You’re Not the Buddha, Get Over It.

Via Andrew Cvercko
on May 14, 2013
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Seriously, Best Buddha Ever.

I don’t care what anyone says, the 1993 film Little Buddha is the best filmed depiction of the life of the Buddha I’ve ever seen.

First of all, Keanu Reeves is more or less the ideal person to depict a being who has transcended all earthly desires and outbursts of emotion (his name even means “cool breeze over the mountain,” seriously look it up.)  But more important than that is the scene where Prince Siddhartha encounters Mara prior to his enlightenment.

Most depictions of the enlightenment story have a Mara who is what westerners would expect in a quasi-demonic being trying to tempt travelers away from the true path:  he’s a big old goofy movie monster that even occasionally has the horns and the flames and the fangs and etc. Little Buddha’s Mara is just another Keanu.

Our most dangerous enemy on the path isn’t any demon or god or anything external at all. It’s our own petty desires, fears, and prejudices masquerading as spiritual progress.

And it’s not like the pitfall is easy to spot either. Between the manifold and sometimes idiosyncratic expressions of Buddha Nature, Christ Consciousness, Krishna Consciousness, and the like it is very easy for us to excuse our quirks and foibles as expressions of our divine light when their simply road signs telling us we have a long way to go.

You don’t need to look too much to find evidence of this. Every spiritual tradition has stories, both ancient and modern, of people who didn’t quite get it, of people who despite having a genuine spiritual practice going bring their own downfall via succumbing to their devices. It seems like every week another highly respected spiritual teacher is reported to have had a long history of sexual affairs with his or her students.

Worse than taking advantage of students though, are the reports that are cropping up more and more of Buddhist monks in Burma leading racial pogroms against the Rohingya, an ethnic minority in the country that traditionally practice Islam.  As you read this, people’s houses and palaces of worship are being burned down under the guise of protecting Burma as a Buddhist nation. The monks and their followers claim self defense, yet there is a)nothing in Buddhist philosophy that allows racial hatred in self defense and b) no evidence of this being in self defense.

If Buddhist monks, more or less the universal symbol at this point for peace and kindness, people who have literally spent their lives meditating and cultivating feelings of love and compassion, were setting fire to Mosques, then what hope is there for the rest of us?  If they’ve been unable to realize their pure Buddhahood, can anyone, especially those of us that divide our time between practicing our lofty ideals and trying to find materialistic ways to allow ourselves to do so?

One of my favorite Buddhist scriptures is the Upaddha Sutta. In it Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin, extols the virtues of having good friends to share the spiritual path with, friends that support and guide you. He goes so far as to say that having good friends with you is half of the spiritual life.

That invites criticism from the Buddha, who disagrees on the importance of good friends. He thinks that good friends is all of the spiritual life. I love this because I think it’s a really cool little story and because it reminds me of roadtrips, drugs, and tarot cards.
This is what I assume they were talking about.

Once, a lifetime ago, I spent a summer traveling around with a group of friends reading fortunes. I read Tarot, someone else read palms, someone else was doing I Ching, someone else was drawing up astrology charts, etc. We went to hippy festivals, high school graduation parties, wedding receptions, wherever people would pay us, and read people’s fortunes. We traveled in an old white van that one of our crew had gotten from her dead grandfather. The van did not have a working speedometer or a working gas gauge, it was that kind of van.

On top of the issues with the van, along with our various forms of fortune telling, we also had a collection of drugs that would have done Hunter S. Thompson proud. So we were a group of stoned kids in a van that wouldn’t tell us how fast we were going or if we could even get there. If anyone has a better metaphor for the human condition, I’d like to hear it.
Picture this, but more smoke spewing everywhere

None of us could trust the van. None of us could trust each other. None of us could trust ourselves.  But by learning to doubt all of these, we learned to rely on what we did know. If we traveled the same speed as the cars around us, we should be alright. If we stopped at least every three hours for gas, we should be alright.  If we took shifts being sober enough to drive, we should be alright.  And, most importantly, if we each kept ourselves open to criticism and feedback from the others, we should be alright.

And I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that our best hope is that. Not relying on our inherently pure nature or our conceptions of how advanced we are, but relying on each other and on our experience of how reality appears to be reacting to us. It’s so easy to delude ourselves into thinking we’re right, that we know what’s going on and everyone else has lost the beat.  But in my experience the further we get from what our spiritual friends are telling us, the further we’re getting from the truth.

This is not an advocation for blind conformity.

The situation in Burma speaks to what happens when that gets mixed with spirituality. It’s an advocation for listening to everyone, listening especially to the people that disagree with you, because they can be your greatest spiritual friends of all. Too often we shut out dissenting opinions, whether they happen to be the one that says we’re not perfect and have some work to do, or that we are good enough and it’s not as bad as we think it is. And that’s where our growth comes from, not whatever reinforces our view of the world but whatever destroys it. How else do you expect to steer this damn van?


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta



About Andrew Cvercko

Andrew Cvercko lives in Winsted, Connecticut. He works at a drug rehab, teaching mindfulness meditation to people recovering from drug addiction. He spends his free time corresponding with people in prison on religion and meditation, exploring this strange planet we find ourselves on, and thinking too much.


