my meditation garden
Royal events are happening. Yesterday a prince was born - the future King of England, sparking almost delirious excitement among people everywhere (especially here in the United States). The social media lit up and news coverage was nonstop.
On one of the TV shows yesterday, a commentator was asked why he thought Americans are so obsessed with what happens with British royalty. The commentator wisely answered, "I think it has something to do with living vicariously."
Most people live very ordinary, somewhat dull lives, but the royal life of celebrity is glamorous and exciting -- a queen in regal robes, a royal baby born, and the whole world pays attention. That's exciting! The average person can participate in a life of splendor and acclamation by watching the royal events and somehow imagining themselves as being in that exalted place. It's all about living vicariously, living your own dull life through the more exciting life of someone else.
The birth of a prince isn't the only royal event on the current world stage. The pope has come to Brazil for World Youth Day 2013, and if this isn't a royal event, I don't know what is.
Now, don't get me wrong, as far as popes go, I think that Francis is probably one of the better ones; but while he has toned down all the papal pomp, he is still treated like a rockstar celebrity. And, to me, this is an icon of an inherent problem endemic in the established church.
Riding through the streets of Rio, the white-clad pope smiles and waves at his adoring fans. He appears before the throngs and people swoon as he passes by; teenage girls weep in excitement as they call out his name and try to touch him. After all, the pope is just one step beneath God and therein lies the problem.
The established institution of the church (organized religion) inherently fosters a sense of vicarious living. It encourages the ordinary everyday people to think of somebody else (at higher levels of authority) to be somehow holier or more spiritually qualified then those in the lower ranks. The structure of the religious institution encourages the "average majority" to let somebody else "drive the bus."
The world is a mess, lots of suffering, so go to church and pray. Ask someone else (God) to fix it and make it all better - let somebody else sit in the driver's seat.
The average person on the bottom of the hierarchical rung thinks: "I may not be able to lead a holy life but certainly the pope does or the bishop does or the priest does ( or the Rabbi or the Imam). They are far more qualified than me. They can live a holy life in my place. They can take my place in walking a spiritual path. They can drive the bus; I'll just sit in the passenger seat."
The established institutions of religion encourage living vicariously.
When I look at the teachings of Jesus (and the very similar teachings of the Buddha) there isn't even a hint of encouragement for vicarious living. They both taught their disciples that each and every human being is a royal child of God. Everyone has a Buddha nature. Everyone is a son or daughter of God.
Jesus never taught his disciples to pray to him so that he could fix the world and make it all better. No, he taught disciples to "follow in his footsteps" so that each and every follower (everywhere and in every age) might carry on the work he had begun, continuing in the task of mending a broken world by leading lives of unbounded compassion.
No one is a passenger on the spiritual path.
The Buddha teaches: You yourselves must walk the path. Buddhas only show the way.
Jesus teaches: Follow me.