Yesterday I hung out at the annual Hare Krishna Festival of Chariots on Venice Beach. My friend Svetlana was taping some stuff for a TV show she's making to export back to her home country Montenegro and I helped out some with that. But mostly I was there for the food. I eat a lot of Krishna food. They make real good food.
The Hare Krishnas were the first Eastern religious movement I had any direct contact with. That's bad grammar. But you get it anyway. In any case, I was a big Beatle nut when I was a teenager (still am) and George Harrison was into them so I figured they were cool. I briefly considered joining the team. But the more I read of their philosophy the sillier it sounded. It was an Eastern version of everything I'd already rejected in Christianity. Christianity, at least the versions I'd come across, seemed to be all about what happened in your head. You had to believe the stories in the Bible were true. I couldn't understand how it could possibly matter to God whether I thought the world really was flooded by a rain that lasted 40 days and 40 nights or not. It all seemed so arbitrary.
The Krishnas at least had some concrete activities I could get behind. They ate no meat, they chanted, they wore special clothes and had haircuts even more ridiculous than some of my punkrock friends. But when I got a little more familiar with their philosophy it, once again, boiled down to whether I believed the stories in certain books actually happened or not. In the Krishna's case this wasn't presented as the key element to salvation as it had been at the Christian churches I visited. But you still had to believe. And I couldn't believe. Like Fox Mulder, for a time I wanted to believe. But it wasn't possible.
Eventually I ended up sticking with Zen because Zen couldn't give a rat's ass what you believe. I found that really cool.
Anyway, yesterday the Krishnas had a big ass parade down the street near my house. The photo I put up today is from a festival a couple years ago. But what I saw yesterday looked pretty much the same if not bigger. This year, though, a small group of Christians decided to protest. These guys looked like Hell's Angels to me, all big and burly and hairy. Maybe they were ex-members. They walked along the parade route in front of the group with signs saying things like "The Bible says beware of false teachers" and "Fornicators, Adulterers, Masturbaters, etc., etc., etc., You're all going to HELL!" Are masturbaters still going to Hell? Man, I am in some deep shit! One guy had a bullhorn and shouted that the Krishnas should eat meat and that their haircuts made them look like a horse's behind.
The only effect these guys had was to make the Krishnas look way less freaky by comparison. In fact, in Southern California the Hare Krishnas look like Ward and June Cleaver. They've always been very interested in being accepted as a mainstream religion and these days it almost seems to be working. Good for them.
It was funny to me to watch two sets of ideas I'd long ago rejected duking it out on the beach. Both camps seemed to have an urgent need to convert the tourists and skateboarders on the boardwalk to their way of thinking. Why do we do that? It's such a show of insecurity to act like your God is going to fade away and die unless everybody in the world believes in him.
I imagine this all goes way way back in history to a time when human beings were just starting to build civilizations. In order to make a civilization work you need an agreed upon moral framework. Even today you're still far more likely to die from being murdered in a more "primitive" culture than in a more "advanced" one (to use both of those loaded terms in their broadest sense). Morality became tied with religion and it was imperative for those who believed in the moral code to convert those who did not. If they failed, the society they were laboring so hard to build could collapse.
As societies advanced, so did their need for moral structure. More sophisticated and easily operated tools for killing and maiming meant that it was even more important to keep everyone in line. So we stuck with the idea that everyone needed to agree upon a single moral code.
We still have not outgrown this need. In fact we'll almost certainly never outgrow it. But the religious model no longer works. Our diverse societies have created too many of them and they're constantly battling each other. Even the Buddhist precepts are wielded as weapons by those who believe they understand them better than others.
These days lots of people are working to try and find the common ground of all religions, which I think is a great idea. But ultimately I think we'll need to transcend that one as well. The reason is because all religions are based on thought. But real morality has nothing at all to do with thought. Real morality is much harder to pin down. It's impossible to pin down, in fact.
We all carry the source of real morality with us everywhere we go. It's the basis of our being. And if you don't believe that, I'll hit you with a big stick until you do!