Monday, July 18, 2011

From Jehovah’s Witness to Buddhist-Pagan

As I’ve mentioned, one of my goals for this blog is to present the full flavor of black paganism, from Afro-Diasporic to Wicca. This week’s interview spotlights Janai, 36, a Maryland-based graduate student in information technology who was raised as a strict Jehovah’s Witness but now self-identifies as a “Buddhagan” (Buddhist-Pagan). Janai blogs at My Buddhagan Chronicles.
Black Pagan: Can you talk a bit about what your spiritual path?
Janai: Where do I begin? I had to coin a new label for my path: Buddhagan, which is Nichiren Buddhism and Eclectic Paganism. I don't really consider myself a witch but I'm definitely not Wiccan. I honor the Triple Goddess and emphasize the Female Divine. I practice by myself but when my work schedule allows, I attend ritual with a group of solitaries who meet once a month. I'm always learning and like many others who have "converted;" I feel like I am finally home.
What drew you to both paganism and Buddhism? 
I felt that the spiritual component was missing from my life. A co-worker for some reason invited me to a Buddhist intro meeting. Like Pagans, Buddhists do not proselytize but she is a very good friend of mine and felt that I would be interested. I admit it was a bit strange with the chanting but the information made sense to me. This opened my mind to explore other religions, Wicca/Witchcraft being one of them. I decided that Wicca was too inclusive for me so I started reading about Paganism in general. I was very surprised that it wasn't evil like I was taught that it was.
How long have your been on this path? How did you get into it? 
For a little over one year. After grabbing two very basic books on Buddhism and Paganism, I felt like this was it. I've always had a fascination with the moon and planets and the seasons. Now I knew [there] was a name for it. I feel complete now. I know everyone does not believe in God/dess, but for me, it's very comforting knowing that She exists. She does not impose any rules on us. I study and do ritual because I want to, not because I have to.
Can you describe some of your practices, like which gods do you worship (if any), meditation, rituals, prayers, anything. 
I align my practice with the phases of the moon. Once a week I do my own Tarot reading. I (try to) chant two times daily “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” and recite two short passages in Japanese from The Lotus Sutra. I'm drawn to the Egyptian pantheon, specifically, Isis, Bast, and Hathor as I am trying to conceive. 
As husband is Pagan-friendly, I plan on learning about his favorite patheon, Norse. He has willingly helped me with several rituals. *wink*
What was your upbringing like in terms of religion? 
I grew up Christian, Jehovah's Witness specifically. My father never converted but my mother was and is very devout. This meant no holidays, knocking on people's doors, no friends that weren't JW, no boyfriends/dating, no choice. Even after I was grown and had my own child, since I was still living with Mom, I had to follow her rules.
What was it like making the transition out of being Jehovah's Witness into your current path?  Can you talk a bit about that time in your life? 
Well I sort of didn't have a choice. After my second child out of wedlock, I was shunned or "disfellowshipped" as the Witnesses call it. This means that no other JWs can talk to you, including your family. After trying several times to go back, I realized that this wasn't for me. I was miserable and I realized I was only doing it to please my mother. 
I'm still going through the transition. Since I had no social circle outside of JW, I was all alone. It is still very difficult for me to make friends now. I have conversed with former JWs who have gone through the same thing. It's like being deprogrammed after being brainwashed for so many years. I still have feelings of guilt, depression and betrayal. 
Do your friends and family know about your spiritual path? Do you have a spiritual community? 
My family knows and they don't talk to me. You know, the whole shunning thing. I haven't seen my mother, sister, and brother in years. The sad thing is, the religion is telling them not to talk to me. 
My current friends know if it happens to come up in conversation. I mean, I don't avoid it. My spiritual community is online mostly; there is a fellow Pagan sister at work. I've attended Buddhist meetings but my work schedule is weird so I can't attend like I want to.
What recommendations would you have for someone who wants to explore their own spiritual path? 
From my Buddhist path - faith, study, practice. Have faith that your heart will lead you in the right direction. We all have the Divine in us. Study what interests you. If it doesn't sound right to you, move on. Conduct your own research. Don't let anyone tell you that you are wrong. If some of it sounds right, take what you need, leave the rest. Once you've found your path, practice. This can be meditation, ritual, chanting, or a day out treating yourself.
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I thank Janai for sharing her story and also laud her for her finding her own way after being shunned. Spiritual Abuse is a serious problem in some faith communities and finding support can be a crucial element in overcoming its devastating effects.

Spiritual Abuse Sanctuary is one website I found that has a lot of good information, including some accounts of Jehovah’s Witness shunning. For more of a pagan perspective, Lilith Silverkrow is a Portland, Oregon-based black pagan who does shamanic soul coaching in the area of spiritual and other forms of abuse. Her website: newpaganjourneys.com

Some info on Nichiren Buddhism: Soka Gakkai International - USA
A new site for Buddhist-Pagans: http://www.pagandharma.org/

8 comments:

  1. I applaud Janai for breaking away from such an imposing, isolating environment, and finding a path that gives her the freedom she deserves.

    You I recall some classmates in high school who were JW and they had to physically LEAVE THE ROOM if we sang happy birthday for anyone. (Or for any other holiday for that matter.) I asked why their religion was so strict, and they couldn't give a straight answer. After reading this, I understand why they reacted the way they did (evasive, sad, maybe even a little angry).

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  2. I was so happy to find this post -- I was also raised a JW, and knew from childhood that it wasn't for me, but, like Janai, I had no choice. I now follow a pagan path. I'm still learning, adding things/asking questions -- something we were heartily discouraged from doing as JW kids.

    I haven't been around that environment for many years, but it's still refreshing to hear from someone with a similar background.

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  3. Awesome article! I was also raised as a Jehovah's Witness as a child. I am now exploring a few religions such as Unitarian Universalist and pagan paths.

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  4. I was smiling as I read this article. I also have been struggling with trying to combine my eclectic belief system of Buddhism/eclectic witchcraft for some time. Sometimes you just have to go with what works with you and not limit yourself to choosing one category of belief system. It's unfortunate that Janai's family does not support or respect her decision, but at least she has found a community where she can be herself without judgment.

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  5. I wonder how many "JW to pagan" people there are out there, black or otherwise. And how that informs one's practice.

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  6. Fantastic post :) The Great Buddha says, The virtues, like the Muses, are always seen in groups. A good principle was never found solitary in any breast.
    And we should follow each of HIS rules. Good luck!!

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  7. I was also jw. And recently im reading about buddhas teachings. Reflecting on buddhas teachings i felt like im looking at myself in the mirror

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  8. I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, my mom is a Jehovah's Wittness, my dad wasn't. I did stray, let's clarify I am NOT a Jehovah's Wittness. I find it sad that some of the youth went through the same thing that you guys have. I've been blessed to have a mom that I have, because she didn't keep us sheltered. I was able to hang out with others outside of the Kingdom Hall. A lot of people did and possibly looked at me as "bad association". However thankfully my mom is a realist, you have to deal w/the real world eventually. She gave us the tools to work with and what we do from there is what we do from there. Any parent is going to teach you the route they go, because they want what's best and you can't really fault them for that. I wouldn't take it as far as calling it being brainwashed because any religion you are taught a certain way. My grandmother was a Buddist a devout Buddist, before that she was a Baptist and she had to understand and accept other outlooks as well to become a Buddist, so it's not necessarily being "deprogramming" because it's not a cult. A lot of the times people go back to what they know, I find myself doing that because that's what comforts me is what I know and was taught. I do hope that you all find a place in life rather it's religous or other.

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