Holidays with your Non-Buddhist Family

Just be happy that you don't have to share your Holiday dinner with Rumsfeld!

Many strange posts rolling around during the holidays. Most revolving around family sitting around the dinner table talking about how weird it is that you’re Buddhist or that you spend half the day meditating or chanting gathas or whatever.

I thought that if you distilled the syrupy sweetness of the recent post over at the Interdepedance Project into something actually resembling commonsense (or rum) you do get one smidget of wisdom…

Be willing to accept their non-acceptance of your practice. While many of us would love our families to wholly support us and even join us on the cushion, get that it’s not necessary for them to approve. If they do accept it, it might not happen in the way you expect, and it might take longer than you imagined.

Accepting non-acceptance is hard, pure and simple. But if you are actually whining about the fact that your parents still don’t “get you” then grow up. Unless, of course, you are 16. In which case it is completely OK. Go listen to some sob music in your room until dinner is ready.

However, if you are an adult, you need to shut up. Seriously, what did you expect?  Fucking roses?  People have had to spell out much more serious shit to their parents/family then a change in religion. 

Do you want to know how to be a good Buddhist during the holidays?  Simple.  Make being a son or daughter, spouse, or father or mother your practice.  Don’t be a freakin’ snob.  If your family goes to church and prays to Jesus then go with them and engage in their spirituality for a few hours.  If they pray at the table then pray with them.  Because at least you are with your family.  Be mindful of that.  Does your father think you are an asshole?  Fine.  Be mindful and thankful that you have a father that thinks you are an asshole.

If they are atheists or agnostics then don’t do anything.  Why would you have to do something anyway?  Do I feel the need to do prostrations just so my parents or family know that I am a Buddhist?  No.  I can practice in a way that still makes me a “good” Buddhist without ever having to single myself out from the rest of my family.  Is this easy? No, not always.  Do I always do this? No, but I learn from my mistakes.  Practice makes perfect, right?

Let the people around you engage with your practice the way that is comfortable to them.  You work on your own practice as the situation permits.  Don’t get attached to the way you do it or whether you are percieved as a Buddhist.  Just practice.  Engage in their practice, even if you don’t agree with it.  Basically, that is what you are asking of them.

If your practice is moving you away from your family maybe you need to look at your practice and not at your family.  Which is more important?  Are they actually separate things?  The more I look into it, my practice is my family and my family is my practice.

And remember, maybe it isn’t your family moving away from you.  Maybe it is you moving away from your family.



postscript:  Just if you were wondering my family knows about my practice and they engage in it as much as they are comfortable with.  For that I thank them.  They also read this blog…I don’t know if I am comfortable with that just yet.


16 thoughts on “Holidays with your Non-Buddhist Family

    • Thanks, ZenMom!

      I will be posting a geek shirt photo-stravaganza one of these days. I was inspired by your post.



  1. I’ve learned that the most mindful and compassionate thing to do is to not talk about it unless I’m asked and only to answer questions.

    • Completely agree but I have found myself wondering “Do they even care” when the silence lasted for a long time.

      I do follow the policy that it is not the time to compare just to explain.



  2. Oddly enough, I have found that I have much more respect for and acceptance of my family’s religious practices now that I have disengaged from those same practices and beliefs. I think that’s because I now know what it’s like to feel connected to a spiritual practice myself, rather than just going through the motions of one. It is their genuine spiritual practice and I am glad for them that they have one.

    • I think I am getting there….

      I have a tendency to rant and I will do so on almost any topic especially religion. At times I definately don’t act with respect towards other religions but it is something that I try to remain mindful of.

      Thanks for the comment, Theresa!


  3. John, so proud of you and understand your searching, we all are searchers of the path. Your blog is your gift to me. thank you so much.

    • Don’t dive too deep into this blog. You are bound to find that little kid who threw helmets at umpires during Little League games and worse.

      Love ya!

  4. “…brother-in-law was the farthest off you could have been to him…”

    ~Shakespeare, ‘THE WINTERS TALE’ [Act IV, Sc. 4]

    • HELMET: I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former room-mate.

      LONE STARR: What’s that make us?

      HELMET: Absolutely nothing. Which is what you are about to become. Prepare to die.

      ~Spaceballs-The Movie

  5. My immediate family supports my practice completely. In fact, my sister and father are regular readers of my blog, and my mother even views it from time to time. Beyond them, the water gets pretty murky, but it doesn’t matter too much – I only see the others a few times a year at most.

    To me, the best thing I can do is just be what I have learned, and not worry to much about labels. That said, like you John, I sometimes rant about religion, especially Christianity, in a not so respectful way.

    • Oh yes, I can get on a roll sometimes. I do try to rant just as much about Buddhism though. Even out the field a bit. It seems that I too get some family commenting around here. It is starting to feel like a Little League game….



  6. My parents are amazingly supportive and even interested in adopting some aspects of Buddhism to their Mormon beliefs if you can believe it. My Mom even asked if it is possible to be a Mormon AND a Buddhist!! The rest of my family is a bit less accepting. Though I do have one brother who has been o.k. and my sister just doesn’t care about religion period. I’m just glad for the support I do have and I can only hope the rest of the fam opens up. I still love them all and will always do so.

    When we get together and they say the prayer I will take my hat off in respect, close my eyes and use that moment to do a quick metta practice. It’s a nice way to acknowledge and respect their faith while staying true to mine. I’ve found that people are more willing to offer acceptance to you if you offer it to them. Others are just going to be assholes but that’s often hard to deal with. I’m not perfect AT ALL on this because I rant and rave too often on the behavior of some snobby, intolerant Christians.

  7. hello jack! enjoy following you on twitter [i am deadturkeytweet].

    anyway, thank you for this loverly post on thanksgiving.

    some of the family is christian, and until this year, they weren’t sympathetic about the fact that my husband [he is a neo-confucianist] and i, and two of my brothers-in-law are not christian [i think one of those two sisters-in-law IS buddhist, but i do know that the other one is a unity minister].

    but this year, my born again christian sister-in-law has developed a liberal streak! yeah sandy!!! hope it keeps up.

    it was a joy being there for thanksgiving.

    be well, and thank you for having this awesome blog.


  8. One thing I have found essential during the holiday time spent with my non-Buddhist relatives is to maintain some formal practice every morning. (even 15 minutes of sitting can and does alter the rest of the day for me) One visit I did not do this, and found how quickly it took to get sucked back into conditioned, reflexive thought patterns that do not support my practice, or anything worthwhile.

    Mindfullness alone, for me, is not enough. So far, I’ve got to start from the ground of peace and not-self in the morning (formal practice) to be able to carry it effectively (with mindfulness) through the rest of the day.

    Thanks for your excellent blog, John. I enjoy it frequently and get alot from it.

    Metta in all directions.


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