We, in our little frog country, with our forefinger and our Calvinistic Buddhism, understand so little of the real relationship between life and doctrine.
Taigu recently read East of Eden by John Steinbeck, his 1952 novel, a family story set roughly between the American Civil War and the end of the Great War – what we now call the First World War. It is not the first time that Taigu has tasted in literature the taste of life that he is largely lacking in the midst of all the dogmatic discussion about whose Buddha and whose teachings in Buddhism now embody the highest truth.
Our Buddhism is so top-heavy and myopic that it almost obscures the variety and diversity of life unfolding before our eyes. The two most angry words from our ill-behaved sociolect are Buddhism and Buddha. If, as they say, each valley had its own dharma and thus its own buddha, then these two words burst apart for semantic reasons alone. Whoever wants to use them enters the language that goes back to ethnologists (anthropologists), in short scientists who tried to discover patterns and abstractions in the British colonies, to make visible the diversity in the service of imperial supremacy.
There is no ‘that’ Buddha, no ‘that’ Buddhism. “Timeo Danaos, et dona ferentes” (“I fear the Greeks, though they bring gifts”, from Virgil’s Aeneid), for us means as much as: distrust the experts, especially if they confirm your (pre)judgment. Distrust the Buddhists and their petty academic ramblings because they won’t buy you anything. Distrust the believers in the Pali canon, a tradition of unknown origin, based on an oral tradition, supplemented as far as lost by retranslated Chinese texts, edited by innumerable selections according to the tastes of the time, and still so voluminous that there is no clear line can be found in
Also distrust the ‘One Dharma’ apostles, for they commit the sin of simplification at the expense of historical diversity. Also distrust the booklet writers about ‘it’ Buddhism who rhyme everything because the general public doesn’t know any better. Distrust all teachers who claim to know “something”, because those who know don’t talk and those who talk don’t know. There is no straight line of transmission, except perhaps from teachers who have ripped off their students if not touchedn.d
There are only sources that contradict each other or express the local color from which they spring. There are as many Buddhas and Buddhisms as there are followers who, in their selection, try to inhale the scent of holy integrity. And for God’s sake let’s stop mirroring ourselves as contemporary practitioners to a value culture of a monastic movement outside the world, be it canon followers, tibet followers or zen sitters.
Buddhism is one of those bastions that seems largely untouched by the break with objectivism and objectification that followed the death of God and Karl Marx, his only son, who even after Auschwitz was held up as a guideline in his socialist named countries. However, nothing in this world is more certain, since Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Peirce, the pioneers of semiotics and structuralism, tackled linguistics, and Kurt Gödel ended certainty in mathematics with his incompleteness theorem. Perhaps this is precisely why romantic dreamers, by means of regression in time, try to hoist their Buddha onto the shield from which Yahweh has fallen in thousands of pieces since the scientific revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Culture is like a contagious disease that never dies completely and continues to cast its shadows.
We never have to look beyond a mirror to know what humanity is about, about people, fragile and easily seduced, frail material, in short, which usually also causes the necessary breaks during their lives, and their own deepest insecurities never actually overcomes. Luck is the result of chance, parents and children are largely strangers to each other, and only literature expresses such nuances, be it John Steinbeck’s or Thomas Mann’s, or Polybius’s history writing to Jacob Presser – because only they have an eye for the great misdeeds. committed by men with small minds and big hopes, or for the beautiful light that can shine on ordinary people when they live in despair or vice versa, with limited means, an emotionally rich celebrates a peasant’s wedding.
Schopenhauer’s Buddha figure and Nietzsche’s have fulfilled their function, but – and this is the beauty of the matter – each can do with it according to the meaning he or she finds in it at the moment of the current reading. There is no longer such a thing as the work of one author, of which a teacher can explain the one meaning to his students. The post-structuralist successors of De Saussure and Peirce, thinkers such as Lévi-Strauss, Foulault, Lacan and Barthes, have put an end to this illusion. After the death of God, the death of the author has now also occurred, although this has not yet reached everyone. If the author is put on the linguistic-psychodynamic chopping block, and turns out to be ignorant of the layers of meaning he has incorporated into his creation, and if every word, every sentence has a unique semantic meaning for every member of every generation on this or any other part of the world. connotation’ (Barthes), yes, then it is time, after the author’s death, to also proclaim the ‘reader’s’.
Only simpletons complain about TV news or soap operas, either because they do not see their prejudices confirmed in them, or because they see in them what they consider objectionable. And no, based on the examples mentioned, there is no reason for the God-forsaken relativism that Joseph Ratzinger and others believe exists in modern culture. There is enough living knowledge of language, social experience, and law to find a way in the midst of the struggle for all values, where layers of structures of meaning allow a degree of fluidity of morality and authority, however shaky and however much these may be. must be fought again and again, with surprising twists and without a definite ending.
But Buddhas, or what fits them, we do not find in sutras or certain truths of our own making, but among men. If we look for them as Buddhas with the characteristics of the past or our limiting definitions, we will most likely overlook them because we want to identify trees while not having an eye on the richness of the crops that grow in the forest.ox.
There is a lesson in Hermann Hesse’s literary output when reading his novels Siddhartha and Steppenwolf contrasts. Both are about the individual’s search for meaning and liberation, a theme that can also be found in other works by the author. It is under the literary prism of his imagination that his prose comes to life. Where Steppewolf’s main character is exposed to Nietzsche’s ‘Umwertung aller Werte’, to challenges that are mutatis mutandis still relevant today, it is Siddhartha who, in the novel of the same name, tries to pave a path to wisdom in a way that, among other things, a. reminiscent of Gautamas until at one point he comes face to face with the ‘Buddha’ and his retinue of monks. Govinda, Siddharta’s former servant and loyal companion, joins the Buddhists, but not the protagonist himself. He continues on his own path and later becomes a ferryman, to transfer people from one bank to another. Whoever finds something of value or truth in this comparison of two modern parables must take the sources of his own choosing to guide him on his (or her) individual quest.
There is nothing more difficult than understanding one’s own time and the period immediately preceding it. Therefore we wander in confusion and fall back into idolatry, looking outside ourselves for the Buddha-nature which, to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, is readily available everywhere, especially where you least expect it.