Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

General discussion, particularly exploring the Dharma in the modern world.
[N.B. This is the forum that was called ‘Exploring Buddhism’. The new name simply describes it better.]
Posts: 7
Joined: Tue Oct 13, 2015 4:18 pm

Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Xhale1227 »

I have been a practicing Catholic for 30 years. In 2014 I began researching Buddhism and am beginning to seriously contemplate converting.

My entire family is Catholic, as is my wife. None of them know about my interest in Buddhism, and if I left the church I can imagine they would be devastated.

If anyone has gone through a similar predicament, I'd love some advice as too what would be the best move for me right now. My faith is Christianity is gone so remaining a Catholic while simply practicing meditation and such is not an option.
Former staff member
Posts: 4860
Joined: Wed Sep 19, 2012 11:17 pm

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Admin_PC »

Mod note: Hope you don't mind but I'm moving this to "Dharma in Everyday Life".

Former Catholic myself.
Only my youngest brother knows about my conversion.
My wife's a former Buddhist, now non-denominational Christian.
She was a bit uneasy with my choice at first, but seems cool with it now.
Schrödinger’s Yidam
Posts: 7373
Joined: Wed May 29, 2013 6:13 am

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Schrödinger’s Yidam »

I was raised Catholic but lost my faith by 14, so There was only a vestige of hesitation when I became a Buddhist.
1.The problem isn’t ‘ignorance’. The problem is the mind you have right now. (H.H. Karmapa XVII @NYC 2/4/18)
2. I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against lama abuse.
3. Student: Lama, I thought I might die but then I realized that the 3 Jewels would protect me.
Lama: Even If you had died the 3 Jewels would still have protected you. (DW post by Fortyeightvows)
User avatar
Thomas Amundsen
Posts: 2034
Joined: Thu Feb 03, 2011 2:50 am
Location: Helena, MT

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Thomas Amundsen »

I'm a former Catholic as well, but I exited during early adolescence. I still go to church with my family when I'm home. I don't receive the Eucharist out of respect for the institution, but I did kiss the cross when I was home on Good Friday a few years ago. I didn't believe in God when I was actually confirmed into the church at 12 or 13. I did it as a formality for my mother. So, that is probably an entirely different situation and I'm not sure how much help it can be for you.

Initially I lost my faith and was atheist, even before going to Catholic high school. Catholic high school solidified my rejection of Catholicism even more (even though my teachers were great), and I made a connection to Buddhism through the world religions teacher who was a former Zen Buddhist. I think my parents were the most turned off by atheism, a bit less than Buddhism. I didn't take refuge until about 2 years after I left high school, though.

If I'd give any advice as to how to ease the transition, it would be to try to find commonalities between the two religions. At least that has been the main thing that has helped my relationship with my mother. She was already very impressed by Thomas Merton before I was born, so we get along pretty well now that I am practicing with one of Chatral Rinpoche's students. Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who studied Buddhism with Chatral Rinpoche a long time ago:


But there are other commonalities between Buddhism and Catholicism other than Father Merton. You'll just need to see what you personally find overlaps and what you still have in common with your family. Love, compassion, kindness, etc. is emphasized in both Buddhism and Catholicism, so it can be easy if both parties are able to keep things a little abstract and don't get bogged down in all of the differences.
User avatar
Posts: 1604
Joined: Thu Sep 22, 2011 4:12 pm

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by maybay »

People will know nothing and everything
Remember nothing and everything
Think nothing and everything
Do nothing and everything
- Machig Labdron
Posts: 367
Joined: Sat Apr 04, 2015 1:40 am

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Caodemarte »

I am lapsed, but was raised Catholic. Through Buddhism I have come to a deeper understanding of Catholicism. I have many "So that's what they meant!" moments. Although I will not go back to Catholicism, in Zen, at least, there is no problem with remaining Catholic. Some Catholic priests, nuns, and lay have even been authorized to be Zen teachers (Rubin Habito, Fr. Kennedy, etc.). They are able to understand and practice both. From Thomas Merton on there are many books written by Catholic clergy and lay exploring where Buddhism and Catholicism meet and where they diverge. I would encourage you to look into them, if you have not already, to explore this subject and pass on to your relatives.
Last edited by Caodemarte on Mon Jan 25, 2016 9:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Jeff H
Posts: 967
Joined: Mon Sep 01, 2014 8:56 pm
Location: Vermont, USA

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Jeff H »

My background is Episcopalian: similar rites but not Catholic. I quit the church in the middle of my confirmation class because I wasn’t going to profess a devotion I didn’t feel, but then after twenty years or so I returned, became quite devout, and took my confirmation then.

