Unwholesome Rupas

Over the past few weeks, protesters have removed several statues from their pedestals. One notable figure, Francis Scott Key, the author of the Star-Spangled Banner, was recently torn down in San Fransisco.

Francis Scott Key was a local in Fredrick, Maryland, about 25 miles from my home of Hagerstown. Many landmarks and institutions around Frederick are named after him.

Though he’s been known for what is seen as a patriotic poem, his racist crusade against the abolition movement is not often talked about in the media. His racism is also present in an often omitted stanza of his famous poem which demonstrates his hatred for the Black soldiers that fought for the British during the War of 1812. He reveled at the thought of their demise.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!

For the San Fransisco protesters and many others, that statue is a particular rupa, or form. In much of the Buddhist tradition, rupas are very important phenomena. Throughout the day one encounters many rupas that bring about different states of mind. For instance, the form of a tree might bring comfort while the form of a weapon might bring about a feeling of danger. This, of course depends on context and the experience of the person beholding the rupa.

For many, the rupa of Francis Scott Key represents an idol of hatred and oppression. In San Fransisco, protesters decided that they could do something about that oppressive figure and removed it. I’m sure someone in Frederick took notice.

In much of Buddhist practice, one may adjust their environment to suit there practice of the Dharma, such as removing things that are unwholesome. One may even replace the unwholesome with something wholesome, such as a Buddha rupa. These are the little changes that can lead to the realization of a pure land.

It’s the same in social justice. Taking down the idols of oppression, and possibly replacing them with wholesome forms, can be a relatively small yet positive step. It’s one of the many ways that people can start building a more just society.

Namo Amida Bu

image from https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2020/06/20/juneteenth-protesters-topple-golden-gate-park-statues-of-junipero-serra-francis-scott-key-u-s-grant/

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