Saint Lennon

St_JohnLennon1John Lennon’s killer came up for parole once again recently and was denied.

Whenever this guy comes up for parole and it hits the news a whole bunch of people say things like, “If Lennon were alive, he’d probably forgive his killer.” But that does not ring true to me at all.

John Lennon was not a saint. He loved Yoko and Sean very much. This man killed Yoko’s husband and Sean’s father. I can’t see the real human being John Lennon feeling at all kindly or forgiving toward him. Perhaps the imaginary Saint Lennon we’ve created since his death would. But that person never existed.

Lennon’s killer himself made the argument that if John Lennon were alive he’d vote for his killer to be set free the last time he came up for parole. It’s an absurd argument though. Because even if were true, whose fault is it that John Lennon is not around to speak up for him?

For me, though, this sparks off a bigger question.

None of the great spiritual masters we revere today were nearly as wonderful in real life as we have made them out to be. Whatever personality flaws the Buddha may have had have been obscured and smoothed over in the 2500 years since the real man departed from this world. We’ll never know if he ever did anything along the lines of, say, getting drunk and insulting the Smothers Brothers at the Troubadour and getting ejected from the club with a Kotex pad stuck on his forehead like Lennon did in 1974.

Anything even remotely like that has been permanently expunged from the historical record. What we’re left with is a projection of our own ideas of the perfect person. This, of course, is even more the case with Jesus of Nazareth. There we have even less information about the real person behind the myth and most of that information is highly unreliable. The historical Jesus could have been just about anything for all we really know about him.

What would Jesus do, indeed? God only knows!

For most of my life I’ve taken the stance that the reality trumps the fantasy in all cases and in every way. And yet lately I find myself wondering if that’s actually so. Sometimes I think maybe it might be useful to believe in impossible heroes.

If, for instance, you create a perfectly saintly Jesus in your mind and when some cretinous moron cuts you off in traffic you ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” and decide to let it go, well, that’s very good. Your image of the perfect man Jesus helped you do the right thing. It doesn’t matter much if the historical Jesus could be time transported into your car and it turned out he screamed and yelled and cursed the guy’s fig trees to whither. The historical Jesus is irrelevant.

So perhaps there is some limited usefulness in mythical impossibly compassionate or impossibly kind or impossibly intelligent beings. Obviously it would be taking things much too far if you pardoned John Lennon’s killer based on your image of what Saint Lennon would have done. I’m not saying that.

Yet in terms of every day moral action, sometimes it might be OK to envision the most perfect person in the world and ask what she might do if faced with whatever situation you find yourself in.

I still think it’s also good for us to know such people don’t really exist. It’s good to know that even those who do the right thing always do so while fighting against their urge to, say, punch some dickhead’s lights out because he clearly deserves it. It’s good to understand that this kind of urge never really disappears completely. It’s good to know that every single instance of saintly behavior is an instance of someone holding back their baser animalistic tendencies toward revenge or greed or hatred or anger.

In the Buddhist precepts we are asked not to give way to anger. We’re not asked never to feel angry. That would be impossible. But we are asked not to allow anger to become a motivation for our behavior.

Now of course the word “anger” is used to mean a lot of very different things. One can be said to be “angry” about the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri without necessarily being emotionally angry about them. There’s some overlap, obviously. But people sometimes use the word “angry” in cases like this to indicate a feeling that things are seriously not right and need to be fixed immediately. That’s not the same as the raw emotion of anger — though I’ll say it again, often these types of “anger” are mixed together.

Same with the word “hatred.” I can “hate” the situation in Ferguson in a rational way, which may lead me to make sensible efforts to make things better without holding on to a hot, emotion-based kind of hatred.

So the Buddhist precepts do not ask us to be complacent. They just ask us not to act out of the emotion of anger or the emotion of hatred. Sometimes it may be useful to envision an impossible being who is beyond all anger and hatred and try to do what we think they would do, even knowing that such people have never existed.

