The Bodhisattva ideal in popular Western culture

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noman
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Post by noman » Sun May 03, 2009 8:40 pm

What child has never thrown a fly into an active spider web, poured salt on a snail, or burned an ant with a magnifying glass.

- NoMan

I never did. I guess some kids develop empathy earlier than others. I did go to the other extreme, though, it seems. I remember watching nature shows and being outraged that the person behind the camera didn't rescue the gazelle from the lion.

-SomeHopes
Silly me. This is what I love about these forums. When people catch my mistakes. I meant to say what boy has never done these things – or something like it. You’d have to raise boys to understand. The boys section of the toy store is filled with weapons – weapons that as a general rule are used to kill or injure some living creature.

What the boy learns when he goes fishing with his dad is that he becomes a little bit more of a man when he can put that live worm on the hook without flinching or showing empathy for the creature. Then when a fish is caught the dad shows him how to put the fish out of its misery by slapping the fish against a rock and breaking its neck. Of course the little boy can’t do that till he’s older because he’s not strong enough. He’s not a real man yet.

It’s all part of an evolutionary design that has made men the hunter, protector, and aggressor. As a general rule women make life; men take life. But as you know things changed quickly in the 20th century. More and more people in industrialized countries were further removed from the farm and the immediate experience of killing. So we go to the market or the restaurant and get food someone else has killed and packaged for us. In the 1950s there was another subtle but profound change in society; the number of white collar workers began to outnumber the number of blue collar workers. This meant that the number of gentlemen began to outnumber real men. And this laid the foundation for what I will call 68ism. (I previously referred to what happened in the late 60s and early 70s as ‘delusional hippie liberalism’ but everyone kept complaining so I’ll call it 68ism. I’ve read that some Europeans call it 68ism.)

One of the major ideas of 68ism as put forth by a large group of young sensitive intellectuals is that any differences between men and women are the result of cultural influence. It’s all attitude. Androgyny became the ideal. So men could dress up their long hair, wear ear rings, and cry in public. And women could stop being ‘angels of the house’ to use Virginia Woolf’s phrase and go out and kick butt in the vicious male dominated working world.

Both of these were seen as good because the less macho men are the fewer wars there will be. And the more macho women are the less they will be oppressed by the naturally evil men. By the time the first Gulf War happened we had young mothers, as American soldiers, saying goodbye to their breast fed babies because they were being deployed to the Middle East.

The other prominent aspect of the myth of androgyny has been in the news lately as a touchstone of the culture wars and has shown up in these forums lately as well. Since men and women are completely interchangeable then in marriage it shouldn’t matter whether a man marries a woman, a woman marries a woman, or a man marries a man. It’s all the same. To say there is a difference is to discriminate on the basis of someone’s sexual preference (and incidentally to be labeled a homophobe).

Believe it or not, this all has something to do with your response to my remembrance of childhood sadism to insects. About ten years ago I read about ‘eco-feminism’ for the first time in my life and I laughed out loud – which is not proper behavior in a library. But I haven’t stopped laughing since. I even asked about it in these forums without getting an answer. When I think of environmentalism I think of the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation and industrial and agricultural run-off. But I just can’t see what angle women would have over men to address these problems.

But you’ve made me see the light. Traditionally men take life. Women make and nurture life. There’s a certain ‘empathy gap’ for living things, between the sexes. I didn’t see it because like so many people of my generation I was raised with the myth of androgyny.

The film Kill Bill makes fun of our cross gender culture. In the first film the heroine gets in a fight to the death with another woman. But when a young child comes home from school they both hide their weapons behind their back and address their primary order of business of being mothers and nurturers. They have a temporary truce and then take up a fight to the death a little later.

In the second film two women are again trying to kill each other. But one prevents the other from carrying out her mission by convincing her that she is pregnant. She shows her the results of a pregnancy test while they have guns pointed at each other. The film takes the dualism and conflict of a modern woman’s role to an extreme.

When I think about these things I can’t help but laugh at myself, and my culture. I think we’re living in a very strange time - to put it mildly.

(No time for your follow-up question right now concerning the difference between a Messiah, Bodhisattva, and hero. As the Governator likes to say, “I’ll be bauck.”)

- NoMan
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Post by Scarlett » Tue May 05, 2009 10:00 pm

Fun! Some people think riding roller coasters is thrilling -- for me I feel the same way when diving into a new topic. You should share your work when you’re done.

Anyways...
A Bodhisattva is a being who has attained enlightenment but voluntarily commits to returning into the world of messy causes and conditions, in order to save other beings. A Bodhisattva's vow is to not rest on his or her laurels until all beings are saved.

--somehopesnoregrets
I think of a character from my favorite animation film Princess Mononoke. (I love, love, love this film.) The character I am thinking of for your project is a young prince named Ashitaka.

Image

Quick synopsis in case you haven’t seen the movie:
Set during the Muromachi Period (1333-1568) of Japan, Mononoke Hime is a story about a mystic fight between the Animal Gods of the forest and humans.

On the side of the Animal Gods is San (Mononoke Hime), a human girl raised by the wolf god Moro. On the side of the humans is Lady Eboshi, building a kingdom for oppressed people by cutting down the forest for her iron-making operation.

In the middle of this fierce fighting for survival, Ashitaka, an Emishi boy, struggles to find a way for both sides to co-exist. But the fighting just becomes more and more bloody and all hope seems to be lost...

http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/mh/
Now whether or not Ashitaka attained enlightenment, I am not sure. (This is hard to discuss if you haven’t seen the movie). Anyway, he visits the Forest Spirit (a mystical god), who doesn’t cure him of the curse he receives, but sets him free in a way; but Ashitaka struggles to find peace between two opposing forces. Ashitaka demonstrates great compassion for all of the characters involved in the struggle. (I don’t want to say more in case you haven’t seen it).

What’s beautiful about this film is that there are a lot of gray areas (It’s not the “good guys” against the “bad guys”).

What’s interesting is that this movie is Japanese – created by the filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Disney made a deal with Miyazaki and brought it to the U.S. However, I don’t believe the film was as popular here as it was in Japan. I would love to look into the Japanese mythology used in the film.

For more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Mononoke

After seeing this movie, all other animation movies for me, even ones like the new Beowulf (which is good) don’t compare to Miyazaki films -- in my humble opinion.

On another note, who does the Forest Spirit look like?

Image


When I first saw the Forest Spirit in the film, I thought of the cave figure: the Sorcerer of Trois Freres. (You can find the picture in JC’s book, Transformation of Myth Through Time on page 15)

Good luck!

--Scarlett
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Post by jonsjourney » Wed May 06, 2009 12:29 pm

The other prominent aspect of the myth of androgyny has been in the news lately as a touchstone of the culture wars and has shown up in these forums lately as well. Since men and women are completely interchangeable then in marriage it shouldn’t matter whether a man marries a woman, a woman marries a woman, or a man marries a man. It’s all the same. To say there is a difference is to discriminate on the basis of someone’s sexual preference (and incidentally to be labeled a homophobe).
Of coarse there are differences. There are huge differences between men and women. Is a goal of more androgynous attitudes and social structures really such a bad thing?

Remember when a woman's place was 'in the home'? No right to vote or exit an unsatisfactory arranged marriage. She was a subordinate to her husband, in spite of what he did to her. Sort of like what is going on in Africa or Saudi Arabia right now. A woman "marries" a man and is bound to him for life. If he goes out and has an extramarital affair, contracts AIDS and gives it to her, that is her problem, right? She is not allowed to insist he uses condoms, or worse still, be on birth control herself because this will only encourage her to have an extramarital affair! All of which is fully encouraged by the Pope...because condoms are evil! Almost as evil as two persons of the same sex wanting to have a lifelong commitment sanctified....I wonder which is worse.

Ah, the "good old days",when men were men and women were second class non-citizens who would dutifully cook, clean, and be dressed to kill when her husband got home from slamming fish against the side of the boat! :roll:

Sometimes we set out to make changes in our world and some consequences come from it that we would rather have not happened. This does not necessarily negate the good intentions. We can choose to sit on our hands, or we can attempt to be agents for positive change. What is ignored in the above post are the positive things which came about from those crazy 68ers idealistic hippified dreams. Woman have closed the earning gap in employment since that time. Women are now comprised of 51% of the total workforce in America. Woman are assuming key roles in government and business more and more...indeed, we were pretty close to joining the ranks of those nasty liberal European countries by nominating Hillary Clinton to be president of the USA. This list can go on and on. So unless I missed something here, are there not a great many positive things that have come from this horrible, liberal agenda of creating a civilization of equality and opportunity for ALL?

Finally, to say there is a difference is not to discriminate...to treat someone different because of their different gender, race, age, sexual preference, religious belief, etc...THAT is discrimination. That is what gives rise to homophobia, racism, and sexism.

As 'Uncle' Frank Zappa said..."Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible."
"He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot." -Douglas Adams
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Post by somehopesnoregrets » Wed May 06, 2009 4:55 pm

Hi Scarlett;

I never watched Princess Mononoke, but I loved Miyazaki's Spirited Away and Kiki's Delivery Service (I'm on a quest for turning my children into quality animation snobs...). I'll make sure I'll post once I got to watch it (maybe I'll treat myself with it when the semester is over and all papers and finals are done). In Spirited Away it's hard to tell, too, who is "good" and who is "bad," because it depends on one's perspective. In my understanding of a Bodhisattva, he or she thrives in shades of gray, because those are patterned after life with all its complexities, while black and white usually describes people's oversimplified interpretations of/thoughts about life rather than life experiences themselves. I also loved Spirited Away's Shinto influences with all the different spirits, so I have a hunch that I'll enjoy Princess Mononoke, once I get a chance to watch it, since it seems to be set in the same kind of universe.

