Childhood Religion and Conversion: from Buddhism to Witchcraft and back again

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Conversion is something that’s been on my mind for the past week or so, and not just because it’s part of what we’re discussing this month for The Cauldron Blog Project.

In my weekly rituals so far, I’ve done the Chenrezig meditation with my mala. I’ve been doing the Chenrezig off and on for most of my life, and I’ve gone through several malas. I’ve had a Buddha statue as part of my altar for a while, and I have a Thangka hanging in my hall at home. Tara has always been a part of my life, in some way, whether that’s through actual devotion to Her or just…thinking about Her.

I was raised with these things. Buddhist rituals were my fundamental religious upbringing. Mom played the 21 Praises of Tara for me in the car, and Wind Horses. [Tibetan] Buddhism is the closest thing I have to a childhood religion, though not all Buddhists consider it religion (my mom doesn’t, for example).

English: Painting of Buddhist goddess Green Ta...
Green Tara by Prithvi Man Chitrakari done in 1947. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have plans to get a Green Tara tattoo, somewhere on my body, though the last two places I had in mind have since been claimed/reserved by Brighid and Manannan for Their ink. I try and live my life by the Eightfold Path as I understand it. I try and hold lovingkindness and compassion for all living creatures…even the ones I kill. (There are rules I must make, for my own continued existence; I must have lovingkindness for myself, too, and I cannot if I’m letting bugs or rodents infest my house, or if I’m eating the incorrect diet for my body. I must keep space for myself. It’s a tricky line to walk.)

Yes, I do curse people, and I do see this as justice. It’s Right Action to me. I don’t see it as conflicting with the Buddhist thoughts with which I’ve been raised. I watched the world step on my mother for too long to believe that standing aside and doing nothing was the right course of action.

The Eightfold Path calls for non-harmful speech and action — but when silence and doing nothing in the face of injustice causes more harm, you weigh the hurt your words and deeds may cause, and you decide which choice causes less harm. It is impossible to live without hurting other beings. You have to find the best way. And sometimes, compassion means kicking a little ass. Sometimes, the least hurtful way you can act towards someone is to cause them pain — lancing an infected boil is always painful but it will allow healing to happen.

That is how I understand the Eightfold Path, and that is how I follow it.

I believe in reincarnation, and some form of enlightenment. I also believe we spend time between lives resting and taking stock, and I believe that in each life we are a different individual — even if we have distinct souls or spirits that go on to be reborn. I don’t believe, however, that liberation from samsara is or should be the goal — I believe life has more reason than suffering, and we are corporeal beings for a purpose beyond escaping corporeal existence. 

English: rudraksha mala and stone mala
rudraksha mala and stone mala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So this week I’m realizing I’m more Buddhist than I give myself credit for. I always have been, since childhood. It’s always been a part of my life. When confused or stressed, I go back to om mani padme om, around the mala.

Which leads me to wonder about conversion. We often think about conversion as a moment, an epiphany. The popular narratives around conversion support this idea. But the thread at TC made it clear that that is only one model of conversion — conversion can also be a process, taking many years.

I never really saw myself as converting to paganism. I sort of converted to neo-Wicca, in my teens, but I grew away from that religion as I grew older (and honestly, I’m not sure if I ever was really Wiccan, or if I just held onto it because it seemed like my only option for religious witchcraft). Since I started on the path of paganism, however, I’ve always identified as a witch — but I wouldn’t consider that a conversion, either. I don’t see witchcraft as something one can convert to any more than I see…cooking, or carpentry as something one can convert to. (Specific religious witchcraft traditions are a different thing, and one can convert to those. …this is getting complicated. Basically, witchcraft as a craft is not something I see as being possible to convert to, but witchcraft as a religion is — and the difference between those two things is hazy and grey and murky and difficult to define at best. Your mileage, as always, may vary.)

I never really saw myself as converting to Buddhism, either, but I never really left it. And now I’m sitting here wondering if this has been what my long, winding spiritual road has been about: conversion to being a Buddhist Witch. 

Because that is now the term that comes to mind when I think of my path. More specifically, an Eclectic Polytheistic Buddhist Witch. With a dash of mysticism.

Is this what is happening to me? Dipping in and out of my childhood religion, sometimes rejecting the idea outright of my being a Buddhist, only to find myself converting to it when I’m twenty-seven?

I’m actually thinking of taking refuge, which is…sort of like conversion to Buddhism. (It is sort of odd to be talking about conversion to Buddhism. It’s my childhood religion, but it’s not — because to mom, it’s not a religion, and that’s the view of it I had growing up. But now that I’m an adult, I do see it as a religion — so there’s definite conflict in my brain around terms.)

Mom says there’s no conflict between taking refuge and my continuing to be a Witch, or worshipping the gods I worship. I can be Buddhist and these other things.

Yet I feel a sort of…nervousness? Like, what if taking refuge is the wrong thing? What if there is conflict?

I felt the same sort of nervousness before joining ADF, but this is different — because there’s an added fear of disappointing Buddha and Tara. They were my first gods growing up. I don’t want to let Them down.

So I’m left here with a pile of thoughts, threatening to make my head explode, and no real answers. Again.

I suppose I should go to bed and stop running around in mental circles. Maybe the answers will come to me soon.

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