Surviving In This Very Moment…

My Personal Battle with Prostate Cancer … And Life!

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him

There is a Zen saying that goes like this: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. The foundation of this saying is to remind us that if someone seems to have all the answers to all the questions, they don’t have any answers at all. I was reminded of that saying last Monday night when I sat down for a traditional Passover Seder and the leader of the Seder presumed to know everything. It was rather tedious having to listen to his zealotry as he fumbled through a Haggadah different from the rest of us trying to find a place we could all agree on. It was tedious to listen to the polemical insistance that the story being repeated was an actual experience witnessed by millions of Jews in Egypt and at Sinai around 3200 years ago.

I must admit being a bit impatient with the leader, who was trying to equate my relationship with a Chabad Rabbi and his relationship with the Chabad. When I tried to explain to him that my interest was more or less academic and not religious or spiritual he was arrogant enough to tell me I was wrong and that no one goes to the Chabad unless they are interested in spiritual development. When he presumed to know my personal motivation I demonstrated my own impatience by telling him that the stories that survived to form Rabbinic Judaism are simply made-up, redacted and crafted by the redactor to create a theosophy matching the politics of the exile after the rise of Christianity and the defeat of Bar Kochba; that it is impossible to ignore the political reality and still understand the surviving mythology.

At that point I was told that he and I are exactly the same. We come from the same religious experience. In point of fact, nothing could be further from the truth. True, we are about the same age, we both have prostate cancer although mine is currently in full remission while his is, unfortunately, not, we both attend the Chabad (but not for the same reasons) but there the similarities end. I am an atheist, a Jewish atheist but an atheist nevertheless while he is conveniently religious (only when it suits him). I am curious about the form of argumentation used by the post-exilic sages because it is a fascinating academic exercise to understand the thought process as the core documents of Jewish thought were created but I do not accept these documents as anything other than an effort to explain that which is difficult to explain. He takes the documents at their face value asking no critical questions as to origin, political considerations or relationships between Jews and Gentiles as these documents were being created. I could go on about differences but I think I have made my point.

I generally find those people who presume to speak for others to be both tedious and arrogant. Perhaps the two cannot be separated in any meaningful way. In this particular case, I was also angered by the presumption that this man decided what my personal motives might be and how utterly wrong he was. His error was compounded by his failure to listen to any explanation of my motives that I offered. I soon became tired of the whole affair and began to respond to him with the following, “I can’t believe you swallow this made up BS hook, line and sinker!” For that I probably should ask for forgiveness but I probably won’t because I only see him on rare occasions any longer.

What I find is that I have far more questions than I have answers. I don’t presume to speak for anyone other than myself when I write. Sure I try to write persuasively but I don’t expect anyone to simply accept my arguments at face value. I write to construct tentative answers to difficult questions offering up my musings for comments and critique. After all, isn’t that how we learn to understand each other. Only when there is a single-minded zeal does the process of understanding get interrupted falling into ruins. So keep the conversations lively and if you meet the Buddha on the road…Kill him!


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7 thoughts on “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him

  1. Update me – when did your atheism have anything to do with your cancer?

    I have never be organized religion oriented (I can fake it well though) but I have always been spiritual even despite cancer. I am “cured” in two years time if nothing changes.

  2. You raise an interesting question. When I began this blog I had a diagnosis, Stage 1a Prostate Cancer. After a series of tests, scans, and considerations of all available options, surgery was performed. The cancer was encapsulated in the prostate and was “curative” whatever that means. My PSA is no longer an issue as it is undetectable. So the blog itself began as a chronicle of my cancer. What I found, however, was that coming face to face with my own mortality I needed to further explore what I believed and what I did not believe. So I began to write about learning to “think in Jewish” as a response to my own confrontation with mortality. While I was and remain an atheist, I am intrigued by religious thought processes, especially Jewish processes as that represents my cultural background. What I am finding as I continue to explore this subject is that I can face mortality without a belief in a theistic creator God with grace and comfort. I can do this because I am living an ethical life, opening up my personal thoughts and concerns as the announcement of “Here I AM!” Then I sit quietly and wait a response. When that response comes I have an ethical response-ability to engage with the responder to the best of my ability. Fundamentally, that is the foundation of ethical proximity. I still blog about medical issues that seem to be connected to or are side effects of the cancer treatment but I also blog about life and my lived experience in this very moment. It all ties together in a very messy bow.
    A long time ago I heard a philosopher proclaim, “Everything depends on everything.” He left it at that with no additional commentary. I think he is correct, everything does depend on everything and so my atheism has a great deal to do with my cancer because my atheism drives my desire to engage in ethical proximity.

  3. Since your post relates to both cancer and confronting the mortal Buddha I will stick to that end of the topic. Having lived quietly watching others I have seen many mortal Buddha’s (know it alls) and religion seems to be overwhelmed by this sort of personality. Since it is impossible to have many Buddhas in one single religion the personality type requires the development of numerous religions so they can all be right.

