Buddhist Sutra on Passion and Dispassion…

The one who can control himself, can control the world—his world…

Now I make no secret of the fact that I don’t think that Buddhism is necessarily any better than any other religion, philosophy, or way of life. But it is the right one for the right time. And it is no accident that it took me more than half my life (and counting) to finally make the switch from an eclectic form of ersatz Christianity to an equally eclectic form of Buddhism, however much more authentic, I reckon. After all I never got my MA in Christian Studies, though I guess all my liberal arts courses and BA in philosophy is probably as much as that, if not more.

But neither Buddhism nor Christianity exists in a vacuum, so what we get is a mix of the original intent in its original environment, full of causes and conditions, situations and circumstances, inspirations and misgivings, as combined with the mandates of the mandarins, the rulings of the rulers, the laws of the legislators and the cravings of the consumer. Caveat emptor. But the salient point is that both are but the metaphysical underpinnings and psychological overtones of something much larger, equally symbolic and patently manifest.

There is no sharp dichotomy between Buddhism and Christianity, though, any more than there is one between East and West or female and male. These things and ideas come in packages. So our Eastern-Buddhist-matristic package forms a socioeconomic viewpoint that could easily be seen as socialistic and communal, while our Western-Christian-patriarchal package can equally be seen as capitalistic and individualistic. Of course there are at least fifty shades of gray in the distinctions, maybe more, and the lines that define borders are nothing if not vague. These are paradigms, not party lines.

So while some modern ‘eastern’ countries are as cutthroat capitalist as they come—and hardly Buddhist, think Singapore, other modern ‘western’ countries are equally empathetic, communal, and sharing, e.g. New Zealand. But the overriding paradigm, and the tie that binds, may go even deeper into our respective psychologies, and that is the dichotomy of passion vs. dispassion, which is the underlying ‘headspace,’ if you will, of Christianity vis-à-vis Buddhism. And I beg your forgiveness if I pound on this theme, but for me it’s beyond doctrinal.

It is part of an ongoing dialectic of the spirit, which should eventually result in some higher synthesis. We Westerners are junkies, love junkies, romantic and passionate above all else, and this seems to not only define us, but confine us, to a certain dogmatic disposition, which is not always enlightened, even if well-intentioned. Easterners, on the other hand, strike us as often cold, even conniving, often heartless, and sometimes cruel. But this is all based on supposition, and not science, and this is where most of the problems begin, not only for us as individuals, but for us as a society and a polity.

The miscalculations go far beyond the simple scams to be found on Facebook and elsewhere, in which we simple Westerners, big on dollars and emotions, fall prey to the connivances and contrivances of others from different proclivities, predilections, and continents. So maybe we fancy ourselves saving some poor peasant’s life over there somewhere, when in reality we’re only lightening the load in our over-stuffed pocketbooks and over-wrought online bank accounts. Or so it seems, when the reality is that we never know in some instances if our best intentions are matched by beneficial effects.

If the only proof is hard and tested reason and logic, then so be it. But the best and most seasoned judges on the country’s most diverse and active courts make the same mistakes, as brilliantly pointed out by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Talking with Strangers.’ For not only do we default to truth, but we default to emotion as the measure of that truth. If the guilty person shows no remorse, then the judge will show no mercy, tit for tat. But what does remorse look like? Can you show me a picture of it? If you can, then you’re a fool, because there is none.

So guilty criminals go free and the innocent are imprisoned, simply because we insist on judging intent more than actions, and we measure that intent with the look on your face. This supposedly reflects the feeling in your heart, whatever that means, since it’s long been known that thoughts and feelings reside in your head somewhere, and not in the physical heart. But that’s neither here nor there, because it all presupposes a mind, which has no physical existence, but is merely a scrapbook of experiences in which some assume primacy over others. Life is weird.

Buddhism is dispassionate. I don’t even know the Sanskrit word for ‘love,’ though the Kama Sutra certainly describes one sort of love, but not the Buddhist sort. Then there’s ‘metta,’ but that was never intended as the devotional ‘lovingkindness’ that now dominates the English-language narrative, itself derived from the Hebrew chesed, before being adopted into Christianity. ‘Metta’ is simple friendship. So I get chided for not smiling and chided for not frowning, same for laughing and crying, when in fact I’m right where I want to be, somewhere in the center.

Now whether that is a Buddhist knock-off effect or not, I’m not sure, but it’s probably a good bet. More importantly, that is likely what it will take to carry this silly world of ours into the future, as I see it. For if the Western mind was arguably best to create and develop this world, into fantastic shapes and sizes, creating and destroying, contracting and expanding, then it is likely the Eastern mind that is best to sustain it sensibly and evenly, slowly and steadily, rationally and logically, till death do us part. That is why I was once a Christian, but now I’m a Buddhist. It’s time to grow up and be sensible.

The word ‘passion’ in the Latin language originally meant ‘suffering’ as in the ‘Passion of Christ’ in his hour of need at his crucifixion. And on this point, and at that time, there is little or no difference between East and West, Buddhist and Christian. This should come as no surprise, since the Indo-European steppes peoples that invaded Old Europe and created a new Europe that was Latin and Greek also invaded the Old Indus Valley and created a new India that was Vedic, Vedantic—and sometimes Buddhist. They must have told some good stories around campfires on the Pontic Steppes, and we are a living part of that tradition. I hope that we can keep it that way.