When my husband and I got married, a friend of ours read a poem aloud called The Very Short Sutra on the Meeting of the Buddha and the Goddess. In the poem, the Buddha’s kicking it of an afternoon, wandering around like the Buddha does, walking. Just walking. And then this naked red goddess with long blue hair pops up in front of him and blocks his path, all HWAA! Here I am! And the Buddha’s all, hey! Why you gotta pop up and get in my way? I was just going about my business, cool, Buddha-style. (And also, the Buddha clocked that she was a totally foxy naked goddess, because he’s not DEAD, after all.) And she said, and I quote, “You can go around me, or you can come after me, but you can’t pretend I’m not here. This is my forest, too.” Then the Buddha and the Goddess get into this sort of sexy, challenging face-off. He assumes this rock-solid meditative posture, and starts telling her about how after arduous practice he’s penetrated reality, and she’s like NOT SO FAST, I AM REALITY. And then they really get into it, but never mind. We can leave them there. I’ve arrived at my point.
For years I’ve been toggling back and forth between Buddhism and Hinduism, and it’s driven me nuts that I couldn’t land on one of them. They’re each so attractive in their different ways. Buddhism is cool, impeccable, unflashy. You can’t argue with the logical empiricism of Buddhism, or you can, but Buddhism doesn’t mind. It can wait all day. Argue yourself in circles. Eventually you’ll tire, and Buddhism won’t have been even mildly scratched by your efforts. I can’t think of another religion that gives near as much attention to epistemology as Buddhism does, and then it has the grace to set it down and get to pure practice. It’s so incredibly secure. It’s the most secure, unflappable religion in the world. When did the Buddhists ever flip out and wage a holy war? Never is when. They’ve conducted themselves with great class through the centuries. Buddhism has its head down and its eyes on its own work, and it gently suggests you do the same. Am I gushing? I might be. I confess a crush. I had a crush on a fella one time purely because he was so calm and sensible -- so calm and sensible, in fact, that it struck me as terribly manly. Buddhism’s like that for me. So elegant and brave and adult. Swoon.
At the same time, though, if we’re going to run with this choosing-a-religion-as-taking-a-lover notion (and we are), hmm. Buddhism, gosh. You’re so cool, such a catch, quietly sexy in your way. But I’d sort of like to have the sense that you could flip out now and again, get mad, get ecstatic. That’s what I’m missing. That’s why I can’t commit. It’s not that you don’t have danger. You do. There are some essential safety nets you don’t provide, and that’s daring, that’s provocative. But you never seem to do anything wrong. You never mix it up.
Cue the sitar and a supersexy four-armed blue god strides on to the scene. WHAT…is that? And then the sky fills with somersaulting gods and goddesses in all flavors: ridiculous, wonderful, elephant-headed Ganesha, Hanuman the Monkey God, the triumvirate of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, with their respective girlfriends (!) Sarasvati (special power: music, knowledge and the arts – she plays the veena) (Me neither. Like a guitar?), Lakshmi (wealth, grace and beauty: who can turn the world on with her smile?) and Kali (who will fuck your shit up and add you to her necklace of skulls). There’s Durga, riding down the sky on her tiger or lion, whatever she’s in the mood for that day, swinging her ax and taking out demons. There’s Krishna, The Cosmic Player, with his long lashes and his blue skin, and his patient main squeeze, Radha, and they’re hot with love for each other. These gods and goddesses are like a divine Superfriends - and they sound like cartoons - but when you dive in to each of their lore, you see they stand for particular principles of reality, laws of physics, natural phenomena, and there’s plenty of sophistication in the layout. Hinduism is full of epic stories, battles and sex and revenge and undying love. It’s unreasonable and fiery and vast, and it sizzles with nuclear magic. The cosmos is like a giant silver screen, and the Hindu pantheon strides across it like so many movie stars. It’s the oldest religion in the world, with thousands of years of heft to it. Plus: gurus*! If you can wade through the sea of false ones and get lucky enough to find your very own real one with your name on him or her, zing! You have booked a ticket to enlightenment. May take a while, but it’s booked. Your guru is contractually obligated to make that happen.
*Buddhism quietly adds, “We have teachers. It’s in the same neighborhood. It’s worth noting.” You do, Buddhism, and I like your spin, there. Your way feels less confining, and you seem to invite more personal responsibility. No, I dig. I dig it.
Quit armwrestling, fellas**. You’re BOTH gorgeous.
**by which I mean quit trying to arm wrestle Buddhism, Hinduism. Buddhism is ignoring you, anyway.
Okay. The sex appeal of both religions has been established. Time to examine compatibility. I would so like to pair up with just one of you and make a go of it.
Buddhism, I like who I am when I’m with you. You make me get serious, you encourage me to let go of my illusions. You calm me, ultimately, even if you make me terribly tense for a while on the way there. I feel mature, womanly, ready to face facts. You cool my proverbial fevered brow. You drag me out of my head and into the stream of time and place in front of me. It’s now. It’s here. There’s nothing else. The world may be twisted and dark and relentless with suffering, but we’re not hiding, and the blessings we find along the way are as real as rocks.
Hinduism, I like the world best when I’m with you. The world seems like a miraculous, benevolent circus with glowing peel-away layers through which more light shines, more dazzle manifests. I feel like a child, incredibly well-loved, with my hands held by enormous cosmic Mommies and Daddies who leap me over the puddles and whisk me out of harm’s way. I work my way around my beaded mala, chanting the mantras you gave me, and I feel something sparkling through my body, wafting around my head. You let me be so human, you meet me where I am, you never make me feel ashamed.
I can’t do it. I can never choose. I will never choose. I want both, and I’ll have you both, but never fully. And it’s all right, almost. Well, it’s wonderful. I’m very happy. I have, of course, just one relationship with one Divine, who switches shirts according to my mood. I can swing from one vine to the other and get across the abyss just fine the way I’m doing it. When I meditate, I can touch you both. And if I’m honest, I’ll confess this: Hinduism, you’re probably my true love. I’m fairly sure that you are. But as long as Buddhism walks the earth, I won’t marry you.
Tina Rowley is a writer and performer who lives in Seattle. She's run a little blog operation for a few years called The Gallivanting Monkey. She works with social media for dollars, and makes theater for love. Follow her on Twitter this-a-way.