RAMS was a dingy, ramshackle crowded work area crammed with worn desks and chairs, piled high with repairables and items destined for destruction and return to stock. These were brought in from flight line supply areas and backshops by the drivers who were lucky to escape from the intense stress of the office. The primary cause of the workplace tension was the NCOIC (Non-commissioned officer in charge,) MSgt Jim Torbert. If this story goes to print in the form of a semi-autobiographical novel I shall protect his name, but here I will not guard his anonymity. I cannot, for some reason, fully explain why. Torbert was a charismatic pentacostal by faith. I am not certain as to whether or not the term I have chosen is redundant, but it is the term I shall use. He spoke openly about his religion, going so far even as to speak in tongues while in the workplace. I find it pertinent to note here that it is Air Force (and, broadly, United States military,) policy that religion be kept out of the workplace. To bring one’s religion onto the job is a direct violation of policy. He kept a wire basket on his desk, inbox style, full of pamphlets referencing evangelical christianity and, more to the point, why anything else was wrong. At the time I was a practicing Buddhist and made no secret of the fact, which swiftly came to his attention. The difference between him and me was that I did not practice my beliefs in the workplace. He asked if I was a christian and I told him that I was not. He asked what I was and I told him what I was and that I did not believe in God. The next day one of the ubiquitous pamphlets appeared on my desk. I do not remember specifically what the title was, something to the effect of “Why Eastern Religions are Wrong”. I was incensed. I was, on the job at least, a strict follower of military code. I knew that what he was doing was wrong. I also knew that my personal rights were being violated, as well as my constitutional right to freedom of religion. The Air Force has an agency called Social Actions which was developed to handle situations in which member’s rights are violated; domestic violence, sexual harassment and cases such as the one I was dealing with. I went to them. They were floored that a NCO with his rank, position and length of service was behaving in the manner in which he was. I was assured that the matter would be dealt with immediately. When I returned to work the next day the box of literature was gone. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The sigh had hardly been exhaled when I was called to the commander’s office. She told me to leave him alone. When I got back to RAMS, the box was back on his desk. I was baffled. It was never quite explained to me how one religious fanatic had won over an entire military regulation.
I wrote this as a reply to a post in Daily Reprieve. I am reposting it here for a friend.
When I came into the program I had been a long-time Buddhist practitioner. I was struck by the similarities between the 12 Steps and the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path:
The Four Noble Truths:
1. All life contains suffering and unsatisfactoriness
2. Suffering is caused by craving (for base objects, goals, desires)
3. This Craving can be eliminated
4. The key to the elimination of craving is “The Noble Eightfold Path”.
The Eightfold Path:
The Eightfold path is further broken down into Wisdom or Prajna (Right View, Right Intention,) Ethical Conduct or Sila (Right Speech, Action and Livelihood,) and Mental Discipline, Concentration and Meditation or Samadhi (Right Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration.)
The cultivation of the path leads to Right Knowledge and Right Liberation.
My mind was spinning when I entered the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, and I was confused. Why had Buddhism not cured my Alcoholism? All the elements were there. Now I understand:
But the ex-problem drinker who has found this solution, who is properly
armed with facts about himself, can generally win the entire confidence of
another alcoholic in a few hours. Until such an understanding is reached,
little or nothing can be accomplished.
Buddhism is an atheistic “religion”. I don’t believe, either, that this was my problem. The 12 Steps need not be theistic! This power need only be other than self. Right view, intention, speech, action, etc.; that’s powerful stuff. When these actions are working in my life, I feel power working, particularly when I am practicing the miracle of mindfulness.
I do have a higher power today, and I choose to call that power God. This, for me, is shorthand for everything the Eightfold Path encompasses. I no longer share about my Buddhist beliefs in meetings. Nor do I share about my Jewish faith. My beliefs today are a melting pot; I have come to find that all roads lead to Mecca. Our book tells us to be quick to see where religious people are right. For so long I was quick to tell you where they were wrong. Who was I to say? Today, of myself, I am nothing.