Finding a path. Or how I became a Buddhist.

January 18, 2012   |   31 Comments  |   FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites


Hello everyone. Yesterday a member of the Open Heart Project asked me how I became a Buddhist and I told her I would answer the question in a post.

Each of us comes to our spiritual path in a unique way and, as the poet Rumi said, there are a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground. There is no single way that applies to all. For example, some people (such as myself) benefit most from a proscribed, traditional path. We need structure and rootedness because we are already too prone to flying off into outer space. Other people may already be too earth-bound and strict and may require, perhaps, a less-structured path in order to free their minds.

However, it is very tricky because we’ll pretty much go to any lengths to remain confused about reality and so my counsel is always this: when in doubt, go traditional. All the wisdom we require to relieve our suffering already exists and if we open our hearts, we can hear it.

So please hear my mini story with a grain of salt. It is in the video above.

Have you found your personal spiritual path? What does it look like? What are your doubts or concerns? What about your path makes the most sense to you?

categorized in: ,


  • Posted by:  Lucie

    I experienced the law of attraction in my life without even knowing it existed. What a joy when I discovered an interview with Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) on the cover of the Science of Mind magazine. Change your thinking change your life, I strongly believe in that. I believe all spiritual traditions and masters have something true to teach us. Therefore, I am not limited to one path. I choose truth, authenticity, total acceptance of what is, and choosing joy over negativity.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Thank you, Lucie. I also believe that there is much to learn from a variety of paths. And I agree that truth, authenticity, acceptance and joy are the path.

      The problem for me is that I don’t always know the difference between wisdom and neurosis. I have definitely seen how, when hurt or angry, I manipulate my thinking to make me feel better and call it “wisdom.” I’m not at all suggesting that this is what you or anyone but me does. But at such moments, I need to turn toward a greater wisdom than mine, in order to find my own greater wisdom. I’ve found that commitment to one path is the only way I can do so. Again–that is just me. What has your experience of such moments been? I’d love to learn! With love, Susan

      • Posted by:  Lucie

        Somehow, “rationalizing” to feel better in the short term, or to absorb the chock of a situation that I have difficulty to accept “as is”, feels like “rationalizing” and not really comforting. Admitting my error, resistance, reluctance or accepting to absorb the lesson to be learned feels sooooooo comforting, authentic and true. Authenticity for me starts with being true with myself. Then my crying baby ego disappears into the nothingness. I accept to feel the chock though, even briefly. This is normal. The little Lucie is hurting, then I can give myself the love and acceptance I need, even with my weaknesses and limitations. I have found that a lot of stress and anxiety was caused by my own ego thinking that the world was turning around it. When I understood that everything that happens is not the effect of, or a judgement on my own inadequacy, I felt a lot of relief. And life became lighter.

        • Posted by:  Susan

          I love this approach…

        • Posted by:  Judy

          Lucie, I agree with sometimes needing to go through the purely human expression of ego in order to gradually see the wisdom in letting it go. Recently I went through a terrible relationship loss that left me grasping for any way to feel better. When I finally accepted that it was OK to do this in the short term, while not closing my mind to the truth, the lessons of truth eventually became easier to accept. I follow the wisdom of Buddhist teachings, but also needed to call upon the spirits of people who while they were living, were influencial in my life, to help me to see the truth and to find a way to end the suffering of being ego-bound. Interestingly, when I asked the universe for peace of mind, my prayer was answered rather quickly.

          • Posted by:  Lucie

            Judy, I like when you say “calling upon the spirits of people who were influencial in my life…”. That is how we can feel that their spirit and legacy is still alive and eternal in their rippling effects on the continuity of the physical world. And because we are all parts of the same One, we are never apart from the ones we love and have loved. Love once shared is eternal, never forgotten.

        • Posted by:  Judy

          Lucie…that was beautifully said … explaining the essense of the One expressing the totality of all the universe.