I tell you this because the basis of my subsequent loss of faith in Christianity –- after having looked at it in some depth –- might strike a chord with you. I was all for Jesus’ universal loving compassion, but I kept asking, “how is it possible to accomplish that?” I never got an answer from Christianity that satisfied me. Then Buddhism presented me with a guidebook that did. Looking back on my prior writings, both Christian and pre-Christian, I find that I kept trying to interject ideas that I didn’t hear from Christianity but I now identify with traditional Buddhist teachings.

However, it sounds like your issue is not a religious one but a social, familial one. The other thing about my practice of Buddhism is that I strongly believe in ecumenism. For me that means looking for and rejoicing in ways that non-Buddhists are creating the causes for what Buddhism tells me is a more holistic view of life. It’s not necessarily either/or. HHDL says it’s perfectly ok to practice two religions, up to a point. At the more advanced stages we do need to choose, but not here in the early stages. (Keep perspective. As the blues singers say, "Two years ain't no time.")

So perhaps you can start by sharing with your wife why you are finding fewer of your spiritual needs met in the Church and more met in the Dharma. Ask her about her faith. Look for cross-walks as tomamundsen [edit: and as Caodemarte] suggested As long as the talks remain civil without leading to fights, you may both clarify and strengthen your faiths. Be willing to accompany her to church if she wants to have you there with her, but ask her to be respectful of your practices. If you can work this out with her, personally I wouldn’t worry about your parents. (But then I don’t know your situation!)
We who are like children shrink from pain but love its causes. - Shantideva
User avatar
Posts: 307
Joined: Wed Nov 04, 2015 1:57 am
Location: Texas

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Taco_Rice »

I had strong Christian influences growing up and had a grandmother and a great aunt who would take me to church, but it didn't stick entirely. My mother was ultimately agnostic, though she did keep what I think should be labeled as superstitions and other attitudes that traced back to her Catholic upbringing. I was actually a little atheist atomist for a while, (your feelings are an illusion!) but when I was about 11 I had come to the conclusion that reincarnation was the only just and logical explanation for the afterlife. After my mother passed, I was basically forced to be Christian living with my father, though once I finally escaped I took to the Christian reincarnationism centered around Edgar Cayce. From there it was just a matter of time before I finally settled on Buddhism, and I see that change as part of a natural progression. Once you reject the idea of an omnipotent personal God and accept karma and reincarnation, you're in the neighborhood of Buddhism. The idea that we are our skandas appealed to my naturalist leanings and sealed the deal.

Even when I get disillusioned and try to go to Christianity for social reasons, I can only think of that kind of devotional practice as "generating states of mind," which inevitably leads back to Buddhism. I see religion in a universalist way but I think that there are some paths that are more accurate and useful than others. For this reason, I've chosen Buddhism, and I think it is the best and most accurate religion. As far as Christian mythology, I've only ever believed in God in the sense of being "universal law," basically Dharmakaya.

My advice is, as far as believing Catholicism, go watch Carl Sagan's Nova. As far as the social aspects... It seemed like I would have to "come out" as Buddhist to my protestant father's side of the family like I was announcing an upcoming appearance for myself on RuPaul's Drag Race. I was actually surprised that they didn't care. In fact, mostly they just threw out a tease here or there, but it wasn't a huge issue. My Catholic side of the family, however, constantly makes snide comments and insinuates the workings of evil supernatural forces. In fact, I live in a Catholic area and people I don't even know will actually do hateful and malicious things when they find out I'm Buddhist. And they do it in concert. They're Mexican Catholics, though.

