A Buddha for a New Age
The traditional tale of Siddartha, or the Buddha, details the life of a man that lived sometime around 500 BCE. Lands, like the Buddha’s Nepal birthplace, were ruled by kings who lived in fortified palaces with harams of concubines and slums full of servants and subjects. Though there exists today some underdeveloped plots of the Earth where this setting may sound familiar, overwhelmingly those of us living today can relate about as much to the traditional story of the Buddha as we can to King Arthur or Thomas Jefferson. The story of the Buddha in 2013 America must be revised to grab the attention of a modern American, particularly a member of Generation Y. This is the version I would wish to tell:
Siddartha, lovingly known to his Star Wars fanboy followers as “Darth,” was the adopted son of a House Republican representative with ties to Big Oil. Darth was raised and educated in Highland Park, a private, very affluent and nearly one hundred percent white area located within the middle of Dallas, Texas. While his father and his father’s current wife would fly their private jet back and forth to Washington, he spent his youth confined to the 2.2 square mile community of America’s “1%.”
His father was bent on keeping Darth far from the reaches of the anti-Christian, anti-masculine, anti-war populist ideals that had become the norm of much of the fifty states. Their McMansion contained a television that only played programs from the Trinity Broadcasting Network and TV Land. Darth was only allowed a pager to contact his father and never had any access to the internet. When he was sick, a private physician would arrive at his home. When he was hungry or dirty, Consuela, his Mexican-immigrant nanny would tend to his needs. Private teachers’ homeschooled Darth, prepping him to ace the ACT and get a jump start on the Bar Exam. He was to attain a law degree at SMU while working on his father’s next campaign and eventually get into politics himself. His adopted father knew that Darth’s natural parents were both founding members of the radical countercultural group, the Yippies, and were a part of the first Burning Man event. He made every effort to steer Darth into a sheltered sect of society in which the realities of the world were contrived and shaped to the will and opinions of those irrationally conservative obstructionists who refused to acknowledge the suffering of the less fortunate and less “normal” American people.
On September 11, 2001, Darth woke from his sleep in a pool of sweat. He felt a strong ache in his heart and for the first time, he thought about what was happening out in the world. He hopped on his BMX and raced to the Highland Park/Dallas city limit. He could see people hurriedly walking to their cars, many of them were crying and holding their hands to their foreheads. He rode his bike through neighborhoods full of decaying homes the size of his own home’s garage, heard the sounds of foreign dialects shouted from the tinted windows of low vehicles with chrome rims. Finally, he stopped at a covered bus stop beneath the shadow of a massive Ferris wheel in the Fair Park district of Dallas. One white man and one man with black skin sat together on a pile of cardboard, blankets and crumpled paper with the words “Burger King” stamped across them. Darth noticed that both men were wrinkled and thin with sunken eyes and long wiry white hair and there was only a pair of shoes between them. Brown bottles wrapped in brown paper bags lay empty beneath their outstretched fingers. There were also needles, like the clear ones his own doctor would prick him with for his annual flu shot, were red instead. Darth shook the men, who were breathing short breaths, but neither would wake.
Wondering if he would ever look that way, Darth continued his ride until he found himself surrounded by glass towers with large revolving doors at their bases. He moved toward a large storefront window where televisions of various sizes were displayed. Each set either had the letters “ABC”, “FOX”, or “CNN” in the corners of their screens and every few minutes would show an image of two towers, like the ones he stood beneath, billowing smoke and eventually toppling to the ground. He read the words “America Under Attack” and “Terrorists Strike World Trade Center,” unsure of what had happened. Darth stood in that spot for hours, watching as people on the screens, covered in dust and blood, ran from falling debris. He watched lifeless bodies pulled from rubble by red faced firefighters, and for the first time, he was introduced to death.
He needed to understand this America, and this world that his father kept from him. In the Deep Ellum arts and music district of Dallas, Darth spoke with strange groups of teenagers who encouraged him to go on tour with them, following their favorite bands around the country and sneaking into their punk rock shows, hip-hop battles, jam band gatherings or raves. With his father stuck in Washington, on lockdown after the attack on the Pentagon, Darth was able to disappear without a trace. He hitched rides and shacked up on couches or in car’s back seats, moving from one region of America to the next. He worked merch and as a roadie for hundreds of acts; from My Morning Jacket to Outkast, from Radiohead to Sound Tribe Sector 9. He became a part of the music festival community by volunteering at Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and Rock the Bells. He spent years without a bank account or an address, getting everything he needed through a “pay it forward” kind of reciprocal system. But as he moved from place to place, meeting and leaving people everywhere he went, he never came to any realization of how to escape the hate and suffering that the world seemed built upon. Addiction, prejudice, selfishness, greed; these things seemed present everywhere he went and he felt powerless.
Finally, in the summer of 2012, Darth found himself in the middle of the desert in Nevada. He had agreed to travel in an RV with a group of friends from San Francisco to attend Burning Man. The event was unlike anything he had ever experienced. People were expected to bring everything they would need for the weeklong event and to leave with it all once it was over. It was not a money-based society, but instead was based on a “gift “economy where one gives and receives everything. It was there, at Black Rock City, that Darth found what he was looking for. Much of society had spent 2012 anxious of what would happen as the Mayan calendar ended, fearing that the world would end. The night of “the Burn,” as the massive wooden man-like structure and dozens of other beautiful art installations were put to the torch, he realized that, although this community based on love and respect and life existed in the middle of nowhere, the consciousness experienced at that place must be shared to as many people as possible. This was the new Age that the world was being ushered into, this was the opportunity that all those alive today and yet to be born would experience. A worldwide community, hyper connected and unafraid of their individuality.
After returning to the Bay Area, Darth became involved in various live music and arts events across the country. He bought a Galaxy S4, IPad and a Chromebook and became a “social media guru,” utilizing Twitter, Facebook groups, Gmail accounts and WordPress blogs to promote artists and events that focused on creation instead of destruction. He made an effort to counsel soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and to encourage them to combat their PTSD through participation in his live music community. He assisted non-profits whose efforts worked to combat the substance abuse and addiction epidemic. He used non-violent activist tactics to encourage same sex marriages, to take money out of politics, for accountability in the financial sector, compassionate prison reform and for the War on Drugs to be re-appropriated into a War on Substance Abuse.
For the rest of his life, Siddartha spread the concepts of right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration through yoga, mindfulness meditation, poetry, music, TED talks, YouTube live streamed roundtable discussions and by organizing urban and rural transformational festivals and events. He brought forth the message of “Use Your Head” by encouraging everyone he met to become educated and conscious of the social, political, environmental and cultural realities of the world they lived in.