  • Posted by:  NayNay

    Thank you for this post, Susan. I was raised a traditional Methodist, and in the last couple of years my parents have begun attending the Unitarian Universalist church. I honor my parents’ journey and I have become much more open to other paths to spirituality. I love the Rumi post. I have a H.H. XIVth Dalai Lama quote hanging on the wall next to my desk, “True Communication. It is my experience that all great religions of the world have a common language and message on which we can build true communication.” For me, that message is Love.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Hi NayNay. Any and all devotion to love is good! With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Satia

    It is not unlike in writing when teachers say to learn the rules. Once you know the rules you can break them, not out of laziness but to create a particular effect. Birds fly but first they have a perch from which they take off. (See? I ended that sentence with a preposition.)

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Ha! Love this.

  • Posted by:  Clara

    I’ve come to think that I’m an example of the old adage “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” About two years ago, I attended a weekend retreat that had nothing to do with spirituality but for the fact that the group leader had engaged a yoga teacher to offer early-morning yoga classes to those of us who were interested. I’d attended yoga classes more than 20 years ago and remembered it as a good experience, so I attended class each of the three mornings of the retreat. It turned out that the instructor was teaching a yoga class at a local university, and invited me to come to his class there. When I learned that asana was initially intended as a practice to help concentrate the mind for meditation, I decided to take a meditation class at the university.

    That class led to a second one. In that class I was introduced to the book Everyday Zen by Joko Beck. At that point, Zen was the only type of Buddhism I’d heard of, although I knew virtually nothing about it. Like you, I also didn’t know that (now to mention how) Hinduism differed from Buddhism. In fact, I’m so historically challenged that I couldn’t have said whether the Buddha was historical or legendary, or even when he lived.

    By that time, I was interested and curious enough, especially after reading Everyday Zen, to read Karen Armstrong’s biography of the Buddha. From there, things started falling into place, and geek that I am, I kept reading (I’m a big-time reader). By early 2011, when the university had lost its funding for adjunct professors–and as a result, cut its meditation classes–I was wondering where Buddhism had been all my life. It made such immense practical sense! I was fortunate to find a local meditation sangha and a dharma class that I attend regularly (I practice Vipassana meditation and study in the Theravadan tradition). I have a meditation practice and have just signed up for my first week-long meditation retreat.

    In many ways, I feel as if I didn’t look for any of this; rather, that it manifested in my life without effort. Of course, I know that’s not entirely true, that I did, in fact, take active steps to sign up for classes, to find a sangha, etc. But everything seems to have intersected so naturally, that it’s hard not to think of it as having been sent to me to fulfill a need.

    I was brought up Catholic, although I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for years. I don’t disown that part of myself nor feel that I have to “resign” from Catholicism, I simply find the experiential nature of Buddhism a wonderfully sensible approach to cultivating happiness and inner peace (and, hopefully, spreading it). I continue to be, as the English say “gobsmacked” by its beauty.

    I didn’t start out to write a long post; it seems that once I started sharing the story, I couldn’t stop! Thanks for your posts, Susan, and for your meditations.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Clara, this post is so lovely. Thank you very much for it. It points out the lovely intersection of intention, effort, auspiciousness, and excellent karma. Indeed, you must have done many good things in this and previous lives to have a mind and heart this open–because that’s the only avenue by which to be gobsmacked.

  • Posted by:  KCLAnderson (Karen)

    I’ve been everything from a child who goes to protestant church because that’s what my family did to a “born-again Christian” (only briefly, in high school) to a declared atheist. Religion ruined spirituality for me for a long time.

    And then one day I read “Eat Pray Love” and these words jumped off the page: “God dwells within you as you yourself, just the way you are.” And the door cracked open once again. I prefer no middleman, no doctrine. God is within and without.

    I also recently discovered this description of Jesus Christ, which astounded me:

    “Jesus Christ is declared to be the Son of God or God with us. “Christ” is not his last name, “Christ” is his title. Very few people know what the title signifies.

    Christ is the seventh energy Chakra of Eastern philosophy. It is the highest level achievable by the human mind. It can only be achieved by ascending the spiritual centers of the mind. Many never ascend beyond the animal passions. Many are not even aware that spiritual centers exist.

