Yesterday, John over at Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt stepped into the center of all this with a post taking shots at the 32 Marks of a Buddha list from the Pail Canon. The story itself was fond in the Hindu Vedas, is from before the time of the Buddha, and so it's place in the teachings might represent more a cultural appropriation on the part of early Buddhists than anything else. John's original post, as I remember it, was playing around with the image created when you add up all the marks into a single "human" body.
I have to say I basically glanced at the post and moved on. But others didn't and 40 comments later, there has been much said about humor's place or non-place within spirituality.
Here are a few of the more "choice" comments. Rejecting what John presented as humor,
Bitterroot, the Buddhist Badger (Yes, we seem to have a lot of animals in the Buddhoblogosphere), wrote,
Yes, there are said to be 32 major and 80 minor marks on the body of one who is in his final rebirth to awaken as a buddha, or a ‘Chakravartin’ king, a universal emperor. These originally were recorded in the Vedas. As the longer Buddhist sutras in which they are described explain, each mark is a symbolic indication of countless lifetimes accumulating acts of compassionate sacrifice for the benefit of others. Let’s take a look at the content of our own lives by comparison to see if we’re in any position to mock this.
And then NellaLou commented:
Let me get this straight then.
If Brit Hume and Bill O’Reilly belittle Buddhism that’s a huge travesty but if someone claiming to be Buddhist does it that's ok? ...
It is one thing for Ikkyu to piss on a statue that he had been asked to consecrate and quite another for everyone involved in Zen to think they have both his iconoclastic attitude and level of understanding.
Supporting his position, John responded:
It seems strange that when I make fun of my own religion people assume that I am making myself more than I am. I purposefully didn’t include references to burning sutras and knocking down statues for that reason.
And then Buddhasbrewing, (Yes, beer and Buddhism sometimes mix), said this in regards to the 32 marks story:
I think Sakyamuni Buddha was great, don’t get me wrong. The signs are nothing more than purest attachment and badger’s reaction proves it. As soon as you start thinking of the Great Physician as holy, you are walking down the road to delusion.
The debate goes on from there, delving shortly into the lack of scientific evidence for such signs among other things. It's an interesting conversation, but in the end, it leaves me feeling kind of empty. And I don't mean an awareness of emptiness, although that could be applied here as well I imagine.
On any given day, I can look around the Buddhoblogosphere, and see dozens of heartfelt posts, some very personal in focus and some very much public in focus (see yesterday's post for more on the public/private divide). While the content of these posts can range from a struggle with fear during meditation to an expression of gratitude for a group of Buddhist peace activists in Sri Lanka, the sharing of an expression of Buddhist practice is often clear, even if it's muddy and fumbling at times. However, with rare exceptions, these posts do not garner a lot of attention, at least in the form of comments. Granted, some of these posts probably don't lend themselves to comments, and are probably well read, but not commented on. But others, ones that seem to be worthy of discussion, even debate, are simply left to the blog archives. Even Brad Warner, who could post the word "Nothing" and probably get a dozen comments, seems to get less attention when his posts aren't contraversial. Which leads me to this: I think it's kind of telling that the posts which routinely recieve a pile of comments are dramatic, irreverent, or deliberately contraversial.
Like flies to shit we seem to flock to what ends up being, a lot of the time, just another pit of samsara. I see it in myself when I'm in a sour mood. I'm looking for it in my everyday life and when I come online - somewhere to drop a few snarky lines or to watch a good pissing match. And yet, what good is any of it? Does any of this do anything to help build a more ethical, compassionate life?
I'm all for humor, and I'm all for critical commentary that's done in the spirit of making the world a more healthier place. But I also think it's very important to take a look at your motives for doing either. It's pretty easy, if you lift that hood of yours, to find a motor running on self-righteousness and attention seeking.
Awhile back, I noticed a tendency in myself to want to be right. In fact, it was so strong at times that I sometimes got into shouting matches about politics and social issues with people who disagreed with me. So, I've taken up the practice of watching myself, noting the arrival of self righteousness in particular, and then working to shift it. In addition, I've admitted to people at times that I just wanted to be right, or at least that I have wanted to be in past conversations. This is part of the reason I have tried to steer clear of long, extended debates online.
Attention seeking can be tied to self righteousness, but it also comes out in other forms. Now, I've posted a few humor pieces over the time I have been blogging, and sometimes have had a few funny lines in other posts. I like being funny, but find that for the most part, being funny online either falls flat or simply becomes a spectacle.
Ah, such a killjoy you might say. And I'd say "Maybe." However, there's quite a difference in my view between joy and a cheap laugh, and also a quite a difference between genuine, intelligent and heartfelt debate and a pissing match like I saw in 2008 between now U.S. Senator Al Franken and then U.S. Senator Norm Coleman. Cheap jokes and cheap shots were the name of that game, and everything of substance was tossed out, drowned out, or pressed firmly to the margins. It was for me, as a well informed and active member of the American electorate, not only angering, but also an experience of sadness. Reflecting on trends I see online feels no better in some ways, but it does confirm for me how difficult it is to uproot the three poisons, and transform suffering in the process.
If you view this post as a condemnation of all religously-themed humor, or of all irrevent statements, you've sorely missed what I've been writing about. In fact, if you see my post as a condemnation of John's post, you've sorely reduced your lenses.
I could have made either of those arguments in a few paragraphs, and then moved on.
"I beg to urge you
life and death are a great matter.
Awaken, Awaken, take heed,
make use of this precious life."