Growing up, and still as an adult, I love superheroes; especially Batman.
He managed to hold his own on a team full of other heroes who had powers that were out of this world, and he did it all with pure human will—human effort.
What is a superhero though?
It’s someone who is trying to make an impact on their society; to make things better for the people, who live within it, fighting evil, standing up against corruption and oppression wherever it shows its head. This sounds to me, like a lot of my real life heroes; Buddha, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, MLK etc.
When I look back at the Buddha, and I see him through historical eyes, I see a social reformer; a person who gave up everything, in order to look the idea of suffering in the face, and then offer a solution to the world.
The Buddha did more than this though. He spoke out against a corrupt caste system that refused entry into religious life by almost anyone that wasn’t born a Brahmin. When the Buddha taught, he taught the poorest and the wealthiest.
He spoke out and resisted a social system that had been in place for hundreds and possibly thousands of years.
He was the first recorded historical teacher to accept women into the religious systems; allowing them to break the chains of bondage from living in service to a patriarchal and tyrannical system that saw them as property and sexual servants.
He allowed them to create their own community within his social movement; he allowed them to teach on equal ground with any man. In a society that saw women as less than a man and being born as a woman as unfortunate, and a form of karmic punishment, this was a heroic feat.
The Buddha spoke out against blind acceptance of religious rituals and beliefs in spirits and ghosts that we could neither prove nor see. He was a great skeptic in a time when going against the norm could get you banished, shunned, and even killed.
He fought against blind faith and dogma and even went so far, unlike any other religious teacher in history, to say, “Doubt even me.” Can you imagine TV preachers today saying?—“Look, don’t believe a word I say, don’t send me your money, and don’t pray to xyz unless you have first tested it out and proven it for yourself.”
The ritual sacrifice of animals, the degradation of women and people deemed as untouchable—this was a full on frontal assault towards existing society. He literally swung in like Batman towards Gotham City and created an entire new culture.
He shunned violence of thought, speech and action and changed the world. He changed it so profoundly in fact, that instead of being a dwindling philosophical idea 2600 years later, it is growing in leaps and bounds.
Buddhism has gone from the poorly understood, campy Batman of the 1960’s, almost hearing its death knell, to the greatest superhero ever created.
What makes him even more of a hero to me is that he would totally dislike this article. He would say that he isn’t a hero, that his bodily existence meant nothing, to—“Be a lamp for yourselves. Be your own refuge. Seek for no other. All things must pass. Strive on diligently. Don’t give up.”
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