    Anyone who achieves the level of Christ is said to be one with the forces of creation (or one with the creator). “I and the Father are one” is how Jesus put it. It requires spiritual growth. It cannot be achieved in any other manner. Jesus came to us to reveal the Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And he made the ultimate sacrifice to reveal the unquenchable love of God through him.

    To believe in Jesus is not to believe in the person, but rather in what Jesus represented. Christ is the light and love of God working through us. As Jesus put it, he would return to the father where he could pour out the Holy Spirit upon those who believed in him. Light is knowledge of the forces of creation, and love is compassion for one another to use those forces for the common good. Anyone who can embody both of these principles is truly a gifted person. Faith in Christ is part of a spiritual quest, not blind acceptance of some doctrine. It is a spiritual gift given only to those who have diligently sought it out, believing that greater things are possible. Believing in Jesus is only the first step on a journey that leads us back to God.

    Once you have accepted Jesus, then the spirit of Christ begins to work its magic. It starts with self-contemplation, allowing us to see who we really are, and giving us a glimpse into what we are capable of becoming. The more we dwell on these matters, the more we learn to control our actions. We begin to sense the wellspring of living waters that Jesus spoke of. And as these living waters well up inside us, they give us new life. A new person is born, transcended from the old. This is the born-again experience that Jesus refers to; “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”. Until the mind can perceive what is possible, we can do nothing to bring it about.” Roy Bourque

    So, I am still on the path…

    • Posted by:  Susan

      This is absolutely lovely, Karen. So full of longing and daringness and intelligence. Thank you, thank you.

    • Posted by:  Sharon B

      Karen – I love your description of Jesus Christ! I’m currently in a place of questioning my Christian beliefs and your post stands out to me. Is this from a book or a blog? I’d love more information.

    • Posted by:  Alfred

      Thoughtfully well said Karen. It is a well worn path… walked by many of us.

  • Posted by:  Carol

    I love reading these replies. They seem to have a thread in common–to love well, to undo the illusion of separation. Suffice it to say that my life circumstance is my practice, and meditation, surrender, and being grateful for . . . things like air! music! food! are all things that (paradoxically) ground me as I relinquish many cherished reference points. Thanks for this post.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      You are so welcome, sister.

  • Posted by:  David

    I especially loved this one, Susan.

    I grew up Christian evangelical with many intense questions about God and human nature. As a teenager I read theology and philosophy until the church of my youth split over dogma. I left home in a rage to join the Marines. I thought if I immersed myself in the art of survival, I could save myself from pain. It was a very defensive, left-brain decision. As one can imagine, I got my wish, and some crazy war experiences. I returned fearful, skeptical, and aching inside.

    I went through more confusion and wandering, while convincing many people I was ok. Inside I was asking questions no theologian could answer. The problem of human nature was no longer abstract. It was my reality, and it was killing me inside. In this dark period I wrote nonstop in journals, when one day, it dawned on me, I was really trying to get to the bottom of it. I guess that’s when I realized it was spiritual.

    Then one night, two years ago, I ended up (somehow!) at Kitt Peak Observatory in Tuscon, Arizona. Atop a desert mountain, I watched the most beautiful stars and distant planets through a state-of-the art telescope, and listened to an astronomer give a mind-blowing presentation on the nature of the universe. I didn’t much care before that night. To me, they were just stars, up there, not bothering anyone. But my imagination was spinning, trying to grasp the scale and magnitude of what I was seeing. And then, at one point, the astronomer said, “As amazing as these otherworldly objects are to behold, they are not aware of their own beauty. This is what makes life truly unique.” I vividly remember something inside me breaking down.

    I began to see everything in my life, in Iraq, as an event in time. I was no longer the beginning or the end. I read more science than ever in my life – astronomy, geology, psychology, everything. I spent long hours in the Shenandoah mountains, just listening to the wind, watching the sun. When the science rattled my traditional beliefs, I went deeper. Only wanting to know what came before. I went back to spiritual texts. The words of the ancients came alive, like they were talking to me. And then I found Buddhist literature.

