by David Edwards 
 
It is said that God plays a joke on every new-born, whispering: 
 
‘You are the special one!’ 
 
The joke quickly wears thin when we start running up against the seven billion other people on the planet who all know that they are ‘the special one’. Deep ego wounds are received every time we fall short; when she chooses him over us. When our best friend gets the grades but we don’t. When we get to the final interview, but no further. 
You are the special one
If the ultimate physical battle is to continue breathing, the ego’s ‘life-and-death’ struggle is to be ‘special’ rather than ‘a loser’. This is why we fight to defend even the most trivial argument as if our lives depended on it. The pain of the ego – as though in its death throes – has children (and adults!) hurling themselves to the floor and writhing in agony. 
 
‘Specialness’ cannot be established as permanent fact, it can only be indicated, temporarily. Small victories and defeats are therefore invested with great symbolic significance. Coming first in an exam is a sign that we are ‘bright’ (born with a better bulb), even ‘gifted’ (blessed by the Fates, or a benevolent God, to have a good memory). On the other hand, losing a game of ping-pong is a doom-laden sign that we are ‘useless’ at sports, a lesser physical specimen, even a withered branch of the evolutionary tree. 
 
We spend our lives trying to defend ourselves against this feeling, to avoid it; to show that, while we may be inferior in this way, we are certainly superior in that way: ‘Who else around here can say that they have…?’ 
In the struggle to feel superior rather than inferior, we will sacrifice anything, even life itself, for attention, praise, applause. We will climb mountains, career ladders, pop charts. We will write blogs, books, songs, screenplays just so our ego can cock a leg and ‘make a mark’. We think we want money, but the money makes us ‘special’. We think we want sex, but the ‘conquests’ make us ