Recently on a visit to my weekend condo at the beach I ran into the couple who own the unit next to mine. They previously knew that I was going through a difficult time in my life and, in a friendly gesture, asked me in for a drink (they imbibed alcohol, I had club soda).

In the course of the discussion I mentioned that my newfound Buddhist practice has helped me get through a rough period in my life. The couple used this information as an opportunity to preach the gospel to me (for those unaccustomed to such terminology, the couple started telling me that Jesus is the only path to salvation).

I took the preaching in stride, but it raises questions about the appropriateness of proselytizing in various religions. I am new to Buddhist practice and have mentioned to a variety of friends and acquaintances that the practice has helped me immensely in recovering from a life crisis. I never advocate the practice to anyone else, but merely observe that it has been helpful to me. But perhaps I should just keep this to myself lest it come across as proselytizing

I should add that when in mentioning my practice to various people I have come across several individuals who also practice Buddhism. I have made a number of new friends this way and solidified friendships with others who either practice Buddhism unbeknownst to me prior or who are sympathetic to my practice (having noted that it has led to vast improvements in my frame of mind).

Note: In introducing the Discussion category Sujato indicates that this category should be used “to develop your practice of Right Speech.” If this discussion is more appropriate to the Watercooler category I trust a moderator will move it there.


It’s a tough question. Just to point out one aspect in the many many layers: While “Jesus is the way” has the great selling point of a simple message - what the heck is ‘Buddhism’ (the eightfold path?) or ‘Buddhist practice’? (‘mindfulness?’)

Meaning, even if we wanted to preach, we’d end up preaching a very specific view, either one we developed ourselves, or one we accepted from a teacher. But chances are high that if you inspired anyone to go to a Buddhist group at their place that they would hardly recognize what you told them (because there are so many sects and subgroups, secular, religious, esoteric, tantric…)


“Proselytizing” is a big and to me somewhat scary word. :slight_smile:

What if one breaks down the big into smaller pieces, for better digestion?

If a person sees diligence and consistency, compassion and calm… perhaps they will ask. Or perhaps, at some later time, they will ask someone else who also seems to act that way. IMO even better, they might mimic, with success, or difficulty, which might create an opportunity for beneficial speech, or introspection.

IMO, avoiding creating obstacles is beneficial, and perhaps underappreciated; i say this as someone who struggles with social interactions, and sometimes feels sadly clumsy; but on the other hand i have no name to speak of, no career, no legacy; “yay!” and lol

If a person shares (verbally or non verbally) how they are experiencing suffering, one may be able to listen. Listening and being listened to can be a gift, mutually beneficial; being interrupted and skillfully redirected can be a gift/mutually beneficial; being accepted, as suffering and imperfect, can be a gift/mutually beneficial; skillfully offering strategies for reducing suffering can be a gift/mutually beneficial; refraining from offering strategies can be a gift/mutually beneficial…

Do actions speak louder than words? I think, perhaps, sometimes, yes; skillful harmless compassionate actions can open (or leave open) citta not ready for the full 4 Noble Truths and the full Noble Eight Fold Path and the local translations and the pali and the traditions and local customs and the question of why it seems many monastics drink coffee. :slight_smile:

=D I may be misusing “citta” but “minds” just doesn’t seem right at the moment. I trust if i am misusing it, educational correction may occur out of compassion.

Bit of a meandering comment; may it be beneficial or harmless, nourishing of wholesomeness, and all that Excellent stuff. :wink:


Good points!
I usually limit myself to outlining the eight-fold path and the four ennobling tasks in brief and simple language.
To avoid bias to specific traditional approaches and definitions of the more refined aspects of the path, I usually focus on the first five path factors and say that to explore further the rest of the path the best is to confirm how feasible commitment to the first five factors is to oneself.
This is for whenever I tried to go ahead of myself in terms of the factors of mindfulness and immersion I only got myself distracted from the foundation work required in terms of developing inner and outer habits of renunciation/generosity, kindness/friendliness, peacefulness/compassion.


It’s a delicate thing, to be sure. I mentioned Buddhism and being Buddhist more when I first took up practice. Now that it’s been a few years, I rarely mention it, usually only when asked directly if I have a religion or something of that sort. I still talk on Dhamma when the time is right, but circumspectly and without mentioning Buddhism. Ironically, it seems most people are more open to religious teachings such as basic morality when religion and morality is not mentioned. That’s how I interact publicly in my culture at least. Among Buddhists, of course it’s a different story. :slight_smile:


As the originator of this thread, one of the things that is interesting to me about this discussion is that I would not have come to my current practice had it not been for a mild form of proselytizing.

Long story short, as a crisis gripped my life I took a previously scheduled trip to Thailand not knowing that it would fundamentally change my perspective. During one point in my trip my guide for the day mentioned that he was impressed that I so much enjoyed visiting Buddhist temples (I guess for some tourists this gets old after awhile). I told him that I found something inspiring in the way Thai Buddhists live their lives. My guide sensed that I was experiencing a rough patch and said quite directly to me, “You are suffering, aren’t you?” I started crying because he was so insightful in detecting my anguish.

My guide then explained to me the basic elements of the Buddha’s teachings. It all made so much sense to me. In fact, my guide told me a parable that corresponded to an important incident in my life crisis. It was eerie how much what my guide said resonated with what I was going through.

When I returned home I discovered that there is a Wat a half-hour from where I live that mostly serves the local Thai immigrant community. I now attend the Wat regularly. The monks are teaching me and I feel at home there.

So the weird thing is that were it not for the insight of my guide in Thailand and his loving kindness to introduce me to the Buddha’s teachings, I might not be where I am today which is finding my way to recovering from the hardest thing I have ever experienced in my life.


It sounds like something that might come up in conversation. I don’t see any reason why you should self-censor.

Your observation that there is a connection between your meditation experience and your sense of well-being is not religious proselytisation it is self-reporting.

You shared an experience with others that some may benefit from - what’s the harm? The fact that your kindly neighbours were preprogrammed to object is their misfortune.

Your life experience may be of benefit to others who have open hearts and minds. In this way, you may be able to help some people who can benefit from your personal experience.

You talked about something that you benefitted from but you did not tell them what they should do - or not do. They told you what you were doing was not beneficial and what ‘you’ needed to do to find happiness.

They were pushing their so-called religion* and you were just being honest and truthful. I don’t believe that religion and ‘religious indoctrination’ (dogmatism) are the same thing. Those who feel the religious impulse do not seek to divide people. They have a beginners-mind and are open to surprise.

I don’t see anything problematic about sharing with ‘others’ what we have found helpful in our lives, they can take it or leave it - no problem. If we assume we know what is good for others and insist they should adopt our perspective and/or beliefs then, we are in trouble.

We don’t need to assume that we have all the answers and that we cannot benefit from what we share with each other on our journey of discovery. We can learn from everyone and everything. We don’t need to take a vow of silence but deep-listening is important.

*(What is religion?)


I very much echo Gabriel’s, “It’s a tough question”. I pretty much go along in a similar way as Mkoll (particularly about typically only mentioning it when directly asked; save for points of academic, or historical interest and such) and gnlaera.

At such times when I am asked, for me two equally heavy concerns arise: trying to do well by whomever I’m engaging with (in their terms, rather than my imposed ideas) and not misrepresenting the Buddha.

The first point is perhaps well served by a listening-centric approach (as an aside @metaphor, maybe your Thai guide would not have spoke to you in the way he did if he didn’t have any sense of your receptivity. I’m not 100% certain he should be considered a proselytist without a stronger evidence bases :wink: . As I understand it, a proselytist seeks to make a convert; someone else seeks to help people out by whatever means they have available which may include talking about the Dhamma).

Beyond anything I think I’ve come to accept that both concerns are ultimately ones of experience. I used to freak out a bit talking to non-Buddhists about Buddhism, worrying that I’d get it all muddled and mis-serve whomever. Now, I’m a little bit more okay with the fact that I most certainly have, do and will continue to get it wrong; I trust the basic decency of my intentions enough; know I have zero interest in converting anyone to anything and will let the elements sort all the rest out.


What a lovely post, @Metaphor, and it seems to me it speaks to the idea that there can be real benefit in sometimes wearing our Dhamma practice “on our sleeves.” I feel there is a difference between proselytizing, and at least being able to be bright and open about the Dhamma and to skillfully integrate it into our interactions with others. After all, we can look at the Buddha as the Great Physician, who developed both a diagnosis and a treatment plan for the way out of suffering of humankind. If I knew someone with an illness and knew of a cutting edge treatment that was available, I might feel obliged or willing to offer the name of the treatment, at least as a suggestion.

In my own practice, returning from Thailand with a bald head and no eyebrows tipped people off to ask me if I was ill, to which I responded that I’m fine, but had been in Thailand, living in a wat. This then lead to people asking me about meditation, and to my surprise, I discovered some other “closet meditators” in among my professional peers. A reunion among my former college dorm mates lead to my friend Rich revealing that he had traveled with his son to a Tara Brach seminar. Cool! Another person asked me recently to lunch to talk about Buddhism, Thailand, NGO stuff, and she really appreciated some insight into the early teachings and how they apply so well to modern life.

So, for me, there’s been no proselytizing, but maybe being more open over time to inquiries from people about Buddhism and meditation. To the extent that this has been helpful to others, I am glad.

I’m off to Thailand again next week to work on a pro bono Burma refugee case there, and to visit Koung Jor again, and attend a seminar in Chiang Mai on child sex trafficking mitigation in Thailand. I won’t shave my head this time, but now that many know of my Buddhist training, I am sharing more and more (yes, on Facebook, of all places) of what I do and how I practice in Thailand.