    I always sensed that being present was the only way I could break free. So I committed to that, and only that. I read the book Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana, and began guided meditations with you, Susan. It taught me how to be silent. How to take things in.

    After first it was sporadic. I was still struggling. But soon the detail just started pouring in. It was overwhelming. I kept thinking, I can’t believe I almost missed this.

    It gets very hard to explain from here. But somehow, the silence put the pieces together. All the knowledge from different disciplines began to connect. And all the pieces pointed to Something greater than my ability to comprehend. I can’t even find words sometimes, because it’s almost beyond language.

    I still read the ancients daily. I know they understood what I can only catch faint glimmers of. But this path of silence and acceptance has changed my life. I was in a very bad place. But my left-brain has been dethroned. And the only thing I want to say each day is, “I accept.”

    Whether that counts as a path, I don’t know. But hey, thank you Susan and everyone else for sharing your stories.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      David… I cannot tell you how I loved reading this. It is so wonderful. Thank you a thousand times for posting it. I appreciate your willingness to open your mind and keep opening it. When you write “I can’t believe I almost missed this,” I really, really get that. When, with the support of the ancients, you begin to catch some glimpses of the truth, it’s like waking up in a new world. We are very, very, very fortunate. The silence DOES put the pieces together. Beautifully said.

      Yes, this definitely counts as path. Glad our paths have crossed, Susan

      • Posted by:  Alfred

        What a wonderful reply, and I too loved reading it! Silence does put the pieces together in some of the most incredible and synchronous ways. It’s as if silence is the speed of creation and to comprehend our place in it, we need sync our spirits to the tempo of the Great Journey.

  • Posted by:  Rachel Cole

    Susan I love this discussion thread. LOVE IT.

    I was raised in an atheistic house by a non-observant christian mutt mother and a non-practicing jewish father. As a child, as far as I knew, god was a white man on a cloud and because of that it would be silly to believe in it.

    Through the breakdown of my entire life due to an eating disorder, and through much reading that was based in Buddhist teachings I had a clear awakening that I was not separate from the Divine (and years later, that the word God was not something to bristle at).

    When I moved to California, still struggling in some regards, a vipassana meditation teacher named James Baraz was suggested to me. His intro to meditation course changed my life (I should add I was the only person under 40 in the room we met in…I was 25 or so at the time). I went on to study and practice some, and still do, though I say more than anything I feel the Divine in me and around me most of the time and when I don’t or find myself caught in Ego (Eckart Tolle is another one of my teachers) I know how to find my way back to truth.

    My first life coach, Lianne Raymond, said to me on our first call…”Oh, you’re a mystic” as if it was obvious. And when I looked it up and read “s the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience of and even communion with a supreme being.” BOOM.

    I’m still a student of all this and could write more….but that’s a bit about me and my path.

    Gratitude to you. Rachel

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Rachel, it is lovely to learn a little bit more about you and your path. It is also great to meet a fellow mystic sister.

      I hope you’re continuing to write about this journey. It makes wonderful reading.

      With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  richard

    for the longest time i didn’t know if i could “label” myself a buddhist. i have never taken refuge although i have a very strong connection to buddhist psychology and teachings. i practice meditation and have great respect for Buddhism. perhaps it is part of growing up in the 70’s that i feel once something is named it becomes stagnant. that if i became a buddhist, would it prohibit me from becoming something else.

    just yesterday i picked up “What Makes You Not a Buddhist” by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and feel a greater connection not only to Buddha Nature but Buddhism itself.

    thank you for holding this Space

    Respectfully richard

    • Posted by:  Susan

      That is a wonderful book, and Dzongsar Khyentse is a brilliant person. What an awesome connection to have made! We are so fortunate. With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Jennifer Louden

    loved this post/video Susan, and you. And love reading everyone’s stories!!

