Friday, May 09, 2003

I guess a lot of Westerners have trouble with the very idea of prostrations, with the idea of humiliating oneself before an image. That's not a problem for me at all. For one thing, what the image really represents is not an Indian prince from some 2500 years ago. What it represents is my own awakening. Humbling my narrow little-mind ego in front of my (hoped-for) awakened mind makes all the sense in the world to me. And I seem to have been born without the Protestant conviction that body and gesture are unseemly, unspiritual things, to be excluded from religious practice. Humbling my body humbles my mind. That seems elementary, obvious to me.

Oddly enough, where my mind kicks is at the simple shrine duties. Filling the offering-bowls with water. Pouring the water out in the flower beds rather than down the sink. Extinguishing the butter-candle with a snuffer rather than blowing it out. Dusting the shrine and the Buddha figurine. That's where my Protestant instincts kick in with a vengeance. Some website recommended using distilled water in the offering-bowls, and oh, did my mind kick at that! "It's a SYMBOL, you idiots," I wanted to cry, "not a celestial drinking fountain!" Which betrays a really simpleminded notion of what symbols are and how they work. Like the students in literature classes who want to make reading literature a matter of simply making X stand for Y. Moby-Dick is the inscrutability of the universe, Ahab is man's questing intellect, and so on -- well, yes, sort of. But the only reason that's important is because they're also an all-too-physical whale and a cracked nantucket whaling-captain. The water is a symbolic purity I'm offering to my own awakened mind, sure. But if I don't really care about the purity of the water, if I don't even picture that I'm offering it to the Buddha -- why use the symbols at all? Protestant iconoclasm really has no place it can stop. Take the body of Christ off the cross: after all, it's only a symbol. Take down the cross. Take down the *word* for the cross. Take down the church. There's no endpoint: it eats away at its own meaning until nothing's left.

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