This is an actual quote on Facebook from a colleague that saw a photo of me from when I was a samanera in Chiang Mai:

Mike !!! omg
when and where were you for this?

It all starts with that :slight_smile:


Thank you for your post @UpasakaMichael. There is a significant difference between my time with my guide in Thailand and my conversation with my condo neighbors at home.

A discussion about Buddhism was unavoidable with my guide, mostly because of the setting and my obvious interest in the subject. My guide had spoken on the phone with a previous guide (apparently to find out what my interests were in terms of sightseeing) and my previous guide had mentioned that I enjoyed visiting Buddhist temples and had shown greater interest in them than many other tourists. I also mentioned to my guide that I had spent part of the previous afternoon speaking with monks at the “Monk Chat” tent at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai (something I recommend to anyone visiting Chiang Mai). So clearly I had given my guide an open opportunity to share with me his experiences practicing Buddhism.

By contrast, with my condo neighbors, after having mentioned that I was practicing Buddhism, they took the opportunity to inform me that Jesus was the only path towards salvation. What made things even more uncomfortable was that I told the couple I was raised Jewish, at which point the wife expressed dismay that as a member of the “chosen people” I had elected not to follow Jesus. Well, I have heard that one before (most notably from a proselytizing college chum), so that struck me as particularly inappropriate.

Having been the subject of proselytizing in the past I am cautious about sharing my newfound Buddhist practice although my enthusiasm for it has not escaped the attention of friends and relatives, all of whom are delighted that it has helped me move on from what was a very deep crisis in my life.


I think something closer to the “silver rule” is a good rule of thumb. The proselytizers are applying the “golden rule” of do unto others as you would like them to do to you. From some religious points of view, it would make sense. If believing in Jesus is the only way to salvation, then you wish someone would tell you about it.

The “silver rule” on the other hand, “do not do unto others as you would not wish them to do unto you.” Since most of us don’t want to be proselytized…

On the other hand, I don’t think 100% silver rule is optimal either. In this case, I’d go with about 95% silver and 5% gold. I’d put out a feeler, and see if they’re interested in Dhamma, if not, back off. Better yet, if one has strong enough samadhi and accurate mind reading powers, you can gauge interest much more accurately.

My feeling is the EBT is about 99.9% silver and 0.1% gold rule, if not 100% silver. I think the idea is if one really has to value Dhamma and treat it like the priceless treasure that it is and take the initiative to ask about it, the Sangha is not going to advertise at all, besides just the unintentional advertising of seeing the effect of Dhamma teaching and practice on their behavior.


This seems to be the spirit of the Monk Chat tent at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai. There are signs at the tent inviting visitors to talk with the monks and tell the monks about their cultures. The signs also encourage visitors to learn about Thai culture and Buddhism, but it is entirely up to visitors to 1) go into the tent in the first place, 2) strike up a conversation and, 3) choose the topics to talk about.

The monks enjoy the opportunity to practice their English and visitors enjoy telling the monks about where they come from, etc. If visitors want to learn about Buddhism they have to specifically ask the monks to talk about it. Some of the monks are quite shy, in fact. But they are all sincere in their motivation to talk about the Dhamma when visitors express an interest. It really is a beautiful experience and opportunity for people to connect on a personal level.


:slight_smile: Much respect. Much appreciation for this gentle wisdom.

1 Like

What is wrong with sharing and open dialogue? Not with a desire to convert people but out of inspiration and kindness. Its natural to want to share something beautiful, liberating, insightful and transformative in a world where the darkness of ignorance pervades and unconditional love is the exception to the rule. The Buddha did not tell us to hide the Dhamma from others.

“Go forth, o bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, for the good, for the happiness of gods and men. Let not two go by one way. Preach the doctrine that is beautiful in its beginning, beautiful in its middle, and beautiful in its ending. Declare the holy life in its purity, completely both in the spirit and the letter.” ~ Mahavagga, Vinaya Pitaka.

As Buddhists we try to use wisdom, discernment and, skilful means in everything we say and do.

The Dhamma can be shared through joy, through care, through affection, through listening, through every expression of body, speech and mind, through silence.

What is not teaching the Dhamma? The words are just to keep us cool while the medicine heals the :heartbeat:

Dhammapada Verse 354:
Sakkapanha Vatthu

Sabbadanam dhammadanam jinati
sabbarasam dhammaraso jinati
sabbaratim dhammarati jinati
tanhakkhayo sabbadukkham jinati.

The gift of the Dhamma excels all gifts; the taste of the Dhamma excels all tastes; delight in the Dhamma excels all delights. The eradication of Craving (i.e., attainment of arahatship) overcomes all ills (samsara dukkha).