    I have been a seeker my entire life, ever since I can remember. A seeker wanting answers, a seeker with an edge. Losing that “there is someplace to get to” has probably been the most profound spiritual lesson of my life so far, a life that has included several attempts at Christian worship including Southern Baptist at 11 (on my own, no family influence), a Methodist go-to-church on Easter-and-Christmas family upbringing, and an attempt to be an Episcopal in my early 40’s. I was a Unitarian in my 30’s, active in the Santa Barbara church (loved preaching!). Lots more adventures woven in there, plenty of LA New Age in the 80’s and goddess circles and shaman rituals and the Course in Miracles… Which is NOT to make fun of any of this. The urge for God is such a part of me and I honor it with all my heart. But where I always always always return is where I started, with Ram Dass’s book Be Here Now. With letting the world fall from beneath me. With my body and breath and the declaration of “yes.” With meditation yes but something even more fundamental – savoring what is real.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Love you soooo much, Jen Louden.

  • Posted by:  Alfred

    Hiya Susan!! What a wonderful discussion you have going here. It is one that touches me deeply. I too am a seeker, a person on a guided quest for something I cannot see or touch but intuitively KNOW. I was born, raised and educated a Catholic; at one point the seminary seemed to be the natural place for me. A tour in the Army and time spent traveling the world opened my eyes to the vast array of philosophies and religions. I decided I needed to know more… why did everyone claim their way was the “truth.” What made one belief system better than the other? Prayer was for me a very personal conversation with the Great Creation. In it I would ask for a deeper understanding, a greater wisdom and a guided path. At a writers retreat I was introduced to a meditation teacher/jhana-yogi and my world grew boundlessly! I had never understood Buddhism. But this man put in motion a carousel of understanding like I’d never known before. With past life issues dogging me, religions demanding me, and life spiraling in loud chaos, I found the wonderful path of silence.

    Susan you are certainly apart of that discovery. As teacher, and more importantly, friend I look at your journey and see so many wonderful parallels. This new window of Buddhist thought fits so perfectly into who I am as a “seeker.” I see this journey as an amalgamation of many lives, and in those lives the manifestation of the Creator has been witnessed in many ways as seen in the many writings of the ancient ones. I know deep in my soul that they are all talking about the same thing. I cherish the Christian teachings of my childhood, the traditions of my people, and the beauty of faith. I look to this new chapter of my journey with elation as I read books like Living Buddha-Living Christ. I am not leaving my Christianity behind, I’m taking it along! In this NOW moment the path has never been more clear. It for me is like walking up the path to the Stupa. It is a good walk with a great deal of time for contemplation, culminating in a sit in the magnificent shrine.

    As someone who feels the mystery of the ancient gnostics, the sacredness of Mother Earth and the Native People, the elation of a whirling dervish, the joy of a “born again” and the certainty of a mystic… I am incredibly grateful to now know the path to silence from the Buddhist in me. What a wonderful life this has been.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      I know, right?! An awesome discussion. I know that it touches you–I know what a true mystic you are–and also a poet. I am so happy we’re friends, midwest Buddha dude. Much love, S

  • Posted by:  Marita Hollo

    I was not brought up with a religion, but I considered the natural world my “church”, as that’s where I recognised the awe & wonder of spirituality. I was aghast when, as a teen I heard that a Buddhist monk had immolated himself in protesting the Vietnam War, so I did some research on Buddhism, & came across the “Eightfold Path” & other writings, & Ginsberg, the Dharma Bums, Alan Watts & other writers who wrote about their view of Buddhism. In the early 70s I started to meditate via hathayoga, & around the same time I went with a friend to see Trungpa Rinpoche when he came to Toronto. I was immediately drawn in – read the Myth of Freedom 50 times, took all the courses I could & took my vows, served as kasung for many many inspiring teachers, did a dathun, etc. I consider myself VERY lucky, to have found this path…I have never felt the pull of any other philosophy, & can’t imagine my life as anything but a Buddhist, especially at this time in history. I suppose alternately I would be a pagan happily, for Nature is still my “temple”; there is no disconnect for me there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *