa's Lamrim Chenmo, Vol. 1 (Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2004), pp. 456-457.
"Blind faith is not a valid basis of trust." ibid. p. 458.