Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Honor Thy Elders and Kill the Buddha

Still working on a piece about elders and youth, but hey, it’s my vacation out on a lake and it’s a lot of work stitching together all the ideas into any semblance of coherence. Ideas that no one is asking for.  But I like some of the sentences and I promised to deliver something in the last blog, so between abandoning it all together and seeing it through to the end, I’m opting for select quotes from a longer article that is yet to be. And so:

• “Honor thy father and mother” was the first commandment Moses received. And for a good reason. No them, no us.

• We are here by the grace of those who came before us and the proper etiquette includes large doses of gratitude.

• Such gratitude is a lifelong conversation that walks the full peaks and valleys of a complex, treacherous and extraordinarily beautiful landscape that has no map. It properly should begin with respect and end with love and appreciation, but in-between is some rocky terrain passing through challenge, questioning, rejection, disdain, dismissal and some intense eye-rolling.

• The job of the young is to rise to the bar the elders set, to caretake as precious jewels the wisdom and culture and beauty they bequeath, to carry the lit torch further down the field. (The job of the old is to beware of mixed metaphors.)

• But it is equally the job of the young to question, to challenge, to untie the knots of prejudice or narrow thinking or dubious practice, to make contemporary a way of life that grew in one era and now needs re-adjustment in another. If you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him! Even loving guidance can be an obstacle to finding your own proper way.

• That’s where the path gets steep, negotiating the cliff’s-edge balance between  “thank you” and “no thank you.”

• As we grow into adulthood, much of what we dismissed and rejected from our elders comes back to us in a new understanding. Mark Twain says it best:

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years!”

• The beginner in any field of endeavor should be properly awed by their seniors, but not intimidated. They must have enough humility to recognize their accomplishment and learn from them, enough courage to question them and enough confidence and audacity to think that they can surpass them. And the wise elder welcomes it all.

• When we live in “the sibling society,” all equal peers sharing our opinions, we live in a flat, horizontal world and lose the vertical dimension of spiritual blessing. Worse yet, when we look to the youth for guidance in matters more profound than how to download an ap, we place too great a weight on their narrow shoulders. They are properly terrified when granted power to decide things too large for their tender years. (When a school I know was  hiring a new head, the hiring committee gave the point of view of an elder staff member, a point of view formed by over 35 years of teaching, the same weight as the opinion of a 7th grader who thought that this candidate was “cool,” that candidate “not as cool.”)

• A culture that looks to youth for guidance and bypasses elders is a confused culture.
All have something valuable to contribute, but the greater weight must come from above, from those with ample experience.

• Elderhood is a state of being that mere years alone cannot grant. It is achieved through certain kinds of experiences married to a refined practice, a mindful sensitivity and a storehouse of knowledge. The elders are the ones who have walked further down the path and noticed the important things. As such, they carry the power to guide those coming up the path, to beckon them forth and bless them. Not all old people are necessarily elders, but all elders are old enough to have earned their status.

• Some young people have an enlarged sensitivity, an alert mind, a dedicated practice that grants the necessary experience to contribute, but there are certain kinds of knowledge that simply need the long gestation of the years to come to full bloom.

• Some old folks talk on and on when instead they should be swimming on a hot summer day. And so today’s wisdom from this wannabe elder: Go jump in the lake!

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