You might just want to keep your practice secret. Live a double life. Be interesting. :cheers:
When facing a single tree, if you look at a single one of its red leaves, you will not see all the others. When the eye is not set on any one leaf, and you face the tree with nothing at all in mind, any number of leaves are visible to the eye without limit. But if a single leaf holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves were not there. One who has understood this is no different from Kannon with a thousand arms and a thousand eyes.
— Takuan Sōhō, the Unfettered Mind
User avatar
Zhen Li
Posts: 1592
Joined: Sun Apr 07, 2013 8:15 am
Location: Kamakura

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Zhen Li »

I was a Catholic until I decided to become a Buddhist at age 11. In hindsight the decision was certainly made before I understood the nuances of both religions, but I now am very happy to have begun as a Buddhist at such a young age. At the same time, while I had little serious faith in Catholicism and didn't really care much for it when I was younger (never actually took communion or was confirmed), I hold no grudges against it and if I were not a Buddhist it would probably be where I'd stay--it has a great mystical tradition (that in my mind is compatible with Buddhism), as well as carrying all of the great cultural legacy of Western Europe.

I'd second tomamundsen's suggestion of finding commonalities to help bridge the leap. Merton is great, but I personally loved "Myth and Ritual in Christianity" by Alan Watts, who was an Anglican/Episcopalian priest until he was expelled for adultery, but that book is really more Catholic-oriented. Most of his books are on Zen and other Eastern Religions.

Why do I think Buddhism is ideal for me? If I were to be comfortable in Catholicism, I'd have to be a mystic. As a Buddhist I can practice a religion where those teachings are explicit, not secret, and which has an infrastructure devoted to its practice. It helps that I like Buddhism from a cultural perspective too--which can sometimes be the hardest part, when you know the teachings and practices are for you, but no one can speak your "language."
Posts: 692
Joined: Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:37 am

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by steveb1 »

I was born in 1950, into the pre-Vatican II Church. Had a cousin-priest and an aunt-nun, and was an altar boy and took interest in doctrine and Sacraments. I had twelve years of Catholic parochial school education.

I stayed in the Church until I was 27-28, by which time, even with the informational assistance of critical biblical scholarship, I began to have important doubts. Catholic writers included, the "answers" were less and less satisfactory.

Through several wonderful works by Hugh J. Schonfield (of Passover Plot infamy) I had discovered the Jewish church as refracted through the Church Fathers and heresiologists, and realized that the Catholic Church's advertised origins were simply false. About that time I discovered Carl Jung, which opened up the soul to me in a way that the Church never did - and it also explained in depth-psychological terms the archetypal meaning of doctrine and Sacraments - the "Why" of ritual, the Real Presence, Marian apparitions, and a lot more.

A bit after that, I started studying Eastern religion, discovered the works of Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, the "Pillars of Zen" book, Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh), and got into the phenomenology of "Enlightenment". I wandered and studied for years in that mode until I read an article by Jodo Shinshu priest Jose Tirado, which so impressed me that I looked into Jodo Shinshu Buddhism ("Shin").

Well, it made all kinds of sense to me, and at last proferred an understandable and obtainable Enlightenment paradigm and, in the form of Amida Buddha, a model of sheer, unobstructed, un-earned Ultimate Compassion. Unlike the OP, I had no familial, social or religious barriers to my conversion experience, which swept over me in several strong waves. To this day, Shin remains an inconceivable treasure.
Posts: 224
Joined: Wed Mar 28, 2012 10:30 pm

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Yeti »

Wulstan Fletcher was still a Benedictine monk, when he gained permission from the church to do the Nyingma 3 year retreat in France. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (as I understand) had encouraged him to do the retreat then return to his life as a Benedictine monk, but he felt he was not able to do this, so requested to leave that life and led a full Buddhist life.

Many teachers say that it's possible to practice true to oneself where one is inwardly a Buddhist, in harmony with a close Christian community (as Wuktstan was encouraged). That to me is the practice of maybe a high bodhisattva or great yogi. Don't know if I could do it.

(I was raised a Christian, and appreciated that nurturing environment. Whilst I loved the teachings of Christ, I could not come to terms with an all creator God who created such a world full of suffering) ... n_Fletcher
"People are fond of saying all sorts of things about others behind their backs, mentioning their names again and again. Instead of slandering others in this way, “slander” the yidam: utter his name repeatedly by reciting his mantra all the time." - Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche - Zurchungpa’s Testament - Shambhala Publications
Posts: 520
Joined: Sun Sep 30, 2012 8:00 am

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Myoho-Nameless »

Grew up in the liberal protestant (Lutheran) circle. Grandfather was an ordained member of the clergy. One of my aunts might be a Buddhist too but I don't ask.

It hasn't been a problem, but its not something I strut around showing off. I never really had a deep connection with christianity, it just didn't "click". religion has always been difficult for me, buddhism too.

