The BBC has been earning DODR accolades of late, since your gentle author has been enjoying the heck out of their incomparable Planet Earth series. Last night I absorbed Episode 8: Jungles, and literally yelped at the screen during the time-lapse exploration of the fungi on the jungle floor. Think that ain’t compelling? Think again.
And if you aim to develop compassion for the myriad ways in which critters suffer in their various incarnations, consider the parasitic cordyceps fungi. Their spores attach to and infect unhappy insects like the bullet ant (whose own claim to fame, by the way, is the most painful sting on earth – I’m quite glad I wasn’t born into the Brazilian jungle tribes whose adolescent males, in initiation rites, must thrust their hands into gloves filed with them), drive them mad, kill them, and grow out of the corpse’s nutrients. Has to be seen to be believed. The Chinese, of course, eat them. Dig the money quote from this page: “Today the most common way to prepare the caterpillar fungus is to stuff a duck with the caterpillar fungus then after boiling the duck in hot water, patients drink the liquid.” Hey now. Make mine a double!
So. Props to the BBC for that. But now I have to get a little crabby with them.
I just ran across their recent dispatch entitled “Wrestling and Faith in Mongolia,” a singularly shabby piece of journalism.
First off, a pet peeve. The Beeb and many others persist in using the Russian spelling Ulan Bator for the capital city, encouraging its complete mispronunciation. It’s Ulaanbaatar. A herder in his narrative is named Boldbaatar; he doesn’t write it Bold Bator. (And don’t even get me started on the papers that still call the Dalai Lama a “god-king.” Oy gevalt.)
Anyway, the piece is supposedly about the resurgence and introduction of various faiths in Mongolia's post-Communist spiritual vacuum. Fair enough, an interesting topic. But then it narrowly and uncritically focuses on Christian charity, throws in a bit on Mongolian wrestling for no reason I could discern, and then, at the very end, tacks this on about Buddhism under the presumably un-ironic header “Path to happiness”:
“Buddhism, imported to Mongolia by its 16th Century rulers, became the national religion.
"Before a ruthless communist purge in the 1920s, half the male population were Buddhist monks.
"But Puje Chinggis claims the future is Christian. Buddhism told people they must suffer well and earn a better future life.
"He said Mongolians, crushed by economic and social chaos, preferred the Christian acceptance of their inherent badness.
"Puje insists that hope is the ingredient in greatest demand in Mongolia. Christianity, practical and adaptable as it has proved to be, may be one way of providing it.”
Savor that line again: “He said Mongolians, crushed by economic and social chaos, preferred the Christian acceptance of their inherent badness.”
Nevermind that the whole thing paints Mongolians as moral children, but is hope truly found in acceptance of one’s “inherent badness”? If that’s true (and most sane Christians would argue that’s not at all Christ’s gospel), then hope would actually be found in a correct understanding of Mongolia’s ancestral religion, Buddhism.
The Buddha did not at all tell people “they must suffer well and earn a better future life.” The Buddha taught the precise causes of suffering – misapprehension of reality and the consequent grasping at impermanent things to try to extract stable happiness – and that there was a state beyond suffering. This we call enlightenment, a state anyone could experience if they followed the path of personal ethics and mind training he described that led away from the causes of suffering. He taught that all beings had this potential. Why? Because of our inherent goodness, our indwelling enlightened nature.
And as I taught our study group yesterday (many new people came, it was great), Mongolians were one of the few peoples on the planet astute enough to recognize the qualities of Vajrayana Buddhism, the Buddha’s most subtle teachings for swiftly achieving complete enlightenment, even in one lifetime. I pointed out that these teaching began transforming Mongolian culture about 800 years ago while Westerners had only begun serious exploration about 40 years ago. Who was smarter?
Then the wrestling thing. Just a wee bit more digging on the journalist’s part might have uncovered that Mongolia’s top wrestlers – their rock stars – are quite enthusiastically Buddhist. They’ve formed an organization that, among other activities, provided most of the sponsorship for HH the Dalai Lama’s 2006 visit, allowing all events to be free to the public.
La lucha continua.