One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same any place in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear. — Dave Brubeck



Showing posts with label Thích Nhất Hạnh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thích Nhất Hạnh. Show all posts

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Buddhism doesn’t need saints

And by the way, don’t cry too much over Thích Nhất Hạnh.

Dorothy Day said: "Don't call me a saint, I don't want to be dismissed that easily." Of course Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, proposed her for canonization as soon as he could. The old left wing Catholic in me finds it ironic that a man who is the complete antithesis of the kind of life Day proposes for a modern Christian calls her Blessed Dorothy. She might accuse him of dampening her radical voice, even silencing the anarchist grandmother who confounded comfortable notions, but I wouldn't hesitate, not even for a nano second.


Pushing for sainthood lets purveyors of religious doublespeak, cults, snake oil and associated pyramid schemes off the hook for their flagrant sins. I will also argue that the whole rigmarole of canonization is just lip service to what Jesus calls Christians to do. We don’t really have to go and take care of lepers. Saint Damien did it. Pray to him that we be spared. Or in the case of the Founder of the Catholic Worker, someone can take care of the castoffs our materialistic culture dumps on the Bowery as long as it’s not me or my kids.


One of the reasons that the leaders of the Protestant Reformation dismissed saints was to end the superstitious practice of encasing some bones in the local cathedral to entice lucrative pilgrim spending as well as defund the Papal ponzi scheme of selling indulgences to cover the extravagant cost of building Saint Peter’s in Rome. Every organized religion needs a building maintenance fund so this might be just have been marketing but it has always felt a bit underhanded to me.


There are some people who want to make Issan Dorsey into a Buddhist saint--gotta have a saint in high heels. Of course we could do worse. 


Before I started work at  Maitri Hospice, the Dalai Lama’s rain-maker, the Yogin Yeshe Dorje visited. He and Issan got on very well, one of those connections. The rainmaker grabbed Issan and said, “You’ve created Buddhist Heaven.” Issan laughed. Later when I asked Issan about the visit, he smiled and said, “He was a very nice man, but he didn’t pay the water bill.”


All that is just a preface to something that has been creeping to the surface as the tributes pour in for Thầy, “The Saint of Mindfulness, Beloved Thích Nhất Hanh,” and I need to say it. Whether he really was a very nice Buddhist dude, or even if he was just an ordinary flawed human like the rest of us, don't for a minute think that the work of being mindful, practicing, looking after our interconnected world can be done by anyone else but us, and that includes all the difficult bits. Don’t waste a lot of tears or weave nostalgic odes about all the really good teachers dying. The Lord Buddha died too, quite a few years back.


We can't allow ourselves to get distracted by any cult of personality. We can't get off the hook no matter how hard, by whatever devious means we try. We have to do the work ourselves.


I began with the caution from Blessed Dorothy Day undermining the whole sanctification scheme, and I will close with a hopeful note from the same complicated woman who lived an exemplary life, "The world will be saved by beauty." Amen.








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