Monday, October 8, 2012
om eye, ohm my, oh my?
My dear friend Jennie asked me about my impressions of Buddhism. I sit here wondering what I can say of any significance other than I know so little of its history or ideas. I suppose I could go to Wikipedia and read a simplified version and sound knowledgeable to you. I have heard guides relate mythological stories and speak of elaborate cosmogonies filled with various spirits, jinns, gods and goddesses. I know that Buddha was a young prince who 2500 years ago who left the palace and saw the suffering of the people and then developed into the ninth emanation of Vishnu, the Hindu supreme, who incidentally will reincarnate again. Does this sound familiar? Well its all Greek to me! or Judeo-Christian-Moslem for that matter.
Again what are my impressions? One thing I know for certain, Hinduism and Buddhism are not on a noticeable decline nor does it appear that religious zeal is waning in the Third World. Even if it were, it would hardly be noticeable, Until you travel extensively, it is hard to grasp that there is just a mind boggling number of people out here and most are followers of some religion.
This sobering realization slapped me squarely in the face that the other day when I found myself in a market which had several hundred booths selling amulets,statues, and various trinkets. Bins and shelves were overflowing with at least a million images of various deities cast in metal, or carved out of wood, plastic, stone or glass. These little items were either to be worn, placed around the house on a shrine, to help in prayer or to be used to ward off spirits. If it works, don't question it!
I have already visited any number of temples and historical sites from which the above photos were taken. I have seen people lighting candles, burning incense, bringing flowers, kneeling in prayer, and placing their palms together, fingers pointing upwards, to show their devotion and gratitude before the placid visage of Buddha. He gazes peacefully outward and projects inner clarity. His expression appears All-Knowing and encourages correct thinking which includes detachment from worldly needs. Whether he could maintain that composure in rush hour freeway traffic is anyone's guess, but I find his image certainly more palatable than an altar adorned with the depiction of the gruesome suffering of Christ on the cross.
How do I feel about Buddhism? In the last analysis, it remains a muddle for me. I am a cantankerous historian. I watch and record, but can not, in clear conscience, join. My mind does not let me suspend judgment. I am told to listen with my heart and feel the energy. but the most I achieve is hearing the crooning voices of the Beach Boys singing "Good Vibrations." I am a restless, rebellious sort. Let the humble figure it out. I'd rather take the photo and my chances with the All.