Let’s All Kill Buddha!

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Years ago, I spent some time studying Zen Buddhism.  Some of this was the “fad” of the day during the sixties and seventies.  Zen was so different than the Christianity or Catholicism that I had grown up with.  Zen spoke in koans and paradoxes.  A koan is a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.  For instance, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”  Christianity has its parables and well renowned truths, but Zen teaches one to be skeptical of everything.   

Perhaps the most famous “truth” of Christianity is that Jesus was God incarnate.  In other words, Jesus was born a man but was actually a God.  This claim is indisputable among followers of Christianity.  Buddha never claimed to be a God.  Buddha never claimed to have any absolute truths.  One of the most famous lines that I have used many times was “If you meet the Buddha on the road, Kill Him!”  This message might seem bizarre to some people, but it makes absolute sense to many Zen followers.  Even Buddha’s message is not to be taken as “gospel” truth but instead examined and questioned with an open mind. 

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I think about “Killing Buddha” quite frequently.  In this day of lies, misinformation, disinformation, and deliberately confusing legalese, we see more and more people taking sides about issues that they have seldom spent much time thinking or questioning about.  Emotions rule conversations today rather than facts, data, or logic.  We believe doctors, salespeople, lawyers, reporters, and politicians despite the fact that they have a vested interest in making money off of us.  Doctors with their often-needless surgeries, reporters more interested in advertising revenue than the truth, politicians trying to be reelected for life, lawyers with few or no ethics dedicated to winning at all costs, and salespeople trying to make as much money as they can on each sale.  They all want you to think that they know the absolute truth.  Jesus said, “The Truth will set you free”, but where will you find the truth?  Ask a politician.  Ask a doctor,  Ask a lawyer.  Only if you are delirious.

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Can you imagine if I said, “When you meet a politician or lawyer on the road, kill him or her.”  On the contrary, the public keeps re-electing politicians to office.  It does not seem to matter to people that Congressional approval ratings are some of the lowest they have been in history; they keep electing the same liars back to office.  The reelection rate of incumbents is nearly ninety percent.

Congressional stagnation is an American political theory that attempts to explain the high rate of incumbency re-election to the United States House of Representatives.  In recent years this rate has been well over 90 per cent, with rarely more than 5-10 incumbents losing their House seats every election cycle.”Wikipedia

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We have some very interesting challenges ahead of us.  Climate change, excessive militarization, corporate capitalism, assaults on democracy and the obfuscation of legitimate information in favor of bias and distortion.  I have not even mentioned sexism, homophobia, racism, xenophobia and the decline of education and the media.  Many of the people I know think that these problems are insurmountable and that they herald the decline of America.  Some believe that they represent the decline of humanity and civilization.  Optimist or pessimist or realist, I doubt very much that we can overcome these problems if we do not have the will or desire to start dialogues that question everything.  A quote by Einstein that I much admire goes:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

EintsteinQuestionEverythingI have often been accused of being a pessimist but there is nothing about this quote that is pessimistic.  It is simply a fact that we must use our imaginations to see a different world and to believe that a different world can exist.  As long as we are stuck in the same thinking that generated our problems, we are not free to consider alternative realities.  We need more thinking about possibilities and the future.  We are bogged down with what Dr. Deming called the “problems of today.”  Deming said, “We must balance the problems of today with the problems of tomorrow.”

What if we taught our children in school to “Kill Buddha?”  What would tests look like?  What would a successful student look like?  What would schools look like?  Can you imagine students going around and killing Buddhas all over the place?  Imagine for a second if all the lawyers, doctors, politicians, and salespeople were challenged.  I suppose there are many who would be horrified at this idea.  Isn’t the role of education to teach facts and knowledge?  How would students get a job if all they knew how to do was “kill” Buddha? 

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Hope springs eternal in the human breast.  But what is hope without a plan?  We need positive direction from our leaders, but we also need more transparency and innovation on the part of our leaders.  Supporters and leaders should be in a dance together.  A dance of rhythm and harmony.  Leaders must be open and honest with their supporters and supporters must be willing to challenge their leaders at every turn and nuance that life puts forward.  There is too little dancing together today.  Demagoguery is not dancing nor are spell binding speeches excoriating the opposition. 

One has only to watch or read the political advertising to see the worst of American politics.  Political ads one after another spewing lies and misinformation about the opposition.  No one can tell what any politician stands for or what their plans are because they are so busy bashing their opponents.  Benjamin Franklin once said, ”We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”  I will paraphrase Franklin by saying, “Either Americans will all join together to destroy the problems facing us or we will all be destroyed together by these problems.”   That is the simple truth. 

 

Irony, Paradox and Serendipity or why a Donkey knew best!

