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  • Writer's pictureJVC

Batteries Not Included (Enlightenment Sold Separately)

It's been a while since I've written on the spirituality or the theology of the world.

Those of you who know me know I've spent a good bit traveling the world and translated some scrolls here or there along the way.

For those of you who don't know me well, I could list my "resume" on why you might want to open your ear (in this case, your eyes) to what I have to say about anything to do with religion and spirituality.

But, at the end of the day no amount of credentials could really convince those who are not willing to be convinced. In fact, too many credentials may actually push some away!

I know plenty of people who don't want to listen to anyone who's "too" high up in the church or spent "too" long within the collegiate realm because they may believe that they've been blinded by the very teachings that are required of being called an "expert". After all, an expert only sees one way to do the right thing while an amateur sees a million, even if half of that million is considered wrong by the expert.

So instead of telling you how little or how much I know about religion or the world and spirituality, I just ask that you read the following and be the judge of it yourself

If my writing resonates with you, wonderful! If not, well thanks for sitting through it anyway.

Now let's get into the meat of it.

On Buddhists and their Ego.

I was listening to a lecture on Nietzsche and unfortunately, as I do more often than not, a few of the sentences from the speaker led me off on a trail into my own thoughts, a daydream if you will, leading me to zone out the lecture entirely. (don't worry its recorded, I'm re-watching it slowly.)

Nietzsche is not necessarily a great role model when it comes to peace and love, at least not on the surface. He definitely focuses on the master-slave society concept and this aspect of that egalitarianism is in some ways a fallacy.

And while he does support some interesting defenses of this, I'm more of a partaker of the give love get love type of mentality, perhaps that's just ingrained in me because I'm a dirty hippie but I digress. He did bring up an interesting point on egoism and how much of it we see in the world, especially in those that are allegedly acting "selfless" or "without ego"

Specifically, around Buddhism and rituals or structures associated with it.

A lot of Buddhist teachings and methods are meant to detract you from the materialism of the world, and eventually your own ego to try as hard as you might to separate yourself from that pesky "self".

Yet if you take a wander through any Buddhist temple, any Buddhist writings in the last millennia or try to attempt to be a part of a Tibetan monastery up in the mountains. You'll find that it's the most egotistical system you can be a part of. (I say this with the utmost respect of many of the writings of Buddhism. I certainly read and listen to much of it myself. But please bear with me here. I promise the point is a good one or at least a decent criticism to contemplate.)

Most of the rituals and things you must do to "be a good monk" all lead to some master or individuals being the center of attention or "teaching", a master of your reality if you will.

Many of their political systems, especially within Tibet or Eastern China and even India are all based on feudalism or hierarchies of these spiritually enlightened and powerful individuals which when you really break it down is completely focused on egotism.

I mean think about it. Many monasteries require you to go through grueling training. All focused on breaking you down to be nothing.

Meanwhile, many of the high Masters sit on cushy chairs and golden thrones and even if you want to see or talk to them in the slightest you get maybe one question a year and before you can even walk into their room, you wander in preform some sort of prostration three times before you are even allowed to approach the master and ask a question that might be answered in a riddle that could just be a simple koan regurgitated from another master they heard 30 years prior.

If you ask me, is it not kind of ironic that you would learn how to be less egotistical from someone like that?

This paradox is not unique to Buddhism but can be observed in many religious and spiritual traditions. The very institutions meant to teach humility and selflessness often become bastions of hierarchy and ego-driven behavior.

I say this with a slight joke but it is a good point, in much of the pursuit of spirituality or religion being a good Christian, a good Buddhist, a good Muslim, a good Jew so on and so forth, we find this common theme of egoism and power being more important than the core teachings and even those who criticize those same religions, do so in a way that seems to promote their own ego.

Very few people who criticize religion, spirituality or the structures within actually do so from a position of good meaning. They do it from a position of anger, a position of ego, a position of want and desire.

I mean very few people ever do it to truly make the world a better place. They do it to be combative and even of the few who may truly wish to make the world a better place if you ask them why they are so outspoken they will say "I" want to make the world a better place. They still want to be seen or be a part of the reason why the world changed. You still see this focus on ego no matter which side of the fence you stand on.

After pacing back and forth, talking to myself about this matter for quite some time in my house. (Hopefully not scaring the neighbors) I happen upon an interesting analogy. Which is that of the flashlight.

What does a Flashlight do?

