Behind The Mask ~ I WILL LET YOU DOWN

We often hear people say things like: "Don’t worry; I won’t let you down! You can rely on me!", but this is frequently just a prelude to doing the very thing that they say they won’t do! This is not to imply that nobody keeps their word nowadays, because this is also not so; there are still people who regard giving their word or promise as something serious and important, but compared with those who think lightly of such things, they are in a minority—a small minority. Many of us think nothing of breaking our word when it is inconvenient for us to keep it, or we simply forget. While we don’t like others to let us down, we are often guilty of doing that to others.

Now, rather than saying to people who listen to me speak or read what I write: "I won’t let you down", I will say, on the contrary: "I will let you down", in order to make it as clear as possible that if we are sincere in our pursuit of Dharma we should beware of the unreliability of personality—our own as well as that of others—and not use it as a foundation; we should realize that Dharma is impersonal.

Personality-cults abound and flourish in the world, from major religions like Christianity (with the person of Jesus indispensably at the center) to small groups like that which coalesced around David Koresh in Waco, Texas recently, and the stir among expatriate Vietnamese Buddhists by the bogus nun named Thanh Hai (Ching Hai, in Chinese), who sometimes dresses like a movie-star or a fairy-tale princess and claims to be not only a ‘Living Buddha’ but ‘supreme’ and even higher than the founder of Buddhism Himself, the historical Gotama Buddha! The gullibility of humans is truly marvelous; there is nothing so preposterous and foolish that some people will not eagerly accept and believe! And although it is true that, by closing their eyes and living in a dream-world, they derive a certain amount of comfort and assurance, they are eventually let down (unless they die under their illusions) and find themselves worse off than before, being older and less-able to make a new start.

We have come a long way since the time of the Buddha, and the movement that He started has been considerably corrupted and distorted, both from within and without. Just as Buddhism had a great impact on the religious life of India during the centuries of its ascendancy, so too, it was greatly influenced by Hinduism during its period of affluence and decline, and was eventually swallowed up by it, so that what we have today is a mixture of what the Buddha taught, Hindu influence, and the cultural barnacles that it gathered as it spread outwards from the land of is birth. This is clearly seen in the role of priest that many Buddhist monks have assumed—unknowingly, in most cases, it must be said, but nonetheless that is the role they have taken—and the ceremonies they perform, together with what the Buddha termed ‘low arts’ like palmistry, astrology, geomancy and other forms of divination, which He forbade His monks to engage in as such practices attract people for the wrong reasons, and are not the work of monks. Today, more—far more—monks are involved in such things than in propagating Dharma, so much so that it is commonly expected of monks to ‘tell fortunes’ and calculate/predict ‘lucky days’ and so on.

Given the propensity of people to fall at the feet of ‘savior-figures’, it seems that the simple and clear message of the Buddha to "Be an island unto yourself, be a lamp unto yourself, be a refuge unto yourself" will never be widely accepted, but even so, there are always some people who will rejoice in hearing this clarion-call to develop self-reliance and throw off the chains of psychological dependence upon others. If it is only for the few, so be it. The fact that it might not be accepted by the majority of people does not invalidate it.

Although I will try not to deliberately let anyone down, the nature of personality makes it likely that I will do so, in one way or another. Therefore, I will warn people about this first, so that they will be able to listen to what I say without attaching much importance to me personally—either negatively or positively—and will not be too disappointed when I unintentionally and inevitably let them down. I feel that what I write and talk about can—or should be able to—stand on its own, and not upon my personality. This is because I take seriously the Buddha’s advice and exhortation to test His Teachings as a goldsmith would test gold, instead of merely believing; if this applies to His Teachings, how much more does it apply to my mumblings?!

I have stuck my neck out to say this not just about myself but about anyone and everyone. What we should be seeking is not a person but the unshakeable facts of life that do not change and will not let us down: Universal Dharma. If I have pointed my finger at anyone in this or other writings, it is done not with the desire to camouflage myself or distract attention away from my own shortcomings or gloss over my faults—like a thief being pursued might shout "Stop, thief!", to create the impression among bystanders that he is one of the pursuers rather than the pursued—but to indicate something more firm, reliable and true than personality.

It is a commonly-held belief that unless a person is enlightened himself, he is not in a position to help anyone else to become enlightened, but I do not share this view. It would be much like seeing someone injured and bleeding and saying to him: "I’m so sorry; I would like to help you, but I’m not a doctor". Every mother—and most other people, too, for that matter—knows what it is to treat minor injuries; there is no need to go to a doctor for every little wound or pain. Likewise, we all have the capacity—in varying degrees—to help others along the way; we don’t need to be fully-enlightened for that. And, in doing so, we express the enlightenment that we already have—in whatever small amount—and thereby increase it. If we were to hold back and refuse to help others until we are fully-enlightened, nobody—including ourselves—would get any help at all! That would be just as foolish as making it a condition that someone must be enlightened before we listen to or learn from him/her.

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