Once upon a time, back when animals could talk and people did not rule the world, there was a donkey named Isaiah.  Isaiah was the wisest animal in the land.  He knew everything about life and death.  All of the animals, even the owls came to Isaiah when they had a question they could not answer or when they had a key decision to make.  The most intelligent people in the world would also come to Isaiah when they had a problem they could not figure out.   Isaiah was not only  intelligent but he was kind as well.  Now that might seem like a paradox to some.  Can we be intelligent and also kind?  Were not managers at Enron the “smartest men in the room?”  Maybe, but Enron’s senior management would hardly seem to qualify as kind when you consider the damage they did to the lives of their employees.   In truth, it often seems that the greatest paradoxes of all time, involve the harm done by “highly intelligent people.”  The world is full of examples of smart people who do great harm because they care little for the feelings or welfare of others. Fortunately for the world, Isaiah was not this kind of creature.  He was the epitome of wisdom because he combined intelligence with feelings and empathy for others.

No matter what the problem, Isaiah would always consider the potential damage and impact on others of his decisions and choices.  Whenever he reasoned out a problem, the morals and ethics of the problem were just as important to Isaiah as the solutions.  A solution which caused damage to anyone was not seen as a good solution.   Many of the people and animals were skeptical that Isaiah could always find a win-win solution but somehow Isaiah always did.  Most people find that the key decisions they make result in ironic outcomes that they would not have been able to predict.  This was not the case with Isaiah’s solutions.  His outcomes were never ironic.  Isaiah seemed to have the ability (like Merlin) to foresee the future.  Within the unlimited possibilities of various time-lines that the future laid out, Isaiah could always find the optimal path.

Once when one of the animals asked Isaiah how he managed to construct such robust solutions, he attributed his ability to serendipity.  According to Isaiah, his ideas were often happy accidents which surprised him with their elegance and simplicity.  But how could serendipity be the answer when his batting average was 100 percent.  Thus, another paradox, how could serendipitous decision-making result in outcomes that are always beneficial?   Luck may favor the prepared mind but even luck has its limits.  Isaiah’s abilities seemed to be more of the miraculous nature than of a serendipitous nature.  If so, this is truly ironic, since Isaiah did not believe in ghosts, gods, angels or miracles.

However, as with all good things, they must eventually come to an end.  Isaiah grew old in years and tired in body if not sometimes in spirit.  He had less energy for solving the problems of the world and gradually the animals and humans stopped coming to him for solutions.  The various species retreated further and further from each other.  Humans started building houses and walls and fences to keep themselves in and animals out.  Ironically, the further they went from each other, the more they mistrusted each other. Fear led to mistrust, mistrust led to suspicion.  The once harmonious relationship that existed between animals and humans dissolved in a mist of animosity and betrayal.

Friends started killing and eating friends and inexorably neither side could trust the other side.  Excuses for killing others became the norm and a human declared a theory called “Survival of the Fittest.”  Within this theory, might became right, power made the rules and the “fittest” could dominate those deemed as less fit.  Whole species were seen as suitable for consumption or slavery by other species.  Everyone was a commodity.  Anyone with no commercial value went to the bottom of the economic pie.  Human Resources became the norm in business and English Majors, History Majors, Art Majors and Philosophy Majors were paid less than high school dropouts.  Those who were loyal to the economic engines of society were given status and high paying jobs.

Sadly, Isaiah saw all this, but could find no solutions to the problems or trends.  Eventually, though he lived for many hundreds of years, people just regarded him as that “dumb old donkey” who did not say much.  As time passed, most people and animals even forgot that Isaiah had a brain or could speak.  Isaiah did not feel the need to disabuse anyone of their conceptions and so he just kept to himself.  At the age of 5887 years Isaiah died.  His body was sent to a glue factory to be processed.  He left no legacy of writings, nor any erudite body of knowledge, nor any great poetry nor any glorious music to be remembered by.  Just another old donkey that croaked, so who cares!

Some, if they had known Isaiah might have chided him for not posting his ideas and thoughts on Facebook or YouTube.  At least that way, he might have achieved some measure of fame if not fortune.  Ironically, or paradoxically, or serendipitously, (choose one), it never occurred to Isaiah to become Internet or Google savvy or famous or rich.  History may someday rediscover his genius and perhaps he will yet be remembered in homage to his major contributions to world peace for thousands of years.  Stranger things than that have happened of late on the Internet.

By the way, it is generally believed or was at least “once upon a time” that Isaiah (and not Euripides or Aeschylus or Sophocles) was the Father of Irony, Paradox and Serendipity and that these concepts were widely used by him in his conversations and discussions with other humans and animals. Thus, while the words today bear an etymology that derives from Greek vocabulary, their usage in practice and ideology must be attributed to Isaiah the Donkey.

Time for Questions:

Can you give me an example of irony or serendipity or paradox in your life?  What do ideas matter anyway or do they?  What if everyone was a philosophy major?  What would happen if more people practiced kindness instead of hate?  What value do animals have?  Are they just commodities?  What if we were all vegetarians?  Would it make any difference to the world?

Life is just beginning. 

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