The Dalai Lama spent last weekend just down the street from my house, drawing crowds of blissed-out followers and seekers of Truth and Tranquility. I toyed with the idea of trekking to the Lama's feet myself, just to soak in, at close range, the whole Tibetan Buddhist vibe. Plus, the dude's a global celeb, despised by the world's largest country, so that's added appeal. But, no ticket was available, and I didn't bother to see if Lama scalpers were working the sidewalk, chanting, ringing bells, and offering choice seats "near the action."
I've never understood the desire to worship an earthly presence as a celestial messenger, or worse, religious icon. True, the concept of living in a godless, soulless void is terrifying for many, and there is deep human need to find order in the echoing chaos. My initial instinct was to sneer at the Lama's pilgrims, most of whom I saw were white, New Age pseudo-hippie types, all passive smiles and reverential strides. But at heart I'm no cold atheist, and these people were totally peaceful and seemingly aglow, so who am I to mock their desire? The Lama's followers are certainly preferable to the mass-consuming, apolitical suburbanites one must endure daily, at least in small doses. There's only so much bliss I can take in an hour. But then, I'm a damaged, anxious fuck who sees much of life through a smudged, cracked lens. A little bliss goes a long way with me.
As you know, the Lama wasn't the only major religious celebrity visiting the States. Pope Benedict XVI swung through, receiving the standard fawning press treatment from our supposedly left wing godless media. Being an ex-Catholic doubtless tints my perception here, but I cannot for the life of me understand the appeal of this or any Pontiff. The Catholic Church is a global racket, headed by decidedly earth-bound men in the Vatican. Its historical collusion with reactionary and fascist forces is well-documented, and of course there's that sexual abuse thing that never seems to fade away. Rolling out the red carpet for this racket's figurehead while Southwestern polygamist groups are busted up by authorities proves that the difference between one person's "religion" and another person's "cult" is usually determined by money and political connections. Hell, if Jim Jones had played his cards right, and been a little less paranoid, he might've built an impressive domestic People's Temple to which American politicians would flock for endorsements. Moving his circus to the jungle was a bad choice tactically, and ended horribly. You won't see John Hagee making the same mistake.
The Pope's photo-op at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan was predictable if a bit puzzling. After all, how much more enlightened is the Vatican concerning women, queers, and secular culture than those who flew the planes into the Towers? Yet, there was New York's finest, along with selected survivors of those who perished in the attacks, bowing before the head of a rather morally compromised order. I don't wish to negate the genuine emotions of those who felt "closure" upon meeting the Pope, but given what goes on inside his Church -- based on what we already know and have yet to see -- he seems a strange choice to bless the pavement where thousands perished. At least the Pontiff's advance team had the good taste to not feature altar boys in the proceedings.
If the Lama and the Pope make you feel better about yourself and the world, God bless ya. Me, I get my spiritual advice and inspiration from a deceased but enduring source: