Fourteen Precepts in Fourteen Days
Yesterday, while rereading Being Peace, I came across the fourteen precepts of Thich Nhat Hanh’s InterBeing order of Buddhists, and I thought that since it’s still Lent, and since we are at war, perhaps it might be a useful exercise to take a look at one of them each day. If nothing else, it’ll afford me the chance to keep working toward my goal of starting with peace in my own heart. Which I am finding difficult at the moment.
First: Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.
Where to start with this one? As someone raised by divorced parents who each held very firm beliefs about their own righteousness, beliefs that were in direct opposition to one another, and since each of them was convinced that it was desperately important that we kids believe their version, it has become second nature for me to be skeptical of ideologies (this was a huge problem in graduate school, it all would have been so much easier had I been more capable of simply marching along in the post-structuralist lockstep). A big part of my recent troubles with the Catholic Church has been the way the church has turned in the past few years away from the open spirit of inquiry fostered by Vatican II, toward an increasingly rigid orthodoxy. There are any number of Catholics out there who would be more than willing to throw me out, to point the finger and tell me that I’m not a Catholic at all because my theological beliefs don’t line up with theirs. And I struggled with this for a long time. I even left the Church for several years. But whatever. I’m back. I’m out there in the pews, taking my own odd little faith off to Mass with me and trusting the Big Guy to forgive me if I take a different path to the light.
What is it though, that makes absolute truths so attractive to people? We’ve just been led off to war by a bunch of people who are convinced that they possess an absolute truth, and that their absolute truth is so much better than the rest of the world’s that they can just go out there and do what they want. Weren’t those guys who hijacked the planes also fueled by their belief in an absolute truth? Didn’t we already spend several centuries fighting the Crusades? While I agree that Saddaam Hussein is an evil dictator who has perpetrated unspeakable crimes against his people, a people who will be better off without him, I also keep thinking of the Dalai Lama, who has led his people in resistance to oppression through peaceful means.
In my heartbreak and confusion over this war, I’ve also been reading Sharon Salzberg’s book, Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience. Salzberg talks about something she calls “bright faith” – that stage of belief in which one places one’s faith outside oneself, usually in a charismatic teacher. She says that at that early stage in her practice, what I really wanted was for him to give me the definitive word on what was good and what wasn’t, what I could trust and what I couldn’t. I wanted to find in Buddhism a system I could belong to. I wanted to be able to say “I am a Buddhist, and therefore I am compelled to believe the following fifteen things. That’s who I am.” I was trying desperately to reduce the range of choices life was presenting every single day by making one controlling choice. A belief system might keep all uncertainty and fear away, keep the complexities and ambiguities of the world away. However, Salzberg spends much of the book discussing that deep faith, faith in the unknown and unknowable aspects of life comes only after one gets past this early stage. That spiritual maturity requires that we change the object of our faith from something external, a set of beliefs, a teacher, to something less definitive and internal. That like intimacy, faith requires us to willingly leap into the unknown.
I have no idea what’s going to happen as a result of this war that we are all, as a society, implicated in. Like so many things in this world, I have no control over this, and watching war coverage 24/7 won’t change that. But I guess I can try not to be so afraid, look for ways, once the dust settles, to try to effect some positive action. I guess I can try to resist my own ideological belief that everything that comes out of Donald Rumsfeld’s mouth is a lie.