Jeremy McKeen remembers the mustard seed of faith that almost was.
“Between the Pope and air conditioning,” says Harry Block of Woody Allen’s 1997 Deconstructing Harry, “I’d choose air conditioning.”
The Pope, however, does have a castle. And cool outfits.
But the sentiment of that quote, that in our modern age an individual would choose science, technology, and convenience over mythology (and the anxiety that comes with belief)—remains appropriate, especially in this modern age where “Nones” and “Dones” are growing in numbers while the faithful are seeing declines like never before.
In a world of full of air conditioning, bottled water, Pop Tarts, seedless watermelons, and endless computers in the hands of children, it’s easy for nonbelievers to rely on modern convenience and leave the possessions, miracles, and conversions to badly produced religious movies (and some well produced Hollywood films) and tall tales, where they belong. There are no miracles, there is no Devil, and most parents will choose medicine over straight “prayer-changes-things” sessions any day.
We’re awash in a non-religious reality, the whole Western world over.
What if there really was a new Buddha?
Enter “Buddha Boy,” otherwise known as Ram Bahadur Bomjon, Nepal’s breakout religious star who, since 2005, has drawn followers, admirers, and skeptics for his meditative practices and belief that he is a reincarnation of the “real” Buddha. This is the same Buddha Boy who caught my attention and potential belief in 2006 when, almost a decade into my atheism, I thought this could be the real thing. This could be it—a real, magical being who actually does something to prove there is more to this temporal plane of existence. History is dubious concerning all of the saints, prophets, saviors, and such—but a real, live miracle worker! Here in the flesh!
I also thought—which is usually my first thought about these things—that it was and is a hoax and will pass; but the part of me that holds out hope for the miraculous temporarily blinded the skeptical, realistic part of me that checks my passion and enthusiasm on a daily basis. If the Buddha Boy had powers to meditate, heal, and transcend physical existence, then all bets were off. I’d have to give magic and belief another chance. I’d give trying to believe in God another chance. I might have even have thought about the arduous road back to being some sort of religious person, which was someone I had stopped being.
But wait a minute—just because you can meditate under a tree doesn’t mean that you can heal or that reincarnation is real. There are more logical fallacies in the want and practice of belief than in anything else. We do it all the time. We want to believe so we construct scaffolds that aren’t there in order to prop up presuppositions that aren’t there, in order to make things true because we want them to be true. Plus I’ve seen more than enough “Magic’s Biggest Secrets” videos to know that—sorry, Harry Potter and My Little Bronies—there is no real magic.
And if you’re a real student of Buddhism, Christianity, or any myth, then you know that there are plenty of prophets and saints who exist to simply point the way to “the Truth” rather than acting as “the Truth.” “Be your own light,” the Buddha supposedly said in his last sermon. Which Buddha? Good question. There have been many.
And Buddha Boy? Just like my almost-episode of belief, he disappeared soon after making headlines, only to return to the public spotlight in 2014, without an official Facebook, Twitter*, or Instagram. You’d think the Buddha today would be able to spread his message of peace way easier than any of the Buddhas of old.
I just can’t believe
The thing is, I can’t believe. It’s just not in me. I want to. I once did. I see the value in it. But it just doesn’t make total sense—any of it, not one religion, cult, or myth. Belief in religion is a bank I can’t trust and a person I can’t fall in love with. And I’ve tried, time and again, for years, in ways you probably haven’t if belief has come easy to you, which it does for many of people.
Science, history, and logic all convene on this point: miracles don’t actually happen, prayer doesn’t change things directly (or measurably), and no one has ever risen from the dead or emitted magical powers for real.
And nobody can go months without food or water while meditating, unless they have a friend or priest feeding them food through a false wood panel backing every night, or some sort of trickery. The “real” Buddha was said to have existed on one grain of rice a day. I don’t believe that either, because it’s also said that he exited the womb walking, preaching, and with a full set of teeth.
But I was hoping.
Who’s your yogi?
The problem with Buddhas, saviors, and prophets is that they’re all the same, and their followers always believe that they’re not always the same. Always.
Whether you’re rooting for Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Buddha Boy, or the latest self-help guru (or an “actual” guru), all cult leaders and religious figures say and ask for the same thing: denial of your family and friends who won’t believe, full acceptance of faith (which, believers come to believe, is actually “sight” and not belief), and trust that there is only one way, which you happen to be part of. And if anyone says differently, they’re just persecuting you with their criticism. It’s foolproof! And the oldest game out there.
But I wanted to believe, and for a brief while I was hoping that this 15-year-old was the actual answer to the invented saviors of history. What I mean by that is that all of the icons and saviors have had poor records of proving the actualities of their existence, writing things down, and having proof of their appearances confirmed for the world at large to witness and accept. It’s convenient that almost everyone in the world was illiterate until the last two hundred years, when humanity started its religious decline, and that there are minimal examples of “miraculous” happenings today when it would behoove prophets and supernatural beings to have their own YouTube channels. What better way to convert the world than performing the miracle of the loaves and fishes on Snapchat or Vine?
You see, any time a psychic, faith-healer, medium, priest, prophet, religious icon, or zealot claims super powers or extra-human abilities, they must be tested. Today this would be easy—we have science laboratories and video-analysis software. The past million years? Not so much.
Growing up, I remember receiving mail from television evangelists that encouraged you to simply plant special dirt and seeds, or pray with your hand on the outline of a hand on the mail package. Even as a child I thought, if this were true, wouldn’t the whole world want a piece?
If it were true. Because none of it is. But we all wish it was.
“*the_buddha1 hasn’t tweeted yet”
Time will tell. The Buddha Boy, who is now in his mid-twenties, might just turn out to be the first real prophet with super-human abilities, who proves that reincarnation, telepathy, mind-over-matter, and a spiritual plane of existence are as real as the parts of the book and video store that also claim they are. Religion, History, and Non-fiction are sorted separately.
Messages of world-wide peace are nothing new; international figures brokering diplomatic deals are nothing new; potential Earthly saviors are nothing new—but a real person embodying these elements, walking among us—that is something that history has never actually confirmed, although historians have been cajoled into “confirming” the “facts” of religion from time to time. If he—or a she —like this walked among us, I might just become a believer, maybe just on Twitter.
Either way, I’ll be waiting, patiently, like the Buddha.
Do they have air conditioning in Nepal?
Photo: Matthew Fang/Flickr.
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