In an essay at the Huffington Post today, Buddhist author Lama Surya Das characterizes in this way what the meditating stone Buddha in your spring garden symbolizes:
The Buddha is actually an archetype representing enlightenment, an icon symbolizing inner wisdom, a pointer towards the possibility of a level of spiritual awakening embodying the fullest actualized potential of human beings.
Hmm. The fullest actualized potential of human beings. Really? What are we to make of this reification—indeed, this apotheosis—of the Buddha’s chosen way of being in the world as the “fullest” one to which humans can reasonably strive?
I mean, seriously.
What. A. Drag.
If I’m going to look to stone symbols for inspiration, over the Buddha I’ll take the Enlightenment inspired Statue of Liberty at Ellis Island, or America’s own stone sphinx, Abraham Lincoln, serenely resting in Washington D.C. after noble labors. They have pointed the world toward greater happiness than the sexless, complicit with power, and resigned sitting Buddha has ever done.
Don’t get me wrong. I respect the Buddha. I’ve meditated in my life, and understand the value of yoga and Vipasana meditation. And my wife and I have a Buddha in our garden. There’s a time and place in life for the Buddha’s vantage. But frankly, when it comes right down to it, the Buddha’s philosophy, when held up as humanity’s highest ideal, represents the abandonment of the human adventure of family and civilizational striving, and replaces it with Stoic resignation and withdrawal. The Buddha, in short, is a rather indolent cuss: serene as the blue sky—and as empty. Like the blue sky, the Buddha lets the clouds, rain, sun, and wind pass by him with exquisite equanimity of soul, and without a wink of alarm—or clinging pleasure. But passivity is not the only good state of being, let alone the best, that human flesh can be heir to. For other role models give me Sisyphus, Jesus on the cross, Lady Macbeth, Don Quixote, Thomas Jefferson, Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, Nietzsche, Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark, Ferris Bueller, or Barack Obama. Anyone, in other words, with blood, emotion, will, ambition, and, most importantly, thought passionately coursing through them. While I am alive and still have hope for the future, I will put first before my mind some image of Harold Bloom’s “heroic vitalist,” not the flat affected Buddha.
Timing, afterall, is everything. Buddha is autumn and we are in April. Literally. This is spring.
A few months back I told my six-year-old daughter the story of Buddha, and what he had done, and why he had done it (to end suffering), and my daughter, awakened with Blakean light energy, wisely yelped, “This is wrong! That’s like having a birthday party without cupcakes!”
I think that she’s right (and wiser than the self-proclaimed followers of Buddha, like Lama Surya Das). Now is not the season of decline and death, but a time to shake out your legs, oh indolent sitting ones. This is not the time for the hiding turtle, turned in upon itself in silence. Open your eyes and desire something.
Below is my wise daughter as counterpoint to Lama Surya Das and our patio Buddha: