Friday, June 11, 2010

Buddha's Bones

Lots of people think I am a Buddhist. No Buddhist would make that mistake, however. I used to consider myself a part of the Zen world, and I keep up my reading in Zen (which proves I am no longer part of the Zen world and never really was), and I admit that every few days, usually after reading some article about the inane behavior of my coreligionists, I think about becoming a Buddhist. I admire the religion’s rationality, its clarity, and its lack of superstition. And then I read today’s D’oh! (T’ao!)

It seems that when the Buddha was cremated some 2500 years ago he left behind “one skull bone, two scapulas, four teeth and 84,000 pearl–like sariras,” one of which is being unveiled for the first time in a thousand years in Qixia Temple in Jiangsu province’s capital Nanjing.

I know what you’re thinking: “Can I use Qixia as a word in Scrabble?” The answer is ‘no.’ That was what you were thinking. I was thinking, “what’s a sarira?” It turns out that a sarira is a crystalline structure formed when bone is cremated. According to some Buddhist traditions seeing a relic of the Buddha is like seeing the Buddha himself, and automatically creates happiness and virtue. If venerated, sariras can grow and multiply over time, so there is no need to worry about them being scarce.

This particular sarira at the Qixia (21 points) Temple will be unveiled tomorrow, which is why the Chinese government is talking about it today. This leaves me no time to fly to Nanjing to see it and become happy. That, I suspect, is what the ChiComs (Rush Limbaugh speak for Chinese Communists) want after all: to dangle happiness in front of my nose (7452 miles in front of my nose, to be exact) and then to deny me access to it. This just sounds like Mao, doesn’t it? Remember Mao? The guy who said, “Happiness comes from the barrel of a gun.” Or was that Snoopy? Anyway, I can’t get to Qixia Temple to see this bone ball of the Buddha and that just isn’t fair.

On the other hand it just doesn’t seem all that Buddhist to me,either. At least not the Buddhism I know; the Buddhism with all the Jewish psychologists in it.

On the other hand (I’m also into Hinduism, and we have gods with lots of hands), as an avid reader of all things Zen, I am fond of the Zen saying, “If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha.” Seeing a sarira is like meeting the Buddha, so if I did get to the Qixia Temple and I did see the sarira I’d have to kill it. But it is already dead, and has been for 2500 years. So how do I kill what is already dead?

Whoa! Wait a minute. This isn’t a ChiCom plot to rob me of happiness, this is a Zen koan to bring me to enlightenment. I love Buddhism after all!

Bottom line: if Buddhism is about enlightenment, cool. If it is about relics, and the power of bone to make me happy, then I guess I’ll just stick with Judaism and be miserable. Judaism has its own relics, anyway. Take my parents, for example. You know they never owned a stereo? Hell, they never owned a record player at all! Talk about growing up deprived! (Go head, talk about growing up deprived, I’ll wait. OK? Done? Great, now back to me.)

So I guess Buddhism is just a religion like all the rest. It got its good points, its bad points and it’s burnt up balls of Buddha bone. I think I’ll call my parents and wish them a good Shabbos.


TheNote said...

You Are Wonderful.

Barry said...

No, Rabbi Rami, you win. Not having a record player growing up at home? You were the most deprived person.

Luke said...

Don't we all have Buddha nature? Just go look in the mirror at those pearly whites and smile!

The thing I appreciate with Buddhism (at least my very small understanding of it)is the idea that you should investigate for yourself to find the truth.

Kalama Sutta

1.Do not believe just because it is a tradition maintained by oral repetition. 2.Do not believe just because it is an unbroken succession of practice. 3.Do not believe merely because it is hearsay. 4.Do not believe just because it is in the scriptures. 5.Do not believe just because it fits with one's point of view. 6.Do not believe just because it is correct on the ground of metaphysical theories. 7.Do not believe just because it appeals to one's consideration. 8.Do not believe just because it agrees with one's opinions and theories. 9.Do not believe just because the speaker appears believable. 10.Do not believe just because the speaker is our teacher. Kalamas, whenever you realize by yourselves that these are unwholesome, harmful or are condemned by wise people, and whoever fully undertake or observe them, they will lead to uselessness or suffering, you should abandon them. Kalamas, whenever you realize by yourselves that these are wholesome, unharmful or are admired by wise people, and whoever fully undertake or observe them, they will lead to usefulness or happiness, you should undertake them.

NS said...

What makes Buddhism not like other religions is the Noble Eightfold Path, which is designed for meditation. Other systems lack this fundamental base.

Tiffany said...

Hi Rabbi Rami,

I was studying Buddhism when I first went to Japan about ten years ago.

That's when I realized that people are people, no matter what system they are under. Japan mixes Buddhism with Shinto, the priests are married with children and run businesses and eat meat.

Thailand is also a predominantly Buddhist country, and well known for its flesh kindness to middle aged Northern European men. Farmers sell their daughters happily for the money. I'm not sure how Buddhist it all is.

Alas, I also worked for the Salvation Army for a while... and while I thought I'd be working for a 'charity' I discovered the same greed, dishonesty and petty thinking I'd found every where else.

Human is human.

Thanks for the post.

Tiffany said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Old Lady said...

God is God, not matter what religion you follow. We tend to form our religions around prophets. God seems to be the only constant across the lines of religion. Were it not so, our sacred scripts would be different from each other.