According to Noelle, to become a Buddhist is just a matter of deciding.
Noelle grew up in a household with little interest in religion, but she became curious as a teenager and sampled a wide range of religious experiences. When she got married in 2002 and started her own family, she and her husband decided to make religious practice a central part of their home. They joined a little-known religious group within Buddhism.
Become a Buddhist, and then what?
I have some friends, Noelle writes, who have been extremely accepting about our religion. They’ve seen how much it has changed my life in positive ways. They’ve asked questions about it, and I’m happy to answer their questions. But mostly these are friends I’ve met more recently—friends who haven’t known me for years. There are old friends who I still haven’t told that I’m now Buddhist.
My husband and I follow Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism, and most of the followers worldwide are Japanese. I’m not. I’m Caucasian. I grew up in the Midwest. My family has lived in Michigan forever. So, this is quite different for people who knew me years ago while I was growing up. I have a master’s degree and I’m a middle-school teacher of science and social studies. I hadn’t really found a religion for myself, but my husband and I—as we met and eventually got married— discovered that we both had this strong connection with Buddhism and the various philosophies and practices within Buddhism.
When we were married I got pregnant right away. We both realized: We’ve got a family coming—we should go ahead and find someplace to attend. We began trying different churches, and one day we met some people who were practicing Nichiren Buddhism. Very quickly we found that—my gosh—everything about their practice was exactly what we were looking for. We became Nichiren Buddhist.
Nichiren Daishonin was a Japanese monk born in Japan in 1222. Basically, we follow the Lotus Sutra, writings of Nichiren Diashonin, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo daily. Buddhism is a mainstream religion, and Nichiren Buddhism is growing in size, but there aren’t a lot of people who practice this in Michigan.
We practice in our homes, where we also hold meetings. We also attend monthly meetings at a community center. We have potlucks. You might think that my son, growing up in the suburbs, would be getting a steady diet of pizza and hamburgers. But, because most of the people in Nichiren Buddhism are from Asia, my son is growing up eating curry and sushi regularly.
This choice we’ve made has been absolutely wonderful for my husband and our family, but it has been a struggle for me in other ways. We live in a mostly Christian society in this country, and I guess a lot of people don’t realize how important the Asian influence has become. Millions of Americans are practicing yoga, and Asian religious traditions are a growing part of this country’s culture—but some people are not very accepting of our choice. I’ve had people look at me and say: “You’re an American Caucasian woman—so how can you be a Buddhist?”
Read the stories from the Women of WISDOM:
This story about becoming a Buddhist is part of a collection of personal stories from Friendship & Faith, a book that delves into the decisions and experiences about faith and friendship shared by a group of Detroit-area women. This particular story about how to become a Buddhist is by Noelle Sutherland, a woman of WISDOM.