“So I heard something about you the other day,” Kim tells me. I had taken advantage of her unexpected presence in her office to stick my head in and ask about a class duplication.
“Oh,” I replied warily. “Good or bad?” People rarely have neutral opinions of me, if they notice me at all.
“Well, interesting. I heard you’re Buddhist.”
“Oh.” Relieved – is that all? “Well, yes, I am.”
It had come up this week in planning studio class. Of all my classmates, only Anne was an unknown quantity on the registration roles. The rest of us have all had class and worked on projects together before. She wanted to know about my thesis project and that led to the inevitable questions of why and wherefore. Andrea upped the ante by asking how I had become Buddhist. The grapevine performed its sacred and mysterious duty and so I found myself explaining the Four Noble Truths to our new department chair on the odd Sunday afternoon.
Buddhism has become part of my identity within the college. Classmates and faculty alike know I’m Buddhist. I don’t preach it from the mountaintop (we don’t have any in Nebraska) but my choice of thesis project and client was deliberate, so it comes up. Plus, it’s my baseball, my muscle car, my home built motherboard, in other words, my personal geek-dom.
Now Kim has added this little fact to my identity, that puzzle picture of me she is building in her head. And I in turn, have added this facet to my identity with her. Kim knows I’m Buddhist. She expects me to act in Buddhist ways. Of course, I don’t know what those expectations are, but it doesn’t really matter. Even if she has no expectations of “Buddhist” behavior, I do, whether I ought to or not.
Of course, it now means that bridge is crossed, with no undue effect thus far, which is also liberating. It’s a topic I can reference without fear of recrimination, however unlikely, or even the inevitable first questions. The first questions have already been asked.
I love the Four Noble Truths. When Kim asked me what I found in Buddhist that naturally resonated with me, the Buddha’s first teaching was naturally my first thought, but I never got to my second thought – egolessness, non-self, emptiness. I love the fact that “I” don’t exist. It’s hilariously ironic.
Yet even as I indentify myself and allow myself to be labeled a Buddhist (a convenient categorization for all parties involved), I reinforce that very thing that Buddhism teaches does not exist – ironic that.