Friday, 8 June 2012

Losing my religion

What lies beneath?

Most faiths are big on confessions. The Catholic faith in particular has preserved the ancient tradition of herding their flocks into small pens known as confessionals and listening to their list of misdemeanours. After the said confession, the confessor is supposedly absolved of their “crimes” and then directed towards some suitable penance. In the case of Catholicism, a dozen “Hail Mary’s” and two “Our Father’s” always go down a treat.

A priest has always been willing to lend a ear, a shoulder and a helping hand. He is the first agony uncle that many a devotee turns to when they are ailing in spirit, mind and even body. He's a trustworthy figure; a man of the cloth. In fact, God is his right hand man or so we’re led to believe. In the 21st century as walls come down we start to understand that the men, we once trusted to keep the faith, are false idols with feet of clay.

I don’t want to adopt a holier-than-thou stance on which religion is more blameworthy. Men are at the helm of nearly all of them and until that changes they’ll have to grow thick skins and wide shoulders. Yes, verbal rotten eggs and tomatoes are about to be launched.

Praying he doesn't get found out!
My particular disappointment is with the ancient religion of Buddhism. Last week a renowned cleric of a certain South London temple was jailed for seven years. This was following a unanimous guilty verdict for sexual assault against a minor over thirty years ago. The minor grew up to become a leading ophthalmologist and, following her father’s death, decided to file a charge.

I know the priest in question and he certainly believed he had got away with it. His origins are from a developing country that is rooted in patriarchy. In this society, women have no voice and the law dismisses them as mere chattels of their fathers, brothers and husbands. Such is the contempt and scorn that is heaped upon women that men have become arrogant, selfish and with an ego greater than the small islands they call home.

Your body is a temple so why the desecration?
The islands where Buddhist monks are to be found are also home to some of the best beaches. A veritable paradise for tourists though the inhabitants live in quiet desperation or adopt demon like characteristics.  Priests  are cloaked in orange, they smile and appear gracious. They have taken vows but very few are put into practice. They partake of food once a day but they feed their minds with the unwholesome. They play on your sympathy and they’ll have you bowing in obeisance and respect.

Above all, the religion lacks the one essential ingredient of immortatlity. There is no soul. People with no soul also have no heart, They are poor in spirit. They are quick to anger and slow to forgive. They preach a doctrine of loving kindness but practise black magic against their neighbour. Birth, death, marriage and children are mere civil and social arrangements. These are a people that do more harm than good, protected by a constitution that disregards human rights.
No prosperity without freedom
I don’t care to dwell on the unsavoury,  but statistics reveal that the poverty fuelled sex industries are located  in developing countries of the Theravada Buddhist tradition; Bangkok being the most notorious. Where their is suppression, oppression and depression, exploitation is the natural outcome.

We must not put priests or anyone else on pedestals or build temples on shifting sands. The priesthood is political but it must be established with palatable utilitarian principles of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Or perhaps it is.....”happiness” being eschewing holy vows and turning to depraved pursuits.

A priest must ever be conscious of his position in society. He may play the role of confidant and confessor but he must never be a friend. He may be warm and generous but he must not be exclusive with his outpourings of good will. Favouritism is not in his vocabulary. He seeks solitude instead of company. He is an instrument not the inventor.

Arrogance, conceit and vanity is the material life he left behind. Should he find himself hankering after worldly that would buy him a little status amongst his followers, visual aids (television and literature) that over stimulate and titillate and the company of women and children who arouse their sensuality....then it's time to find a cave or give up the robes.

Love, which is never romantic can only be understood from an aesthetic point of view. He has no truck with it and when it does enter his mind he recognises the imposter that often poses as love – lust. If he weakens during a trying time then he must redefine his priorities with integrity.

Offering her innocence
Greed is often the overriding emotion found in the hearts of men, whether they are in the priesthood or not. Lust and greed make for psychotic bedfellows. They were surely the motives of the fair skinned, snake eyed monk who preyed upon a mere child in the bud of womanhood. The spiritual destruction he wreaked on her will remain with her forever.

In the 21st century, the Buddhist philosophy needs to take long, hard look at itself. It needs to make a decision as to what it is. It must speak out against a social injustices that allow women and children to be used as sex objects by the vice cartels as much as any another group. It must de-frock and ex-communicate the flies in the ointment!

Wake up and....smell the truth!
What is noble about this path? Where is loving kindness? Where was desirelessness when a girl was being sexually assaulted? Why does Buddhism wish no harm to sentient beings but damage the body and mind of a growing child?

Justice has been done following this monk’s incarceration (a Chief Priest no less) but the memory of that foul deed he committed cannot be erased. 

"Religion is your daily life," so says the Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran. If daily life is about violation and abuse then count me out of religion.

It is a permanent stain on the robe and the mutilation of a noble philosophy. I lost my religion many years ago though my faith and zeal for righteousness remains intact. Religion is dangerous as it is made by men. 
Faith is something that never leaves you. I know which I prefer. It was Gandhi who famously said: “in heaven, there are no religions – thank God!”



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