Kill the Buddha

Lately I’ve been hearing or reading all sorts of things that boil down to the same thing — Kill the Buddha.  I’m not speaking of committing a random act of violence against the Buddha or any other Buddhist leader.  Rather I’m referring to the statement, oft-repeated, “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.”  That statement is not an invitation to make the Buddha road-kill, but rather that any received truth you get will be imperfect, that you can try to be like the Buddha and achieve Buddha consciousness, but if you simply follow the rules or dogmas you have received,  you are missing out on your part in making sense of this world.  It seems to me that that was the point Bishop Spong was making in his book on Jesus for the Non-Religious.  Religions have a tendency to ossify, and so we get stuck in the ways of thinking from the past, and fail to take that message, reflect on it, but make our own sense today of the world around us.  It certainly was a big thing for some of the big names in Unitarianism — Channing could not support a trinity that he did not see supported in the scriptures, and so chose to preach a Unitarian Christianity;  Emerson went even further in saying that, just as we might find inspiration and revelation in scripture, we could find it ourselves in the world around us now — we don’t need to simply accept something from the past, but are obliged to find our own way and make our own mark;  and the Humanists of the early 20th c. were looking for a religion which spoke to them, and which did not impose some mystical religion from the past, but could find in the human world around us mystery and wonder enough. 

And that made me think of Ezra Pound’s dictum: “Make it New.”  The poet’s job was to make it new;  in their own way, T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams took that to heart, with Eliot creating a very academically oriented verse, and Williams crafting an American verse form from the plain language of America. 

And so we too are all called on to make it new, to take what we have received and work with it to create something new, to put our own spin and shine on the message, to join the discussion.  This can seem daunting.  After all, who are we to take on the big ideas of the past?  But some of those ideas are no longer valid, and if we don’t put our own two cents in and help to craft our message for today, the world is left with a defective message, and we are left with a faulty system that is not fresh and is not true for us.

And yet, I think though we listen to our heart, our crafting our own message, building our own theology, must somehow answer the past.  It cannot simply be a dismissal of those great ideas, but must be a dialog with them.  So, let’s let the Buddha live, but not abdicate our part in his/her presence, and let’s make it new (and improved).

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