Sunday, January 23, 2011

Faith No More

A parable, my little grasshoppers:

So I am walking by myself through the main temple at Angkor Wat, ahead of hosts of tourists who are still clicking away at the last remnants of sunrise over the Wat, and I come across a man, dressed in a gray Mao collar shirt, who stands in front of a little shrine with a statue of a placidly (is there any other way?) sitting Buddha.
The man entreats me to offer incense to the statue. I demur. He says it will give me good luck. No, thank you. He insists, as if implying who could be so stupid and have a soul so black as to deny themselves good luck with such a simple, innocent gesture?
As he will not back down, I relent. I take the wand of incense, follow a little ritual as he tells me, and stick it in the sandy urn in front of Buddha, who remains unfazed.
I feel absolutely nothing. No relief, no joy, no peace, no anger, no impatience, no grace. NOTHING. Have I inadvertently achieved Nirvana? Perhaps.
Once I am done, the man lifts up a little piece of fabric in front of the Buddha and reveals a crisp five dollar bill. That's when I bark.
No, I say. I didn't want to do this for a reason.
I do not rant at him that it is not the money, or the fact that he is clearly a con artist, and that not all of us gullible foreigners are like Liz Gilbert eating and praying and loving our way through exotic locales.
Some of us just like our reality hard assed. We take the world as it is and deal with it.
And what does spirituality have to do with money anyway?

I do not care if your God does yoga and never breaks a sweat, if He is sitting in a throne in the sky having tantrums mostly with Himself, if He has managed to piss off the authorities enough to get nailed to a cross, or doesn't find Scandinavian cartoons funny. I have no faith, and yet my life is rich and very meaningful.
Please leave me alone.

On this trip I visited many beautiful temples.
The only place where I felt an intense urge to kneel down, bow my head, shed bitter tears and offer some sort of prayer, was at the Killing Fields in Cambodia. I felt the need to acknowledge to the bones of 17,000 men, women and children, that I was ashamed and despairing of their suffering and that they were not forgotten.

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