July 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
In Exodus 20: 3-4 God tells Moses, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Historically, statements like this have been used to justify the destruction of art and historical artifacts as, for example, the destruction in 2001 of two colossal images of the Buddha in Bamiyan Province, Afghanistan. The edict to destroy these and other statues came from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar who was against graven images or images of humans and animals.
The true meaning of God’s direction to Moses wasn’t to oppress art or creativity but simply to refrain from creating images that replace God in our hearts. Paintings and statues that praise God are not a problem as long as they do not replace God. Art and creativity are the god-force working through us.
In mysticism, internal images of God must be removed if the mystic is to step into the Transcendent or Unitive Life. Final surrendering of these images comes about only through “the dark night of the soul”, a time of intense suffering that illustrates how tenaciously even the mystic clings to her images of God. Yet it is through surrender that the mystic is able to enter upon a new order of life that can only be called divine.
In Buddhism we find a similar directive to let go of images, as expressed in the notion of Anatman, or no-self. In its simplest form this is expressed in the direction to refrain from seeking some subtle object that represents the self, higher consciousness or nirvana. It is what is implied in Dogen’s “dropping off body and mind.”
Even in ordinary psychology we find the tendency to place some authority figure (a father, mother, religious or political figure) before our own inner authority. Or, we parade high on a staff some image of pleasure, power or money upon which we focus our energies and, in so doing, turn away from our true nature. The eventual result of this is alienation, neurosis or even, in some cases, psychosis.
Carving images and placing them before God is an activity we all. Clinging to these images prevents us from knowing God and manifesting our true nature. Is it any wonder, then, that Christ gave no answer when asked, “What is truth?” Or that when Zen Master Nansen was asked, “What is Buddha?” he replied, “Three pounds of flax!”
God. Truth. Buddha nature. Cannot be contained or fixed in any image, philosophy or religion. Those who seek to contain God, seek to restrain Truth to their own personal interests. Those who seek to contain God, end up with tiny graven images of God.
Each of us is a unique container of true nature. Learning how to recognize and manifest this is what true religion and philosophy are all about. The Taliban are also unique containers but in 2001 their ignorance had them focusing on the Buddha statues in Afghanistan rather than the graven images in their own minds. But all of us, not just the Taliban, need to free ourselves from the graven images in our minds that keep us in bondage. This is the way to equality, peace and freedom.
July 13, 2013 § Leave a comment
Those who have not yet heard the speech given by Malala Yousafzai at the UN today on her 16th birthday, go to the United Nations Webcast:
Below is part of that speech,
“Dear friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed.
“And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. (Applause.) I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.
“Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child. (Applause.) I want education for the sons and the daughters of all the extremists, especially the Taliban.
“I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion that I have learnt from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. (Applause.)
“This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learnt from Gandhi Jee, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my father and from my mother. (Applause.) This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.
“Dear sisters and brothers, we realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realise the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realised the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.
“The wise saying “the pen is mightier than sword” was true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them….
“Dear fellows, today I am focusing on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights – rather I am focusing on women to be independent to fight for themselves.
“Dear sisters and brothers, now it’s time to speak up.
“Dear brothers and sisters, we must not forget that millions of people are suffering from poverty, injustice and ignorance. We must not forget that millions of children are out of schools. We must not forget that our sisters and brothers are waiting for a bright, peaceful future.
“So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons.
“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.
“Education is the only solution. Education First.”
July 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
Today, the news reported an attack on the Mahabodhi Temple located where the Buddha realized enlightenment and at other Buddhist sites in India. The details were sketchy with some report of injuries but I do hope all are safe and well.
The report said this was not the first time the temple was the target of a terrorist attack, behavior that can only be viewed as the embodiment of senseless action. It is senseless to believe the bombing of a temple would faze anyone who believes in impermanence. It is senseless to believe that it would not but help those trying to see all form as emptiness. These acts are senseless because it aims to generate terror via methods that can only confirm the essential tenets of Buddhism to its followers.
Many in the west long for relief from suffering and come to Buddhism out of weariness with a world full of senseless action. No act of terrorism can remove this weariness. But if it caused some to succumb to this weariness, what would then motivate them to convert to the terrorist’s cause?
Others come to Buddhism because they are drawn to its philosophy of compassion and loving-kindness. When they then see the suffering caused by a terrorist act does the terrorist really expect them to be less compassionate? And if terrorism could kill loving-kindness, then what does that say about the kind of world terrorists want to create?
Terrorists are ignorant of the inter-connectedness of all form and all life. They do not see the identity of awareness in all beings. They do not see that the “I” in them is the same “I” in every self-conscious creature, especially the ones they seek to harm. And in that the terrorist is ultimately terrorizing only him or her self, terrorism is senseless.