By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
My eight year old granddaughter is an over-thinker.
Much of her exposure to religious thought has been Buddhist. My daughter, her mother, is Buddhist, and Pearl and I have hung around together quite a bit. I taught her meditation.
She can be pretty obnoxious sometimes, and she’s always looking for an opening to say something smart-alecky. And she loves the sound of her own voice. She’s a chatter-box; when she runs out of things to say, she falls back to jibber-jabber.
So on the times that she’s being so tiresome that every adult in the room is ready to see her face the firing squad, we go meditate. She sits cross-legged on the floor when we do so, in full lotus position, arms out to her sides, holding her hands in the “okee-dokie” (thumbs touching middle finger, also known as the “booger flick” position). Then we close our eyes and she can do a full five minutes. It’s like she has a little timer in her head. Afterward she’s really quite pleasant to be around.
Her Christian influences are more concentrated and revolves around “vacation Bible school” for a week at my wife’s church, which is pastored by a guy who is a bit fundamentalist in his way of thinking. So every year they get a VBS kit with a unified theme of some kind revolving around the word “son,” as in the Son of God, like “Son-down at the OK Corral.” It’s all in good fun, and we get to keep the Pearl for three weeks.
And then about a month ago she announced that, since the story of Adam and Eve is incompatible with the evolution they’re teaching her in the third grade, she has decided to reject science in favor of God. Everyone was quite perplexed, and even her Christian influence was horrified. The answer to her existential burden. “Go talk to Grumpy.”
I am Grumpy. I AM Grumpy. I am GRUMPY. All the kids call me Grumpy.
I haven’t seen her since she said that, but the kid’s got the memory of an elephant, and won’t let go of anything until it’s lying dead in a ditch flattened by truck tires, and then the jibber-jabber starts.
“Wanna meditate?” I ask.
American Buddhism, for the most part, suffers from the dilemma Pearl does: what should I believe, in whom shall I invest my trust?
Every form of Buddhism is based on the Four Noble Truths, the philosophy of harmonious living, the “blueprint” of how to make the most out of the life you’ve been given. The truth, the real truth on which all Buddhists agree, is contained in the Buddha’s First Sermon (“the first turning of the dharma wheel”). From that solid foundation (that is, truth) there has arisen some 1500 different Buddhist sects, some quite colorful, others very austere. But their base doctrine can be found in the Buddha’s first words subsequent to enlightenment. It takes up one and a half typed pages, and it can be reduced to an outline.
Zen reinvented meditation. Most of the Buddhist world agrees that any kind of meditation is good for you—I knew a guy who thought golf was meditation, and in a way he was right. Many people think that walking through nature is meditation (that’s right too). Even cooking is meditation, and by extrapolation, any relatively simple tasks involving focus and concentration can be tweaked to become meditations, like washing dishes, mowing the lawn and gardening, and burning stuff up in an oil drum fire.
But the practitioners of Zen have taken things a step further.
What highlights Zen is the varying and sometimes quite formal forms of meditation they’ve developed to deepen the experience and make meditation seem more alive and profound. Zen is wonderfully full of stories and lore and a surprising amount of poetry, much of it so profound that the Sutras, running parallel to the base beliefs of Buddhism, have become Dharma in its own right.
Added to the gospel during the 300 or so years that Buddhism was passed down through the oral tradition, there were metaphysical things added, because the monks who kept the tradition of Buddhism were as fearful of death as any other human.
Rebirth and karma are the most notable examples, which were hijacked from Hinduism.
Many Buddhists, especially the Theravada Buddhists who “Follow the way of the elders,” and some secular Buddhists, might give lip-service to the idea of rebirth, but their hearts belong to oblivion, to the void, to, basically, nothing after death.
On the other hand, most of the world’s Buddhists expect to go to “The Pure Land,” where the rice is abundant and the water buffaloes are cooperative. Buddhist heaven, in other words. I won’t go too far into The Pure Land, other than to tell you that I am one of the oblivious ones and think that every heaven or hell is total bullshit.
What happens after you die, of which there is no consensus, is a big part of schism of Mahayana versus Theravada.
It’s very much like the existential dilemma my granddaughter Pearl is pondering.
When she comes to me with questions like that I’ll answer the same way I would answer the same way the Buddha would say when asked about a creator god: Who gives a crap? Can’t prove God.
Only those who grasp at life and cling to the idea that the universe cannot go on without them—the hymn singers—the Islamists and Hindus, and even certain Buddhists—have convinced themselves that the finality of life should be challenged (and also that they’re right and everybody else is wrong).
You can do all the God stuff if you want, the Buddha said so himself, that’s totally allowed. Or you could use that church time to a better advantage by sneaking over to your girlfriend’s house and making out while her parents are at church.
The Pearl, my granddaughter, will have a rough early life if she wastes her time pondering about whether or not there is a God. What I hope to do is to show her what a waste of time it is discussing things that there are no answers to. That time could be used to help other people.
Or I could weasel out of the whole thing and tell her to go ask her mother.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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