Monday, November 16, 2009

Are we all Hindus now? (Yes)

It's true. As Americans, we are all more "Hindu" than ever. What does that mean? There was no "Hinduism" at the time of the Buddha. The world came into being when the British wanted to understand the astonishing diversity they found in India -- which rejects nothing choosing instead to assimilate everything.

The Buddha was NOT a Hindu, as so many popularly say. He was an Indian -- but only because then India was much larger, an empire extending from principality to loosely affiliated principality -- rooted in Vedic culture with Sanskrit speaking Brahmins all around who practiced Brahmanism, not Hinduism.

Indians had dharmas or teachings they followed -- led by charismatic visionaries who stood up at the crossroads and marketplaces and took on a following. The world then as now follows sects more than religions. (Religion is a general label of convenience that, although it does not define us we yet identify with, and there are more than 200 kinds of Christianity in America alone).

These sects differed so much that we would not call them the same religion. Indians had no concept of "religion." Life itself was religion, and spirituality (and, sadly, superstition) pervaded all aspects of life. The Buddha is called a Hindu by Hindus today because of the long standing custom to assimilate rather than distinguish, to fashion a great interdependent and harmonious whole rather than to distinguish parts. But we distinguish and enjoy our disharmony and individuality. Buddhism and Jainism were protest movements against the established "religious" movement of the day, the aforementioned Brahmanism, which was weighed down by ritual, custom, interpretation, and dogma.

The priestly caste controlled spirituality. Jesus similarly rejected the temple and Jewish tradition, and just as he was reigned in to be its greatest proponent, the Buddha rebelled against Brahmanism (and the absolute authority of the Vedas) in search of the Truth directly, without recourse to any teacher or sectarian teaching. (He left his yoga instructor gurus Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputra because their dharmas, which Siddhartha succeeded in mastering, had failed to liberate anyone from suffering or dukkha).

He did not reject India, asceticism, or yoga. What he did instead was move far from his familiar surroundings on a heroic journey in search of enlightenment -- a rite of passage, if you will. He abandoned severe asceticism as fruitless for attaining the ultimate goal, which is found by the balanced effort he came to call the Middle Way. And he replaced the physical hardships of "yoga" as bodily-mental control by force of will into a sustainable and harmonious system, a gradual path that elevates one.

Some may say he went the way of the Tao or the path of least resistance. He was mistaken then as having given up, when in fact what he gave up was ego and its tiny effort. People -- namely, the Five Ascetics, who were his companions in the search for enlightenment -- mistakenly thought he abandoned the struggle when in fact what he abandoned was struggling. He resisted and fought the stream of the world and Samsara just enough to escape the traps of birth, old age, sickness, death, and rebirth and with this round all the inherent unpleasantness, woe, ill, and misery. He gave up illusion and suffering for Truth and freedom, ignorance for enlightenment, and continued becoming for the unexcelled peace of nirvana.

So someone may say we are all more Hindu now than ever. It's true with the caveat that there was never any Hinduism until the British Western mentality made it so and sold it to the Indians, who then consolidate the threads that ran through the rich diversity of its spiritual landscape: reincarnation, heavenly planes, Brahma, avatars, magic (yogic powers), faeries (devas), extraterrestrial (angelic/alien) knowledge and social obligations handed down from above along with moral "laws," institutions, and governance practices... And like the Buddha, Americans question and rebel against what is handed down. (The Kalama Sutra is an excellent synopsis of what the Buddha thinks is wise to reject).

What was once a puritanical JudeoChristian structure with no freedom from religion has become a great country by its diversity and assimilation of views. There's even room for Christianity. But nowhere is it accepted that it will be the same sexist, dogmatic, hierarchical nonsense brought over from England and the Old World. This is the new world and the founding traditions are able to trace their authentic roots, which touch Buddhism, the Far East, and the wisdom of many ancient culture (including the Earth traditions of Europe that imperialistic Christianity tried to blot out to become the world religion it is today). American society in general and Christianity in particular are made better and truer -- that is, more authentic by the integrity of historical honesty which is both idealistic and inspiring, flawed and begging to be made right.

Wisdom Quarterly does not shirk the shameful things this country has done and continues to do as a Western power and ruthless empire. But it also does not seek to shame it and wallow in our privileged guilt. To find the Truth, let's face the truth and do something about it. Bush and Cheney were the worst leaders in a list of horrific leaders. Let's not let Obama go the same direction. Catholic and Protestant hypocrisies make one wonder how Christianity can ever be reconciled with a good and honest life. Let's not let the Church, Inc. and televised evangelical ministries mislead us. Let's embrace the world to uplift everyone on the planet.

Yes, we're more Hindu than ever -- and in that way more American, too, and Christian, and Buddhist, and goodness maybe even more Islamic too. After all, we were never so Zen as we were after World War II. First we bomb, then we embrace. It isn't now and it never was the citizens making war. It's the government, it's the world-bankers, it's the war-profiteers in corporate offices and the halls of power who do that. We just sheepishly go along, played by the CIA, the dishonest media, and well meaning jackals in religious, business, and showbiz attire. Doubt what is worthy of doubt, as the Kalama Sutra says. One is right to doubt. And accept what makes sense after an honest and unbiased assessment. The truth is still the truth whatever the lies and distortions have been.

We're proud to be Buddhists, we're proud to be Americans (not at all proud of the wars started or fought in our name), we're proud to be lots of things...and if like the Buddha we get called Hindus, that's all right too. No one is asked to convert to anything other than the degree of truth and freedom one can bear to live with.