Thursday, November 29, 2018

is youth or stupidity an excuse?

I once went to dokusan (a private interview) with Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a man who was arguably the top gun in the world of Zen Buddhism at the time (1970's). I was scared. I had never met the man. He was the size of a peanut and had the mass of a mountain in my mind.

We sat facing each other during that long-ago sesshin (Zen retreat). He took his fan and tapped it three times on the floor next to him. "What is this?" he asked. I gave a book-smart shout. He looked at me for a moment and then said, mildly, "You know, you don't have to be crazy in order to do this practice."

"You don't have to be crazy" and yet so much of spiritual adventure did seem a bit crazy ... might as well get with the program. I heard Sasaki's words as a rebuke: Zen practice referred to something plain and simple. Nothing phony about it. Nothing concocted or false. But I had chosen the ornaments of the exercise. Short and sweet, "Cut the crap!"

You don't have to be crazy.....

And likewise, you don't have to be stupid. And it is here that I admit to bias: Anyone involved in spiritual practice is tasked with exercising both attention and responsibility. They had to think things through ... much as, from my vantage point , John Allen Chau, 26-27, had not when he set out for North Sentinel Island -- a place that required permission to visit for fear of infecting the local population with non-native diseases -- in hopes of introducing the locals to Jesus.

Chau was on a mission from his Christian persuasion (convert the heathen stuff) and never seemed to think that his presence, while it might introduce a Christian faith, could spell death to the tribe on North Sentinel. Chau was willing to sacrifice his life. But he seemed unmerciful enough to be willing to sacrifice the lives of others.

And this is where my bias kicks in. If you're going to sacrifice along the spiritual way, don't run around sacrificing others. Burn your own temples and texts as you like, but do not presume you have some right to burn the temples and texts of others. Demolish Jesus and Christianity first ... and only then set about God's work.

It is unkind of me to assume that those along a spiritual byway will be somehow less stupid, thoughtful or circumspect. But, full-frontal-nudity, I guess I have to own up to it. The arrogance of Christians in 19th century India is truly astounding to anyone willing to read the works.

What a well-intentioned clusterfuck among these spiritual children.


  1. I would have to burn a lot temples and messengers - jewish, christian, buddhist, hindu, muslim - since I learned bits and pieces from all major traditions... even modern Science. On Chau, I haven't actually read anywhere that he was aware of posing a risk to the Sentinelese. Maybe I missed it, but all I've read from his diary notes is that he was aware of the risk to himself. I also read today that the government had lifted the ban on tourists visiting the island earlier in August, apparently a decision to keep "channels open", so it seems he may not have broken any laws. He was definitely a brave boy but... the line between bravery and foolishness is thin - he did have a warning shot the day before - and the same can be said about self-confidence and arrogance, I guess. Missionary work can be dangerous and - admitedly -
    both christians and muslims seem to be more inclined towards the boddhisatva way and placing themselves in harm's way. As for crossing the line towards arrogance, well... I was reading an article published in Portugal about Coen Rōshi, a Brazilian Buddhist monk and Missionary, and some of the comments classed her as arrogant, while others were positive... In the end, it doesn't really matter what religion/philosophy you preach. If someone is not willing to listen, no point forcing it. The Sentinelese are not welcoming to any outsiders, whatever words or thoughts they may bring. Period.

  2. Attitude.
    Close Mindedness.

    You wish to focus on Chau’s arrogance and stupidity.
    I also see an amazing religious zeal and bravery. In another era he’d be considered a martyr for his faith.

    I wonder if this incident will accelerate the ending of the Sentinelese.

    Is the family hiring mercenaries to retrieve the remains?

    1. Unless Chau actually passed on any illness, I can't see why the incident would accelerate their demise.

      The government's decision to lift the ban and requiring a license to visit the island may however. Chau's incident will likely help keep visitors at a safe distant for a while, but unless the government reinstates the ban, it's not hard to imagine the Island and the Sentinelese becoming a regular sightseeing tour, like whale-watching.

      As for Adam's wish to focus on his arrogance and foolishness, well... I put it down to a bias against Christianity, due to its history. We all know the horrors commited by many christian extremists over the ages, but it's not like Chau invaded the island with arms or hated the Sentinelese. He was a young adventurer, with good intentions and paid with his life trying to make peaceful contact with a primitive and violent tribe.

      Still, in my eyes, nowhere near as bad as buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu's extremism towards the Rohingya, who he classes as "less deserving of protection than mosquitoes". No religion/philosophy is free of proselytizing, extremism and arrogance. If it involves people - and all do - it can happen, especially in troubled times.

  3. ‘Excuse.”

    There are level of understanding. There are nuances of comprehension. There are different types of intelligence.

    A lack of knowledge is a fact.
    Ignoring knowledge, advice, experience is an attitude.
    Failure to do due diligence is a failure of bother intellectual and emotional intelligence.

    Regarding the drama of Zen stories, I wonder how they were viewed in their native Chinese and Japanese cultures during the time periods they were originally created.

  4. Reading over the cud-provoking responses above, somehow the sentence pops up, "God save us from zeal!"

    1. Chau died being over zealous about his goals and lacking zeal for his own life in the face of the North's Sentinelese's extreme zeal. Mindboggling.