By Leanne Spencer
Last week, this year’s cohort of SCA 2.0 had their first session with the facilitator playfully named, Ben the Buddhist. Ben is an English boy done well; after an admittedly tumultuous start in life which led him to become a father at 14, he pulled the handbrake on his momentum and turned it all around.
Now, he’s 34 and retired after a career of cross-industry entrepreneurship so, he spends his time teaching mindfulness and relaxation techniques at the SCA.
Here’s the problem.
Ben won a thing, and as a result, got to spend x amount of time living in a monastery with Shaolin monks. He came back with a bag full of half-remembered, out of context tautologies about how you and everyone else should live your lives.
He says Buddhism is the middle path; choosing neither here nor there but instead being mindful of both, alternative routes. He went on to explain that his approach to mindfulness is what allowed him the clarity of thought to predict, from his first campaign speech, that Donald Trump was about to be president. He was so sure of his prediction that he went as far as to put money on it.
So, on that faithful day in 2016, when half the world heard all at once that a man dedicated to bigotry, classism and Orwellian levels human rights abuse was to run the world’s largest nuclear surplus, Ben the Buddhist was at the betting shop.
Ben said to question everything. He says to take nothing at face value but instead, to look beneath the surface for the truth, or at least the unbiased view, in everything.
My first question, Ben, is how dare you?
Shaolin monks became renowned for being both warriors and monks because they had to protect the monastery from attacking assailants(1). Do you think any of them were betting on which heirloom would be smashed first? If it was your daughter that the 45th president of the United States was ready and willing to grab by the p*ssy, would you still be as aloof?
Buddha taught that one of the four noble truths is that that suffering is caused by self, greed, desire and ignorance(2). Moreover, Martin Luther King, who was admittedly not a Buddhist monk, once said:
“A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
Tell me then, what it is called to take the teachings out of the mouths of monks all the way back to the land of the colonizers just to give them new breath by which to lie. I don’t know Ben well enough to tell you whether or not his success was his own. But by chance, had the winds not turned in his favour and he had been so unlucky as to stand in the way of the monsters that now walk among us, I wonder if the middle path – that space between knowing and caring – would have seemed quite as alluring.
1 . Sara Naumann, “A Brief History Of Shaolin Temple, Home Of Zen Buddhism And Kung Fu”, Tripsavvy, 2019 <https://www.tripsavvy.com/brief-history-shaolin-temple-1495708> [Accessed 19 September 2019].
2 . Ramandeep Kaur, “Teachings Of Gautama Buddha”, My India, 2013 <https://www.mapsofindia.com/my-india/subcontinent/teachings-of-gautama-buddha> [Accessed 19 September 2019].