    I have wondered about other reasons for the development of religions in our modern (supposedly) non-superstitious age. I have come to conclude that the Buddha personality also has a strong desire to control. And since “everything depends on everything” they are also willing to manipulate to control which necessitates a whole lot of rules, which if broken, requires dire consequences. The religious are also extraordinarily superstitious, although they would deny it, which makes them very easy prey.

    As far as facing mortality when faced with cancer – I flunked. I did not do it gracefully. I likened it to turning myself over to a stranger and allowing him to do “whatever” was contrary to everything to I had tried to live. For me it equated to willing walking in front of a moving car and smiling while I waited. Since that was not in my character, I had to wait until his predicted results of not treating it appeared and by then pain made me more than willing to lie down and endure my ordained treatment. The surgeon (the second one – fired the first) had agreed to wait allowing “god to take care of it in the meantime.”

    If “everything depends on everything” I cannot tell you what reason there was for this experience, except it made the day job impossible and I suppose it ultimately forced me to find the topic of my latest book which I began out of curiosity about the early Jewish religion. What I found would be greatly disturbing to a good many devout today. I came to the conclusion that early religion was begun by a group of exceptionally smart people taking advantage of the Buddha personality for an ulterior motive of their own. Whether my book is ever read by more than a handful of people is ultimately a problem for god. (If you are right and there is not one, oh well!)

    In your case, it appears cancer put you on the road to publicly writing and your posts have a great deal of insight into Jewish thought. If “everything is related to everything” than one might say that your cancer was a prerequisite to you eventually writing on this topic.

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I cannot help but agree with you about religious manipulation by the “Buddha” who takes charge. It is not unlike the words Ray Bradbury put into the Fire Chief’s mouth in Fahrenheit 451, the book about firemen who burn books rather than put out fires. The Chief is speaking to the main character Montok when (and I paraphrase) “You must give people just enough information to make them think they are smart like how much corn grows in Iowa or how many people live in Oregon. Once you do that, it is easy to tell them what and how to think.” Roger Ailes of Fox News called people too lazy to think for themselves so we will tell them what to think. Ouch. When we give up critical thinking just to be told what to believe, I think that our society is doomed to a long period of hate and bigotry.
    Facing mortality is not an easy, or pleasant task. Who would truly want to give up on life itself? For me, however, once I got past the isolation and sadness accompanying the three words no one wants to hear, “You have cancer” I returned to what I know best, acceptance. In this case it meant acceptance of the worst possible outcome, death. Once I accepted this as a very real possibility and one that could be sooner than later, I had a responsibility to then do everything possible to avert the worst possible outcome. In my case, because I had a very aggressive tumor, surgery was the most obvious choice. So I went ahead with the surgery. Now I am facing the worst possible outcome of the side effects of the surgery, which I now have a responsibility to address in the most agressive of ways.
    You also raise an interesting point, that those ancients who codified religion were undoubtedly smart. They were also a cross between zealots and con men. Because two religions were founded within our own historical time frame, Mormonism by Joseph Smith (a convicted con man from upstate New York) and Scientology by the zealot (and con man) L. Ron Hubbard and because their actions have been so completely documented, we can see how very smart people are able to begin with a small group of followers and expand outward through persuasion and the gullibility of followers that must mirror to a large extent how earlier religious organizations began. Older religions have just had more time to suppress those facts they wish not to be shared outside the fold.
    For my own investigations, I have concentrated my efforts on learning as much as I can learn about the origins of Rabbinic Judaism through reading the works of Jewish and Gentile historians as well as experts on the texts that are the foundational texts of Rabbinic Judaism. Why, people ask me from time to time, would an atheist Jew like myself be interested in this line of inquiry? For me the answer is quite simple. This is a 2000 year old tradition that has survived through the rise of Christianity which began as just one of many “Judaisms” in the Roman middle east, the bigotry and segregation of the middle ages in Europe, force conversions, expulsions from Christian lands, and ultimately the Shoah (Holocaust). What is it about this tradition that kept people coming back? What is it about this tradition that, in spite of adversity, survived and thrives to this very day? One need not be a believer to understand the historiography of a people.
    Finally, you are absolutely right. Cancer itself began this blog, but then life took over and while something had to be the spark, there was and is no telling where the spark will take me. That is the joy of writing. I can explore what I am thinking and somehow make it concrete.


  5. Its amazing resilience is almost an argument for re-incarnation.

  6. Yes, resilience is powerful. I’m not sure about reincarnation though. To me, resilience is a standard for stubborn adherence to an idea that is worth the effort to insure its survival. The most powerful answer to the bigots that across the centuries have tried and failed to eliminate Jewish people from the face of the earth is the undeniable fact that we are still here. Jews are commanded by God to Choose Life above all else; the life of the individual and the life of the community. In more modern Jewish mysticism (from the 15th century CE and beyond) the idea that the dead shall be resurrected when the Messiah arrives is as close as one can come to the notion of reincarnation. As I see it, resilience is an argument for choosing life, choosing survival, choosing to flourish in spite of all of the attempts to destroy across the millennia.

  7. Pingback: The Illusion of Time made Cyclical: Thinking In Jewish 37 | Surviving In This Very Moment...

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