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What would Jesus do if he just read that article for free and saw a donation button at the bottom of it? I think you know the answer!

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Here’s my upcoming events schedule:

Sept. 6 Houston Zen Center All Day Zazen

Sept. 9 Austin Zen Center

Oct. 1 Turku Panimoravintola Koulu, Finland- Movie screening

Oct. 2 Helsinki, Finland – Lecture Event

Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland Zen retreat at Helsinki Zen Center

Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland

Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany

Oct. 10-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany

Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany

Oct 18-19 Retreat in Bonn, Germany

Oct 20 Hamburg, Germany

Oct 24: Lecture in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 26: Movie screening in Eindhoven, Netherlands at Natlab

Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Oct 29: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands  at “De Roos” bookstore from 19.00-21.00  (P Cornelisz Hooftstr 183)

Oct 30: Lecture in Utrecht, Netherlands at “De wijze kater” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 ( Mariaplaats 1,  Utrecht)

Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov. 2: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands at ACU

Nov 6-8: Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK

Nov 9: Noon – 5pm  Manchester, UK

33 Responses

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  1. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon August 23, 2014 at 6:12 am | |

    Richard Carrier. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt.
    http://www.amazon.com/On-Historicity-Jesus-Might-Reason/dp/1909697494

  2. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon August 23, 2014 at 6:20 am | |

    Richard Carrier lecture at Atheist Community of San Jose, begins at about 24 minutes. Many other lectures and debates featuring Dr. Carrier are available on YouTube. He also has a blog at Freethought Blogs.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMyudP5z2Xw

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles August 23, 2014 at 8:49 am | |

      Good bloggin’ stuff, GTC! Not taking the course but I plan to get my hands on Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists.

  3. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon August 23, 2014 at 7:34 am | |

    Richard Carrier refutes Bart Ehrman regarding the historicity of Jesus.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1026

  4. mika
    mika August 23, 2014 at 9:27 am | |

    While some may find it hard to imagine how someone could forgive the killer of a loved one we do have examples like this to show it is possible and does happen: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/25/interview-samereh-alinejad-iranian-mother-spared-sons-killer

    While nobody can know what would Lennon do, I do not find it implausible to think there might be such well adjusted persons around who – in time – can let go of the hatred and vengeance.

  5. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 23, 2014 at 11:46 am | |

    John Lennon, “talentless”?

    The Gospel of Thomas contains sayings that are unlike any others in the religious literature of the world, while at the same time they have counterparts. For example:

    Cleave a (piece of) wood, I am there;
    lift up the stone and you will find Me there.

    (The Gospel According to Thomas, pg 43 log. 77, ©1959 E. J. Brill)

    Miraculous power and marvelous activity
    Drawing water and chopping wood.

    (Pangyun, a lay Zen practitioner, eight century C.E.)

    To argue that there was no historical Jesus ignores the uniqueness of the saying attributed to him, IMO (likewise with regard to Gautama).

    Did Jesus’s temper get the better of him when he overturned the tables in the temple? The Pali Canon reports that Gautama instructed his monks on the “meditation on the unlovely”, then went on retreat, with the result that scores of monks a day committed suicide.

    It’s a wacky world. “Untalented”?

    1. Fred
      Fred August 23, 2014 at 12:18 pm | |

      And what is the unlovely but that which is rejected by our value systems.

      In the natural world all is decay. Arising and passing away is the normal state.
      The lovely and the unlovely are the same, and it is only the conceptual mind
      focused on continuation of the ego and body-mind, that creates this dichotomy.

  6. The Idiot
    The Idiot August 23, 2014 at 1:46 pm | |

    Lol what would Jesus do? He’d hack your site and delete the code for the button just like he kicked the money changers out of the temple. But then that’s my idealized version of Jesus. The real one would probably just not click it.

    1. The Idiot
      The Idiot August 24, 2014 at 7:06 am | |

      Oh how nasty of me. Apologies & out.

