Buddhism As Business
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 8/6/02
A couple of years ago my then-fiancée (now wife), Jessica, had a visit
from a college pal of hers named Angie. Angie visited for a few days & we
planned a day trip to the town of Stillwater, Minnesota. This little town is
famed for its historic Main Street lined with nice eateries & dozens of
antique shops. It is often busy on normal weekends, but on this weekend it had 1
of its 3 or 4 annual festivals. I don’t recall which 1- but I believe we went
in spring. Nonetheless, it was a pleasant afternoon & evening. It would have
been just another of the dozens or 1000s of such memories whose details all
quickly fade from 1’s mind, for lack of any singular ‘memory’- especially
since Jess & I have gone there on a # of occasions. However, this time there
was an ‘incident’. As Jess & Angie went off to browse through the back
of 1 of the shops I decided to plop myself down in the front, by a nice indoor
fountain with 2 benches. Then it happened.
That day had seen a swarm of Tibetan Buddhists in town- it seems there was a convention or something, for several dozen head-shaven monks in pale pink robes, with bright maroon sashes were wandering all over town- some barefoot & some in sandals. A trio of them entered the shop where I was cooling my dogs. 1 was an old man, 1 middle-aged, & 1 in his mid-20s. The younger 1 asked if they could sit with me. I said that was fine. Apparently, the young monk was the only 1 who could speak English. After a minute or 2 of exchanged nods & smiles he started asking me things about my life, where I lived, etc. So, we conversed as the 2 older monks babbled on to each other in whatever tongue was their natal patois.
The young monk, whose name I forget & could not easily pronounce, soon got talking on typically philosophic things. Having once allowed a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses into my home, just to flirt with the cute young female & make her feel dirty, I decided to humor the benevolent ascetic. Now, I’m not 1 who shares the Western Liberal Intellectual orgasmic fetish for all things Eastern (or Aboriginal) being superior to that in the West. This, inevitably, leads to Campbellian pseudo-intellect, Blyvian tambourining, & a general idiocy in supposedly intelligent people. I hate ALL religion- I am an anti-religionist: Jew, Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Taoism, Buddhism, etc.- because, despite their protestations to the contrary, all religion fundamentally seeks the ‘herd mindset’- even those Eastern religions that claim the opposite, lest they would leave no codes behind, eh? Nonetheless, the good swain had chosen his poison, so I was happy to (with good cheer & better intentions) show up his folly.
After the usual blather about being at 1 with things, peace, nature, animism of sorts, it was my turn. I countered that I did not take issue that a lot of what he said might be true, but to me it was simply irrelevant. I lived by my own code of scruples- an ethos of 1. Then I asked him how he became a monk. After pausing to think about it- after all, he had just said to me that his religion was so manifest that to not be a monk was to not be himself. Still, he revealed that he was a 7th or 8th generation monk- it was, in effect, the family business- a curiously Western thang! Apparently he came from a non-celibate sect! After a brief interchange of ideas & queries, I asked him when he decided monkdom was for him. He 1st said some young age- 5 or 6- but when I questioned that any child could have the reasoning to choose their life’s path at such an age, he recanted. Upon reflection, he mused that it had always been a given- that all the oldest men in his family would become monks. I could see a slight agitation in his mien as this realization seemed to sink in for the 1st time in a long time- if ever!
I granted that there was nothing wrong with his monkish profession, if that’s what he truly believed in. But his eyes were different, now. It was as if some fundamental change had occurred. I don’t think it is my own wishful thinking, either. He went silent for a while after this notion took root. Despite what decades of Liberal Arts & Humanities apparatchiks would have us believe, there is no real root difference in both the ways & workings of the Eastern & Western thought systems; merely gradations & slight intonations. He did not say whether the 2 older monks (oblivious to our conversation, & rapt by Western knick-knackery) were related to him, but he seemed to look at them differently.
I tried to assuage his growing discomfort by saying that almost all men, in some fashion, seek to emulate their fathers, & that he & his clan had merely carried this emulation to its logical end, short of injecting themselves with their forebears’ DNA. The young monk smiled, & changed the subject. He was very polite, & to a casual observer seemed no different than a few minutes earlier when he had engaged a strange, pale American in pleasantries. Jess & Angie were heading back to the front of the shop, so I said my goodbye to all 3, but especially the young monk, who seemed to be growing his distress by the minute. I had not intended to cause him pain, yet a part of me hopes that he saw a greater ‘truth’- damn, how I cringe to say that!- in his own being. Perhaps he has since decided to pursue something else, especially if he had prior qualms about his profession. Too many people simply do what is expected. They do not follow their own instincts. They give in or up, & then suffer a muffled existence until death. Too often the primary cause of this sort of suffering is religion, of 1 sort or another. People do not seem to realize that religion is merely myth up close, & that myth is discarded religion.
There’s no physical nor historical evidence for Jesus, most of Mohammed’s life has been bowdlerized, Siddhartha is shrouded in myth, & little supports the existence of Moses, who seems to have been a retelling of the Gilgamesh myth through several twists & turns- Gilgamesh, a ‘real’ figure whose life was twisted into religion, before setting into mythos. Yet, religion tells people it has all the answers, even if the answers are ‘Look for the questions.’- as so much non-Western thought does. It’s just a shell game to strip individuals of their intellect, to remove wonder from the real, & plant it in the nebulous. Poor folk, like the young monk, often do not even know that they have been grafted on to something. Hopefully, he’s questioning these sorts of things.
The greatest wonder of all is to see things with an absolute clarity. Only then can 1 really appreciate the grandeur & ‘magic’ of the cosmos. Only then can 1 truly amaze at the intricacy & splendor of the everyday, free of the mythos & religiosity that suckles our fears. It is a human desire, if not a need, to fabulate on what is grander, when presented with the raw, & the reasons why all stem from the lack of self-esteem that all religions vamp off of- even the vaunted Buddhism, which is just like any other family business, for better or worse. This is not so much to condemn that faith as evil, as to recognize it as part of the little evils humans daily succumb to so not to be lost in bother, & to accomplish things. It is only when this is recognized, & accepted, can the true ‘will to change’ be genuine. This is not to say that such change is without pain, sacrifice, or agitation- but the rewards of dealing with the real are so much greater. But, don’t accept what I say as the final word. No, find out for yourself. Ask yourself the kind of question(s) I asked the young Buddhist. Perhaps you will not know his confusion. If you do, embrace it, & go find out some other shit for yourself. Otherwise, you might as well go find an antique store to sit in, & wait till they mark your price down.
Return to Bylines