A koan that I often hear repeated is “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him.” This one often freaks out people unfamiliar with the concept of a koan, which I personally have always taken to be statements and questions that don’t have a definitive answer, but the answer(s) that you find yourself in thinking on them help you to reach minor epiphanies about yourself, and in doing so, expand your consciousness. (Phew, that sentence.)
Of course, their lack of familiarity with the concept of a koan may make them even better suited to utilizing one, much in the same way that a trap generally works better if one is not aware that they are walking into a trap. On the other hand, not knowing that they are supposed to think on it, they may just dismiss it out of hand as gibberish. It’s kind of a funny concept like that.
In any case, this particular koan has always led me to a conclusion that many have drawn from it: Challenge your preconceptions, especially concerning those you hold in high respect. Never let anyone get away with anything, especially if you would dismiss their faults over the other things that you like about them. Judge your heroes. Judge them HARD.
Which isn’t to say that you can’t have heroes, and appreciate them for their works. It just means acknowledging them for the human beings they are.
A personal example: This mindset is especially important to me, as an avid reader. Some of the most acclaimed authors in history had serious flaws as far as societal/personal views went. This is of course, an effect of looking back in time and judging the past based on modern standards, but even so.
Howard Phillip Lovecraft, old H.P. himself. I love Lovecraft’s stories. I love the effect he had on horror as a genre. I love the cosmic dread that he evokes, and the artwork that it has inspired. His way of crafting a scene is one that creates a world that I can easily drop into, the icy water in the air of the Massachusetts pier, the cool fog of the streets at night, the musty tomes in a private library lit by candlelight. He was a brilliant writer, and the culture that has sprung up around his writings is one that I can appreciate on so many levels.
He was also a huge racist.
I’m talking unfathomably huge by modern standards. Even worse, his views leaked over several of his more famous writings. The Deep Ones of The Shadow Over Innsmouth? Directly inspired by the worst Yellow Peril propaganda concerning people of Chinese descent. Several times during his canon he describes anyone of darker skin as “Sub-human,” and goes out of his way to point them out as the main body of the cults to spring up around his cosmic entities. Even the Necronomicon, a tome that has become an artifact of the genre and spilled over into several others, was authored by the “Mad Arab,” who gets descriptions as unflattering as his moniker.
And here’s the trick. He’s one of the better ones. Supposedly (Some researchers agree, others disagree) his views softened over time, and he repented that portion of his writings on his deathbed.
It’s not just limited to authors either. Mother Theresa, whom many are brought up to think of as a saint, if not a Saint, is famous for her works helping the poor. It came out later, however, that while she treated the symptoms of poverty, she actively fought against solving the problems that caused it, as she viewed poverty as a more enlightened state of being. The Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden and Norway, which socialists such as myself often tout as shining idols of human rights and equality, have been carrying out a campaign of systematic discrimination against their native peoples, the Sami, for years.
It is important that these faults be acknowledged rather than covered up. It is up to the individual whether or not they are a deal breaker as far as respecting the person/organization/country goes, but don’t let them go uncommented on.
This is especially an issue in the U.S. that I have seen, with celebrity figures using fame as a shield to blatantly ignore the legal ramifications of everything from public intoxication to Drunk Driving/Murder/Rape. Anyone else committing a crime would but tossed away and forgotten by society, (My rant about the state of the US Prison System is for another topic, another time) but for those with enough fame to be instantly acquitted in the court of public opinion, all blame gets instantly shifted onto the victim. In most cases, the unfortunate athletes and celebrities are the ones that spend a single night in jail. Others go to court, publically weep, and the adoring masses forgive them.
Everyone has faults. Many are quick to shift blame to hide the fact that they are flawed themselves. There is a constant war between Perception and Truth, and rarely the two shall meet. Though I generally consider myself an optimist, I am of the belief that all told, Perception is the stronger of the two.
By all means, love their works. I still appreciate H.P. Lovecraft’s writings and everything that they have created in modern times. But acknowledge things that are wrong. If one does not, then you do not like a person, you like an ideal. Holding the person to the ideal, and idly dismissing anything about the person that does not fit the ideal you’ve built up around them is downright dangerous.
Love the beauty that people bring to the world. Acknowledge the ugliness rather than hiding it away.
And if you see the Buddha in the road, kill him.
One thought on “Killing the Buddha in the Road, A musing on judging your heroes”
Interesting perspective. I’m of the mind that you should question everything, even if you ultimately accept that which you questioned, because it means a conscious decision to accept rather than a blind one. However, sorry to disappoint ;), but if I see a Buddha in the road, I’ll swerve…