If you want to practice, just try to convert a Mahayana Buddhist to a Theravada Buddhist.
I will give an easy task.
Try to convince Venarable Tanissaro that Nibbana is not another type of consciousness.


There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, and, just as you point towards, potentially it’s something very wonderful. I think the point of caution is with respect to making sure one is being context appropriate and sensitive to other people and their particular needs at a given time.


“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!” - Edwin Markham

The person we are talking to may be hearing while others are actually listening. Something might be getting through that may not be apparent.

We may not fully understand here and now but a bit further down the track the teachings may help us to see clearly?

Each hears and listens according to their capacity. The emptier we are the better if, we are ready to receive, the Dhamma frees us up (loosens the knots). Less craving, less clinging, oh - it’s not about ?

I thought I was on the receiving end but what is there to show for it? Just another broken story shot-through with emptiness.

We may imagine we are outside - seperate. In the Buddha’s teachings everyone is inside the circle. Just as a mother protects with her life …

1 Like

One “non-sectarian” approach would be to encourage watching the mind’s habits, its wanderings and reactivity. And then experimenting with changing them in ways that are more rewarding.

I do this often in advising (acupuncture) patients what to do as they lie there half and hour or so in a quite, dimly-lit room with needles pinning them down, so to speak.

Encouraging altering awareness is part of treatment – the needles (strictly speaking, the body’s reaction to them) tend to evoke heightened bodily awareness, especially, with luck, as they also alter perceived symptoms. But then, inevitably, the mind wanders off into the issues of yesterday, tomorrow, etc., which usually then tenses-up the body. Getting people to recognize that as it happens is an important step, if only because such tensing blocks the therapeutic effects.

A convenient ploy can be, big surprise, directing them to try to just focus on breathing, and go back to that when realizing that attention has wandered off into mental shenanigans.

A nice spiel to use is how the breath can teach two fundamental lessons: 1) after each in-breath, it’s necessary to let it go (exhale); 2) and after exhalation, one must begin again (next inhalation). Letting-go and beginning again – and again and again,… – rather like meditative dealing with mental distractions…


If someone asks me why I meditate and follow the precepts, I tell them. That’s about it for my explicitly Buddhist preaching.

However, just about everything I say or write is informed by my Buddhist outlook. I just don’t put a “Buddhist” label on most of it.


I find this a fascinating discussion and so relevant to my life. This may take a while so please have some tea, and bear with me. Or feel free to ignore it completely as all things a temporary.

Back in 1980, I was a thirty year old man living in Ft.Lauderdale in relative poverty and trying without success to drink my troubles away. One night as the bar was closing I opened my eyes to see an angel standing in front of me. She was ten years younger than I and nubile to say the least. So at two o’clock in the morning we went back to my place, had a drink, then fell asleep.

The next day she took me-wearing a torn t shirt that proclaimed ‘Sworn to Fun, Loyal to None"- to meet her parents and return their borrowed car. That’s when I discovered that they were devout Bible lovin’ Pentecostals. And they discovered that I was an atheist. To their credit they were never outwardly critical of me. We were eventually married in an Assembly of God church by her Uncle Charles the preacher.

Fast forward thirty years-you may need more tea. It’s okay. I’ll wait. I had proceeded with SRS [sexual reassignment] and we had quit drinking. My wife had been going back to Florida while I languished at home in New Mexico. Preceding one of her visits a few years ago I had a talk with my sister in law with whom I had felt the most kinship.

She asked me why I had not been accompanying my wife, and I said plainly that was pretty sure that Transsexualism stood far outside the parameters of their belief system. She said “Yeah, but we still love you. Come with her.”

So I have for the last couple of years been accompanying her to Ft. Lauderdale. And while the subject of religion is generally avoided, and I bear silent witness to pre-meal prayers, we have mended some ragged corners of our past with much love and good will as can be done by such disparate approaches to life in general.

And if you have suffered this far through my monologue, perhaps you can share the joy I felt last month while bobbing on Atlantic Ocean waves with my born again Sister in Law who blessed me with the following exchange:

"So Rosie you’re really a Buddhist? "


“Well I don’t know anything about Buddha. Could you tell me a little about him like when did he live…what did he teach?”

So I explained about the Dhamma, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path while she actively listened. Then she blew me away with this simple yet profound observation:

“You know Rosie, Buddha and Christ sound very much alike”. And she continued “You know Rosie, I owe you an apology for all these years that I had avoided you out of fear of the unknown. And if I had listened to Christ, I would have loved and accepted you as a child of God. So I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am. I love you.”

Made me cry as it brings tears to my eyes now. What a powerful lesson. Love…Compassion combined with patience over time creates healing. The right view is occasionally obscure, but compassion in its own time creates the right outcome.

Thank you for your patience. This was a story I had to tell.
with Metta