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. 

 

What If?

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  • What if I die tomorrow?
  • What if I lose all my money?
  • What if I never find true love?
  • What if I lose my health?
  • What if there is no god?
  • What if there is no meaning to life?
  • What if my writing really sucks?
  • What if my partner dies before I do?
  • What if I am a coward?
  • What if the sun does not come up tomorrow?

So many things to worry about and so little time to do it.  Just for fun I typed in Google “What if,”  I used the parentheses to ensure that it would look up the question as a whole rather than just what or if.  It returned 3,190,000,000 hits.  For perspective, I then typed in “I am sorry.”  This returned 40,000,000 hits.  Admittedly, these are very spurious results to draw any conclusions from, but I will anyway.  I conclude that more people are worried than they are sorry.  Either that or they spend more time worrying than they do sorrowing.  What do you think?

Is ”What if” the meanest phrase ever written?  We seem to think in the negative when we use these two words.  Choose any of the questions from the list above and see how you would answer them.  I would guess most of your answers will suggest some unhappiness, gloom, sadness, or even a loss of desire for life.  We can see “end of the world” scenarios in most of these “what ifs.”

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But what if the expectations and goals that are reflected in our responses were stripped out of our thoughts?  Would we be happier or more depressed?  Let me give you an example.  Some people would say that if there is no meaning to life, it is not worth living.  What would be the point of getting up each day, going to work, coming home, eating, making love, and going to bed?  On the other hand, if we rid ourselves of the expectation or need to have meaning in our lives, perhaps this “what if” would not bother us at all.  We would not care one iota if there was or was not any meaning.  The same could be said for all the questions I started this blog off with.  It is our expectations that give us a negative twist for each of these issues.

You might argue that I selected only issues that have a potentially negative response.  For instance, the sun not coming up is unlikely to have a positive outcome under any circumstances.  Then let us look at some positive “what ifs?”  Here are a few:

  • What if I won the lottery?
  • What if I found my true love?
  • What if my life does have meaning and purpose?

6f2b74dab966ae86c4beae966dded6eaBefore you go off on a binge of happiness and celebrations, think for a minute what a positive answer to these questions might mean.  There are still expectations and assumptions associated with any answer to the above questions.  You assume that if you won the lottery, that you would not have to worry about paying bills, buying things you want etc.  You assume that if you found true love, it would last forever and forever.  You assume that finding meaning and purpose would bring you happiness.  To all of these possibilities, I say maybe.  You still have many choices and outcomes to each of these scenarios.  These choices can leave us just as captive to our desires and wants as any of our responses to the “negative” “what ifs.”

Why is this so?  Are there any positive outcomes possible for us?  Why is easy to answer.  It is because nothing is permanent.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Nothing you or I can do will ensure that life will work out just as we wanted it to or just as we planned it to.  Whether we attach ourselves to happiness or misery, we are still attached.  Zen Buddhism gives us the concept of “non-attachment.”  But non-attachment is easier said than done.

“Every day as I wave to my children when I drop them off at school or let one of them have a new experience—like crossing the street without holding my hand—I experience the struggle between love and non-attachment.  It is hard to bear—the extreme love of one’s child and the thought that ultimately the child belongs to the world.  There is this horrible design flaw—children are supposed to grow up and away from you; and one of you will die first.”Sarah Ruhl, “The Oldest Boy: A Play in Three Ceremonies

Madison Avenue is the enemy of “non-attachment.”  The people who market for corporations want you to believe that unless you are attached to something, you will live a miserable life.  They would prefer that you were attached to things or services that money can buy.  The idea is for you to believe that you are no good unless you own things.  The bigger the things that you own or the more expensive the things that you own, the happier you will be.  Success is the pathway to happiness because it will allow you to buy and own more expensive things than your neighbors.

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However, it is not only things that you can buy that are attachments.  There are many intangibles that you can become attached to.  Some of these are for sale and some not.  Many people are attached to status and prestige.  For enough money you can buy prestigious memberships in exclusive country clubs, political positions by spending enormous amounts on advertising or expensive cruises.  Status is an intangible, but it can be bought.  Status in society circles can be achieved by spending and donating money to the right causes.  Have you ever gone to a concert and noticed how the list of donors are ranked on the concert handout. Platinum, gold, silver, bronze, and honorable mention is one scheme that I have seen.  There are other rankings, but they all point to the prestige and status that comes from being able to donate more money than anyone else.

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I have a good friend who always told me that “We need to let go of things.”  Ironically, years later and I would place him pretty low in my list of people who can let go of things.  He knew in his head that attachment and ego were barriers to fulfillment.  But knowing, feeling, and doing are as much alike as a snowstorm, tornado, and earthquake.  Controlling one does not necessarily mean that you can control the others.  There are men and women who are intellectual geniuses but incompetent when it comes to managing their emotions or doing something that they know should be done.

Stepping-into-riverMy conclusion is that “What ifs” are intellectually amusing as a past-time but as for practical value they are close to useless.  Seldom will you ever get to apply a solution to a “What if.”  The possibility of something in real life happening exactly like it did the first time is less than the chance of finding identical snowflakes or fingerprints.  Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher born in 544 B.C. said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”   Those who forget the past may be condemned to repeat it, but the past will never be the same again.  Living requires adaptability and resilience.

Non-attachment is the best way to keep an open mind as to the possibilities that we will face each day as the sun comes up yet once again.

“To use the more traditional term “non-attachment,” I like to think of non-attachment as meaning “not attaching stuff to your sense of self.”  It doesn’t mean not investing yourself in things and doesn’t mean you don’t do everything in your power to bring about the outcome you hope for.  It just means not getting too caught up in your stories.” — “What Zen “Acceptance” and “Non-Attachment” Really Are” by  Domyo, May 4, 2017, Dharma Talks

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