  7. Michel
    Michel August 24, 2014 at 9:58 am | |

    There’s that other aspect which always leaves me a bit reluctant.
    It is, I believe good politics to be able to forgive (although I’m not talking about forgetting…), were it only because forgiving allows to get rid of a useless weight.

    But when I hear people who have caused heavy damage to others, have never atoned for it, nor ever asked for forgiveness say, a bit arrogantly that they ought to be forgiven, which is, to my perception what Lennon’s murderer does, I tend to be a bit unreceptive…

  8. Michel
    Michel August 24, 2014 at 9:59 am | |

    Wait! Where is my persona gone? I’m missing the “Proulx”, here!

  9. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 24, 2014 at 11:45 am | |

    You actually got words for something I was feeling, too, Mr. Idiot. It’s a pretty easy thing to do, I think; mistake oneself for one’s job. At the same time, I sympathize with Brad for undertaking to discover his role “in the act”, as it were, just like I sympathized with the folks who went to Eiheiji and Japan in the early days of Zen in California and met with varying degrees of success.

    As I wrote on Tao Bums last night, in response to a young woman wondering if she should take the three refuges in a formal way, I think the most important thing I can do is nothing. However, it’s hard to do nothing on the job, doesn’t really go over well in an office, and I think if I thought my job was helping people discover the place where they are I might end up carrying some of my work habits over into things, too. In fact, even though I don’t have the job, I can say that I do sometimes do that- sorry, all!

    The meditation on the unlovely concerned the unlovely aspects of the body. I think I related here before that a young women jumped to her death off a building in India not too long ago, after being advised by her teacher to meditate on the unlovely aspects of the body.

    It’s a lot like people made schizophrenic from exposure to carbon disulfide fumes, which has recurred about every 40 years since the usefulness of the chemical for making rubber products was first discovered and has continued through the invention of nylon and rayon, and the moving of the rayon factories to southeast Asia. Seems whenever the process is rediscovered, the new proprietors always have an aversion to laying out additional money for proper ventilation.

    Similarly, meditation teachers that teach the meditation on the unlovely as a way to encourage detachment need to be sure their students are grounded in the experience of ease and happiness before they do so. Easy for me to say.

  10. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 24, 2014 at 6:39 pm | |

    “(The findings of Greenough and Black at University of Illinois) dovetailed with what the Berkeley researchers had come to understand through additional experiments designed to identify which stimuli had the most powerful effect on brain development. They, too, found it wasn’t exercise alone. Nor was it visual stimulation. Handling, petting, and love didn’t produce larger brains either. Nor did pressing a lever for a reward. The only thing that consistently improved rats’ neural development was the freedom to roam a large, object-filled space.”

    (“Merle’s Door”, Ted Kerasote, pg 63)

    Sometimes I want to pitch out all my ideas, I’m swayed by notions of nonsense, I want to roll it all up and throw it away. Freedom’s the deal, up, down, sideways. Then I calm down and just pitch, sway, and roll where I am, freely.

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 24, 2014 at 11:25 pm | |

    er, actually, I throw it away, positively.

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 24, 2014 at 11:30 pm | |

    I keep bumping into things as I roam freely in this space!

  13. dwsmithjr
    dwsmithjr August 25, 2014 at 4:35 am | |

    I don’t see any use in comparing myself to a perfect person to inform my moral choices. As you say, the perfect person as I imagine them to be is a fantasy. The character of their perfection is a figment of my imagination. What they would or wouldn’t do is simply speculation since they don’t exist and never have and never likely will.

    The only person I need to deal with in terms of moral choices is me. I’m the one who has to figure it out, make the choice and follow through, me with all of my urges, desires, struggles, and brain farts. So, what good is an imaginary person. I have to figure out what I have to do in this actual situation right now.

    Imagining what Jesus or Buddha or John Lennon or Lenny Kravitz or Sam Harris would do is more than useless.

