Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Human Heroes

I only recently learned of a years-ago "sex scandal"--let's call it what it is:  A very popular Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche, sexually abused some of his close followers.  In doing just a little bit of research, I've sadly discovered that this isn't an isolated incident.  I'm also bothered by the fact that I'm not really surprised; I'm more than a little disconcerted that I hadn't heard about this stuff until now.  I suppose I was enjoying my ignorance in some ways, content to feel some righteous indignation toward Catholics and Christian Evangelicals, whose sex abuse revelations sometimes feel never ending. But of course sex abuse isn't really about a particular religion--like all kinds of abuse, it's about power.  People like Sogyal Rinpoche have the power of personality, popularity and religious devotion, and don't have a problem using that power to fuck those they have power over. It's sad, and makes me angry.

I've been thinking a lot about how I relate to various meditation teachers that I have had. Initially I mostly loved just sitting in a room meditating with other people (that is, after I got over the utter foreignness of doing something like that in my lift)--I didn't particularly like dharma talks; I didn't even like the way the whole thing was set up, with "followers" on their meditation cushions, all looking forward toward the teacher, who sat in front of the altar (don't get me started on how much I didn't dig the altar itself)--the whole thing just felt, well, like organized religion, and in my mind therefore prone to potential kinds of power abuses. 

It helped a lot that I went to a meditation center that focused on having a very diverse membership, across different backgrounds, races, genders, sexual preferences, class rankings and the like.  It also helped that a big part of what we were being taught included the Buddha saying, basically, "Hey, don't take my word for it--try it for yourself."  Also, every dharma talk usually included some sort of Q&A, which was very different from what (little) I had experienced in organized religion.  Not only were we invited to question, there definitely was the feeling that the teachers knew they were learning from us, just as we were learning from them.

Still, it sometimes felt so easy to get pulled into the cult of personality--I immediately had a couple of favorite teachers, and even briefly flirted with the idea of asking somebody to take me on as their student.  But I always backed off from that, because it was important to me to not make the people into more than they were.  And sometimes it's difficult to do that--a couple of my teachers are so full of lightness, so very good at teaching, that I just love being in the room with them. And I have learned to just enjoy that, but there's always a little voice in the back of my head saying, "Watch out!" We tell stories about people all the time, and with amazing teachers we can easily imagine they are more than human. And this is partly what leads to imagining that they can do no wrong, even as they are doing wrong.

I kind of feel this way about how some people revere Obama (and, though it's not quite equivalent, people who revere Reagan)--I guess I just don't easily revere folks I don't know intimately, warts and all. I want heroes, for sure--its' awesome to have role models, and inspirations.  But I want my heroes to be human*, not somehow infallible and more than human, in part so that I can know that they, too, may need other folks to call them on their bullshit.  And in part so I don't get fucked over. 

*This of course doesn't apply in comic books, and most fiction. I want superhuman heroes there.

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