Pyrenees trip is one month away

IMG_3991This evening saw a minor ceremony outside my front door and a quiet moment as I stuck my GB sticker on my pannier. Symbolically I’ve moved one step nearer to my next intrepid expedition. I’ve been trying to squeeze all my camping stuff in one pannier and bike tools and waterproofs in the other. All my clothes and personal effects, electronics etc go in the top box, maps and a few other things like food in the tank bag.
bertha is a brit

More on confession and ritual

I was obviously in a grump when I wrote my last rant about the Buddhists. This week felt better though its hard to say why. One thing I learnt regarding what felt like a moralising tone to ‘confession’ was that at the time of the Buddha the notion of a personal ethical life as part of religious life was only just developing. The religious life upto then consisted of making sacrifices and carrying out observances. This would explain not only the Buddha’s warnings that just wearing the orange robes of a monk wasn’t the way to reach nirvana but good will and good deeds. This seems a rather obvious thing to point out today. Similarly, the New Testament teaching of Jesus emphasised the emptiness of following traditional jewish teachings without a transformation of the heart and the way that people deal with eachother. I think today we have such an exaggerated sense of the importance of our individuality that we can’t help but respond to these ancient religions as if they are calling to us overwhelmingly as individuals to be transformed from within, with our emotional life, and our personal behaviour leading us toward this new life. I think there might be some unfamiliar value in a flavour of the formal in our ritual. In other words, it could have value whether ‘our heart is in it’ or not.

Buddhism, guilt, confession and the superego

I’m attending my second course at the FWBO Buddhist Centre in the anonymous town where I live. I have an allergy to certain aspects of organised religion, mostly from my experiences with evangelical christianity some years ago. It is something to do with the way that the habits and often unthought-through views of certain groups get tangled with the religious teaching. Last week the topic of our course on Ritual was confession and celebration. The idea is a kind of emotional progression in the ritual: we see a far off beautiful snow-capped mountain top; we become acutely aware of its distance from where we are; in spite of this we strive to reach that lofty height and resolve to set out on the journey. The mountain top is something like the Buddha with his unattainable qualities of wisdom and compassion, so we confess our shortcomings in preparation for our journey. Needless to say, the topic of confession and evil deeds leads to a great deal of conversation. The instructor emphasises the releasing effects of apologising to people we may have wronged and generally acknowledging our shortcomings – the example of eating one too many chocolate bars comes up and gets a laugh (the evangelicals always used this example too). There are smatterings of agreement in the class that acknowledging this stuff can be liberating – though one or two ask whether it might be more useful to investigate our ‘wrongdoing’ and what we get out of it. If we did that we might not need to do so much apologising. But confession is not analysis which seems fair enough – but it is presented as having an emotional therapeutic benefit. A helper gives a testimony about his ill will toward a fellow Buddhist and his confession to an elder.
Discussing this with a friend she observes, ‘so the Buddha is meant to be a kind of superego, a constant reminder of our constant state of failure’. Lacanians, she says, seem to have a more accepting attitude toward ‘wrong-doing’. Out of the lecture group she is a member of about a fifth go outside, between the lectures, for cigarettes. Smoking may embody the death drive, but everyone enacts the death drive in one way or another and smoking is just one of these.
This seems eminently grown-up to me.
What is going wrong in this Buddhist group (in my view something is)? Why does this same old half-baked morality keep re-emerging in these kinds of context? How do the traditions of Buddhism get somehow turned into a kind of pop-psychology? I really don’t know. I know people sometimes look to Buddhism as a kind of therapy and the teachers tend to respond in these terms, describing ritual in emotional terms, in this case. Other Buddhist teaching appears to want to liberate people from the dualism of thinking oin opposites, good and bad, etc. So why do we come back to this place?