CORRECTION (s): The Copy Editor Had It Right! (see below)
I was gently and humorously “corrected” by the online copy editor at The Anchorage Daily News in defense of his “deadline-rushed colleagues“ that “…it was Julia who originally used the word ‘deity,’ which ended up in the print edition, and it was I [Mark Dent] who pointed out to Julia the next morning that ‘deity’ was the wrong choice. We kicked around alternatives for a while until she suggested ‘icon,’ which though not entirely satisfying at least fit nicely. You're right, we can be a bit compulsive, but that's in the job description. I wouldn't hire a copy editor who was not. I did notice you spelled Glennallen wrong. Sorry, compulsive, can't help myself!” - Mark Dent
Thanks, Mark. The word “icon” does “fit nicely” but is, as you say, not “entirely satisfying” as to ultimate meaning.
As the wrestling around over what to call the Buddha shows, it is not only the Western world---with its almost unquestioned deitific worldview---that struggles with this anthropomorphicizing [I just made up two words here] of natural events and the deification of other Humans. The Buddha was quite aware that his followers would---in spite of all his admonitions to the contrary---confer deitific characteristics upon him. Make him into a god. Thus failing to grasp the essence of non-deistic Buddhism and the essence of a non-deitific Buddha---all in one compulsive spasm of false attribution.
The Buddha is, most correctly in my opinion, a teacher, a mentor…an exemplar. Most definitely not a deity---by his own, explicit assertions. The Buddha was quite aware of the [almost certainly evolutionary] tendency of Humans to confer exaggerated, Human-like personality traits upon the stupendous, but otherwise “natural” or “normal” phenomena of “Nature” [in its broad, universal, scientific meaning]. The whole point of the esoteric (original) Buddhism is that these tendencies to imbue Nature with personality traits and to confer god-like status to unusual Humans, simply clutter the Human mind and interfere with the apprehension of true realities. Look at it this way: If we can posit one god (the Universal Personality) or many gods (spirits, angels, etc.) we can posit any gods! There is, by definition, no way to verify any of it. This is, of course, why science has no place for any “spirit” influence or supernatural events or elements or supernatural personalities in any of its hypotheses, theories or findings whatsoever…period!
Some scientists---who were miffed when the Dalai Lama addressed one of their conventions---failed to grasp that the core of esoteric Buddhism is not like the deity-based religions, but rather, is truly based on “scientific-type” observations and awareness.
Anyway, what must the “traditional” print and “transitional-online” news media think of us free-wheeling “Voices” bloggers---unconstrained by strict deadlines, strict documentation, strict grammar or strict word usage. Also, we can blather on endlessly and correct ourselves in midstream. I think it is a great experiment…
However, I wish I had been part of that conversation between the writer, Julia, and the copy editor, Mark. But, alas…as an Alaska Voices blogger I am neither privy to, part of, nor (obviously) knowledgeable about the functioning of the Anchorage Daily News and the interchange between its online and print divisions. I have always appreciated a good editor---although I do like working without a net. And now I appreciate a good copy editor. - R.W.
The Buddha would smile at the great story by Julia O’Malley: “From another world, a deity moves to G Street,” (Anchorage Daily News print edition, 8-17-11).
Aside from the great story of a Vietnam vet who brought to Anchorage a “700 pound white marble Buddha statue carved by a roadside sculptor in the Marble Mountains outside Da Nang, Vietnam...” the Buddha would also smile at the compulsive need of a copywriter for the Anchorage Daily News print edition to change the more correct word “icon” in the online story as posted by O’Malley on the 16th to the incorrect word “deity.”
The Buddha gently tried to dissuade his followers from worshipping him or considering him to be some sort of god or “deity.” Of course he would smile at all his “followers” who have done just that---made him into yet another holy spirit-being and worshipped him as just another deity in yet another deity-worshipping religion. Thus missing the whole point of his teachings.
Buddhism is called one of the world’s “great religions“---yet, it is “only” or “just” a very sophisticated psychology of the Human mind.
“Alas,” as a Tibetan Buddhist monk said to a visitor lamenting the lack of spiritual understanding in America, “it is the same in our country. The people want fanciful stories about superhuman deeds. In the meantime, the humble truth of innate wisdom is lost in myths and legends that entertain but do not enlighten.”
At a Glenallen, Alaska medical facility, I saw a sign on the wall that read: “Buddha’s grave, filled. Jesus’ grave, empty.” This doesn't take into account the fact that the Buddha’s body was burned. While the implied claim that Jesus got out of his not-so-final resting place by some supernatural means presumes that a single, lonely, tired Roman soldier remained awake while he was supposedly guarding the tomb of the Christ so his followers wouldn‘t steal it away. The Buddha would smile…
America wants deities with supernatural powers. And, by God, America wants everyone else to acknowledge their hypothetical entities. As one Anchorage Daily News letter-to-the-editor-writer blithely asks: “Why shouldn't Parnell ask God?" (August 17 - print edition) “In regard to a Julia O'Malley article [Again!], ‘Is the governor playing to an outside audience?’ (Aug. 10), which somehow did not appear on the editorial page, I would like to know what her solution would be for our nation's current economic and moral mess.
Gov. Sean Parnell clearly has chosen to ask God for assistance as suggested in 2nd Chronicles 7:14, which states, ‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.’ It is unfortunate that people of faith in public office are held up for ridicule when they choose to openly practice their religion. Gov. Parnell has chosen to ask God's help to solve the nation's current calamity. What is your solution, Julia?”
- Dennis Strait - Anchorage
Let’s see…“God” or governing? I prefer a Governor who keeps his eyes on the road rather than his head bent over in prayer. But hey, that’s just me…and that’s not what soothes voters who couch every action in terms of appeals to an abstract “God”---as opposed to some other, more concrete course of action.
In the true (esoteric) Buddhism, “God” is an imaginary being with no power to do anything except inhabit the Human mind as a hypothetical construct known as a “deity,” a spirit and un-manifested entity upon which people place their hopes and fears. Just another of the “peaceful and wrathful deities” infesting the fertile Human mind (according to the esoteric Buddhism).
But the Buddha is not a “deity”---only a mere mortal who realized that the constructs of the Human mind---coupled with the afflictions of life---are what bring us misery. The Dalai Lama---usually careful not to tread on the deistic beliefs of others---lays it all on the line when he says emphatically: “You are your own master!”
So, what strange attraction does this apparently serene 700-pound statue of the Buddha have for the Vietnam vet who brought it over here? Why did a bunch of bikers screech to a halt in order to bodily lift the statue into the coffee house where it now resides? Where someone “bought” the statue, paying $3000 on the condition it remain in place?
According to the O’Malley story, Suel Jones, was “…a young Marine in…[Vietnam]…an experience he still wrestles with. He remembered a day 40 years earlier when he and other Marines had arrived at a small village called Cam Lo.
‘There was this little temple there,’ he said, ‘blown all to hell.’
In the ruins of it, he glimpsed a Buddha, sturdy and pristine amid all the brokenness. It made him think of the way the war had ground down everything in Vietnam, the people, the ancient traditions of the place…”
In another time and another place, the Taliban saw fit to blow up a huge carving of the Buddha in a mountainside in Afghanistan. The Taliban are as insecure in their “religion” as we are here in America---which is perhaps why we are at war with each other. Once again, wryly and ruefully, the Buddha would smile…
It’s not in the statues---no matter how big and grand they may be. It’s all in the mind, folks. At least according to the less-popular, non-exoteric, form of Buddhism taught by the Buddha.
- Rudy Wittshirk