I Was a Buddhist for Seven Years

I started going to a local Buddhist centre to do meditation. As a young mother of two babies I knew that it was important that I looked after myself. Meditation seemed like the answer and before long I was going along to weekly meditation sessions. It didn’t take long for me to get to know the team members running the centre and after a few months. I grew curious about Buddhism and started attending Buddhism sessions as well as learning about the dharma (teachings) and sangha (community). In my centre, I was one of two Black people, however, I did not let this fact deter me. Over the course of months, I would go off on retreats leaving the kids with their father or taking
them with me. I would meditate in fields while they fell asleep with their heads on my laps.

We tried to build a sense of community during the one or two weeks that I would stay in the retreats. Luckily, for me my children describe this time as the best time of their lives for two reasons they built a strong relationship with their Dad and also because they could run free in the wilderness. Which would have been fairly hard to do in London otherwise. I became more enmeshed in the centre and its activities. I climbed the ranks of the order participating in rituals and events, which allowed me to become part of the team and community. Generosity was a big part of the teachings of the order this could mean generosity of your time, money, services etc.

For a while it was fun but then I started to notice that the organisation continuously sent out letters for fundraising all the time and while people explained that it was not expected that everyone donate money it did seem like a kind of unspoken pressure to give in some way. Whether it be time, money, skills, volunteering it felt like quite a big commitment. I noticed people would get involved and then somehow feel undervalued because at the same time there was a hierarchy of positions. Even though you made a commitment to the faith you were not yet part of the main order, to do that there was a special ceremony and your name would be changed. This process could take years and some people would feel disappointed that they had given up so much of their time but could not seem to be approved to join this elitist order.

The community had many enterprises one was a proposed café, which they were trying to get off the ground. I noticed that at the forefront of building the café were women. They seemed to do all of the cooking etc. and I started to think that it was ridiculous as I am a feminist and the last thing I was going to do was be stuck in some kitchen alongside other women cooking and cleaning while the men got on with “Holy” work or whatever it was they were doing. How sexist!

Secondly, I found out that the man who started the organisation, had been accused of sexual misconduct by a younger man many years ago. It was something that everyone knew about but it was kept on the down low. I researched online and really, I was not surprised a well-known artist did some work in which she stated, “Abuse of power comes as no surprise”.

I started to take a look around and see the imbalance of relationships. One of my acquaintances was seeing a member of the order and he failed to make a firm commitment to her because it might interfere with his spiritual practice. In another world, we might call this having one’s cake and eating it. In this world, however, it seemed to mean that they could fool around and when it got serious the men could bail out.

I started to see all was not as it seems on one retreat I noticed a young single mother who had arrived on her own not knowing anyone, cuddling up to an older male order member as if they had known each other for a lifetime. For me the evidence of abuse of power was just too much. I felt that this organisation exposed many aspects of organised religion that are wrong. Sexism, racism (the same order member huddled up to the young single mother he had only just met. Told me that “without my torch in the pitch black you wouldn’t be able to see me in the dark”. This was a casual comment that he thought was perfectly normal to express and he failed to see that it could be considered as at all offensive. One of many examples of unethical behaviour that contributed to bursting my spiritual bubble. Now, I have my own rituals, my own belief systems inherited from my ancestors and I am extremely sceptical of those religions whose belief systems are built on the foundations of colonialism.