By Daniel Scharpenburg
Walking the Buddhist path is an act of rebellion.
I think people sometimes lose sight of that.
In the Buddha’s time there was a really rigid system where people weren’t allowed to move up in life. If your dad was a shoe maker, you were going to be a shoe maker. End of story. The Buddha’s dad was not a spiritual teacher; he was a powerful tribal leader.
The man we call the Buddha wasn’t content with the way of things. He didn’t want to be a tribal leader like his father, so he rebelled. He became a spiritual seeker, and that’s not all. He looked around and saw the spiritual traditions of his day and found them lacking.
All the traditions he encountered seemed to be full of guru worship, blind adherence to tradition, hostility to minorities, and rejection of some obvious facts about the world.
And the spiritual insights they offered seemed to be lacking too.
So he set out on his own path. And when he established his path and started sharing it is when he did the most controversial thing. He said that all are equal on the path. The rich and powerful merchant and the lowly street sweeper were equally capable of attaining Enlightenment.
And *gasp* women were capable too.
It’s easy for us to look back and say that should have been obvious, but it wasn’t because he was rejecting the biggest assumptions held by the culture that he grew up in. He saw the world and said, “We can do better.”
This path was called “Going Forth Into Homelessness.”
That has two meanings. One is, of course, that many (but not all) of the Buddha’s followers in those days were becoming monks. They were giving away everything they owned and going off to walk the earth with him. But there’s a much deeper meaning.
Home represents the comfort of the familiar and homelessness represents the unknown. There is comfort in just following the rules and doing what you’re told. He was asking these people to reject so much of what they had been taught and to take a chance on this other way of living.
Doing something different from what you’ve always done is uncomfortable and scary. It took a big act of defiance to reject the dominant culture that every follower of the Buddha was steeped in.
Now, what does this have to do with us? We are also rebelling on this path. The values of our society today aren’t founded on calm sitting and paying attention. They aren’t really founded on compassion either.
I see so many things that are designed to fracture our attention as much as possible.
We’re taught that we can multi-task instead of doing one thing right at a time.
We’re taught that just having the right house or the right job or the right spouse will finally make us happy and end our unease.
We’re taught that we have to be entertained all the time. How can meditating ever happen if people believe they aren’t supposed to be bored?
We’re taught to rely on instant gratification whenever we start to want something. Try this exercise: don’t eat until you’re really hungry, just to see what it’s like. I’m not talking about when your busy, but when food is right there within reach. Try not eating it and see how it feels (don’t do this if you have diabetes or some other health condition).
We’ve been taught that some people (usually people that aren’t like us) aren’t worthy of compassion. It’s tough to rebel against that one. We really don’t want to show compassion and respect to everyone.
The Buddha said that all our problems can really be summed up by three things. He called these the poisons. They are greed, hatred, and delusion. When we rebel, that’s what we’re rebelling against. So let’s go forth together.
Because we can do better.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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