I've talked before about how studying theology basically made it impossible for me to keep professing to be Christian. By the time I graduated from Texas Lutheran, I considered myself a rabid atheist. At the same time I came face-to-face with another widely-held belief that turned out to be false: that a college degree guarantees at least some kind of decent employment.
With no spiritual ideas to comfort me and no real job prospects ahead, I spiraled into a depression. I was able to buy a little time, having been accepted to an exchange program that allowed me to spend 4 weeks in Germany. Sadly, because of my personal issues at the time, I didn't enjoy it as much as I probably could have, but the trip was far from a complete waste.
My host family would leave English-language books in my room for me. Usually, they were just standard popular novels, but one of the books was What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk. If you're looking for an explanation of the core tenets of Buddhism, this book is an excellent source. It doesn't talk a whole lot about practice, but it doesn't claim to, either.
The philosophy outlined in the book seemed refreshingly simple. It talked of liberation from suffering and only believing things you could confirm with your own experience. I also liked that the Buddha never claimed any sort of divine ancestry or connection. In fact, Buddhism as explained in this book did not require belief in any gods at all. Could this be what I needed?
Truth be told, I was really unhappy being an atheist. In retrospect this probably had more to do with other circumstances of the time, but there it is. Not only was I bummed out, but those close to me were really freaked out by the idea of my being an atheist, especially my mother. All these combined to make me think that maybe I could find a home in Buddhism.
In part 2, I'll talk about what happened when I tried to put the ideas I'd discovered into practice.