There is an old Buddhist saying – if you meet the Buddha in the road kill him. Here is what they mean. Well, here is my interpretation of what that means: if you see the Buddha in the road, you are looking outside yourself for the answer. The Buddha, and his teachings, are not meant to be an external thing. They are meant to be moral guidance for you. Like the bracelets that say ‘what would Jesus do?’, they are meant to be a guide for you to internalize.
Again, that is my take, which is definitively a Mahayanist type of interpretation. Buddhists are like Democrats. The more the merrier.
I went to see ‘Book of Mormon’ the other night. Possible spoilers to come in our discussion here. I heard it was great, and I love South Park, so it was a no brainer. Being a pretty militant atheist, I have zero interest in celebrating religious dogma of any kind (even Buddhist). So, I figured we were going to make fun of Mormon’s for two hours. I am on board with that.
So, the play had plenty of making fun of Mormons, which was sweet. The best part about the silliness is that it wasn’t malicious. Mormon’s aren’t bad people at all. They don’t kill people who disagree with them, like radical Islamists do. They are nice and quiet and hard-working people who just believe some silly shit. Nothing wrong with that, my brother. I think just about all of us fall under that umbrella.
What I didn’t expect was how thoughtful the play was. In the end, it was a very spiritual tale of self-reliance and self-determination. Also, the play got something right that no one has EVER managed to about religion, besides Joseph Campbell. These stories are allegories and metaphors. If I told you of Jesus’ story without all the magic, it wouldn’t be that interesting. His life, to me, is certainly not more remarkable or heroic than Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. So, to get the story to stick, we had to punch it up a bit. How do we get teenagers to understand the impact of Jesus’ teachings? Tell them he walked on water and had lasers for eyes. Tell them he could turn water in to wine, had charisma +8, and an invisibility cloak.
That was a complicated way to express a point that the play did beautifully. At one point towards the end, our protagonists find out the version of Mormonism told to them was complete nonsense. This is great because most reasonable people (even Mormons, I suspect) believe the origin myths of Mormonism to be complete nonsense. The lead female explains to a peer – “no one actually fucked a frog. It’s a metaphor, dummy”. What that meant was take the parts that are meaningful to you and apply them in a manner that helps you. That is the Buddhist nature of the play. Take what you can out of these teachings and apply them how you can. The missionaries had customized the mythos of Mormonism to be something an African villager could wrap their head around.
There is a great history of this. How do we get non-European people to dig our god? We are white, and our god is white, and our Jesus is white – so how do we sell that to all these brown people? Easy, make a brown one for them! The virgin of Guadalupe! It was brilliant, and it was marketing 101. How do we get the brown people to dig our white god? Simple, make a brown one for them. Did you know at Wendy’s in New Mexico they sell Hatch Green Chili burgers? Did you know in China they make Kit Kat that is green tea flavored? This is the EXACT same thing.
It isn’t a bad thing at all. John Stewart explained the same premise in his brilliant stand up act from years ago called ‘Unleavened’. This show is tragically lost to the ages, and was done long before he was a big TV star. He explained the reason why orthodox jews were forbidden from eating Pork. See, before refrigerators, eating spoiled pork can kill you. Raw fish or beef? Fine, a delicacy, even. But eating mis-handled or mis-prepared pork can kill you. They told people this and no one listened. So, instead, it became “because God said so”. Simple, and problem solved. You had to lie to people for their own good. Yes, pork, like any meat, can be cured and stored with salt. If you do it wrong, though, you die. Your government does this to you, and for you, every day.
So, the characters in the play customized the dogma of a very Western religion to make it pertinent to African villagers (where the play takes place).
This is right thought, right action, right effort, and right mindfulness. These are all pillars of the Buddhist ‘eight-fold path’.
So, how do you explain the utter white nonsense that is Mormons origin myth? You tell the story in terms that your audience can understand. So, it became a tale of aids, diarrhea, and frog fucking. Remember this is the guys who wrote South Park, so it was also wildly offensive.
On the surface, the story of the Book of Mormon could seem dismissive of organized religion. To me, though, it is exactly the opposite. The take away is to follow your own eightfold path, or golden rule, to better yourself and your community. The Book of Mormon is a love story of empowerment, and how religion can play a positive role in that.
Even the great war lord ‘General Butt-Fucking Naked’ agrees.*
*yup, that is a real character’s name in the play. Again, we are dealing with Trey and Matt.