In high school I studied Asian history and from there got a purely academic interest in Buddhism, it slowly grew on me. I also studied the Japanese language. I remember seeing the "h" in the word "Buddhist" when learning about some things you might see in a Japanese home, with the vocabulary word "Butsudan" described as a "Buddhist shrine".
"Keep The Gods Out Of It. Swear On Your Heads. Which I Will Take If You Break Your Vow."- Geralt of Rivia
Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Feb 02, 2016 5:46 am

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Adrian »

I was raised Catholic, and I was never a very good one! Even as a child, I had questions about what my parents expected me to believe. I went through the motions for years, all the way through my confirmation. I stayed in the church mostly to please my parents, but in my late 20s I just couldn't do it anymore. My dad was coolly supportive, but my mom didn't get it and tried to lay the guilt on. But I had to walk away, for my own peace of mind.

Like others have said, look for things to ease the transition. The writings of Thomas Merton are a good starting point. One book that helped me bridge the gap was Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh.

When I started studying Buddhism in earnest, the first thing I gravitated toward was the most visible Buddhist I knew of -- the Dalai Lama. That led me into a study of Tibetan Buddhism, and at that time I didn't know anything about any other sects of Buddhism. So as far as I knew, Buddhism was this tradition with elaborate rituals and ceremonies and veneration of saints. All the bells and smells, as I've seen one person put it. For me, that made the perfect transition. Tibetan Buddhism felt like a sort of Buddhist Catholicism. Now, 15 years later, I've found my way to a Shingon temple, and Shingon shares lots of similarities with the Tibetan tradition. Either one might be a good place for you to start, and then you can move on from there if you find another sect that appeals to you more deeply.

If you're still open to Christianity as a path, I recommend the Religious Society of Friends, a.k.a. Quakers. It's a liberal denomination, welcoming of people of pretty much all beliefs, Christian and otherwise. The group I met with here in Seattle included a Jewish woman and the wife of a Buddhist abbot. The service consists of sitting in a circle in silence, and anyone who feels moved can rise and address the meeting. There is no clergy. Many meetings pass in complete silence. There's a contemplative beauty to the service, similar to Buddhism, but without the Buddhist vocabulary. My Christian faith appears to be almost completely gone, so I've stopped meeting with the Quakers -- but I thought I'd offer that as an alternative.

Whatever you do, I wish you good luck. It's not easy to tell those close to you that your spiritual views have changed. It took me a long time to work up the courage. But in hindsight, I'm glad I did it, and in fact I wish I'd done it sooner.
User avatar
Former staff member
Posts: 5150
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: AU

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Wayfarer »

I second what Caodemarte says above. There is a very interesting and dynamic kind of Catholic~Zen movement going back to (and maybe before) Thomas Merton. I have seen Ama Samy's talks, he is one of the 'Jesuit Zen' teachers. I feel that my own relationship with Christian teachings has been improved through Buddhist meditation, but I don't feel at all divided about it. I think as 'religions' they're world's apart, but as 'ways' they have some common ground. I think had I been compelled to be a Catholic I would have rebelled against it for sure so can understand that kind of impulse. But I think forgiving is part of what we have to do.
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi
Posts: 520
Joined: Sun Sep 30, 2012 8:00 am

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Myoho-Nameless »

To some degree I think that western Buddhism could benefit from "looking" like christianity. many moons ago I saw a re purposed church, I think it was Catholic what with the stained glass ("we" protestants tend to have simpler church decorations), and I thought that was interesting.

Its basically what happened to every other place Buddhism showed up in.

Though you can go too far in trying to really combine them. I think they are radically different things. I think it was Sam Harris who compared religion to sports. The only thing baseball and football have in common are they they are sports.
"Keep The Gods Out Of It. Swear On Your Heads. Which I Will Take If You Break Your Vow."- Geralt of Rivia
User avatar
Posts: 242
Joined: Thu Aug 23, 2012 11:16 am
Location: Perth

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Kaji »

Ex-Christian here. Brought up in a Hong Kong Chinese family that is Anglican - my father worked for an Anglican organisation. Went to Sunday school, a Christian kindergarten, an Anglican Christian primary school, then after migrating to Australia a Catholic secondary school.

Remained Christian through university and during my first few years of work, but later developed my own version and interpretation of Christianity to keep it all coherent.