I'm currently working on the outline for the paper, and I'll make sure to post the final result. I don't like that I have to write it real scholarly, with an introduction that summarizes the entire paper and everything all neat and without fancy surprising twists and turns... but I figure it'll still be interesting.

Hugs.
:-) Julia

P.S.: On a mostly unrelated note -- I also like this little movie (nice animation and mythologically beautiful content, especially when taken metaphorically rather than literally): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8W_YdvTvZkw
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Post by noman » Thu May 07, 2009 2:55 am

JonsJourney,

I feel guilty always harping on culture war stuff no matter what thread I’m in. It was just something SomeHopes said that I couldn’t resist. I did it in the ‘celebration of life’ thread as well. My strong opinion on the culture wars and 68ism is expressed in what I call my ‘culture war’ thread:

http://www.jcf.org/new/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3278

You may want to yap at me there. But I’ll ‘weigh in’ as well over at Clemsy’s ‘gay marriage’ thread titled ‘Adieu Mr. Card.’

shanti

- NoMan
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Post by jonsjourney » Thu May 07, 2009 11:26 am

I feel guilty always harping on culture war stuff no matter what thread I’m in. -NoMan
Being true to one's views is something we are both guilty of, this stems from passion for a particular issue or topic. In an ideal world, maybe we would all be able to make rational, distant observations about any issue before entering the fray of discourse, but we are human after all! So, feel free to "yap" back without apology! :wink:
"He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot." -Douglas Adams
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Post by Neoplato » Thu May 07, 2009 11:51 am

JJ Wrote:
Being true to one's views is something we are both guilty of, this stems from passion for a particular issue or topic. In an ideal world, maybe we would all be able to make rational, distant observations about any issue before entering the fray of discourse, but we are human after all! So, feel free to "yap" back without apology!
There's that passion thing again. I'm guilty too. :twisted:
Well, at least Jesus had some of this as well. :wink:
Infinite moment, grants freedom of winter death, allows life to dawn.
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Post by somehopesnoregrets » Thu May 07, 2009 12:15 pm

I do believe there is no Bodhisattvahood or heroism without passion. Unchecked passions create suffering and hurt. Untamed, wild passions (for love, for money, for power, for fame, for an idea close to one's heart) can literally make us walk over people to get there. But passions that are balanced out by practice and insight are the salt in the soup, the Yang to your Yin. Too much Yin and the whole pond gets stale....

Love your respective passions. If you weren't so passionate about what you feel and think, this forum would be very boring. Fortunately, your passions are balanced out with mutual respect, curiosity about one another, and a sincere desire to listen and learn (rather than preach and missionarize). That's part of what makes this place so magical.

Thank you for being truly you instead of trying to tell me what you think I want to hear.
It is sincerely appreciated.
:-) Julia

P.S.: More about the "guys'n'gals/nature'n'nurture" issue later... Still sorting my thoughts on that one, because my first impression is that I wholeheartedly agree with both of you, Noman and Jon, and I need to think about this some more and figure out what that means.
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Post by Ghost Leaf Skald » Mon May 11, 2009 8:32 pm

To segway back to the several Star Trek references, what if the whole show can be viewed not in terms of the individual characters, but the show entire as analogous to the human experience and our individual struggles to attain enlightenment? Thus the show as a whole can be used as an example of the Boddhisattva ideal, not merely the individual characters.
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Post by jonsjourney » Tue May 12, 2009 10:56 am

To segway back to the several Star Trek references, what if the whole show can be viewed not in terms of the individual characters, but the show entire as analogous to the human experience and our individual struggles to attain enlightenment? Thus the show as a whole can be used as an example of the Boddhisattva ideal, not merely the individual characters.
I am pretty sure that this workload would be worthy of a PHD. :wink:
"He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot." -Douglas Adams
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Post by Ghost Leaf Skald » Tue May 12, 2009 2:27 pm

Haha, I suppose so, it would make a darn good paper though! I am curious on the topic of modern, western examples of pop culture boddhisattvas, if there are any musical examples, songs or bands perhaps that best represent those ideals?
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Post by somehopesnoregrets » Fri May 15, 2009 1:49 am

To segway back to the several Star Trek references, what if the whole show can be viewed not in terms of the individual characters, but the show entire as analogous to the human experience and our individual struggles to attain enlightenment? Thus the show as a whole can be used as an example of the Boddhisattva ideal, not merely the individual characters.
Interesting. I actually pondered something along that same vein, because it seems that each character I think of only fits part of the bill, so maybe whichever I came up with in brainstorming so far is only representing one small aspect of the enlightenment experience (that sounds like a really cool name for an amusement park ride)...
I am pretty sure that this workload would be worthy of a PHD.
Well, maybe, but I do have a history of taking on too much, so nothing new there...

