Shana Ting Lipton
end of the day, when that henna tattoo has faded, you are all that remains
seems as though Deepak is the new Tupac, and the Dalai Lama's
Nirvana is bigger than the 90's rock stars ever were. You can
now even buy Hindu gods lunch boxes. The gang's all here: Shiva,
Ganesha, Vishnu, Lakshmi... It's like Scooby Doo without the
Mystery Machine (your body is, after all, the vehicle...).
All pop cultural cynicism aside, this interest in things spiritual and
Eastern is beneficial to us all. The more people tune into this zeitgeist,
the more they will open up to more liberal, healthy, loving and guilt-free
ways of experiencing God and themselves. But as this all-encompassing
and powerful vehicle zooms forward, somewhere along the way there's bound
to be road kill. The first casualties of this concomitant epidemic have
already cropped up. They can be seen in the unfortunate people who twist
and use Eastern spirituality to justify and perpetuate their faults and
negative life patterns. They
are the victims of Spiritual Appropriation Disorder (SAD).
Writer Brian Brown Walker interprets a line from the I-Ching, Book of
Changes: "The wisdom of cultivating receptivity cannot be overstated."
Many I-Ching connoisseurs will joke that when you ask the ancient Chinese
oracle a question, the answer is almost always, " Do nothing."
This is of course just an insider's jab. Those same inquisitive students
of life realize that this is merely the surface message. Unfortunately,
many SAD sufferers take this as a sign that they need not make any important
decisions in life. Whichever higher power they put their faith in, is
in fact, working tirelessly to make all these decisions for them.
Believing this, when the SAD victim is called upon to make a major choice
in life, he/she simply replies that receptivity is the answer, or rather
that the answer will come to him/her. When the answer does come: "We've
found someone else to take the job," "That's it, I'm leaving
you," or "We're moving you to our headquarters in Wisconsin,"
they simply smile, believing that Destiny has once again spun its web.
In Taming the Tiger, Akong Tulku Rinpoche writes: "Once we are able
to let it go, it just falls away from us." Everyone agrees that letting
things go is often the best solution, especially when faced with a pointless
struggle or a grudge-holding match. We know that because our lives change
every moment we can never be too attached, for example, to yesterday's
flip and nasty word war. This is one of the SAD sufferer's favorite appropriations.
It allows him/her to hide from the human pain that engulfs him/her. He/she
will utilize this statement to turn away from a myriad of painful emotional
experiences: mourning, a break-up or divorce, feelings of guilt, resentment
or insecurity. He/she may suddenly turn emotionally lifeless and turn
their back on these necessary human emotions (a.k.a. wilting lotus position).
Unfortunately, SAD sufferers fail to realize that in facing (and then
letting go of) these feelings, one becomes stronger, deeper, more understanding
and compassionate, and even grows.
LEGGO MY EGO
"You must love yourself before you can love others," is a line
from Guruchander Singh Khalsa's book, Tantric Numerology. We've heard
this statement countless times in relationship self-help books, and it
is of course a spiritual right of passage. However, the SAD sufferer uses
this as his/her mantra of self-absorption. Whenever he/she is putting
his/her needs over someone else's endlessly chanting his/her own praises
or bemoaning the pains of life. This statement gives carte blanche to
continue with no regard for what their friend, family member, or partner
might be experiencing. This long barrage of self-involved sentences is,
after all, part of loving themselves. Sometimes the SAD sufferer makes
no room for their cohorts' love, but rather loves him/herself to death.
One can only pray in such a case, that reincarnation will not occur.
THE TRUTH HURTS
In the Sikh community there is a short prayer, "Sat Nam," which
translates as "The truth is my identity." There is an eternal
truth inside each of us. It is wrapped up in our life's path, the true
will that is at one with the universal force. When we act out of the truth
from our heart and soul, we are behaving as pure beings who follow the
natural flow, in union with this higher force. A SAD sufferer might be
chanting "Sat Nam," but what he/she is really saying is, "Sat
fucking Nam." In other words, he/she doesn't care what flies out
of his/her mouth; he is going to say it no matter how gross or hurtful
it is. It is, n'est-ce-pas, the truth. In this way, the SAD victim can
get out all of his/her resentful emotions without feeling like a tactless
jerk. He/she is justified in saying, "You're bad in bed," or,
"I'd rather be counting the hairs on my head than sitting here with
you." What this brazen Buddha doesn't understand is that a hundred
negative mili-thoughts flash through our heads through the course of a
given conversation. Not every inkling of attack is an embodiment of truth.
The truth is infinite. These lightening bolt moments are just quick sparks
that fly within our tireless, chattering brains.
NOTE: when reproached for this sort of behavior, the SAD victim will pull
out another spiritual card and say: "I'm not hurting you. You are
allowing yourself to be hurt. Pain is your decision and perception."
COMPASSION...FROM A DISTANCE
Akong Tulku Rinpoche also quotes His holiness, the XVIth, Gyalwa Karmapa
in his book: "In order to help all living beings in their seemingly
unavoidable suffering, we put on the tender armor of compassion..."
This statement is probably the seat of Buddhism. It is in helping others
that we realize that we are all cut from the same cloth. Once we can learn
compassion for all beings we can see through this separation of human
form and realize that we are all one. On this point, the SAD sufferer
would heartily agree. He/she is the type of person who would join the
Peace Corps, travel to India and hand out food to poor children, sit and
chat with a homeless person, and donate food, clothing or money to organizations
like UNICEF. Therefore, he/she is compassionate...or so the disorder would
make him/her believe. Ironically, despite the fact that the SAD sufferer
can so readily open his/her heart to a stranger, he/she is usually the
last one to show that same compassion for the person next to him/her.
The person next door is distasteful to the SAD sufferer on three levels:
1: He or she is not a dramatic hardship case (not glamorous enough to
enhance their second-incarnation-of-Ghandi self-image) 2: He or she is
too close; the SAD victim isn't actually sensitive enough to see this
magnified pain (only the distant group pain of the barefoot cobblers in
Marrakesh) 3: The SAD victim is actually not as giving as he/she thinks.
It is easier to open your heart to someone you don't know than to someone
who knows you well enough to see through you or potentially hurt your
Despite the fact that all definitions in this article have been, no doubt,
peppered with sardonic humor make no mistake; this 'prototype' is a case
in the making. It is a tragedy that many intelligent and open-minded people
will be seduced into appropriating and redefining ancient wisdom to avoid
their phobias and weaknesses. Buddhism, Taoism, and New Age religion and
spirituality have something profoundly rich to share with all human beings,
if they're willing to be open to the "bad" in themselves as
well as the good. At the end of the day, when that henna tattoo has faded,
you are all that remains. Perhaps as Eastern and New Age spirituality
become more and more ingrained in Western society, and as more SAD casualties
begin to surface, there will eventually be support groups for such individuals.
Ironically, it may be in such meetings that these lost souls learn to
speak meaningful truths, experience real compassion for the one next to
them, and face their own demons.
TIng Lipton 2002
(Who lives and works in Amsterdam - for now)
< Reply to this Article