November 8th, 2008

Generic Meditation Issues: Obedience to Authority

Solitary Bird's journal for June 5, 2007 discussed the "rule of life" she was expected to write for herself.  This was followed in the next six entries by five brief discussions of obedience,  She concluded that obedience means: "to listen."  and mentioned that for her, Obedience posed more problems then other traditional vows such as poverty and chastity.  I agree on both counts.

When I see pictures of young monks cowering before the Dalai Lama I have mixed feelings and when I see western "Buddhists" approach him as an apparent equal, I also have mixed feelings,  Are those who are in awe of him getting something or missing something?  What is "authority?' What is the proper response to authority?  What is obedience?

Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son (Christians and Moslems disagree as to which one) as a burnt offering attracted the admiration of Paul, Augustine, and Kierkegaard, but it leaves me feeling sick and feeling that God, Abraham, or both betrayed our trust in their judgment,  People acting in obedience to authority have commited horrible acts of violence against their fellow human beings; and if middle class westerners are unlikely to encounter a "Hitler," the same cannot be said for less powerful people in other parts of the world.  It is one thing to ask a subordinate to scrub a floor or do penance; but quite another thing to ask him or her to go on a crusade or participate in an inquisition.

Palmer Parker (To know as we are known) says that obedience means, "to listen from below."  To give it another meaning is convenient for the authority figure, but not so much for the person subject to authority,  Repectful listening, yes.  Taking the more experienced person's advice into consideration before acting, yes.  Lock-step playing follow the leader, I don't think so.

Its true, I have authority issues.  My father was probably not the best authority figure to have grown up under.  I have ignored him almost to the point of having no childhood memories.  But I know about the bodies in Jonestown and the piles of skulls in Cambodia and the holocaust--all tributes to the power of  obedience to authority.

One purpose of obedience to authority is to help instill discipline, and spiritual growth probably requires more discipline than any other endeavor.  Spiritually strong people probably deal well with obedience (e,g,, Bernadette of Lourdes); but they also deal well with serious illness and  torture and I wouldn't wish those on anybody.  I guess I will have to make do with self-discipline.  Lets see how that works out,

Note: I wonder if John of the Cross' imprisonment and starvation by his fellow monk was done in obedience to the orders of their superior?(