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28 Aug 2009

Coming out (in more ways than one)

Having converted her Buddhist family to Christianity, Sharon Saw’s partner now faces coming out as a Buddhist .

My girlfriend and I are out to all except our parents. Unless they read this, I guess. Coming out, for most of us, has always been about our sexuality but for my girlfriend, she is also in the closet to her parents about her religion. My girlfriend has always been spiritual, and that was one of the things that we had in common at the beginning and which has become the foundation of our relationship, especially over the past few years. 

She was born Buddhist. However, her family’s practice of Buddhism was superficial and limited to putting joss sticks at the family altar. She had searched for spirituality since young and Christianity was easily accessible with lots of reading material in English. So she became a Christian in her teens and during her studies in the United States, she studied Christianity deeply. She became a street missionary and also went to Africa, to villages where there was no water and electricity, where she exorcised the possessed and where she brought hundreds to Christ. She also converted her Buddhist family to Christianity.

When I serendipitously met H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche in 2005, I told her about it. I was very attracted to Buddhism as taught by Rinpoche but I was concerned because I wondered if she would object to my interest since she was a Christian. One evening, I asked her to come along with me for an event at Kechara House, the Dharma centre in Petaling Jaya. She was due to leave for the US the next day but I told her it would just be an hour or so. Famous last words.

At Kechara that evening, Rinpoche made a surprise visit and that was her first encounter with Rinpoche. Rinpoche gave a Dharma talk and a few hours later, she felt it resonated with her and she wanted to know more. No one tried to convert her to Buddhism but she felt a draw to it and interestingly enough, she does not feel her draw to Buddhism contradicts with her Christian beliefs. ‘Christian’ and ‘Buddhist’ are merely labels. She loves Jesus Christ; many Buddhists believe he is a Bodhisattva. And she loves the Buddha’s teachings. 

Since then, she has immersed herself in Rinpoche’s teachings and learning more about Buddhism. After a couple of years, she resigned from her high-flying job managing an international team at a prominent multinational and joined Kechara Media & Publications full-time. It has been a rollercoaster ride since because working in Kechara is experiential learning of Buddhism, not just theoretical. 

Everyday, we practice the six perfections, as listed in the Lotus Sutra, of generosity, patience, joyous effort, single-pointed contemplation, wisdom and proper conduct. Not that we can achieve them yet, but that we strive to live our daily lives based on these values and with each day, we hopefully improve a little. That is why it is called practice. And that is the beauty of H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche’s vision – to make the ancient teachings come alive through modern Dharma work.

For the longest time, my girlfriend had not wanted to tell her parents that she was Buddhist because she didn’t want to hurt them. She’d sometimes get teased– would it be worse if her parents found out she was a lesbian or that she was Buddhist? Another friend helpfully suggested that she should now convert her parents back to Buddhism.

Finally, about a month ago, she told her parents that she was working for a Buddhist organisation. She didn’t tell them directly that she was a Buddhist (yet) but at least it is a start. 

There is so much conflict in the world – over different cultures, different races, different sexual orientations, different religions, even different sects within the religion. Sometimes we are so absorbed with our differences, we don’t see the similarities. I believe that the core of all religion is about positive qualities of love and compassion. Unfortunately, some people then distort these messages to become fear to control the believers of each religion. Not that people intentionally do so, but nevertheless, it happens.

So let’s try and focus on the central messages for a change, forget the labels, and act from love, peace and harmony.

As H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche says, “Dharma is not about who’s right and who’s wrong; it’s not about whose centre is big; it’s not about which religion is right; it’s not about whether there’s a next life or not; it’s not about whether Buddha exists or God exists; it’s not about whether Catholicism is the real religion or Buddhism is the real religion: it’s not about any of that. It’s about us bringing harmony into our families, into our lives, into the people we care about NOW. That’s what it’s about. And that’s what we learn Dharma for.” 

Sharon Saw is a writer / editor at Kechara Media & Publications, which focuses on publishing the teachings of H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, a high incarnate Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. A selection of Buddhist and non-Buddhist related books from Kechara Publications is now available on Fridae Shop. You can follow Sharon on Twitter. This column will appear every other Friday.

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-09-02 22:42  
Nice article, interesting and unusual dilemma for your girlfriend. Many thanks.
2. 2009-09-14 09:47  
"It’s about us bringing harmony into our families, into our lives, into the people we care about NOW."

Well said! Great article!
3. 2009-09-19 00:11  
Talking abt conflict in the world – over different cultures, different races, different sexual orientations, different religions, even different sects within the religion... There are different labels for lesbians as well e.g. - butch, soft butch, lipstick, femme, ... Have to agree with you -- Sometimes we are so absorbed with our differences, we don’t see the similarities!!!
4. 2009-09-27 13:16  
My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. - H.H. Dalai Lama

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