BEING CLEAR ABOUT WHERE I STAND


By Leo Rivers


Because when you hear someone speak you hear it come from the lips of the person that you are imagining is speaking to you it is important at the outset for me to tell you who to envision is speaking. This will prevent you misunderstanding or, as Yul Brynner playing the man in black in “The Magnificent 7” said, “don't understand me so fast.”


The 1st thing that you must understand about my beliefs and convictions is that I believe that all human beings who have ever lived, male or female, have for at least the last hundred thousand years been men in women and children just as we know them today, with all of the physical attributes and speech and thoughts and hopes and fears and strengths and weaknesses that we understand from our own lives.


I do not believe and I am convinced that none of them have transformed into other life forms or deities or has succeeded in somehow divorcing themselves from the common lot of humanity which is birth, and therefore aging, sickness and death. I do believe that some have expanded their perspective by breaking the chains of egocentricity and obtaining a view that embraces our common humanity and is no longer defined by the ego’s self-centered melodramas regarding birth, and therefore aging, sickness and death. In other words, some men and women have fought for and won a little wisdom.


It is apparent to me that those men and women we often raise up on pillars and imagine to be deities residing beyond death in the heavens, when you actually read their words and scriptures and observe the deeds of these people in the legends passed out about them, are, at least the best of them, people who presented themselves as human beings who wanted to teach others how to tame their own passions, expand the horizons of their kindness, and make their strength the foundation for the gentleness they wanted to build with their lives. I can only think of the Jesus of Christian Bible stories and both the Buddha and the best of the male and female bodhisattvas following in his footsteps.


It is interesting that in these legends the sweetest of the Saints are represented as walking harmless to and unharmed by the beasts of the wilderness.


When we tame our ego it seems our animal nature presents a gentle aspect. Perhaps we flatter ourselves when we use the word “animal” as a term of denigration. No animal has ever threatened other forms of life or its home planet the way man has undeniably done. Even the lion that preys on the deer leaves its environment uninjured by its life on earth.


So I see the Buddha, the title given to Siddhartha Psalm 2400 years ago and the Jewish preacher Jesus as being human beings from the day they were born to the day 2400 years ago that the Buddha died of food poisoning and that day Jesus was put to death by the Romans of 1983 years ago.


There are lessons we can learn from them, both the way they live their lives and the things they are reported to said because of the fact that they were human beings like we are and therefore their experiences in their life are things that we share because we have those same experiences in our lives.


It would be useless to walk in the Buddhist footsteps if he was either a ghost that left no footsteps or unique among human beings and that he transformed in some way that we cannot and went to some heaven to far above us for us to reach.


Because of these beliefs I have to treat getting what I can from ancient Scriptures and traditional presentations of ancient religions in a way that Orthodox followers of those spiritual traditions in their presentations of the ancient Scriptures cannot identify with.


Ironically, to bring myself into a face-to-face relationship with the teachings and scriptures of the Buddha I have to break with tradition and treat him as another human being with whom I could have a meaningful personal conversation.


What people don't usually think about is how different the world was over 200 years ago from us today. From the ancient days of the earliest civilizations in the Tigris and Euphrates Valley of Mesopotamia and the great Nile Delta of Egypt up to 200 years ago the world was a world in which only a handful of elite rulers and their priesthood even had access to written texts and could read them. Only 1% of every population could read and talk about what they read and pass it on by making new writings and 99% of people lived the lives of agriculturalists in an oral tradition in which even the closest of neighboring valleys or the generations farther back than their grandparents were legends. Mirroring this only 10 or 15% of the people in civilizations like that lived in urban areas which had enough trade so some knowledge of the world outside was based on some something that approached rumor. The other 80 or 90% lived in little agricultural villages and valleys and never went more than 20 miles from home their whole lives. This is the way the world in general existed up until about 200 years ago. The great age of imperialism and conquest based cultures like ancient Rome, the Golden horde, Islam and then the British empires begin to establish a connectedness and a shared 2nd language and of course a money economy in trade but started to break down the isolation of the various diverse cultures of the world. By the time of the invention of the radio in the 1930s the world wars of the early 20th century the world became networked so that even ordinary people had some idea of the diversity of the world.