  14. dwsmithjr
    dwsmithjr August 25, 2014 at 4:36 am | |

    Besides, really the imaginary person is, in a way, simply me anyway.

  15. minkfoot
    minkfoot August 25, 2014 at 5:29 am | |

    Jesus (or the man whose image we construct from the Gospels) was not an absolutist. Although he whipped the money changers out of the Temple, and he answered the young rich man that perfection was giving it all away, he obviously kept money to pay for expenses — that was Judas’s job as treasurer. He also had rich followers that remained rich even as followers. But for Joseph of Arimathea, his corpse would have been thrown somewhere for dogs to feast on.

    As Barbara O’Brien points out in her recent book, when you take scriptures and stories literally, you destroy their mythic value, and the mythic value is worth much more than than any rules or principles derived from a literal reading. Myths by their nature are open-ended — once you get some understanding of a myth, you can ask whether you’ve exhausted it of all it can give you, and the answer is always, no.

    So Jesus, or any “perfect” being, has his uses. Yes, the Jesus you would have in your mind is really just a form of yourself at some level, but that makes him a worthwhile tool to use to understand parts of yourself, no?

    Nonetheless, as a human representative of the divine, I prefer Quetzalcoatl. And for Supreme Beings, you can’t beat Shiva.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles August 25, 2014 at 10:03 am | |

      Well, he (Shiva) was the original prototype rock star god dude, what with the cool double drum, trident (guitar), cobra snakes (once at a shared gig in maybe 1985 as an unspecified electronic malfunction roared out of his borrowed amp Eugene Chadbourne -of Shockabilly fame- yelped “Cobra snake! Cobra snake!!” I digress, and rest my case), poison drinkin’ out of human skulls (hell YEAH!), blue skin (what’s cooler than that?), rudra chakra beads (the ultimate mala), and the cosmic dancin’ (no comment needed)!!!

      Here’s the Nuge’ back when he was cool like that… for Brad:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN2VNFpiGWo

  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 25, 2014 at 10:25 am | |

    I love a good story. Also, I value the notion of Taoism, if such there be, that the sage disappears in the ordinary life of the village, as it were. I keep the foibles and missteps of the saints in mind, to reinforce in myself that the playing out of the cosmos in existence is a life of one mistake after another.

    I had no idea Ted Nugent wore those clothes, ever. What do I know!

    To my esteemed colleagues, _/ \_ , as they say.

  17. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 25, 2014 at 10:27 am | |

    er, _/\_

    1. Fred
      Fred August 27, 2014 at 7:16 am | |

      Holding the hand of the absolute in the foaming breakers of the void.

      Discuss.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles August 27, 2014 at 4:41 pm | |

      Very nice. Thank you.

  18. Mumbles
    Mumbles August 27, 2014 at 4:39 pm | |

    “Man wants unity right away; he wants it in separation itself. He represents it to himself, and this representation, the image of unity, immediately reconstitutes the element of dispersion where he loses himself more and more. For the image as such can never be obtained, and moreover it hides from him the unity of which it is the image. It separates him from unity by making itself inaccessible and by making unity inaccessible.” -Maurice Blanchot, ‘Kafka and the Work’s Demand’

  19. The Idiot
    The Idiot August 28, 2014 at 4:04 am | |

    Piece !

  20. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 28, 2014 at 8:08 pm | |

    Hey Stonemirror- Google’s message for the lack of certificate is now really daunting. I think there will be no new commentators on Brad’s blog, only the dedicated veterans who see “unsafe” and think, “damn the torpedoes- full speed ahead!”

    “Holding the hand of the absolute in the foaming breakers of the void.”

    “To unfurl the red flag of victory over your head, whirl the twin swords behind your ears– if not for a discriminating eye and a familiar hand, how could anyone be able to succeed?” (Blue Cliff Record #37)

    The familiar hand of the absolute as the twin surf boards behind my ears whirl in the foaming breakers of the void- the curl discriminated, everything drops, red flags everywhere, success.

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