Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sermon

Today is Easter Sunday, the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox, during which, of course, Jews celebrate the Passover, while Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus--both, in my view, metaphorical responses to the miraculous return of new life in the spring. Ann and I celebrated a kind of Gaian Easter by going for a walk in Sandy Bottom Park, looking closely and deeply at the budding leaves, the nesting birds, and the wetlands all around us. A chill, but glorious day.

Despite my general preference for natural religion--that is, for autonomous, freelance, and idiosyncratic spiritual practice--I confess I have always had a certain, often grudging envy and admiration for messianic personalities--charismatic spiritual leaders like the Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Paul, Muhammad--and later, such as St. Francis, Guru Nanak, and St. Ignatius Loyola. People, that is, who created or transformed whole cultures by the force of their personalities and the inspiration of their words. And beyond admiration, I have harbored a recurrent fantasy to emulate them--to launch my own world-transforming Dharma Gaia movement, much on the pattern of St. Ignatius and the Jesuits, creating a self-replicating army of devotees who would first undergo a strenuous spiritual discipline and then "go forth," seeding Gaian wisdom and enlightenment skillfully to the ends of the Earth. I envision my corps of devout, selfless, and confident Gaians insinuating themselves into the corridors of power, or bringing solace and redemption to the poor and desolate, or facing down and disarming dangerous marauders, all by ceaselessly repeating, meditating on, and practicing the Dharma Gaia Mantra--the imperishable "Truffula Seed" they carry with them everywhere they go:

"Breathe-Observe-Let Go; Be well-Do Good Work-Keep in Touch; Learn Gaia, Teach Gaia, Heal Gaia, Create Gaia"

And then, just as surely, the bubble pops. In part, it bursts because I completely lack the force of personality, the sublime self-assurance, and--in a word--the charisma to pull it off. But equally, it pops because I recognize how thin a line there is between a true, enlightened messiah like the Buddha, Jesus, or St. Francis--and the huge host of dangerously vainglorious demagogues who came to believe their own schtick, to see themselves as God's viceregents, and who seduced their followers with their hypnotic, rapturous rants into appalling acts of repression and cruelty toward the "other:" such charismatic psychopaths as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Cromwell, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao...truly dangerous people, who wrought havoc on the world.

In short, one cannot be an aspiring messiah or guru if he is not utterly convinced of his own divine inspiration, yet if he is so convinced, the odds are that he is a dangerous, deluded psychopath. Some, while doing much good, nonetheless were so utterly convinced that their way was the only way that they ended up paving the way for both great good and appalling acts of bigotry and hatred; the two who spring to mind in this respect are Paul of Tarsus and Mohammed--though very likely St. Ignatius falls into this category as well, along with some charismatic political fanatics like Fidel Castro. And maybe (if I were to be generous) Martin Luther as well. (Calvin, however, remains in a lower circle, with Cromwell and Hitler).

While I like to fantasize that my own spawn of awakened, devoted, and impassioned Gaian warriors would be impeccably open-hearted and tolerant of diversity, it is not likely. Few people can manage the trick of being passionately dedicated to a cause or an ideal on one hand, and open-minded, ironic, and tolerant of diversity on the other.

So for now, my vision of a passionate, world-transforming Dharma Gaia movement--my imaginary host of Gaian franciscans bringing aid and organically grown comfort to the poor and destitute, or Gaian jesuits rigorously reforming education and counseling world leaders on sustainability and peacemaking--must remain as it is, a mere fantasy. Nothing, after all, is stopping me from practicing and teaching the Dharma Gaia mantra myself, sowing the seed as I will. But as Gandhi assured us, the heart of enlightenment involves "renouncing the fruits of action"--simply doing what needs to be done, and letting go of attachment to outcomes, and to vainglorious fantasies as well. If my "teachings" (as it were) are to have any influence at all on the evolution of the world, it will emerge. If not, not. The world will just have to muddle through without them. :-)