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Are We “Cow Counters” or “Partners in the Holy Life”?

Partner in the Holy Life“Even if he is fond of quoting appropriate texts, the thoughtless man who does not put them into practice himself is like a cowherd counting other people’s cows, not a partner in the Holy Life” (Dhammapada 19).

Most religion is worthless cow-counting–obsession with the glories, powers, and even divinity of one or more superior beings, whether called avatars, buddhas, bodhisattwas, prophets, or saints. Religious people believe in, hope in, take refuge in, surrender to them–in exchange for great rewards here or hereafter.

How they trumpet the praises of these goody-vendors to the skies and decry those not so praising. They even tot up lists of glories and benefits of various divinities and produce a religious consumer report that establishes the superiority of their particular cult. They write sermons, poems, hymns, and even shed tears of devotion and faith.

But they do not live the Holy Life exemplified by the objects of their devotion. They do not need to–they have faith! I well remember a church full of people desperately singing over and over: “I can, I will, I do believe; I can, I will, I do believe; I can, I will, I do believe–that Jesus saves me now.”

But in their hearts they knew it was bunkum. That is why they “believed” it so insistently. And like all delusionals they became emotional and violent when their delusion was challenged. (Just try it.)

Partners in the Holy Life

Buddha lets us know quite clearly that the Holy Life is what matters, and that is a matter of living–that is, doing. “Doing, doing, done!” is a common statement in India regarding spiritual life. In Buddhism, the mantra beginning “Gate, gate,” conveys the same idea: Going, going,…gone.

Partner in the Holy Life” may not be the best translation. Some translators render it “sharer,” but that can be misunderstood as someone spreading it around or having it handed to them.

“Partaker in the Holy Life” is better, for it implies activity on the part of the aspirant, activity that results in his participation in the Holy Life. No part of the idea is then passive, but thoroughly active.

The idea is also there that the Holy Life is an ever-present thing, that it need not be produced, but only entered into for it is a matter of our eternal nature. It has always been there, we have just not accessed it. It is there for everyone; we need have no one else give it to us, nor does it depend on the whimsy of some deity. Rather we must learn how to access it and then do so. End of story. Swaha!

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