on Sunday before the game?
I guess here might be a good place to mention that, as a Zen Buddhist (why do I think that by writing that I have just made myself not a Zen Buddhist?), I don't believe in God. Buddhism is a religion that believes that the idea of a god is yet one more separation between the sentient being and their full realization of the true nature of things. So billboards purporting to spout the casual conversations of God to others should not be a big concern of mine. But something about this little group of them really confounded me. Is it ok for someone - who? - to do just that: to decide to write little snippets of casual conversation and label them as coming from God? And then print them out and put them on highway billboards? What, exactly, is the purpose of this?
I was brought up as an Episcopalian in Massachusetts. My mother's family is full of Anglican ministers and even a bishop somewhere in there, in Newfoundland and England. My dad's family...well...not so much. But the long and short of it is, this is not your "go tell it on the mountain" crowd: stiff upper lip and all that. Of money and religion we do not speak. In fact, when I was still searching for a teacher and a sangha, I went to hear Sogyal Rinpoche give a two-day talk. At the beginning of the first day, his assistant gave a little speech that was along the lines of "you may hear some things here that will resonate with you strongly. Do not go out and tell all your friends but let them sit with you quietly." I loved it. Don't go tell it on the mountain!
But back to the billboard. Here was someone who was inventing the word of God. Isn't that supposed to be frowned upon?
Also, I was reading this book titled "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert on the road. Out of some kind of reverse snobbism, I had avoided it since it was so popular but I was desperate for something to read at one point in Dallas so I bought it and was immediately sucked in. There is a lot of conversation about God in that book. Her description of God as the ultimate in unconditional love, not tied to dogma or really tied to anything except the willingness to be open to it, sounded good to my peacenik, anti-instituitonal ears. One of the main ways she goes about getting closer to God is through meditation, which sounded good to my zazen practicing mind/body. So I am all grooving on this book where this person who is about my age is going to all my favorite places in the world and having these mindshaping, life changing experiences, and then "why not come by my house on Sunday..."
And I was offended. There, I said it. It pissed me off, me: the non-believer, the student of Zen.
I still am not exactly sure what about that billboard that struck a nerve with me. Was it the casual tone? Was it the notion of someone pretending that God is out there recruiting people to visit him/her/it/them? Was it all of that? Also, I thought about if someone put a quote from Buddha on a billboard, would that make me angry? Well, there is a huge difference. For one, "the Buddha" meaning the historical Buddha was a real person, like Jesus. You are quoting Buddha and you are quoting a real person. God is an idea, a concept, or perhaps a phemonena beyond description. You are quoting...what exactly? That billboard made this idea/concept/phemonena of "God" into a person who wants to hang out "before the game"?
Maybe it made me angry because the people I know who are closest to being bodhisattvas on this earth are ones who have worked very, very hard to get there. They move through the world in what seems like an effortless way now, but I know their paths were full of doubt and facing up to all their personal flaws and weaknesses, and full of just plain hard work. This damn billboard seemed almost to be mock all they have done, as if dropping by church before a game was all it takes.
But as I write this, I am reminded of something that the teacher at the Zen Center said as we started a three-day sesshin last spring. He asked us if it mattered what people called us - is one really better than another? More accurate in its description of who we are? He started out with his name, then his darma name, then "teacher... my love...asshole...jerk" Does it matter? Which one do we cling to? And which one trips us up?
Like I said, more questions than answers.