Eventually, from my martial arts practice and study I came across Daoism and Confucianism, which in turn led me to Buddhism. I will never go back to being Christian (at least not in the eyes of typical Christian).

As an above poster has mentioned, Buddhism has actually increased my understanding of Christianity and why Jesus taught the things he did and in his particular way. Upaya - the hallmark of a bodhisattva.

Who is Jesus anyway, if looking from a Buddhist perspective? He is actually none other than Śakra, deva king in the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven. Just look for pictures of Jesus doing Śakra's mudra. Was he trying to teach people to be reborn to the heaven realm? Or even a pure land? You can have your own theory.
Jesus Mudra 1.jpg
Jesus Mudra 1.jpg (22.3 KiB) Viewed 4920 times
Jesus Mudra 2.jpg
Jesus Mudra 2.jpg (39.39 KiB) Viewed 4920 times
Jesus Mudra 3.jpg
Jesus Mudra 3.jpg (44.19 KiB) Viewed 4920 times
Namas triya-dhvikānāṃ sarva tathāgatānām!
User avatar
Former staff member
Posts: 5150
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: AU

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Wayfarer »

The Gospel of Thomas, which is one of the Gospels that wasn't included in the authorised edition of the Bible, was discovered with other ancient writings in Egypt in the 1940's, I think it was. It has a much more gnostic flavour than many of the Gospels that were included. Some examples:
Jesus said, "I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind."
The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us how our end will be."
Jesus said, "Have you discovered, then, the beginning, that you look for the end? For where the beginning is, there will the end be. Blessed is he who will take his place in the beginning; he will know the end and will not experience death."
Jesus said: Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.

According to scholar Elaine Pagels, there was an early struggle between the 'Thomistic' and 'Johannine' factions in the early church, which the latter won. And history, as they say, is written by the victors. But in her book Beyond Belief she 'identifies... a textual battle between The Gospel of Thomas (rediscovered in Egypt in 1945) and The Gospel of John. While these gospels have many superficial similarities, Pagels demonstrates that John, unlike Thomas, declares that Jesus is equivalent to "God the Father" as identified in the Old Testament. Thomas, in contrast, shares with other supposed secret teachings a belief that Jesus is not God but, rather, is a teacher who seeks to uncover the divine light in all human beings. Pagels then shows how the Gospel of John was used by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon and others to define orthodoxy during the second and third centuries. The secret teachings were literally driven underground, disappearing until the Twentieth Century. As Pagels argues this process "not only impoverished the churches that remained but also impoverished those [Irenaeus] expelled."

I departed the Christian church just prior to Confirmation, but as a youth was always convinced that there was a state called enlightenment, a completely different way of understanding - which is of course what lead me in the direction of Buddhism. I read tons of spiritual books, but the Buddhist ones were the ones that stuck, and I also learned Buddhist meditation and eventually took refuge. But I feel an affinity with the spiritual teachings of Christianity - not that I push that fact - although I think, had I not left the Church and discovered the Buddhist path, I wouldn't have returned to it. But, in any case, I'm one of those 'many paths up the mountain' types. I also debate a lot on Philosophy Forum, and whilst I don't much care for the evangelicals that turn up and preach, overall I prefer the theistic philosophers to their atheist antagonists.
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi
User avatar
Hickory Mountain
Posts: 59
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2014 11:40 pm
Location: Marshall, AR

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Hickory Mountain »

Yeti wrote:Wulstan Fletcher was still a Benedictine monk, when he gained permission from the church to do the Nyingma 3 year retreat in France. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (as I understand) had encouraged him to do the retreat then return to his life as a Benedictine monk, but he felt he was not able to do this, so requested to leave that life and led a full Buddhist life.

Do you know of any place where Fletcher has talked about this experience? I'd be very interested to learn more about his situation.
Namo Amitabha
User avatar
Posts: 20
Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2016 2:15 am

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Bhikkhu_YinRi »

Former Christian here.
User avatar
Posts: 2270
Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2013 1:05 am

Re: Are there many former Catholics/Christians here?

Post by Rick »

I grew up Catholic, was quite devout, very fond memories of Latin masses, incense, stations of the cross, Lent, missals. The thing I liked most -- and that stuck with my longest -- was the ritual of the mass, its hushed seriousness, and its awe-ful symbol of drinking a man's blood, eating his body. Drifted away starting around puberty, left, never much looked back.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily ...
Post Reply

Return to “Dharma in Everyday Life”