Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Faith as Thin as a Hair
(borrowed from flikrimage www.eyeonmyanmar.com/picturefrommyanmar. All rights reserved)
There is, in Myanmar (what my generation called Burma) a golden boulder dangling precariously on the edge of a cliff. According to Burmese legend, this boulder was put in place by a strand of Buddha’s hair. And the only one who could cause the strand to break is a menstruating woman, and thus, all women, despite their age, are forbidden to go up and have a gawk.
Why? Frak I don’t know. I never personally saw anything mystical or powerful about Auntie Flo’s visit. But be that as it may. The boulder is up there. You can even go to see it some time if you have a mind to (if you’re not a girl, that is). Me? Nah, I’ve seen rocks before.
Do I believe the story?
Belief is an awfully small thing to hang your hat on. And so I don’t, not any more at least. I do however entertain possibilities. I’m sure the atheist will say that there’s a scientific explanation, and no faith or belief in a deity is required. And I’m sure that some people will look up at it and say it’s a miracle. But I think (not believe, mind you. I can believe all day that I’m a racehorse, but it won’t make me win the Kentucky Derby) that there is a combination of conditions and causes that make that boulder stay in place. What I know for certain is that I am not traveling there any time soon to stand under it, because, I also understand the concept of impermanence, and there’s a mighty good chance that at some time in the future, perhaps today, or perhaps centuries from now, that bad boy is gonna come down. And preferably not on my head.
Especially while I’m still using it. My head, that is, not the rock.
Faith and belief have been on my mind a great deal lately, especially since Lama and I discussed this at length yesterday. But that’s not quite what I want to talk about today. I have no desire to kick the slats out from under you…today…later, maybe, but not today…
What I want to talk about is the concept that springs from faith and belief, and why I think that it, like the alleged hair that holds the golden boulder in place, is too flimsy to hang your hat on.
That concept is aestheticism.
Aestheticism isn’t necessarily a totally Buddhist concept. I know of very devout and very faithful Christians who starve themselves, calling it fasting and hoping to achieve some sort of allusive connection with God.
I never understood the concept of that, really. How can a grumbly belly get you closer to God?
Just like this, and other aesthetic practices found in Buddhism and elsewhere, I find it hard to comprehend why and how self inflicted suffering can get you any closer to enlightenment. Or to God, for that matter.
Even Buddha, who was a devout aesthetic for six years, dropped the practice when he found that it didn’t get him one step closer towards liberation. What it got him was sick and exhausted. But enlightened? Oh my children, no.
Buddha once heard a musician talking to his apprentice. “If you tighten the strings (to the lyre) too much, they’ll break. If they are too loose, it will not play.”
What an astounding revelation!
You don’t need to suffer to become enlightened! You neither have to starve, torture, or deprive yourself of much needed things like sleep, or food, for example, to sprint down the path to liberation. It’s oh so much easier than that. Oh so much, and once Buddha realized that, then his awakening was effortless.
And ours can be too. All we have to do is follow our teacher’s instructions and follow the middle path, without sleep deprivation, starvation or self inflicted suffering.
Besides, deep down, nobody likes self martyrdom.
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