It’s really getting out of hand. I’ve now even encountered fundamentalist Buddhists, and at that point I really had to sit back and figure out what on earth is going on. I mean, it really took me by surprise.
I was sitting there, casually answering questions about Buddhism, and I said something like “From the perspective of Mahayana Buddhism…” and suddenly, as if I baited a shark, this convivial piece of conversation came at me: “There’s no such thing as Mahayana Buddhism”. After a quick back and forth, it was made clear that there is no Buddhism that is not “Pure Words of the Buddha”, which is measured by a certain linguistic test who’s inventor and validity of course remain unknown.
I’m not trying to get into the nitty-gritty of the similarities and differences between various Buddhist schools. That’s for another time. But as I’m writing, it’s the 17th anniversary of the day that changed all of society, and it’s not looking too good. The us-vs-them mentality, the tribalism, is not only alive and well, it’s even part of how children are raised now.
What do we expect will happen if every time some kid is being a jerk and saying some stupid kid stuff, the other kid knows that it’s “bullying” and to call on an adult for every single thing? What is going to happen if being the victim is considered some kind of virtue, and one gets points for calling out “injustices” regardless of the perpetrator’s intent?
If getting a haircut is “cultural appropriation”, we’re clearly going in the wrong direction (of course there are plenty of instances of cultural insensitivity, but intent must count for something when dealing with it). When politics everywhere becomes about scoring points for our team by saying “but what about so-and-so?” and other demagogic devices, we’re not going to get where we want to go.
It seems to me that things like the broadening of the understanding of gender and rethinking women’s and LGBT rights and roles in society, although causing confusion, point to something true. But one step is missing still. Identity is not just fluid. Identity is actually void. Isn’t that great news?
Instead of clinging to our history- whether individual, familial or collective, instead of grasping at our Karma to define us, our victimization as a mode of understanding who we are, and fear as the driver for decision making on all levels, we can give all that fluid and incoherent stuff up.
History is important. We want to learn about the right turns and wrong turns that people made so that we can learn from them. But as long as we cling to it as that which defines and describes us, we won’t get anywhere. Whether, creed, religion, nationality, heritage or any other kind of history, finding who to blame won’t do any good.
The reason why the Buddha’s understanding of Karma was so radical, was because once understood, it freed people from the baggage of their past. In his community, the cast system was reduced to nothing. “Untouchables” who took refuge in the community were no longer part of the cast system. That is because the Buddha understood that what defines our future is not the cards we’ve been handed, but how we play them right now.
One great practice that really brings the Buddhist principle of renunciation into our 21st Century western society, is called “Renouncing Righteousness”. By giving up the need to be right, to win the argument or to show that “I’ve been wronged and you need to pay”, we can attain an immense freedom- the freedom of peace. This is a crucial practice for transforming the anger in our lives that comes from us-vs-them thinking.
It’s always a good time to start practicing kindness and compassion, and learning from whomever we can learn. Even the dreaded “Them”. The 9th century Master ZhaoZhou left his teacher and set out at the young age of sixty with the following oath: “Even with a seven-year-old child, if he is superior to me, I shall follow him and beg for his teaching. Even with a hundred-year-old man, if he is inferior to me, I shall follow him and teach him.”
From my own encounter with the Buddhist purist, I was inspired to search the Early Buddhist Texts for more insight into the similarities of all Buddhadharma, and at the same time I get to learn from beautifully inspiring words of the Buddha. So my limited contribution to this current climate will be to study and advocate for a truly non-sectarian Buddhism to take root in the west, as the process of assimilation continues. And, mind you, if it wasn’t for cultural appropriation of sorts, there would be not a single word of the Buddha for me to study.
On this anniversary then, let’s remember what happens when we divide into tribes and let hatred run rampant. The only “other” is right here in our very own minds. So please friends, let’s take our current situation as a given, and work hard to move forward in the best possible way for all. Amituofo!
Episode V of the Ordinary Mind Meditation Podcast is all about working to transform our relationship with our past for the better. Check it out:
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