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Friday, December 19, 2014

Disciples and Rebels

One of the things I learned from 30 years with the Gakkai/NSA was an important lesson: That lesson is that to be true to a teacher one must be true to the truth of what that teacher is teaching.

Loyalty to Law or Dharma

Personal loyalty is part of the path of a disciple but it is separate from loyalty to "dharma" or Law/truth/reality. Buddhist teachings (and western literature) are full of stories of the "loyal rebel" -- a person who has to rebel against a beloved Father (King Lear) or King (King Richard the Lionhearted in Robin Hood Legend for example) in order to be true to the principles that back the person's honor or integrity.

None of us gets it perfect

It's a theme of tragedy and farce that teachers, sages, religious founders are still human beings and are fallible. My favorite teacher, a Japanese Buddhist named Nichiren spent a lot of time criticizing people who, it turns out, had been the sources of much of what he was teaching himself. He emphasized "follow the dharma, not persons" and he himself had squabbling disciples who have squabbled ever since because they don't know how to make a distinction between loyalty to principle and loyalty to person. And so when they realize a person is gray, not perfect, they tend to desert his side and attack him. The history of religion and politics is a history of folks who were once intensely loyal like guard dogs, turning on their masters like attack dogs who never knew them.

Revolution becomes evil when it rebels too much

That is not the way. Even Martin Luther in the end, still considered himself a (reform) Catholic. He turned on his own disciples when they started burning Churches and becoming extremists. He turned loose "his" nobles on a purge of them. Lutherism was still Trinitarian Christianity, even though it defined it's initial orthodoxy from the work of Martin Luther. Paul famous confrontation with his own Rabbi, led to that Rabbi not being part of the later Jewish work of the Pirkei Avot, they mention Gamliel II but not the original. But even there Paul in his deliberate provocation of bringing Timothy to the Temple and letting the people assume he was uncircumcised (a capital crime according to the Torah) his last meeting with his Rabbi ended with the Rabbi letting him go alive. He had broken with his own faith in order to pursue a new one. He would imprint his own spin on the new Church and in the end that would supplant and override the message of his new Master's own disciples. He was like Esau, his hand raised against both fellow Christians (in his mission to the non-Jewish Nations he was in conflict with Jews) and his fellow Jews. Some of that may reflect later conflicts written into the narrative but he felt he was being true to the Law and that gave him license to betray his own masters.

Come to think of it, I apologize because I am criticizing these people. I feel they rebelled too much. Their critiques transgressed the boundaries of loving criticism to rejection of alternative paths. For both Paul and Luther it was "my way or the highway." Despite evidence that neither was exactly a perfect saint (Saul had been a ruthless killer), they claimed to speak for the ineffable one while claiming to be disciples of people whose views weren't exactly as theirs. That is the danger of rebellion. Rebels aren't perfect either. Sometimes I think the ineffable is speaking through me. I don't agree 100% with all my teachers either. But I don't borrow their authority and seek fame and power either. I think that becomes the real issue. Even people who seek fame and power often have something important and true to say. It's just power corrupts that message and every religious teacher who sought authority over others has been corrupted by that power. Except in myth of course.

An Alternative path of Loving Thinking Reading

I'm not a thorough expert in either Martin Luther or Paul/Saul. My concept of what happened could change in a moment with revised facts. Rather I'm suggesting that all teachers, and rebels, bet taken in their own context with a supreme awareness that they are human beings first. Then one realizes that one doesn't want to turn the wheel too far until people are out of the way of it's path. A turning wheel can run over a foot, or even people. A wheel turns too much and it comes back to where it started. We want improvement not destruction and revolution because when we reject a master or a teacher we tend to throw out the water with the baby and kill the "baby" of wisdom that they might be passing on. We can learn from bad teachers what not to do ourselves. But they typically teach much worth listening to. Moreover, every teaching can be understood on a variety of levels. Taking them as offered (Peshat/Literalism). Taking their lessons as the lessons teach (Reshit (allegory/figurative meaning). Finding deeper meanings through struggling with them and then using that meaning to guide others (Drash/Sermons). And then we have our own insights based on that struggle (Sot or moments of enlightenment/inspiration). Religion inspires us, and even teachers whose teachings we might not fully agree with later deserve respect and loving analysis. Throwing ink pots at the Devil may not be the most productive way to excise demons from this world, but such writings can motivate revolutions in thinking and positive unintended consequences. Without the Protestant Reformation Europe would have remained moribund and if it broke out of the dark ages, might have been an even more nasty colonial power than it was as multiple contending states. The religious conflicts between Orthodox and Catholic, protestant and catholic gave ordinary people little cracks they could take refuge in from the tyranny and oppression of authoritarianism and paternalism. The enlightenment was as much a product of the exhaustion of 16th century wars of religion as of the Renaissance. If one king hated a thinker he often would take refuge in the Kings Rival in another country. That is what Kept Luther alive. And it also kept Luther's enemies alive.

Rebels and Critics

I also spent the last 12 years involved in Judaism. I learned that Judaism and Jews are not as portrayed in the Bible or Christian literature. And that has prepared me to look at other religions and see the echoes of long ago personal fights in exaggerated consequences. Paul rejected Gamliel and his teachings were the germ for non-Jews to reject Judaism and Jewish Christians, which meant that eventually Jews were forced to reject Gamliel and Paul. They never really rejected Jesus. He just wasn't the promised Savior as portrayed in the literature. When Christians talk of a Second Coming they are referring to the same prophesies. Jews do reject the notion of Jesus as God. One of my teachers tells me that the notion of people being filled with the "wind" or "spirit" of the divine is one thing. Jesus being God, contradicts 90% of the Torah and Haftorah ("Old Testament"). Indeed the myths around Jesus are identical to those around the Baal worship depicted in Kings and Chronicles. Modern Christians worship the Bull of the Market. Unconsciously they are practicing the religion of Canaan. For Some, Jesus is an intermediary and image of the supreme Being, but then for ancient Israelis, so was Ba'al (and the Asherah). Maybe the conversation needed to be had, but the ultimate answers were bigger than any of the partisans. Pagan Judaism lives as Christianity. Hence Jews refer to Christians as "Esau" (which also means "Red". I still talk to Jesus, (and G-d, my late wife and the walls) but I don't see him as God. Just a semi mythical guy who said some really cool and true things.

Coming at it from Light and Honesty

But it's all Good when we come at it with light and honesty. The Prophets might have been criticizing paganism, but it was from a devotional community who wanted people to accept the Ecstatic God that all mystics "feel" when they feel the unity of all things. And it was from the POV of a community constantly distressed by a majority that was pagan. That is enough for now. The point is that one can and should admire all teachers, while being ready to argue with them and struggle with what they had to say. When confronted with paradoxes and contradictions; "Maybe both are true and once I understand it I'll understand how it can be true and that the real problem before was my faulty understanding." That leads different views. In the end the issue is that usually they are talking about different things. Some truths are provisional and contextual. Others are figurative. Some are about human laws or promises we need to keep for our own sakes and others. And some truths are about this material world and are like clay that can be used either to build a house with or a prison. It makes no difference to the clay. It does to us.

And finally, at the core of all spiritual quest is that faith in the ultimate existence of some kind of ultimate "being" and truth is not incompatible with the profound humility of the four words: "I could be wrong."


Christopher H. Holte

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