15 Responses to “You’re Not the Buddha, Get Over It.”

  1. karlsaliter says:

    LOVED It!!!!!

  2. Judy says:

    Very nice, Andrew! Thanks!!

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    I think it is easy to make generalizations regarding Myanmar. The history of Burma and the Muslim rule there was never a "native" religion as you suggest. Your examples of Buddhism and the state of affairs in Myanmar is more complicated than you make out. Buddhists cannot justify violence nor can muslims other than self defense. The influx of Indian and Nepali muslims doing business in Myanmar has created a conflict with the Burmese. Business control eventually creates governmental control…this is the core of the issue. Not Buddha vs. Allah

  4. kim says:

    Of course I am the buddha. If you are not the buddha in your own life, you are wasting it. If you have retained your ego with pride, you are not the buddha. If you have re-evaluated every part of it, and discarded nearly all of your assumptions, you are on your way. Peace.

  5. Andrew says:

    @kim: A Buddha has no more room to grow, nothing more to learn. One of the points I tried to get at was that often our most treasured assumptions are our greatest hindrances. Last summer, I went on a long term meditation retreat with a wily old Lao forest monk. On the second day of the retreat, he took my insect repellent from me. My notion of peaceful forest meditation was shattered by the influx of tiny biting things swarming around me. However, I tried to get through it to the best of my ability. On the fourth day, he saw me struggling to stay mindful with the distractions of mosquitoes, flies, etc. He smirked and told said we were going on an extended walking meditation through the woods. I begged him to let me use some of the repellent. He just smiled and said "Is your peace so shallow that you need bug spray to keep it?" I never learned to accept the insects perfectly, but I got through the rest of the retreat and learned to stay mindful even with the tiny guys crawling over my skin. Had I not been challenged, I never would have tried, and very often our greatest challenges are ones we ourselves may never think to attempt.

  6. Andrew says:

    I agree it is easy to make generalizations in any situation, and the one in Burma is certainly no different. My primary concern is Buddhist monks, who have not only taken vows of peace but also of staying out of worldly politics, seem to be at the forefront at a good deal of the Buddhist violence. It is always tragic when national politics and religion intertwine, and I feel the Burma situation is notable due to many of the preconceptions many people have of Buddhist monks. Very often recently I've found myself remembering that during the Buddha's life, his kingdom was invaded and decimated by a neighboring tribe. He didn't have much of a recorded reaction, instead continuing his teaching of love and compassion for all beings. A large part of specifically Buddhist practice entails disentangling from national, ethnic, economic, and gender based identities. For all of the gray areas, monks leading some of the violence indicates that they still have more too learn than they realize.

  7. Andrew says:

    Thank you! So grateful for the opportunity to share with you.

  8. Andrew says:

    Thank you very much! I'm very glad you enjoyed it.

  9. karlsaliter says:

    kim ego and pride were required to type what you typed here, don't you think? welcome to you are not the buddha.

  10. Padma Kadag says:

    Placing monks on a pedestal will bring you both joy and dissappointment. Not all of those who dress as monks are truly monks or nuns. We expect a certain behavior from those dressed as monks. But underneath it all they just do not appear to be very serious about their vows sometimes. Its as simple as that and does not require a larger discussion on "Buddhism". Buddhists also watch only their own mind and not the mind of others….to be bogged down by as you state,"For all of the gray areas, monks leading some of the violence indicates that they still have more too learn than they realize". Monks are humans and are monks because they are still practicing.

  11. Andrew says:

    One of the points I was trying to get across, and one that the violence in Burma does a good job of illustrating, is indeed that none of us by ourselves have a perfect view. Many people, in the east and the west, have lofty view of monks that unfortunately cannot match up to reality, which is one of the reasons I have been so interested in what is going on. No one person has all the answers and that's why, to reiterate my metaphor, we need to steer the van together instead of assuming we're equipped to steer it alone.

  12. Benjamin Britton says:

    YES! This is the problem with all religions/forms of spirituality. We hold those who practice our form of belief as their career/life-choice/calling in higher esteem, and we are proven that they are human, over, and over and over.

    Did the real Buddha ever intend to make a religion…. did Jesus? Perhaps what we are missing is that thing that is beyond ourselves. The teachings we strive for, compassion, presence, love.

  13. Andrew says:

    Holding anyone to a superhuman standard usually reuslts in sorrow. I think no one intends to make a religion, but for any teaching to be perpetuated through time it is necessary to codify it, define it, and lessen some of that unique expression of whatever-it-is. We need wilderness teachers to make these leaps, and city teachers to keep them alive and make the accessible to us part-time practitioners. Jesus and St. Paul, Buddha and Ananda, etc. etc. etc.

  14. jbillikerz says:

    That first sentence is one of the most poignant things I've heard in a while!
    "Holding anyone to a superhuman standard usually results in sorrow"

    Great article. Now this movie is on my 'to watch' list… let's hope I can get to it within the year!

  15. sman says:

    The things you said if not benefit to you and to others, better not say.
    The things you said if benefit to you but not for others, better not say.
    The things you said if benefit to others but not for you, better not say.
    The things you said if benefit to you and to others, it is better to say. These are the advise of the sages.