I am very new to the podcast and am currently downloading as many past shows as my computer will allow! I am also a new Zen Buddhist after researching the different secs. While I have yet to sit formally with a sangha as I am not near a Zen centre. I am moving to Calgary, Alberta for college this fall and have found Zen(!) there and plan to make myself known to the sangha there and absorb as much information and gain much experience to continue and further my training.
My situation is very common; I’m currently living with my parents in the lead up to starting school in a different city and have found myself missing my privacy (though my parents are not intrusive) but I find I practise in private and have not really ‘come out’ as a Buddhist. I’m finding it hard to practise behind closed doors and hide my alter. After watching my sister convert to Judaism from Christianity, I do not wish to cause emotional pain or suffering to my parents. I read the Buddha would not accept students without their parents’ permission, while I’ve taken a long time to ask, I’m wondering if Zen teachers uphold this and also should I just bite the bullet and talk to my family?
Buddha had cultural reasons for asking for the parents’ permission (often the child was needed to support the family); you don’t have that restriction.
I can’t answer your question directly, as I don’t know your family. You stated that your sister’s conversion to Judaism caused some friction within the family, so I must assume that your conversion to Buddhism would too, and you are hoping to avoid the inevitable battle. I also assume that your parents are reasonably devout Christians, although it’s not really a requirement for them to be super-religious to have this argument.
Unlike god-based religions, there’s no judgmental God to strike you down if you deny him, so there is no mortal “danger” in keeping it from your parents if you choose to continue doing so. That being said, keeping secrets could damage your karma in the long term, and hiding the truth is going to cause you a certain amount of guilt and mental suffering. It’s almost certainly better to just be open with it, but the trick is in minimizing the impact the revelation will have.
If you simply walk in the front door and announce “Guess what? I’m converting to Buddhism!” they’re going to freak out. If it were me, I’d ease them into the idea slowly. Let them see you reading a book on Buddhism; maybe use it as an excuse to explain some things to them about what Buddhism is all about: “Hey, did you know that Buddhists believe ______?” Get them to the point where they are comfortable talking about the subject and subtly teach them a few of the basics. Lay the groundwork. Eventually, when the time is right, tell them you consider yourself a Buddhist.