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Lions Roar : September 2005
6 0 SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 serious matters. A Buddhist minister and his sangha or a swami and his sannyasins can be every bit as pious and self-righteous as a Christian priest and his congregation. SOMETIMES THE LORDS work together. For example, inpre- Nazi Germany, the Lord of Form was helped out by the Lord of Speech, it would appear. The difficult economic times made it difficult for the Lord of Form to hold sway. So the Lord of Speech seems to have gotten in league with Adolf Hitler to construct a system of thought, National Socialism, that allowed many Germans to blame their economic problems on somebody else, a religious minority. When we can externalize the threats to our self-existence, we feel justified, we feel strong, and we feel ready to kick some butt. This approach tells you who your enemy is, which also makes you feel good, because it assures you that you are not the prob- lem. Karl Marx also employed this approach, although he fin- gered different bad guys: capitalism and the ruling class. He too used psychological materialism to shore up the realm of physical materialism. Interesting marriage that. That kind of “us and them” approach is very powerful but very dangerous, because it becomes a rationale for hurting other people, and sometimes for using hideous means to intimidate, torture, or kill them—and all in the name of the good. In this “unholy” alliance, the Lord of Form, the Lord of Speech, and the Lord of Mind all work together to obscure the real threats to our security and to give us simple answers to our sense of fear and malaise. Holy wars and ethnic cleansings are often the extreme results when the Three Lords work together to play the blame game. Any provocative or new way of thinking is viewed as a threat to be neutralized by the Three Lords of Materialism. Genuine spiritual inquiry can, and properly should be, threatening. Although Buddhism is an ancient religion, it is a relatively new discovery in the West, especially as a practice lineage, so that makes it potentially fresh and revolutionary in this culture. The Three Lords would like to dismantle Buddhism, but if that’s not possible, they will do their best to appropriate it. These days, the Lord of Form would like to make Buddhism chic. Have you seen the head of Lord Buddha in a gift store as a candle? You can actually burn the Buddha in your home, as an artistic or aesthetic statement, thanks to the Lord of Form. Zen—the Lords got all over Zen in the world of gourmet cuisine and interior decoration. It’s even a way of thinking or talking: “Oh, that’s so Zen.” This is somehow a little different than saying, “Oh, that’s so Baptist.” In any culture, the Three Lords figure out what you can trivialize and what you can’t. In the West, in general, you can’t trivialize the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the Middle East, you do not lightly show disrespect for Allah. Several years ago, I saw an ad in the paper for the opening of a “Buddha Bar.” The advertisement showed a large sprawling Buddha in a bathrobe, holding a martini, with part of his big belly exposed. I didn’t see any letters to the editor objecting to this image, nor were there angry Buddhists picketing at the opening of the bar. I don’t think you would get away with a “Jesus Bar” advertised by a leering Christ holding a chalice of wine. Such caricatures often trivialize a culture, a minority, a way of thinking, or a genuine tradition that is not mainstream. Our stereotypes of the Beat Generation, for example, make us laugh at “Daddy-O,” rather than howling at the universe as Beat poet Allen Ginsberg would have had us do. WHEN YOU DESCRIBE the Three Lords and their territory in any detail, it begins to feel as though there is nothing outside of their domain. That’s exactly what they would like you to believe. You may say, “Why bother to try to get beyond all this? Isn’t this just what we generally call ‘life’? What’s the problem?” Fair enough. Or perhaps you are be waiting for me to tell you how to get out of this predicament. I’m sorry, but I don’t know. The point is that every person has to work on this for him- or herself. Any “-ism” I try to sell you to solve your problems can just become another static system of belief, another vehicle for the Three Lords of Materialism. Here’s a hint, however, and perhaps a twist: the solution is not necessarily to give up tradition. It could be, but traditions are the keepers of wisdom as well as confusion. There is that kind of coemergent quality to life altogether. Problem/promise, neurosis/sanity, awake/asleep: they are inextricably bound together. Uncertainty, paradox, conundrum, irony: these confound the Three Lords, because they would like us to be certain about who we are. Uncertainty: the Three Lords of Materialism don’t know what to do in that space. We don’t know what to do in that space, which is why we usually opt for some form of certainty, some solution, at that point. What good comes from uncertainty? All the good in the world. The Lords can’t outsmart that empty feeling that comes back, no matter how much you achieve. You may keep going for eons, maybe lifetimes, but even- tually, even if you get everything you want, it’s not enough. You can get all the power and material things, you can get all the ther- apy, you can get all the religion, you can get all the bliss, and eventually it will not be enough. When somebody has reached that conclusion, they might become desperate and kill them- selves, which is missing the point, or they might begin to think about something beyond themselves. Thus, if you decide you want to help others, that is something the Three Lords of Materialism really don’t like. However, if you only sort of want to help others, that might be okay with them. A certain amount of volunteer work is fine, if it looks good on your resumé and you can check off the “help others” box in your brain. This may sound terribly cynical, but truth be told, a lot of helping others is about helping me feel better about myself. However, even if you are doing good to make yourself feel good, if you keep going with the helping part and you get far continued on page 101