Monday, January 9, 2012

burning the totem poles

What little I ever studied about Hinduism (three or four years of reading with an occasional retreat) led me to believe that the Hindus had a larger capacity for self-deprecating laughter than the Buddhists. If true, I admire that capacity. If not ... well, I still like laughter. Laughter washes the mind's laundry and lord knows I can work up quite an unattended pile of smelly socks.

Embellished by time and poor memory, no doubt, here is a Hindu tale that always made me smile in cozy recognition:

One day, a monk was walking serenely through the jungle. He was focused. Suddenly, from afar, he heard the crashing of an elephant that was headed towards him at high speed. On top of the elephant sat the mahout, calling out wildly, "Get out of the way! Get out of the way! The elephant has gone mad!" The monk continued walking. In his mind, all things were god and god did not visit misfortune on god. Sure enough, the elephant ran over the serene monk. When he woke up in the hospital, a concerned layman was sitting by his bedside. "What happened?" the monk asked. "The elephant ran over you," the layman replied. "But how can that be?" the monk said. "All things are god. The elephant is god, the jungle is god, I am god, you are god ... why then did the elephant run me down?" The layman looked at the monk in surprise. "You forgot," he said simply ... "the mahout is god too."

Which one of us has not, in one quest or another, forgotten the obvious? Spiritual adventure is no different from any other. Nitwits R Us. The totem poles of adoration or worship -- the temples and texts and uniforms and rituals of one persuasion or another -- are certainly good reminders of the course that has been chosen. But totem poles are made of wood and on the cold nights that this life can provide, the usefulness of wood lies in its capacity to build a warming fire.

The traveler says thank you for a warming wood. He does not spare the totem poles and freeze to death.

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