October 12, 2009

Be ye lamps unto yourselves

El Cabrero has often fessed up here to his soft spot for Buddhism, for both family and personal reasons. As world religions go, it seems to be a good bit less bloodthirsty than most, particularly those of the monotheistic variety--and I say that as a member of one of the latter.

One of the things I like about it is the way the historic Buddha told his students not to accept anything on the basis of faith or authority but to investigate things for themselves. On his deathbed, he assembled the monks and told them that the important thing was the dharma or teaching, not the teacher. He urged them to be lamps and refuges unto themselves.

I just finished reading a book about a self-identified Buddhist community that seemed not to have gotten that memo. Here's a short version: a leader of a New Age group was "recognized" by a visiting Tibetan lama and was said to be a tulku or reincarnation of a spiritual teacher. The group set up a community that was more of a personality cult than a Buddhist center. Families were broken up; money misappropriated; at least one student was physically abused (not to mention questionable conduct by the leader who was regarded by members as a holy being who could do no wrong).

The saddest part wasn't that the person in charged abused authority. After all, there are spiritual as well as sexual predators (and often they are one and the same). The saddest part was that otherwise intelligent people surrendered their critical thinking in unquestioned obedience to a leader whose every action, no matter how arbitrary, was said to be have been undertaken to "save sentient beings." Kind of like a domestic abuser who only hurts family members "for their own good."

And for all the talk of saving sentient beings from suffering, it didn't seem like a whole lot of that was done in any practical sense.

The problem with this kind of unthinking obedience to any human or human institution (even those claiming to be divine) is that once you give it, it's only a matter of the luck of the draw whether one obeys a Hitler, a Stalin, or the Dalai Lama--and I'm pretty sure the Dalai Lama would agree. You've thrown away the only thing that can distinguish between them.

I feel another Dylan quote coming on--one the real Buddha would have approved of. It's called Trust Yourself and it's from Empire Burlesque. Here it is:

Well, you're on your own, you always were,
In a land of wolves and thieves.
Don't put your hope in ungodly man
Or be a slave to what somebody else believes.

FROM BAPTISM TO AFGHANISTAN. It's all there in the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes From Under the Fig Tree.

SCHOOL OF COAL. Here are two items on the controversy over Marsh Fork Elementary School and Massey Energy

SHOPPING AND/OR CITIZENSHIP? Here's an item on ethical consumption and its limits.

CHEW ON THIS. British chef Jamie Oliver is bringing his reality TV show to Huntington WV, just a half hour or so away from Goat Rope Farm, after that city was declared the most unhealthy in America. Two things that jumped out at me were the 15 pound hamburger from Hillbilly Hot Dogs and the person who had this show confused with American Idol.

NOT THAT ANYONE HAS ASKED FOR MY OPINION, but as President Obama mulls over the future of US involvement in Afghanistan, I keep thinking about Alexander the Great's exit strategy: marry a princess, declare victory, and get the hell out of there.


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