This morning on my way home from rowing practice, I started thinking about the recent atrocities committed by Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroon. What to do? What to do? What does a person like me, so far away and of average capabilities and little power, do? There is a famous account of the Prophet Muhammad telling his followers: Whoever amongst you sees an evil, he should change it with his hand; and if he cannot, with his tongue (by speaking against it); and if he cannot do that, he should hate it in his heart – but know that is the weakest of faith.
That story has come to my mind every day for months now, between IS and Boko Haram abroad, the ongoing killings of unarmed Black people and mentally ill persons by police seemingly given carte blanche here in the US, and school and mass shootings right here in my own state. And of course there’s our purchased politicians working steadily to strip more and more from the poor and working classes, including the quality of the very air they breathe and the stability of the ground they walk on. I mean, what do you even do? Can anybody do anything?
And for some reason I started thinking about the Dalai Lama – I don’t remember why he came to mind as I sat there, parking my car in the garage – and what would he say about all this? IT dawned on me that I don’t know what the Dalai Lama has to say about any of these issues. Or the Pope. Well, Pope Francis talks about social issues, but these two are spiritual experts – why don’t they give Boko Haram or these criminals running our financial system a call and a talking to?
If those who cause the most pain and suffering are suffering from spiritual disease, doesn’t it make sense to send the most skilled practitioners to go and treat them? At least give it a try? Wouldn’t Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama be volunteering? Am I bananas for thinking this? I think of the scores of journalists and humanitarian observers who’ve been killed and murdered this year in their efforts to keep us all apprized of what’s happening (so that we can denounce it in our hearts from the comfort of our homes), and the medical professionals who’ve watched helplessly as bandits kidnapped their patients, and the thousands of ordinary people – including children – who’ve stood in witness to terrible things. And I think of ordinary chaplains and nuns in prisons and criminal psychiatric wards sitting with the condemned and the wretched as a regular practice, sometimes having to grapple with them physically but mostly grappling with their spirits, for their souls.
Later in the day I was at home and someone on Twitter mentioned the Pope Francis again – and his recent statements about expecting a punch in the face if you insult someone’s mother/religion. I think this Pope is not a bad Pope as Popes go, but what is his purpose, exactly? What has he been appointed to do? Is he challenging himself? And why was the Dalai Lama reincarnated? To what purpose? To inspire whom? To oversee the transformation of what souls?
In education, new charter school or program likes to vaunt itself as reforming when it’s simply plucked the high achieving students out of low achieving schools. But a school or program that could take the worst performing/worst behaving individual students and help them become successful would be impressive – that would be the proof in their pudding, to whatever claims they’re making of their validity and necessity. So it follows for me when it comes to religious and spiritual leaders. Why are these big shots so involved with us? Why is it left to ordinary, unchosen people to deal with the monsters of the world?
At first I thought, Wow. Am I jabbing a finger at the Pope and the Dalai Lama because I feel powerless? It’s possible. Probably yes, to some degree. But there’s more … and even though I’m not his religion, I felt sacrilegious wondering this: Is the Dalai Lama afraid? Too afraid? I’ll be open: I’d be afraid to face off with BH and IS and all those other people wreaking havoc on populations, be it through physical violence or economic violence. Is he also afraid? Is the Pope afraid?
I thought, at least the Dalai Lama believes in reincarnation and his own awareness, what does he have to fear? What a victory it would be if he could guide some of the world’s most lost souls back onto an ethical path. What a victory it would be for the Catholics and the world if the Pope could soften the world’s most hardened hearts. Is it possible? Could they do it? Is that even their job? Does anyone of us actually believe it’s possible? What does the Pope, what does the Dalai Lama, actually believe is possible?
Yesterday the Dalai Lama was in West Bengal, India, where he gave a speech on the necessity of dialogue to achieve peace.