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Thursday, July 6, 2006

"Do your best! Do your best!"

Are you ready for self-empowerment?

A funny little thought skittered across my mind today. How odd it is that people think you're supposed to be "good" to be religious or spiritual? This puts the cart before the horse. I mean, if I were "good" I wouldn't need to be spiritual!

OK, we're going to have some trouble with terms here, I can tell. What do I mean by "good"? It's an entirely subjective term in this case. I mean, we object when a so-called "spiritual" person doesn't measure up to what we think of as "good." I think the best way to deal with this is by anecdote. I recently posted this in a Beliefnet discussion:

When I was working at my temple [Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, CA], I was often approached (by foreigners and Chinese) with the complaint that this nun or that monk had been less than polite to them, and "weren't these people supposed to be better than us?" My answer was always a resounding NO! It's unfair to expect people in the (monastic) sangha to be "better" than others. After all, I'm in the (lay) sangha, and I know what a jerk I can be when I try! In fact, as people pursue their paths with diligence, they often manifest behaviors that make others very uncomfortable--it's part of the process to dredge up some pretty scummy stuff and let it out. That's probably why the early monks needed over 250 rules for conduct!

Shiny happy nuns at Hsi Lai Temple

For folks like you and me, at the start of the path rather than the far end, there's a lot of rough sledding involved. But we don't have to be "good" to start out. We don't have to wait until we reach some pre-set goal before we begin. Cletus says, "Well sir, the fella who wants to be perfect before he can go to church is like an ol' lady who gets embarrassed if'n her house ain't all spiffed up before the housekeeper comes!"

Get it? Now, what about those who have "arrived," the great teachers, sages, saints? They are following a different manual.

My late pal Robert Urich once had a close and unpleasant encounter with a pushy, shouting, verbally abusive Indian man. This fellow was late for his interview at "Good Morning America," and was yelling at staff and other guests over the breakfast buffet at the Four Seasons. When Bob asked someone who the h%*& that was, he was told, "Deepak Chopra."

Another actor told me that he had studied with Joseph Campbell, and had two observations. (1) Uncle Joe could talk at length on any subject without notes and enlighten you in unimaginable ways; and (2) he was basically sneering at you the whole time for not knowing as much as he knew.

Bob and I talked this over a lot; he was ready to dismiss such people out of hand. I finally convinced him that Jesus would have made a lousy upstairs neighbor! I mean, who wants to live with a saint?

Zen masters are famous for shouting at people, whacking them, and even cutting off body parts--all in the interest of bringing about enlightenment. I just think it can't be easy to be around people who are playing by a completely different set of rules.

Lone Pilgrim in the Snow

Oh, yeah, I know, there are lots of examples of blissed out holy men and women. I don't deny it. But who knows what torment they went through to get to where they are--and what torment they put others through? I often think of gentle Saint Francis, preaching to birds and referring to all creation as his brother and sister. This is the same guy who called his body "my little donkey" and scourged himself mercilessly.

All I'm saying is, it ain't easy. In the last words of Kukai's teacher Hui Kuo, "Do your best! Do your best!"

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