Hugs.
:-) Julia
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Post by somehopesnoregrets » Thu May 21, 2009 4:20 pm

Hello friends;

here's the final paper. Since I was limited to 5 to 6 pages, I feel I merely skimmed the surface of what in fact could be a much deeper topic. I hope my teacher will like my paper as much as I liked his class.

Enjoy,
:-) Julia
THE BODHISATTVA IDEAL IN WESTERN POP-CULTURE

The Bodhisattva is a central concept of Mahayana Buddhism. Are Bodhisattvas a uniquely Buddhist invention? We find Japanese and Chinese popular cultures influenced by the customs, religions, and philosophies of the societies, in which they emerged, thus showing, next to other cultural influences, the occasional Bodhisattva-like character. Are there similar Bodhisattva-analogous figures in Western popular culture, though? Can we find overlaps between the Bodhisattva idea and the Western hero myth in popular Western literature and storytelling? It is the purpose of this paper to examine such possible connections. If we do find any, the next question arises: Are such similarities the result of cross-cultural exchange, or are ideas of Bodhisattva-hood hard-wired into our being human and bound to emerge independently in different cultural circumstances? Last but not least, how does what we find affect our world view and practice as scholars, spiritual seekers, and human beings?

Western scholars define “pop-culture” or “popular culture” as “the totality of distinct memes, ideas, perspectives, and attitudes that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture. Heavily influenced by mass media (at least from the early 20th century onward) and perpetuated by that culture's vernacular language, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of the society.” [1]

The exact nature and implications of the concept remain debated. Pop-culture affects larger segments of the population than the “high” cultures maintained by small, local ruling elites. Its spread and wide availability as well as its short half-life and quick turnaround time make it interesting to philosophers, sociologists, and psychologists. In a hunt for novel material, pop culture’s mass media producers mine traditional “high” cultures, folk stories, their own imagination, and our collective conscious and unconscious needs, hopes, fears, dreams, and desires to feed our voracious appetites for entertainment. At the same time, we, the audience, consume, celebrate, and/or reject this output, leading to interesting feedback loops between thoughts and ideas taken from our cultures’ subconscious underbelly and then fed right back into it. Pop-culture may be a huge money making scheme, but it is also a fascinating, wild-running, and completely uncontrolled psychological and sociological experiment that might have the potential to teach us more about the nature of who we are and want to be.

The Bodhisattva as a magical figure

There are Bodhisattva-like characters in pop-culture myth who feed into our sense of wonder and awe. It looks as if something propelled them beyond sheer humanness, as if they don’t even live in the same world as we “ordinary” humans do. However, their worlds intersect with ours. They interact with us, often as benign messengers and guides towards spiritual growth. The titular hero of the movie “Mary Poppins,” the wizard Gandalf in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Santa Claus, Glinda, the good witch in the “Wizard of Oz,” as well as the fairy godmothers of ancient folk tales belong to this type of kind, mysterious, and miraculous Bodhisattva-like character. They seem to have magical powers and usually lack a detailed background story. They suddenly appear and then, just as suddenly, disappear again. Their entrance and exit may be humble or, more often, accompanied by theatrical effects, smoke, mirrors, or a glittery light show. Is that how a fully manifested Bodhisattva comes across to a regular human being who is meeting him or her? Most Mahayana Buddhist writers emphasize that there is no true qualitative difference between a human lost in samsara, struggling with the forces of maya, and a true Bodhisattva. Nagarjuna reminds us that samsara is nirvana, and nirvana is samsara. Both are merely two sides of one coin. But to somebody in the middle of suffering the calm resolve and focused efficiency of an enlightened being can seem truly miraculous and supernatural, both a beacon of hope and a reminder of our own humble insignificance.

The Bodhisattva as a playful trickster

Sometimes characters appear that, upon a first look, aren’t as nice as the above mentioned benign fairies and wizards. Tinkerbell, the fairy in Disney’s “Peter Pan” movie is cute and sparkly, but has a dark side, too. The mischief of Q, a supremely powerful being in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series’ universe, causes problems to the crews of various starships, just as the “little,” giant children in some traditional folk tales do, whose playfulness damages peasants’ houses and life stock, when mistaking them for their toys. The “Wizard of Oz” appears immensely powerful but turns out to be not more than a snake oil sales man with some machinery.

