The Temple Dog Barks at Interpreters, Translators, and Followers
I’m in the company of Buddhist Monks and Nuns in a Southeast Asian Temple. These Temple folks are a joy to know. They never blame society, their moms, the government, the Boogeyman, or the anti-Buddha for any problems they may suffer. They accept personal responsibility for their own thoughts and actions.
But Buddha himself was not a member of any of the several schools of Buddhism. Jesus was neither Catholic nor Protestant. The following inscription was on the hilt of Mohammed’s sword: “Forgive him who wrongs thee. Join him who cuts thee off. Do good to him who does evil to thee, and speak truth although it be against thyself.”
Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, and others like them were damn fine people and exceptional spiritual examples. I have no quarrel with anyone’s God, teacher, or prophet, but followers can be fairly dangerous people at times, and translators or interpreters even more so.
Everybody talks about truth as if it is Ramen noodles and they have a case of it in the kitchen cabinet, but the truth is that what we tend to call truth is usually defined by whose truth it is. Mundane truth is subjective. It depends upon the angle from which it is being seen. That is why all the wisest folks throughout our history have told us to look within for deeper truths.
Symbolic references are often used in spiritual teachings. That’s no problem. The problems arise when interpreters and translators concretize those symbols into material “truth” or “fact,” and followers then treat that information as unbendable law. Many followers pay more attention to the illusory benevolence of superstition than they pay to fostering a functional benevolence within themselves.
For the first five hundred years of Buddhism, there were no material images of the Buddha—no statues, no paintings. There were good reasons for this.
Historical, literal, fundamentalist, concretized interpretations of symbols make it too easy for us to abuse spiritual mechanisms, and to escape responsibility for our own development and the well being of the world. This always ends badly. For yea, no lord can keepeth dry that person who will pisseth into the wind.
Translators and interpreters often reconfigure great wisdom teachings to fit their own ignorance and selfish motives, or the ignorance and selfish motives of the political and economic forces that are allied with them. Darkness sometimes co-opts the light. What we have inherited as “the will of God” may have as little to do with God’s will as Wall Street has to do with integrity in finance or snack cakes have to do with nutrition.
The term “spin doctors” may be a recently invented one, but the concept of readjusting the truth is nearly as ancient as the wisdom these vipers disassemble—and then rebuild to fit their own purposes. Many of today’s interpretations of “The Way” and “The Truth” resemble the originals about as much as the Christianity of Hitler or the Spanish Inquisition resembled the original doctrine. Some of the people who know Christ is the answer must have forgotten what the question was. This forgetting-the-question syndrome is certainly not exclusive to the Christians who have been led astray. Many followers of every faith on Earth have been way too trusting of the dogma presented them, and too trusting of the some of the people presenting it.
Interpreters package and then sell, rent, or impose upon us artificially flavored illusions of truth, salvation, enlightenment, and happiness that are built upon their goals. That twisted information and those errant goals are often very different from those of the original teachers from whom these interpreters borrow their moral authority. Following our own inner guidance would yield better results than following the village idiot. Neither Buddha nor Jesus was waiting for a Buddha or a Jesus to come solve their personal problems or those of humanity. The key to whatever we need is within us. The job of uncovering it is ours to do.
Ripe for spiritual paths that fit neatly into our fast food/consumer mentality, so-called civilized humanity is glad to pay the bill. Many people believe that we can rent an available-on-demand and conveniently disposable synthetic substitute for decency and wisdom instead of working towards those qualities, earning them, sustaining them, and then constructively implementing them. The interpreters, the translators, the forces that ally with or employ them, and the enforcers that protect those interests continue to collect the rent for themselves while returning hollow benefits to us.
There are people who will tell you that they are on a fast track to Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, Buddha, or Wherever. They may want you to pay for more information from them, buy certain products, fight “holy” wars at their request, or donate other parts of your mind and life to them. We have all heard of many televangelists among those (although certainly not the only ones) who have made a robber baron’s fortune by convincing some of us that money can buy love and happiness—but a few greedy clowns on TV are just the tip of the iceberg.
We are the iceberg. The world might be full of Mother Teresas and Einsteins if the best of humanity’s notions were given proper attention. Many folks wouldn’t trust an average stranger with a single dollar but don’t mind trusting a politician or preacher full of vacuum-packed hope and bullshit with serious money and even their lives. Many people are too tired, misinformed, or stressed to access on their own psychospiritual existence. Others are convinced that their own personal spiritual maintenance is a job beyond their ability, so instead they trust TV personalities who don’t and will never know them with that responsibility. The result? Instead of a world full of Mother Teresas and Einsteins we have an overabundance of warped, frustrated spiritual slackers that never bothered to research where the road is but are nonetheless pissed off about not reaching the destination.
I have to say it again. Following our own inner guidance would certainly yield better results than following the clamor of our village idiots. Yes, it does require less strength to either trust or blame something outside of one’s self than it takes to recognize one’s own responsibility, find one’s one faults, and change. Unfortunately this approach is bullshit.
Whatever that Bigger Something Else out there may be, if we are distracted by biased dogma and the hidden agendas of other interests that are masked by concretized symbols and rusted metaphor, we will never get in touch with that Something Else.
Being at home with our own unstained intelligence may be as simple as making a clear-minded decision to do so. Making an effort to be more consistently aware of what we do and don’t want our brains to absorb and act upon has to yield results. Anyone consistently moving in the direction of anything will have to eventually reach it. Try it! Point yourself somewhere, start moving, and don’t change direction. You will get to that somewhere. The mind moves toward the destination we plan for it just as surely as feet move us across a room.
The greatest purpose of our greatest teachers may be to show us how, in the long run, to be our own greatest teacher.
Does all this sound bizarre, abstract, contradictory, weird, obtuse, un-interpretable, un-translatable, and maybe even disagreeably confusing? I hope so. I planned it that way.
I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a fucking interpreter or translator myself!
God Forbid! I’d rather be a dog.
“The common error of ordinary religious practice is to mistake the symbol for the reality,
to look at the finger pointing the way
and then to suck it for comfort rather than follow it.”
“Having failed to distinguish thoughts from things, we then fail to distinguish words from thoughts.
We think that if we can label a thing we have understood it.”
Maha Sthavira Sangarakshita
“You can tell you created God in your image when it turns out God hates the same people you do.”