Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bill vs. Buddha

Last night, on HBO's Real Time, host Bill Maher closed the show with the following comments:
But before Tiger moves on there's one more apology he really should make, and that's to Buddha, for dragging him into this mess and proving once again, that whenever something unspeakably tawdry, loathsome and cheap happens, just wait a few days. Religion will make it worse.

Now usually, when famous cheaters are looking for public redemption, they go to Jesus, but Tiger went old school, and claimed that sleeping with 2/3 of the waitresses in America had made him a failure as a Buddhist. He said Buddhism teaches you the way to inner peace is letting go of desire (and if that doesn't sound like marriage, I don't know what does. . .)

. . . And it really is outdated in some ways. The "Life sucks, and then you die" philosophy was useful when Buddha came up with it around 500 B.C., because back then life pretty much sucked, and then you died - but now we have medicine, and plenty of food, and iPhones, and James Cameron movies - our life isn't all about suffering anymore. And when we do suffer, instead of accepting it we try to alleviate it.

Tiger said, "Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves" makes us unhappy, which confirms something I've long suspected about Eastern religions: they're a crock, too.

Craving for things outside ourselves is what makes life life - I don't want to learn to not want, that's what people in prison have to do. Buddhism teaches suffering is inevitable. The only thing that's inevitable is that if you have fake boobs and hair extensions, Tiger Woods will try to fuck you.

And reincarnation? Really? If that were real, wouldn't there be some proof by now? A raccoon spelling out in acorns, "My name is Herb Zoller and I'm an accountant," something?

People are always debating, is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy - it's a religion. You're a religion if you do something as weird as when the Buddhist monks scrutinize two-year-olds to find the reincarnation of the dude who just died, and then choose one of the toddlers as the sacred Lama: "His poop is royal!" Sorry, but thinking you can look at a babbling, barely-housebroken, uneducated being and say, "That's our leader" doesn't make you enlightened. It makes you a Sarah Palin supporter.
I've read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and much of Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great, and was somewhat relieved to find that both of them pretty much gave Buddhism a pass. My own beliefs and ego thus protected, I was then able to be more open-minded in reading their books, and found them quite interesting. I generally agreed with most of what they had to say. But now, because of Tiger Woods, Bill Maher is going after Buddhism directly.

The thing is, Maher fundamentally misunderstands Buddhism. For starters, recruiting two-year-olds as reincarnations of a Lama is not a Buddhist practice - it is a vestige of Tibetan culture that got imprinted onto Tibetan forms of spiritual activity. In Japan, Zen monks don't go searching for the reincarnations of their beloved sensei. In Thailand, adherents don't expect to meet the reincarnation of the patriarchs. That practice only occurs in Tibet and it has little to do with anything the Buddha taught. It's as if one were criticizing Christianity on the basis of Santa Claus.

I don't find Maher's remarks offensive, because he wasn't actually criticizing Buddhism - he was criticizing his own delusion of what Buddhism is. The same is true of Dawkins, who's sole dig at Buddhism in The God Delusion was based on an unkind remark he once heard attributed to an Asian woman, and then projected that single remark to the belief system of all Buddhists everywhere. But neither Maher's nor Dawkins' perceptions are what the Buddha taught, but one would think that someone who was once fired from his own show, canned from network TV, and been through what Maher's been through would appreciate teachings on impermanence more.

The Buddha once said that if someone slanders you with false accusations and you get upset, it's as if they shot an arrow at you and missed, but you picked the arrow up and started stabbing yourself with it. I have no intention of impaling myself with Maher's statements, but I do intend to continue to watch and enjoy his show - he's quite funny, and his political commentary is generally spot on (I loved the Sarah Palin dig at the end of his monologue).

I just got back from the Silversun Pickups /Muse concert and my ears are still ringing. More on that soon. . .

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