Damned Scriptures

October 25, 2009

Last night I read the Sutra of 42 chapters.  I figured to learn about the practice you have to go to the source.  This includes what someone recorded as the words of Gautama Siddhartha, the original Buddha.  And that’s where my heart got broken.

Modern religious people in the US change religions to suit their fancies.  (Case in point, Conservapedia is rewriting the New Testament to make it more conservative! But also consider more liberal Christians who redefine God to mean something other than their own scriptures.)  Because I first started my zen practice by reading modern words, I came to believe for a little while that the original Buddha was enlightened in a real sort of way, when in fact he found some practices that work while remaining in the shackles of the time he lived in.  Or maybe he was mistranslated by a translator, Soyen Shaku.  That translation was done, I believe, back in the early 1900s.  Probably my first mistake to read from the early days of Buddhism in the US when women and African Americans couldn’t even vote yet, but if I choose a modern translation what skewed fundamentalisms do I then fall prey to?   A dilemma unveiled.

The Buddha starts out by illuminating followers’ minds with authoritative teachings.  Next stop: fundamentalism and abuse.  (Before I go any further, I do understand that it’s usually the followers that perpetuate fundamentalism.  But if I’m not allowed to question something, my red flag rises.)  So, let’s see what else the 42 chapters have to say.

If you ditch your family, reach the source, and comprehend the immaterial you get to be called Cramana.  Hoookay.  Sort of like Craisins or Cranapple, I guess.  The Bible Jesus was into that old leaving your family behind biz, too, nothing new there.  Later in this sutra (scripture), the Buddha is quoted saying, “Men are tied up to their families and possessions more helplessly than in a prison.” Jesus said that the mother asking for a bit of his time wasn’t his family, that he had a new family.  That’s one place having a guru really falls apart for me.  The Buddha says to break attachments, but then requires attachment to the Way.  Jesus says to practice loving kindness, but he is cruel to his own mother, saying it is better to be attached to the Church.  Every guru is human.

If you observe the 250 precepts of morality (whatever they are, but rest assured, they were not written for women) and strive for the four fruits of sainthood you get to be called Arhats and you will get to fly through space and assume different forms and even sometimes cause Earthquakes.  Oh, for crying out loud.

Then you can work on being called Anagamin, and that will allow you to go to the 19th heaven.  (Screw 7th heaven.  19 is where you want to be!) Then you get your Arhatship. Wait.  Again?

And finally, you can be called Skridagamin, Ascend to the heavens (wait!  Didn’t you just do that as an Anagamin?) then you get to come back to Earth again and get your Arhatship.  AGAIN?  Weren’t you just an Arhat the last time around?

So then you get to be Srotaapanna, and you can die 7 times, come back 7 times and finally attain…. wait for it…. Ahratship.  Wait one cotton picking….

So I kept reading.  There was some stuff about not connecting to possessions and living by begging.  But what about the Middle Way?  Didn’t the Buddha teach not to strive for stuff, but also not to submit to aesceticism?  To just keep it balanced?

Next there is some stuff that is like the 10 commandments of the Judao Christian scriptures.  Don’t kill, don’t steal, no adultury and all that.  There’s some stuff thrown in that says to confess your sins or there will be hell to pay. There’s some nice stuff about turning the other cheek, . There’s some stuff about feeding those who can accept it and not wasting your efforts on those who can’t. Some difficult things are listed, like it’s hard for the poor to be charitable.  Makes sense.  It’s hard to be a martyr.  It’s hard not to be contemptuous of the unlearned, to find a teacher, to practice the Way.

Chapter 29 is where it just goes all to hell. I’ll quote directly.

The Buddha said, “O monks, you should not see women.  If you should have to see them, refrain from talking to them. If you should have to talk, you should reflect in a right spirit, “I am a homeless mendicant. I the world of sin I must behave myself like unto the lotus flower whose purity is not defiled by the mud. Old ones I will treat as my mother; elderly ones as elder sisters; younger ones as younger sisters, and the little ones as daughters.” You can tell he’s talking about sex.  But he’s also talking about women, and he compares us to mud. We’re good for nothing more than tempting the monks.

But without mud, old Buddha, there would be no lotus flower, so just get over yourself.  Seriously.

As I see it there are two approaches for me here.  I could realize that Gautama, like the Apostle Paul, was a product of his times, raised in misogyny, and therefore, he is not the right teacher for me.  Many of those who follow him are likely to be dangerous not only to my gender, but to weak students who are the pliable prey of priests who, deprived of natural, normal, healthy sexual outlets, abuse their students.  Or I could take Buddha’s teaching that our enemies are our best teachers and follow the Buddha’s teaching, sifting out the good from the bad, but being an open vessel.

The latter sounds kind of wacky when you look at the big picture, but this reading came at a time when I have been having a heretical thought.  I have benefited from sitting in zazen.  I don’t have to fear anyone when sitting in a private practice, and many people through a long history have benefited from it, so there is something valuable there. My thought is, if the Buddha could become enlightened by sitting under a tree, why the hell couldn’t I?  Why couldn’t anyone? We know that the goal is to live in the moment.  We have the seed.

I have had trouble getting up and looking for a teacher and I can’t tell if this is rebellion, or healthy caution.  So for now I will continue sitting in Zen and making sitting my guru.  Buddha didn’t know everything, but he figured out a few good things.  And he offered things you can actually do to improve your life.   Although I am sad that he has his own list of thou shalt nots, he also had one simple teaching that is working for me whenever I’m able to accomplish it.

Be Here Now.

Meditator Tot

One Response to “Damned Scriptures”

  1. Post script: According to Brittanica.com: “In Buddhism, one who has gained insight into the true nature of existence, has achieved nirvana, and will not be reborn. Theravada Buddhism regards becoming an arhat as the goal of spiritual progress. It holds that a seeker must pass through three earlier stages before being reborn in a heaven as an arhat. Mahayana Buddhism criticizes the goal of becoming an arhat as selfish and considers the bodhisattva to be a higher goal because the bodhisattva remains in the cycle of rebirths to work for the good of others. This divergence of opinion is one of the fundamental differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.”

    So basically you can reach ahrat many times… but that doesn’t explain the contradiction between buddhism teachings that to strive toward a goal is counter productive.

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