Religion, spirituality and all the texts that guide you within them at their core are attempting to be a flashlight.

No really hear me out.

Everyone seems so focused on what the flashlight is. They're focused on what type of bulb to use, how bright or dim it is. Whether you should use AAA batteries or AA batteries or if you should use any batteries at all and or just power it by gasoline instead!

I know this sounds ridiculous, but this is this not what many of the doctrines within churches, temples or monasteries all seem to be arguing? Whose flashlight is the best?

I mean picture this. Imagine you had never seen a flashlight before. It's hundreds of years ago and some do-gooder comes wandering through wanting to supposedly help you and they hand you a flashlight.

They tell you this is the only way they have the best flashlight and then they run off to other people giving away as many flashlights as they can without spending any time with you or them. You don't even know what the flashlight is, you don't know what it does, why it's there. It's just this clunky object you don't feel like carrying around.

So now you're just angry that someone gave you this useless object and at the same time you are watching that same person spending thousands if not millions of dollars building these flashlights, these metal pieces of nothingness that don't seem to help you (or anyone else) directly at the time because you don't know how to use it or what it does in the first place.

You would be upset, angry and absolutely despising of the person who gave you that flashlight and for good reason!

Why would you not hate them? All these resources time and effort spent on this odd thing and then just as quickly it was handed to you, you're being yelled at for not using it right!

You didn't even know what it was. You don't know that it produces light and it's not your fault to begin with that you didn't know!

Many seem so focused on the item itself the object, the teachings, the scriptures that they end up missing the most important part of any flashlight, the most important thing about all flashlights, and that is the fact they're supposed to project light, to illuminate.

They are meant to illuminate the world around you especially when you are surrounded by darkness, and if someone simply spent the time to show you this or just to say "well, yeah, there are some flashlights that are better than others in my eyes, but let's start with just using this one" and then they go on showing you how to put the batteries in, how to turn it on and off. How to replace the bulb when it breaks so that you can do the most important thing, which is light up the world around you when it is so impossibly dark.

And even once you get the flashlight working, you still need to point it somewhere, you need to bring it with you because you know night will come eventually. Now, this seems completely logical except when we're finally given the flashlight of religion, we seem to lose all that logic more often than not.

Now, some of you may be thinking "I never really use a flashlight anyway", well I would say you are a lot like me then. I am someone who doesn't necessarily always need or even want a flashlight.

I love walking through the forest at night, darkness surrounding me while taking a long stroll, letting my eyes squint and seeing what shapes form out of the shadows. Feeling my heart rate rise when I hear a twig snap, but still holding the resistance to put on the flashlight just because it seems fun to immerse myself in that darkness.

That does not mean I don't need a flashlight, the most important times I use a flashlight are when others cannot see. Though I(ego) can see through the darkened forest many I take on that same hike cannot, and the best thing if we are all to keep walking, is to illuminate that Forest trail for them.

So oftentimes learning how to use a flashlight and having a flashlight isn't even about you. Once you lose that egoism bringing light and illuminating the world around you for others becomes much more important. What brand or how strong the flashlight is doesn't even cross your mind.

This perspective shifts the focus from personal enlightenment to a more compassionate, outward-looking approach to spirituality. If you will allow me the reach, true growth comes not just from our own understanding, but from how we use that understanding to help others. How we light up their world.

I hope I'm not losing any of you here as this is an odd analogy and again, one I just came up with pacing backing and forth in my kitchen like a mad man, but I find it just absolutely perfect for this concept of a reality that we live in today. This battle of what is right and what is wrong, of religion.

Again, this is not to say that there isn't a true direction or one morality. The longer I live, the more I realize there is a fundamental truth to our world, but what that truth is, the semantics or the words I use to describe that truth will often fall on mute ears if the words I'm using to describe it do not align with what the person I am talking to has seen within their own lives, their own truths. With what they have illuminated in their own life with their own flashlight.

But this line of thinking requires and entire article in itself, so for now I think I'll call it quits.

That being said, figuring out a way to sum up this entire article is a bit challenging so instead, ill share this joke about flashlights:

"See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum... and one night, one night they decide they don't like living in an asylum any more. They decide they're going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moon light... stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend didn't dare make the leap. Y'see... Y'see, he's afraid of falling. So then, the first guy has an idea... He says 'Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I'll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!' B-but the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says... He says 'Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You'd turn it off when I was half way across!”

Till next time friends.

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