For me, growing up in an old-fashioned Italian household basically pre-determined the religious beliefs I would follow. In Italy, Catholicism is the dominant religion, so it makes sense that my family baptized and raised me as a Catholic.
My parents placed me in “religion” classes after school when I was in first grade, which I attended once a week for about an hour and a half. I absolutely hated sitting through (what seemed like hours) of religious education—as most 7 year-olds would. As expected, though, I was forced to continue through the classes, making more holy sacraments (Communion and Confirmation) until I was 13.
I always had a very deep, emotionally advanced soul for my age. I was exceptionally interested in spirituality, death, the afterlife and how life on Earth works the way it does. Even though I was taught the reasoning behind these in religion class, something about Catholicism always bothered me.
Maybe it was the rigid structure of the religion. For example, our church practically forced you to attend mass at least once a week and even required a card signed by the priest. Perhaps it was the way they seemed to teach the same few beliefs over and over again every year of class, from kindergarten to 8th grade. More likely, it was a combination of several factors. Regardless of the reason, I never felt connected to Catholicism, even as a very young child.
I would like to make it clear that I respect Catholicism and everything the religion has to offer; it just wasn’t the right religion for me. After I made my Confirmation at 13, I decided to convert to a different religion. Converting to a different religion was an interesting step for me, because everyone in my family practices Catholicism. I asked my mom if it was okay for me to change my religion, and she said yes—she most likely didn’t take me too seriously. She took me to Barnes & Nobles Bookstore and bought me a couple books on religion the next day.
The first religion I fixated on was Judaism. I had friends who were Jewish and I really admired the way they practiced. I researched the origins of Judaism, learned about the beliefs and even attempted to celebrate Hanukkah that year (Menorah and all). It was nice, but I still didn’t feel the spiritual connection I was looking for. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I started reading about Buddhism.
Buddhism for me was like experiencing love at first sight. From the minute I started reading about the religion, I loved everything about it. Buddhism originated in India, and is based on the principles of Gautama Buddha (“the awakened one”). Buddhism is considered a religion, but it’s also a way of life. Buddhists live with the desire to create inner and outer peace with themselves and the world. They often avoid confrontation, act honestly and kindly towards others, and live with a clear mind.
I have been practicing Buddhism for 6 years now, and when asked my religion, I proudly identify as a Buddhist. I often get comments and remarks that Buddhism isn’t a “real religion” because we “don’t attend church or have formal prayer.” We do however, have temple and meditate. But that isn’t the point of Buddhism, anyway. We are a way of life, not a social construct.
I’ve also been told that I shouldn’t celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter if I’m a Buddhist. My response to that is “to each one’s own”, because I don’t believe I have any less of a right to enjoy holidays that people celebrate worldwide, regardless of what religion they follow. Several million Buddhists celebrate Christmas because the spirit of Christmas—giving gifts, kindness, love, and peace—is what we enjoy and want to celebrate.
I respect all religions, all holidays, and all beliefs. I think that the most important thing to remember is this; you can choose your own beliefs, even if they’re different from your family and friends’. If you’re thinking about somehow “breaking the mold”, I encourage you to try it. Converting to Buddhism has certainly been a beautiful transition for me.
*For more information on Buddhism and what we believe in, check out this website!*