TV has come a long way. Used to be that crime show characters were either saints or sinners. Take Sons of Anarchy, about a biker gang in Charming, California. The cops are jerks, and the robbers have a sense of justice you can relate to. The moral lines that are so clear-cut in theories of law and order are actually a tangled mess.
I wondered, “Do bikers watch this?” Probably not; more likely, dentists and bankers, shopkeepers and ex-Buddhist monks. Guess I’m not the only one to dream about the outlaw life.
For me it all began in primary school. My childhood teachers called me a holy terror because I always brought up the awkward questions. If you want to understand your eternal afterlife, it seemed to me, you can’t just accept what you’re told. My teachers wanted me to because that would have made their lives easier, not because it was right.
Rather than suppressing my sense of rebellion, they spurred it on. Of course.
Entering the stream means exiting your comfort zone
Religious communities provide a secure and reassuring framework for life. By institutionalizing right and wrong they take a load off your shoulders. That’s okay for beginners and children, but accepting rules you don’t understand should always be provisional. From day one they should be nudging you toward independence of thought. In early Buddhism that turning point is called stream-entry. However, entering the stream means exiting your comfort zone.
In practical terms, some stay while others leave their spiritual home. Either way, it’s a struggle. Your relationship with truth and reality changes forever. Thinking independently doesn’t mean always being sure of yourself. Far from it, it means taking risks and learning from your mistakes. And yet, when you do step right, you know it and grow from it with integrity.
Be ready to question bad decisions and break bad laws
History is peppered with outlaws. Jesus was a renegade Jew who needled the temple authorities. The Buddha left his station to become a hobo. Can you imagine either one at the head of the multinational institutions that bear their names today?
You don’t have to be a full-time outlaw. You just have to be ready to question bad decisions and break bad laws. In exchange, you’ll be freed of conformity for its own sake, and even when you agree with the law-makers, you’ll do so with a clarity that’s out of reach for mere followers.
Still, go against the current and you’ll find yourself out in the cold, maybe even crucified. My writing has upset a range of people from orthodox Buddhists to hardcore rationalists. The accusation is always the same: in one way or another, I’m wrong.
We’re called on every day to tell right
from wrong; most of the time, we know
They don’t get it. The point of this blog is not to be right but to voice the doubts that lie just beneath your conscious threshold. You don’t have to agree; if you’re using your wits you won’t believe a thing I say anyway. This is just a starting point. You’ll figure stuff out for yourself.
Still those accusers do worry me, not because of their opinions but because of the way they hold them. Don’t they see that reality is constantly shifting, that our descriptions of it are provisional, that the unexplored human mind sees only what it wants to see? Perhaps they’re worried that deep questioning makes everything meaningless, even right and wrong. That’s misguided. We’re called on every day to tell right from wrong, and most of the time we know, even if we don’t do right. But that’s another matter.
To be an outlaw you have to be ready to correct the authorities, sometimes with diplomacy, sometime bluntly. The point is to seek fairness and truth while knowing it’s dangerous. Imagine if everyone were willing to step outside their comfort zone.
We stand alone, are born and die alone. Why would we not make our own decisions? As Caroline said the other day, “If you don’t have conflict, you’re not alive.”