Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Who ya gonna call?

Playing in the background: Odd silence. I wonder what the cats are up to...
Meters swum today: 1800

It occurred to me last night that Buddhists would make lousy ghostbusters. I'm a big fan of the History Channel and its ilk (though I'm not sure I should use the word ilk; I don't know what it means. Joan said once that she could not drink ilk because she was actose ntolerant. I guess that's good enough for me.) There was this program on called "Amityville: Horror or Hoax?" talking about the world famous house with the creepy eye windows that caused such a sensation in the late 1970s. On this show was a panel of experts, lawyers, witnesses, "paranormal researchers" and their ilk (there's that word again; I wonder if an ilk is some kind of evil spirit) arguing about whether the house was really haunted. Or possessed by demons. Or whatever.

Quick recap in case you weren't alive in the 1970s (you know who you are!): Ronnie DeFeo, a disaffected malcontent with a grudge and a shotgun, murdered six of his family members in the aforementioned house one night in 1974. Shortly after, 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville went up for sale, cheap, and George and Kathy Lutz, a young couple with three kids from Kathy's prior marriage, bought it. Spooky stuff started happening. The Lutzes lived there for less than a month before being chased out by what they said were ghosts or demons. Media coverage ensued. Movies got made. People started suing each other (ending in a famous case before the California Supreme Court, Lutz v DeLaurentiis 211 Cal. App. 3d 1317 (1989), in which it was determined that the title of a work could not be copyrighted. Remember Lutz if you ever wanna title something All Quiet on the Western Front.)

Even us diehard horror movie fans have one or two films that actually scared us. The ones where we left the lights on all night and had bad dreams anyway. The kinds of flicks we swore (however dishonestly) we'd never watch again, we'd get a different hobby, maybe start doing beadwork, learn to knit, whatever the hell. The Amityville Horror, the 1979 version, was just such a movie for yours truly. (The 2005 remake didn't do it.) I saw it again about a year ago and it still scares me. Yeah, it's not very well acted, and plenty of it doesn't make sense, but there's something about having that kind of thing in your house with you that just gives me the screaming meemies. After Amityville I thought I'd never be that scared again. Then the creepy little girl with the long stringy hair crawled out of the TV set in The Ring. But let's not talk about that. It was traumatic enough the first time.

So I'm watching this show on the History Channel, and getting creeped out again (I slept with a lamp on). They had on these self-proclaimed demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren, who proclaimed that this house was "a ten" on the scale of most haunted. I can't speak to the Warrens' religious affiliation but they were some stripe of Christian, probably Catholic or variants on a theme. They commanded the demons in the name of Jesus Christ to leave them alone and stuff like that (I kind of doubt that would be the right line of dialogue for, say, a Hindu.) That's when it occurred to me that a ghostbusting Buddhist would be all kinds of antithetical.

For starters, a ghost in the Buddhist pantheon is more of a state of mind than an actual being. Buddha talked about "hungry ghosts" as a condition where you want more and more of something but nothing will satisfy you (a classic portrait of addiction some 2500 years before the term made its way into the lexicon). There are other kinds of ghosts, spirits and minor demons, but they tend to be personifications of ignorance and illusion. Mara, for example, is the Buddhist "god of death," but he's more a tempter and distractor than a nasty ol' house haunting demon. Plus, he can be scared off if you offer him a cup of tea. Buddha did this lots of times.

Second, at least in theory most Buddhists would approach a ghost or demon the way we approach everything else; with killer friendliness. There's an old Zen story about a monk who was living by himself in a cave. One day a bunch of demons moved in. He tried to chase them away, but they wouldn't go. Finally he shrugged and said, "All right, we'll all live here together." At that, several of them disappeared. He began fixing meals for the other demons and tried to teach them how to meditate. Several more of them disappeared. The nicer he was, the quicker they went away, except the biggest and nastiest of the bunch. That one hung around until the monk, out of all patience, finally put his head in the demon's mouth. "Here, eat me, you look hungry," said the monk. And the big bad demon disappeared, too, leaving the monk in peace. The moral: Love your demons. Take good care of them. Give them what they want (generally, to be loved and listened to, regardless of how much they may insist what they really want is, say, lots more booze) and they'll go away. Or at least become easier to live with.

So picture, if you will, the Buddhist ghostbusting monk, walking into 112 Ocean Avenue. Flies appear out of nowhere; the ghostbuster smiles at his fellow beings and invites them to make themselves at home. A sense of terrible oppressive fear sits uponst the chest of the ghostbuster; he sits down, meditates and practices holding his fear in his arms and listening to what it has to say. Slime starts pouring down the walls like tears; the ghostbuster extends his compassion to the weeping slime and all the grieving beings that have ever existed. The Devil Himself storms into the room and tries to get rid of the annoying monk; the monk goes and gets the Devil a comfy chair and starts making him tea.

On second thought, maybe that would work. Mara didn't like tea, either. But I think I'd still have to recommend the Catholics if your house should ever become infested with demons. They know more about that stuff than we do. And don't forget to ask your insurance agent about their demonic-possession policy before your next renewal.


David Isaak said...

"Joan said once that she could not drink ilk because she was actose ntolerant,"

Now THAT is funny.

Joan said...

While we were watching the Amityville thing, Jen asked me if I thought the demonologists were right and that there really were demons in that house. I recalled the adage, "If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." If you're a demonologist, you're not likely to look for, say, emanations from nearby power lines, or an ancient graveyard for happy fluffy bunnies. I'm just sayin'.

Jen Ster said...

"A ghost hunter may establish a graveyard for happy fluffy bunnies, but it is not for the ghost hunter to seek a graveyard for happy fluffy bunnies..."

--some old Chinese guy

David Isaak said...

You make an excellent point, Ms Joan.

But on the other hand, I figure if there are demons at all, then there are probably demons in every house. I mean, they all have families living in them, right? Deomns are probably common as dirt.

Some of them just get a little carried away. Probably from the power lines.

Jen Ster said...

I've often wondered if poltergeist activity could be attributed to disturbed teenagers combined with nearby power lines. Myself, I have a weird effect on light bulbs. I kill them. Quickly. At work, too. Those five year twisty bulbs? One of 'em just died on me and I've only lived in the house for four years. I'm also a serial murderer of watches. I've been in plenty of haunted houses and I've never once seen a ghost. (Well, my grandfather right after he died, but I don't think that counts.) Maybe I cancel 'em out. Joan says it's my animal magnetism, which would explain why I keep waking up covered with cats.