Philosophies with a strong dualistic emphasis, such as Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism, see the world as wrestling ground between opposing benign and hostile forces, good and evil, angels and devils. Buddhist theorists (and many Western psychologists) instead see most of such extremes as an individual’s expression of struggling towards balance and inner unity rather than as an aspect of reality at large. When we overemphasize Cartesian dualism in our own life, we see angels and devils all around us. When we manage to question and transcend the dualistic perspective on a moment by moment basis, we might find true compassion in our own heart and, during those rare moments, we no longer have to ask external forces for divine assistance or blame demons and devils for our disappointments. Lost in maya’s clutches, we seemed surrounded by devils and strife. When managing to see through maya’s veil, we may find with D.T. Suzuki that “our Bodhi or intellect, which is by the way a reflection of the Dharmakaya in the human mind, is so fully enlightened, we no more build the artificial barrier of egoism before our spiritual eye; the distinction between the meum and teum is obliterated, no dualism throws the nets and entanglement over us; I recognize myself in you and you recognize yourself in me; tat tvam asi.” [2]

Suddenly we notice we were walking with Bodhisattvas all along, cradled and supported by their kindness, wisdom, and deep compassion. Externally nothing has changed. It was a simple shift in perspective. Those pesky trickster Bodhisattvas, who viciously rattle the cages of our preconceived notions, appear as nuisances but do us a favor because they attack our complacency and with it the illusion that we control our life. Tricksters sabotage our prideful arrogance and assumptions of full understanding, leaving us baffled and, if we are able to recover from their blows, ready for new experiences and new learning. They make sure that new revelations won’t let us rest on our laurels but will ready us for further growth and ever more subtle understanding, thus celebrating both the consistent polishing of the practice mirror in Hui-Neng’s poem as well as its ultimate non-existence. Instead of respecting and admiring our carefully filled cup, they force us to empty it, maybe even shatter it onto the ground into a thousand pieces, while joyfully watching our jaw drop in utter confusion. The Wizard is nothing but a fun fair trickster, but he nevertheless manages to outfit the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion with rituals that help them move beyond what they felt their practice was missing, and he is an essential part in helping Dorothy find her way home.

Cartoon Bodhisattvas

Graphic novels are a fairly new literary medium. One subsection of the field is the superhero comic, telling and re-telling a type of story that reliably follows a specific, predictable pattern. Despite reiterating the same motifs, these stories fascinate readers of a wide range of ages, making us wonder if they touch on a deeper psychological nerve. Superman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, the various X-Men, and similar characters share a deep compassion for the world. Ignoring danger and looking beyond the world’s prejudices against them for not fitting in, they fight for what they feel is good and right against a never-ceasing array of imaginative and powerful villains. Most of these heroes have special powers, form-fitting, colorful spandex uniforms, and a secret identity whose rather quaint disguises (such as a pair of thick glasses, unusually ruffled hair, or a particularly clumsy demeanor) rely for their functioning on most human’s lack of awareness. Are these escapist fantasies, or do such savior-figures respond to a natural Bodhisattva-craving in all of us? Do we have some sort of Bodhisattva-instinct that drives some of us to hold on to others for help, some of us to seek the Bodhisattva within, and some of us to find our own balance between independent strength and interdependent connection?

The Bodhisattva as ordinary person on a spiritual hero path

Other pop-culture Bodhisattvas are just like you and me, ordinary people on journeys of personal discovery. Tolkien’s Frodo Baggins is drafted into the job of destroying a magic ring that magnifies wearers’ greed, hate, and delusions. The Wachowski brothers’ “Matrix” movie trilogy follows its Hong-Kong movie inspired hero Neo from initial confused curiosity through adventures of love, war, and layers of self-discovery to ultimate self-sacrifice and ego-dissolution. The “Wizard of Oz” teaches its heroine Dorothy that the Kansas she longs for is a state of mind rather than a destination. Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker’s coming-of-age story includes difficult choices, dark secrets, and—in Master Yoda—an almost stereotypically classical Zen teacher and martial arts Sifu. Robin Hood risks his safety and freedom by becoming an outlaw who fights injustice robbing the rich and giving to the poor. All these heroes and heroines share typical characteristics. They start their respective journeys innocently, almost naive. They are typical members of their societies, yet they are also outsiders who suspect that there is more to life than what their cultures’ mainstream paths offer them. They are fascinated by adventure, but their stories’ events are generally set in motion by circumstances beyond their control that surprisingly thrust their lives from relative safety and boring predictability into grave danger and chaos.

