Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pointing the Way

"Under an Olive Tree"
- in my meditation garden-

I was struck by a common theme that emerged in two back-to-back stories featured in last evening’s news report. 

The first story was about the Pope’s visit to South America – he was celebrating a Mass for over a million people at an outdoor park in Ecuador. As the Pope entered the park, the throngs of people almost couldn’t contain themselves. Everyone was waving flags and banners, shouts and screams, cries of greeting - a rock star couldn’t have received a more enthusiastic reception.

The next story featured the appearance of the Dalai Lama who is here in Southern California, not all that far from where I live - here to celebrate his 80th birthday. Yesterday’s news story showed the Dalai Lama as he entered an arena. Followed by a bright spotlight, he processed in and walked to center stage as the throngs of adoring fans who had come out to greet him waved flags and banners - shouts and screams, cries of birthday wishes.

Those back-to back news stories about “His Holiness,” the Pope, and “His Holiness,” the Dalai Lama, were remarkably similar to one another, and they reminded me of the inherent danger of making “rock-stars” out of spiritual guides.

The Buddha was very careful to teach his followers that he was the “guide” for the spiritual path and not the “destination.” He told his disciples:

You yourself must strive,
the buddhas only point the way.

Jesus taught the same thing when he invited his disciples to “follow” him and not to worship him. He invited any who would be his disciples to “follow” the path through life to which he pointed - a path of compassion and kindness, mercy and forgiveness. He taught that the kingdom of God was in each and every person, no one better than others, everyone sacred and holy and equally worthy of respect.

It is of course much easier to hail a pope as holy or acclaim a guru as wise - after all a pope at a high altar is obviously a holy person and a Dalai Lama is someone who reeks of wisdom, unlike the average person who stands in the crowd and waves banners.  

Bishops and priests, rabbis, imams, gurus and Zen masters, the people who write all those spiritual books and blogs – they are the ones who have some sort of “inner knowledge,”  the “designated drivers” when it comes to traveling the spiritual path. But, nothing could be further from the truth – “everyone must strive, buddhas only point the way.”

Yesterday as I saw the Dalai Lama standing in a spotlight at center stage, I was immediately reminded of a trip I took to South Korea a few years back, where I visited several Buddhist shrines.  The thing that probably struck me most about the shrines was that they all displayed “multiple” statues of the Buddha, all standing in a row next to each other – not just one statue at the center, like a crucifix above an altar, but multiple  Buddha images.

When I asked a monk who was traveling with us why there were so many Buddha statues - he replied “they remind us that we all have a ‘Buddha nature.’ We are all the Buddha - we are those many statues in the shrine.”

I will never forget that comment. We are all the Buddha, we are all the living Christ, each of us together striving to walk the way.

As we see the Pope enter a park to the acclamation of millions or watch the Dalai Lama on the stage I would imagine that most of us think that, in comparison, our own lives are relatively insignificant.  But this is certainly not what Jesus taught nor was it the wisdom of the Buddha- there are no degrees of importance: we all belong to the ONE, and every single part “is” the whole.

I am reminded of a humorous little quip the Dalai Lama once made

If you think you are too small to make a difference,
try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.


  1. Yes the struggle. I once had the idea the 'struggle' was to continually fret about doing the right thing in an attempt to achieve some kind of 'perfection'. Later came to think that the struggle is to keep the thought of our genuine identity as members of the family of God and exploring what that is all about.

    That rockstar thing is a genuine observation. It seems there is a parable of Christ which describes the different characteristics of those who follow him. Can't recall which one right now.

    Love that Dalai Lama quote. The same can be said of kittens though.

    1. Trying to figure out what parable you are talking about--love the kittens reference.