Thursday, October 30, 2014

Idol Creators, Idol Destroyers

 What was Buddha really up to?  What did the man wish for us to do, actually?

Something that I like, from a group of theologians of the Catholic religion, is their definition of “idolatry”.  They have the best definition.  To these theologians, an “idol” is something that takes center stage, in the mind, exerting a dominant influence on one's motivations. 

I wish I could remember where it was I read about this, but I can't.   

So I'll just present the definition here, because I like it.

So, today, you can say “wealth” is an idol.  In the West, it is considered "normal" to spend much of one's life in pursuit of wealth.  Such a life is rarely questioned, in America.

And there are others.  “Status” is an idol.  “Power” is an idol.

So these researchers aren’t just talking about golden figurines, light brown cows, or great statues.  When they say “idol”, they are really talking about ideas – always connected  to the notion of “self”. 

And the reason an “idol” is a destructive thing is because, within a society, once such ideas take precedence, the predominant, accepted way of life is a selfish one.  In modern times, it is “normal” to seek the best employment, where “best” means the most money.  That is seen as standard , even if the work is tedious, or worse, even if the work is harmful to others, or harmful to nature.  

To someone who has adopted the idol of “wealth”, or any other “idol’ the motivation is to separate, to be above, to rule, or to be “better” than another. 

They are barrier ideas.  Regarding one's views toward others, they block the shine of the heart – they take its place.

In fact, any barrier idea is an idol.

“American” is an idol, to an avowed patriot, and it can be used to justify war.  America's many recent wars were sold this way.  They were sold to Americans as a means of protecting the "American way of life".

But if you were speaking in any real sense, what does the word mean?  Who is actually "American?"  What would you be if you never heard the word?  You would be the same "being".

So, what are you?

In any case, the blatantly negative ones are easy to come up with, because they are easy to see.  “White” is an idol, for example, to a white racist.

That is why, from the most universal point of view – a view that takes into account all beings – the “idols” are not good things.  They take away thoughts of universal cooperation, and sharing, in the world.   

Always, they separate.   Always, within a group, they are considered "better", "normal",  "practical", and so on.  As such, they are rarely questioned, by anybody.

To those of high caste, in Buddha's time, for example, it was a ridiculous notion to question the caste system.  It just isn't something anybody does.

Of course, like nearly all  people, someone who identifies himself or herself as "Christian" tends not to cast their gaze toward himself, because “Christian”, too, is an idol.    However important the word “Christian” is, to someone, “non-Christian” is equally important – always in a somewhat negative way.

Else, why hold the division at all?

Same goes for “Buddhist”, "Jewish", or even “monk”, actually. 

I like this "mind-meme" definition of "idolatry" because it provides a way of explaining Buddha's true message.  And there really is no difference between Buddha's wish and that of Jesus, or Lin Chi, or Bodhidharma (e.g. "neither secular nor sacred").

The point of life is to rid oneself of one's idols, through the process of compassion and forgiveness.  In this way, the "barrier ideas" are destroyed, and, if done on a mass scale,  man can come to share this world in peace and good will toward all others.

So Buddha (et al) were never talking about what most people think of when they read about "Buddhism".  He was talking about an exercise of the heart, and the internal destruction of one's personal "idolatry".  This is the way of love.

From everyday life, it is a simple thing to see how compassion is, itself, an "idol destroyer".  We are generous with those we love, for example.  "Wealth", as an idol, is destroyed.  We share our meals with friends, and it feels good to do so.  When a guy has a chance to visit with his old friends, he makes sure he buys a round.  He cherishes the time, and he wants to show that.

There are deep feelings to these times.  They are the best of times.  Money means nothing.  "Wealth" means nothing.

The difficult part is to extend this feeling beyond our immediate boundaries.

But is what meditation, and practice is for.

The point of this post is:  There is a very important difference between the way of the religions and traditions, and the true path that Buddha took.  They are opposite directions -- creating idols vs. destroying them.

It is easy to see this, just from Buddha's life.  “Prince”, and “Noble Caste” came to mean nothing, to Buddha.  As a young man, he looked out over the walls of his father’s compound, he witnessed the pain that these ideas inflicted, in the world. 

In great empathy -- in great love for others, he shed himself of these ideas.  He saw the harm they caused.  Of course, he was familiar with the personal benefits -- benefits that included great wealth and luxury.  But Buddha's empathy gave him a universal point of view.  "Caste" and "Prince" play a very real role in the suffering of others.  

And so:  He dropped them from his life.

The compassion was always the point, as there is no other motivation that would lead oneself away from the very things that the vast majority of people strive for every day of their lives.  Buddha was just different from most.  He saw something that most don't see.  He saw his own responsibility in the suffering of others, even while just sitting around, as a prince, sipping sweetened tea.

So all those curious sayings now make sense.  Emptiness isn't the soldier-like stoicism of modern Zen monks, or the slow-motion tranquility of some Yoga teachers you might meet.

It is a friendly, helpful openness, where others are seen as equals.

And this explains the seemingly combative relationships that men like Linchi, Jesus, and Bodhidharma had with the traditional leaders of the time.  Anyone can speak the words.  It is a very rare thing to take up the direction.  It is immediate hypocrisy to gain power, position, and status through the use of the words and stories of the idol destroyers. 

 Idol creators, and idol destroyers.

The two directions are opposite.  One leads to openness, laughing, sharing, cooperation, caring, and good cheer.  For an individual, it leads to all the things that most would consider "virtues":  generosity, honesty, etc.

The other direction leads to division, hierarchy, rule, privilege for some (and servitude for others), deceit, arrogance, greed, control, and aggression.

This is what these men saw, and that is why they opposed the religious leaders.

As if to underscore the point, religious institution has offered us a view of the damage that the opposite direction offers.  There has been great problems in the Catholic church, over the decades.  There have been over ten thousand pedophilia cases working their way through the court systems.

Never has a resolution come from "within" the Church. Instead, over the decades, there have been constant cover-ups, silencing of critics, and attempts to discredit witnesses.

In most every case, the church has defended its actions on the basis of its mission -- the commitment to the service of "god" through their leadership role in the Catholic religion.

The idols are blinding things -- even if they are considered to be "good".  To these men, "Christianity" is more important than the suffering of many thousands of children.

You see this in Zen, too.

Even after all the stories, involving every first generation Zen center in the west,  Zen leaders continue to portray the tradition as pure, even holding it "above" the suffering of  sexual and financial victims. 

It is a remarkably arrogant, self-serving, and uncaring attitude, from these idol creators.