Their individual growth journeys teach them about the Buddha (an appropriate attitude of focused mindfulness and practical virtue), the Dharma (an appropriate practice path that fully honors both what is and can be), and the Sangha (an appropriate understanding of social context and individual practices’ interconnectedness). Their journeys leave them wiser yet often somewhat damaged, a wounded healer, who comes back to the market place from which he or she set out, in order to freely share the gifts life has bestowed upon them and us. Joseph Campbell, comparative mythologist, anthropologist, and gifted writer, dedicated much of his life and work to examine the reoccurring patterns underlying such basic hero stories. 3 He noticed the similarities between heroic and Bodhisattva myths. Are hero journeys special types of enlightenment stories? Is the Bodhisattva merely one type of hero? Did the Bodhisattva concept arise co-dependently or independently in Western and Eastern minds and hearts? Campbell refuses to pass final judgment on this point.

Bodhisattvas and the Messianic myth

Since Judeo-Christian beliefs dominate U.S. American culture, it is not surprising that those myths’ symbolism plays a frequent role in its popular story telling. There are Messianic figures, a Jewish concept of somebody “anointed” by God, who ushers in a new age (some say of war, others of peace). Christians, who supplemented the Hebrew Bible with their own set of scriptures, the New Testament, believe Jesus to be said Messiah. According to Christian doctrine, Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross for the sins of humankind, thus leading to our salvation. In his comparing the concept of messianic Christianity with the ideas of Bodhisattvahood, D.T. Suzuki dismisses the “Christian interpretation that Jesus was sent down on earth by his heavenly father for the special mission to atone for the original sin through the shedding of his innocent blood […]” as “altogether too puerile and materialistic.” 2 Western popular mythologies are full of Christian images. The lethal injection scene in “Dead Man Walking” with its crucifixion motif and the “Terminator” movies’ idea of yet another J.C. (here John Connor) saving humanity are two of many deliberate or accidental examples. Christianity is not a homogenous movement but literally consists of hundreds of different schools of thought and practice, many of which are at odds with one another. Some of those are closer to Mahayana Buddhist interpretations of “salvation” and “liberation” than others. Specifically the direct God experiences of Christian mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, or Teresa of Avila show an understanding of “unconditional Love” that evokes Suzuki’s Bodhicitta. It is highly unlikely that either of these three mystics met a Mahayana Buddhist, thus leading more credence to the possibility that Bodhicitta could be an innate or instinctive force awaiting awakening and cultivation rather than a cultural concept created from scratch and then transmitted from one generation to the next.

“Reality” television

The television landscape keeps changing, with “unscripted” shows forming a rapidly growing segment of the media market. Those shows are quickly and cheaply produced, needing only a basic premise, a host, some producers and technical staff, and a number of participants desperate for their fifteen minutes of fame. Contestant behaviors are filmed and then later edited into coherent narratives. Many of them show unbridled competition and cut-throat attitudes. Is it useless to look for Bodhisattva figures in “reality” TV? Bodhisattvas have a surprising way of popping up like the proverbial lotus in the mud in the most unlikely of circumstances. The stress of being watched while competing for rewards under challenging circumstances can bring out the best and the worst in people.

Looking at our many different Bodhisattva candidates it becomes obvious that the most striking characteristic they have in common is that each of them is completely unique. Are there even common threads we can list, or is uniqueness itself one of the hallmarks of bodhisattva-hood? Is this paper’s categorization trying to force labels on what can’t be labeled? Psychologists explain mythology as the response to basic human needs. It doesn’t seem too far fetched that we find similar needs when comparing individuals from Eastern and Western cultures. We all love our families and friends. We prefer to avoid pain. The content of individual and collective passions, hopes, desires, and fears changes when we move from one culture to the next and from one geographical region to another. The ways in which we practice with those forces are manifold. Practices vary individually and between cultures. But it is my understanding that the nature of sensations, feelings, thoughts, consciousness, and awakening transcends culture and that we can see some of these universal building blocks of what makes us human in anything that we do, including our cultural and pop-cultural products.

Essentially, Western Bodhisattvas teach us the same lessons as all other Bodhisattvas: Open your mind, heart, eyes, ears, arms, and spirit to what the world has to offer. Do not cling too tightly to your rational understanding, superstitious yearnings, and magical thinking. Value impermanence’s cathartic energy. If you experience loss, find out what you need to do to grieve in your own way and move on without looking back. Look beyond greed, hate, and delusions in your search for happiness. Learn from everything and everyone you meet. Trust that everybody has something to teach. And, above all, be kind and gentle with yourself and the world.
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Notes:
1. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, “Popular Culture,” Wikimedia Foundation Inc., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pop_culture (accessed May 17, 2009).
2. Suzuki, D. T. (1907). Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism. London: Luzac and Company, Publishers to the University of Chicago.
3. Campbell, J. (1948). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. San Francisco: New World Library.
4. Joseph Campbell Foundation (JCF). Conversations of a Higher Order. “The Bodhisattva ideal in popular Western culture,” discussion thread initiated by the author of this paper on April 16, 2009 at http://www.jcf.org/new/forum/viewtopic. ... sc&start=0.

