Saturday, February 27, 2010

Backwards Buddhist Mantra

Have noticed more than a few comments on a comedy routine Bill Maher recently did about Tiger Woods and Buddhism. Rod, over at The Worst Horse blog dug into the content more than most, but others have had various things to say as well. I honestly didn't plan to wade in on the whole thing because keeping up with the viral mainstream media is like trying to dig a well with a spoon. However, the following line from Maher caught my attention, and made me pause.

Craving for things outside ourselves is what makes life life — I don’t want to learn to not want, that’s what people in prison have to do.

Isn't this what we think most of the time, even us Buddhists? There were plenty of boneheaded jokes in Maher's routine, but this particular line points to one of the major fallacies that humans struggle with in life. Even the prison comment is an accurate view of the way most of us think of renunciation and letting go of all the things we want. Giving up whatever it is that needs to be given up feels like our freedom is being taken away, doesn't it? Don't lie - you know you've felt this before, maybe often. So, I think Maher is doing us a service by summing up in a single line a false view that many of us have a ton of trouble with.

There's great value, in my opinion, in having something clearly pointed out for you that you want to cease believing in. Too often, I think we walk around talking about compassion, helping others, and not being driven by the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance. But how much of the time does this occur in a kind of sweet, hazy daze?

Maher's conclusion, if this indeed is his conclusion and not just another joke, is completely wrong. But it's dead on clear, and as such, a way to mark the craving that occurs on the path.

When you feel like you need something outside yourself to "be alive," or that giving up something is like being in prison, just remember Maher's line, a backwards Buddhist mantra of sorts.

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