Stories 51: The Container And The Contents

There were riots in the streets some years ago after a guard at Guantanamo Bay was accused of taking a holy book and flushing it down the toilet.

The next day, I took a call from a local journalist who told me he was writing an article about the outrage by asking leaders of all the major religions in Australia the same question he was about to ask me.

“What would you do, Ajahn Brahm, if someone took a Buddhist holy book and flushed it down your toilet?”

Without hesitation I answered, “Sir, if someone took a Buddhist holy book and flushed it down my toilet, the first thing I would do is to call a plumber!”

When the journalist finished laughing, he confided that that was the first sensible answer he had received.

Then I went further.

I explained that someone may blow up many statues of the Buddha, burn down Buddhist temples, or kill Buddhist monks and nuns; they may destroy all this, but I will never allow them to destroy Buddhism. You may flush a holy book down the toilet, but I will never let you flush forgiveness, peace, and compassion down the toilet.

The book is not the religion. Nor is the statue, the building, or the priest. These are only the “containers.”

What does the book teach us? What does the statue represent? What qualities are the priests supposed to embody? These are the “contents.”

When we recognize the difference between the container and the contents, then we will preserve the contents even when the container is being destroyed.

We can print more books, build more temples and statues, and even train more monks and nuns, but when we lose our love and respect for others and ourselves and replace it with violence, then the whole religion has gone down the toilet.

  • Ajahn Brahm in Don’t Worry, Be Grumpy
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