Acknowledgment: I sincerely thank the many Bodhisattvas in the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s discussion area for their perspective, kind input, and lively exchanges about Bodhisattvas and heroism. Even though it may seem that I did not use too many of the suggestions, the conversation inspired me and greatly shaped my thoughts about this topic. [4]
somehopesnoregrets
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Post by somehopesnoregrets » Thu May 21, 2009 5:37 pm

Hi again;

Noman and Jonsjourney, now that the semester is over and I have a bit more breathing room, I wanted to get back to the question about male/female differences, because, interestingly enough, it seems I passionately agree with parts of both of your posts (hope that doesn't make me one of those wishy-washy rational relativists...).

Here are some of the quotes that made me think and wonder:
Noman wrote: Silly me. This is what I love about these forums. When people catch my mistakes. I meant to say what boy has never done these things – or something like it. You’d have to raise boys to understand. The boys section of the toy store is filled with weapons – weapons that as a general rule are used to kill or injure some living creature.

What the boy learns when he goes fishing with his dad is that he becomes a little bit more of a man when he can put that live worm on the hook without flinching or showing empathy for the creature. Then when a fish is caught the dad shows him how to put the fish out of its misery by slapping the fish against a rock and breaking its neck. Of course the little boy can’t do that till he’s older because he’s not strong enough. He’s not a real man yet.

It’s all part of an evolutionary design that has made men the hunter, protector, and aggressor. As a general rule women make life; men take life.
Jonsjourney wrote: Of coarse there are differences. There are huge differences between men and women. Is a goal of more androgynous attitudes and social structures really such a bad thing?

[...]

Sometimes we set out to make changes in our world and some consequences come from it that we would rather have not happened. This does not necessarily negate the good intentions. We can choose to sit on our hands, or we can attempt to be agents for positive change. What is ignored in the above post are the positive things which came about from those crazy 68ers idealistic hippified dreams. Woman have closed the earning gap in employment since that time. Women are now comprised of 51% of the total workforce in America. Woman are assuming key roles in government and business more and more...indeed, we were pretty close to joining the ranks of those nasty liberal European countries by nominating Hillary Clinton to be president of the USA. This list can go on and on. So unless I missed something here, are there not a great many positive things that have come from this horrible, liberal agenda of creating a civilization of equality and opportunity for ALL?

Finally, to say there is a difference is not to discriminate...to treat someone different because of their different gender, race, age, sexual preference, religious belief, etc...THAT is discrimination. That is what gives rise to homophobia, racism, and sexism.

As 'Uncle' Frank Zappa said..."Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible."
Until I became a parent myself I would give happy lip service to a "blank slate" (mold them into whatever you want them to be) kind of approach. Now, as mom of two girls with very different temperaments (the older one being sensitive and artistic, the younger with a daredevilish attitude and a great throwing arm), I more and more come to the conclusion that when our kids are entrusted to us at birth, they are mostly already who they are and that it is our job to support them, nurture them, give them opportunities, boundaries, and soft place to rest or fall, and help them unfold their potential. The power we have as parents, it seems to me right now, is mostly to mess them up or not, not to forcefully direct their interests into a particular direction. We do have a lot of power to hurt our children by projecting our own stuff, mindlessly repeat the mistakes our own parents made, almost as mindlessly rebel against our upbringing by compulsively going into the other extreme, etc. but not a lot of power, I feel, to mold these children into fitting the personal utopia of our choice. That is both a good and a bad thing, because I am human, my vision is limited, and, who knows, my utopia might be somebody else’s ultimate nightmare.

I remember sometime around reading your boomer thread watching three 5-year old boys tearing up a playground, daring each other into using the little plastic bikes at that playground to try and go down the slide on them. It baffled me to see how much testosteroning was already happening there, while they were still far from hitting puberty. They were a gang of young males if I had ever seen one… on their rides, trying to push their own limits, at the risk of breaking their necks. Was that genetic? Were they imitating what they’ve seen on TV, from older brothers, fathers? Don’t know. What bothers me, though, is that I see many parents today not questioning this (in my eyes pretty idiotic) behavior but simply shrug their shoulders and go, hey, boys will be boys. Instead of teaching girls to challenge themselves physically and instead of teaching boys empathy, thus widening the range of options and perspectives for both boys and girls, most pf today's parents seem to fully fall for and play into the gender stereotypes rather than challenging (or even questioning) them. It seems to me that we don’t do our children any favors by keeping them with the herd, using the lowest common denominator for understanding who they are and what they could be.

