Fix reason firmly in her seat,
and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion.
Question with boldness even the existence of a God;
because, if there be one,
he must more approve of the homage of reason,
than that of blindfolded fear.
I’m writing this in the company of Buddhist monks and nuns in a Southeast Asian temple. As well as being surrounded by nuns and monks, I am also surrounded by several dozen dogs of all sizes, colors, and breeds. My robed roommates have rescued these animals, and me, from the intense cruelty of steaming Asian streets. These dogs, and of course the temple folks themselves, are a joy to be with. They never blame the society, their moms, the government, the Boogeyman, or the anti-Buddha for any of the problems that they may suffer. They accept personal responsibility for their own thoughts and actions.
Buddha himself was not a member of any of the many schools of Buddhism. Jesus was neither Catholic nor Protestant. The following inscription was on the hilt of Mohammed’s sword: “Forgive him who wrongs thee. Join him who cuts thee off. Do good to him who does evil to thee, and speak truth although it be against thyself.” Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, and others like them were damn fine people and exceptional examples of productive spirituality. I have no quarrel with anyone’s God, teacher, or prophet, but followers can be fairly dangerous people at times. There are translators, presenters, and interpreters who can be even more so.
Everybody talks about truth as if it is Ramen instant noodles and they have a case of it in the kitchen cabinet, but what we tend to call truth is most often defined by whose truth it is. The mundane truth by which we usually judge the world is subjective. It is dependent upon the angle it is being seen from by the person who is seeing it. Symbolic references are often used in spiritual teachings. That, in and of itself, is not a problem. The problems arise when interpreters and translators concretize those symbols into material truth or fact, and the followers then treat what was originally metaphorical information as unbendable law. Many followers pay far more attention to the illusory benevolence of inherited superstition than they do to fostering a functional benevolence within themselves.
For the first five hundred years of Buddhism, I have heard, there were no material images of the Buddha, no statues, no paintings. There were good reasons for this. Historical, literal, fundamentalist, concretized interpretations of symbols make it too easy for us to abuse spiritual mechanisms, and too easy to escape responsibility for our own development and the well-being of the world. It always ends badly when folks turn gods into scapegoats that they can blame for problems. It means that they have not admitted, examined, and repaired their own compliance with and creation of the problem. This lack of learning from experience results in the same problem being repeated over and over again. For yea, I say unto you verily, no lord can keepeth dry that person who persistently pisseth into the wind.
Translators, presenters, and interpreters often reconfigure great wisdom teachings to fit their own ignorance and selfish motives, or the ignorance and selfish motives of the political and economic forces that ally with and employ them. Darkness sometimes co-opts the light. What we have inherited as the will of God may have as little to do with any God’s will as Wall Street has to do with integrity in finance, or snack cakes have to do with nutrition.
The term spin doctors may be a recently invented one, but the concept of re-adjusting the truth is nearly as ancient as the wisdom these vipers disassemble, and then rebuild to fit their own purposes. Many of today’s interpretations of The Way and The Truth resemble the originals about as much as the bastardized Christianity of Hitler or the Spanish Inquisition resembled the original doctrine. Some of the people who know Christ is the answer must have forgotten what the question was. This forgetting-the-question syndrome is certainly not exclusive to Christians who have gone astray. Many followers of every faith on Earth have been way too trusting of the dogma presented to them and some of the people who present it.
Many of these presenters have re-packaged and then sold, rented, or imposed upon us artificially flavored and spectacularly colored illusions of salvation, enlightenment, and happiness that are built upon their goals. That twisted information and those errant goals are often very, very different than those of the great original teachers from whom these presenters borrow their moral authority. Following our own inner guidance will yield better results than following either an evil manipulator or the village idiot. Neither Buddha nor Jesus was waiting for a Buddha or a Jesus to come solve their personal problems or those of humanity. They looked for and found answers within. Whatever we need is within us. Our simple job is to uncover and constructively utilize it.
Ripe for spiritual paths that fit neatly into our fast-food consumer mentalities, many members of our society are glad to pay the bills that our carnival barker prophets present them with. Many good-hearted but misinformed people believe we can rent an available-on-demand and conveniently disposable synthetic substitute for decency and wisdom instead of working towards those qualities, earning them, sustaining them, and then constructively implementing them. The interpreting translators and presenters, the forces that ally with or employ them, and the enforcers that protect those interests continue to selfishly collect and hoard the rent while returning hollow benefits to us.
There are people who will tell you that they are on a fast track to Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, Buddha, or Wherever. They may want you to pay for more information from them, buy certain products, fight holy wars at their request, or donate other parts of your mind and life to them. We all know of televangelists and politicians who make a robber baron’s fortune by convincing people that sending money to the address on the screen can buy love, peace, security, and happiness, but the few greedy clowns on TV are just the tip of the iceberg.
We are the iceberg.
This world might be full of Mother Teresas and Einsteins if the best of humanity’s notions were given proper attention by each of us. But it seems like the wrong folks are getting our attention, and our money. Many folks that wouldn’t trust an average stranger with a single dollar don’t mind trusting a politician or preacher who is full of vacuum packed false hope and bullshit with serious money, and even their lives.
Many people are too tired, misinformed, lazy, or heavily stressed to access their own psychospiritual experience. Others are convinced that their personal spiritual maintenance and growth is a job beyond their ability. Instead of working at it themselves, they trust badly motivated celebrities with manufactured personalities, many of whom they will never meet, with this greatest of all responsibilities. The results have not been pretty. Instead of a world full of Mother Teresas and Einsteins, we have an overabundance of dull, warped, frustrated spiritual slackers who never bothered to research where the road goes but are nonetheless pissed off about not reaching the destination! Go figure!
I have to say it again. Very diligently following our own inner guidance would certainly yield better results than following the clamor of our village idiots. Yes, it does require less strength and courage to trust or blame something outside of one’s self than it takes to recognize one’s own human frailty, find one’s own faults, and change a detrimental emotional flaw within. Unfortunately this easy-road approach is bullshit. Whatever the Bigger Spiritual Something Else may be, if we are distracted by biased dogma, the hidden agendas of greedy interests, blatant lies, concretized symbols, and long-rusted metaphor, we will never get in touch with that divine Bigger Spiritual Something Else.
The initial move toward being at home with our own unstained intelligence may be as simple as making a clear-minded decision to do so. Making the effort to be much more consistently aware of what we do and don’t want our brains to absorb and act upon, yields results. Anyone consistently moving in the direction of clarified intelligence or anything else must eventually reach it. Try it! Point yourself somewhere, anywhere, and then start moving. Don’t change direction. You will get to that somewhere. In the very same way, the mind will move us toward the destination we plan for it just as surely as our feet will move us, step by step, across a room.
The greatest purpose of our greatest teachers may be to show us how, in the long run, to be our own greatest teacher.
Does all this sound abstract, contradictory, weird, un-interpretable, obtuse, un-translatable, and maybe even a little absurd and bizarre? I hope so. I planned it that way. I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a fuggin interpreter, presenter, or translator myself! I’d rather be a barking temple dog!
The common error of ordinary religious practice is to mistake the symbol for the reality, to look at the finger pointing the way and then to suck it for comfort rather than follow it.
Having failed to distinguish thoughts from things, we then fail to distinguish words from thoughts. We think that if we can label a thing we have understood it.
—Maha Sthavira Sangarakshita
You can tell you created God in your image when it turns out God hates the same people you do.
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