3.4
July 30, 2008

Buddhism is Non-Theistic; Buddhists aren’t (“oh, the Karmapa’s sooooo amaaaaazing!”)

As a lifelong Buddhist, everywhere I look in Buddhaland, lately—covers of Buddhists magazines, posters for sale, cards, photos in Buddhist gift shops—I see the handsome, wise, young face of the 17th Karmapa staring out at the horizon. Okay, I get it—he’s a powerful, well-trained young man, he embodies the fragile future of Tibetan Buddhism and his previous incarnation, the 16th Karmapa, was a big deal, a powerful teacher who my parents’ teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (a powerful teacher in his own right) was himself genuinely and most humbly devoted to.

But last I checked, Buddhism is non-theistic. That means we don’t go looking outside for salvation. That means we regard the Buddha as—inherently—no different that ourselves. The Buddha himself said, “Look, I don’t have anything to teach, I’m nothing special, I’m just human.” And his early students said, “Please, please, show us the path that you have discovered from suffering to sanity!” And he said, “Oh, alright. Here you go. Meditate in this way. Contemplate compassion…” etc. But when I see my parents’ generation smiling like fools and bowing to the ground, I wonder where the dignity has gone. Talk to the Karmapa, be interesting and interested—that’s devotion. This groveling stuff was, in my experience of his visit to Boulder, boring.

We’re all Kings and Queens of our own lives, as SHAMBHALA: SACRED PATH OF THE WARRIOR details. So sit like a mountain, work with one’s own discursive mind, work for the benefit of others—and we’ll experience a vajra-like humbleness, a humbleness full of dignity and absent of groupie-like idol-worship.

PS: all this non-theistic stuff goes for yoga teachers, too.

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