What worries me most is the level of advertising targeting young children. I remember, when reading about stimulus-response mechanisms in behaviorist psychology, that there was such as thing as a “hyperstimulus,” a stimulus that hooks into the animal’s hardwiring in a way that is even more forceful than the natural stimulus would be. For example, little seagulls react to a red spot on the parent’s beak and open their beaks so they can be fed. It is, however, possible to construct a fake beak that is completely red and that hooks into the natural stimulus-response mechanism more forcefully than the natural bird’s beak would, compelling the chicks to direct their attention to the fake but optimally designed beak rather than the real thing. When I see advertising geared towards children on U.S. television that is what I see. Hyperstimulation (and parents who feel, well, boys and girls are different anyhow, so what’s the big deal with giving boys guns and girls purple unicorns...?).

So, yes, Noman, I do agree with you that men and women are generally different, but I don’t think that this has to mean teaching boys empathy and girls leadership are lost causes. When I look around in this society, though, it seems that I’m the odd one out with this opinion.

I also agree with you, Jonsjourney, in that equal opportunities are a worthwhile goal, but I wonder if attempting to simply not discriminate is the solution. I wish we could treat all children on their own individual terms rather than force them into other people's prejudiced views of what it means to be male or female. I wish we, as parents and as society at large, would encourage sensitive boys and girls to put themselves out there while also helping them figure out how to cope when life hits them hard, and teach those boys and girls who are by nature more brutal how to put themselves into other creatures’ shoes/paws/flippers. I don’t really have any neat and final answers. However, it seems to me that most people today don’t see the potential for complexity and embracing the paradox, the successful holding of inner contradictions, that can result in creative and individually different interpretations of what it could mean to be a man who is in touch with his Yin-side or a woman with a lot of Yang, a person in balance. Because once those boys and girls grow into men and women, many of them will no longer realize that there are many more types of people than there are stereotypes, into which to fit them. That idea of balancing one’s own male and female energies is something I do see in some of the 68-er attempts at breaking through stereotypes, and that what seems to have completely gotten lost since, a loss I am grieving. Just look at the little boys and girls nowadays: Flannel shirts and brown pants on the boys, pink on the girls. I wish it were the other way around, but I’m not sure how I would feel about this if I had two boys rather than two girls. If you want to buck the trend you have to pay a lot more money or start sewing. There is something very wrong going on, I feel, but maybe I’m simply paranoid… Don’t know…

Hope some of my randomly haphazard thoughts about this do make sense.
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noman
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Post by noman » Fri May 22, 2009 7:01 am

Hello SomeHopes, Scarlett, JJ, and all,

I found Princess Mononoko at my local library. I can’t help but contrast it to the Walt Disney animated films I know. There is less comedy, and no songs. Beautiful artwork. I don’t know about the Japanese myth-themes. I see it as modern myth.

One of the things I appreciated was the fact that they showed people working. Many of the Western films only show people fighting, or feasting, or perhaps taking part in a ceremony. But leave it to the Japanese to show people just making an ordinary living.

There were two ‘power’ women, which speaks to the modern mythology. Mononoko was raised by wolves, and fought on the side of nature against humans. But the major theme, I think, is the battle of civilization against nature. We moderns live with idea that nature, Gaia, is losing the battle. If man-made global warming breaks the Thermohaline circulation it might be like severing the head of the forest spirit, who has more power than we can possibly deal with.

I don’t know if that’s what the makers of the film had in mind. But it’s something I thought about watching the film. And the hero, Kashetaka, is the warrior that seeks peace and harmony between all opposing forces.


* * * * * * *

I don’t watch many films. But recently I picked up ‘Dead Man Walking’. I hadn’t thought about it, SomeHopes, until you mentioned it. Shawn Penn’s statement to the parents just before he died. As worthless a human being that he was, in some small, way he wanted his death to have meaning. That’s really what the boon is all about. Meaning. Meaning is more important than joy and suffering, life and death.

The other thing that struck me about your essay SomeHopes, was spandex cartoon heroes. I never thought about that. But any self-respecting superhero had better have a spandex costume. Otherwise they just aren’t with it. I wonder who started that trend.

The trouble with heroes is that they come in different flavors. The Bodhisattva is a spiritual hero, interested in the transcendental realm. But most of our heroes are earthly heroes, succeeding in earthly battles. There is a big difference. The Buddha’s father was informed that his son would either be a world ruler, or a great world teacher. What was already established by this time in history is that he could be one or the other – but not both. So I draw the line between gurus that try to help you succeed earthly and gurus that try to help you succeed heavenly – if that makes any sense. I won’t ask Suze Orman how to get to heaven – or Mahatma Gandhi how to be financially successful.

[get to gender studies later]

- NoMan
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