When you look at that huge period of time you are looking at a time in which books were few and cost a great deal of money because there were no printing presses and they had to be copied by hand. This laborious and time-consuming process was something that only a priesthood or a very rich prince could afford to subsidize. In turn this meant that of 100 opinions only one would somehow wend its way into the written form of a scroll or book.


This made a situation of intense competition to be represented in a spiritual traditions precious selection of books and ideas to pass down from generation to generation.


Unlike our own world where we can have our own book published and distributed on the Internet for free or if we have a little bit of money we can do a vanity pressing of 500 or maybe 1000 copies, in those days there was a ferocious competition for the ear of students and the kings that funded religious institutions like monasteries.


This meant that winning arguments carried on in the form of debates in front of princes or the monks living in a monastery settled the outcome of whose words were accepted as being authoritative and what religious texts were accepted and passed on.


Various religious teachers would come before a prince or king in those days and present their religion. The prince or king would in turn announce who they thought presented the best case and the winner would be gratified to see that their religion was chosen the religion of the kingdom, or at least got funded so that they would survive as a monastery and a viable religious tradition.


This also meant that winning the hearts of students or potential monks with such debates and arguments was vital because the more people that you had following you as a religious teacher the better having your monastery and tradition support the prince or king sounded to that prince or king. It was literally a matter of being able to deliver voter share to use a modern term to the leaders of the day.


And this led to the deification of the founders of religions and their famous teachers and the sanctification of their texts by attributing them to superhuman beings or heavenly located semi-deities. It simply sounded better in a debate to say that you got this book from an angel directly than to admit that you wrote it yourself.


And we mustn't judge them because there are 2 things that you have to keep in mind. We are human beings just as they are, so we must be careful about judging others for sins that we may equal with our sins if we just look in the mirror. And, when a religious person has a spiritual inspiration to write a Scripture, it is naturally to say “this was not the product of my ordinary self, this came from someplace better than me.” I am a poet, and I naturally feel that way about the creation of my better poems. They don't feel like they're coming for me when they're coming through me. And I do believe there such a thing as spiritual inspiration that is not simply the creation of our ego manipulated imagination.


So I am quite willing to see the founders of religions and the famous virtual teachers of them as ordinary human beings and their scriptures as being the products of other human beings yet going on to value the contents of those Scriptures on their own merits and raise them in my own esteem to the level of spirituality sanctified speech that deserves the respect of being the teacher of an honest heart.


And in closing this introduction to where I'm coming from, I want to say that for the last 200 years the displacement of traditional fossilized religious institutions by the Age of Reason and the Philosophy of Humanism has unfortunately allowed world culture to by default liberate itself into following the lowest common denominator of worldly behavior which is ego centered striving and greed and a willingness to dehumanize others and use coercion to build hollow hearted empires of militarism and corporatism united as one 2 headed demigod of earth.


I believe that we need each of us within our inherited spiritual traditions or those traditions to which we have converted to pick up and restore the tradition of creating scriptures which reflect our spirituality. Because they will be as they always have been the literary creations of human beings, we have to have the courage to both create such new literature based on the precedence of our traditional Scriptures and treat them with the seriousness that we judge and accept Scriptures that we have inherited as poetic rhapsodies from the past.


I think that Jews, Christians, the followers of Mohammed, the various worshipers of classical Hindu faith, and all other forms of religion need to renovate and restore the spirituality of their religious institutions by daring to create new poetry that voices their own ground of being as spoken for by people who live as children of the world it as it is today. We need a 5th book of the Torah. We need a new New Testament. Gabriel needs to speak again. The great goddess Kali and Shiva have more to say. The stars themselves lean forward from the heavens to hear what new words are blown about on the winds of our world!


How dare I suggest we create Scripture to revere out of our own worldly less than godlike hearts and minds? 1st of all, necessity. We must displace the lowest common denominator law of worldliness that only respects coercion and greed. And secondly, as I pointed out, this is always what we have done, there simply was social reasons we couldn't be more comfortable with accepting that's what we were doing. Doing so would simply be another way of saying that we have the courage of our convictions when we present our spiritual fictions. And after all fiction is the way we tell the truth about all that is too profound to be visible to the ordinary eyes of history. We have to dare to bring forth what is in us and be nakedly judged for Being Human.



2053 words by Leo Rivers, the Garage House, Cottage Grove, Oregon; Friday, January 11, 2013 10:57:06 PM

 © Leo Rivers 2013