That Was Zen. . .

May 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

The idea came to me, in the fuzziness of my emergence from a work nap, that there is a dichotomy in my regard for Buddhism. Yes, strange things do present themselves during that twilight period of consciousness on many mornings– and upon this occasion, I began to consider whether I would be a good Buddhist.

I do support the notion that people do bad things because they wish to grasp power over others, to have a sense of ownership whether it be as a national leader, or as a lover or spouse. There is a neverending parade of murder on the news, reporting about men who have killed their wives and even their children, rather than lose them. It’s like that ironic quotation from the Vietnam war, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” That’s a prime example of someone believing that they own the ones they love. I suppose there are many reasons for this, one of which is our cultural belief in the traditional Christian marriage.

I do think it is romantic and endearing when couples state that they belong to each other. The difficulty may lie in the extension of this notion to ownership. Take, for example, the doctrine of the Mormon church, which I am familiar with. In that religion, it is both explicitly and implicitly declared that a wife will belong to her husband in the eternities– and not only her, but also any other wives which he chooses to acquire. Hence, and notwithstanding the protestations of LDS leaders to the contrary, a woman is effectively the chattel of her spouse now and in the hereafter.

This sense of ownership leads to many ills, including forcible polygamy, incest, child molestation, etc within the fundamentalist LDS community. I suspect matters were not much different in many of the original Mormon settlements back in the days when polygamy was still legal.

In our modern culture, the effects are less obvious but still quite negative.

I think that if two (or whatever number you prefer) people genuinely love and care for each other, there is no need for the belief in ownership, and the craving to have another person. If love is mature and true, I think that the lack of that belief makes it far stronger, close to indestructible.

As for material wealth (as distinguished from wealth in love), I would say that it is not inherently evil, but the pursuit of it leads to evil things. Let me produce another example to illustrate this. Microsoft is a gigantic company, and is well-known for its shady business practices. However, Mr. Gates has an enormous and very generous charitable foundation which has done much good in the world during its relatively short existence. But this does not compensate for the wrongs which his company has committed. Imagine for a moment the impact which Microsoft has made upon the world’s economy – the many competitors it has forced out of business, the many people who have lost their jobs due to unfair tactics, the stifling of potential new technologies which are perceived threats, and the unseen suppression of third world countries’ innovators who don’t even bother to try anymore.

Who knows what other effects there are?

I believe that it’s acceptable to enjoy the better things in life (most of which are free, yes, but money does secure one’s existence), although the pursuit of them and money itself is harmful. It’s a fine distinction. I would like to make the point that it can be good to desire certain material benefits, because life is short and should be enjoyed for the fruits it offers. If I sat under a peach tree next to an early Christian Anchorite, he might tell me, “I refuse to partake of this delicious fruit, because doing so would cause me to desire it more, and lust for that which is passing and ultimately unfulfilling.” I would respond, “To avoid that which can bring happiness, even a temporary one, is to abandon your humanity and deaden yourself to the same senses which cause us to bring forth art, poetry, and music.”

It is an old debate, one which can be found in any history of philosophy.

Would this make me a poor Buddhist? Others would have to judge that. Obviously, I do not call myself one, but I do admire many of the precepts.


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§ One Response to That Was Zen. . .

  • cratermoon says:

    No doubt that in modern America ownership and power take front and center in the causes of suffering. What to make of those people who involuntarily have no power and own nothing, though? They still suffer. Sure, there is the suffering inflicted on them by their lack of material resources, but that can be addressed. There’s more going on in there than the aggressive imposition of control over another.

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