Citizen columnist David Warren touched off a storm of emotional letters to the editor with his recent column about his conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism. What would you advise a convert to your faith to say to others about his decision?

I have always had problems with the words convert and conversion. If I have a flat tire and don't know how to fix it, then when Bob comes along and shows me how to change the tire I am grateful and become self-sufficient in taking care of flat tires. I don't have to become a Bobist. If at a later date Brenda shows me a somewhat better way to change a flat tire, I then gain that extra skill. I'm grateful to Brenda but I don't have to become a Brendist. If Sam shows me a way to fix the tire and I find that the tire falls off a few miles down the road then I don't have faith in Sam's instructions but I don't have to hate Sam.

In the same way with the teachings of the Buddha, and that of other religious teachers, I feel that they are there for reflection, not for belief. In other words we use teachings as mirrors, guidelines and helpful tools to discover the heart of religion that I think is love. One doesn't convert to love. Love is not an opinion or belief and is not the sole property of any institution. Love is not exclusive but is all-inclusive.

To answer the question then, I would first inquire into the nature of someone's newfound faith in Buddhism. If it was a faith that helped them reflect on life and brought them deeper understanding and compassion then I would be confident that they would talk to others in a mature manner. If, however, they took up the views of Buddhism merely as a reaction to some recent disappointment then I would advise them not to marry Buddhism on the rebound.

Ajahn Viradhammo

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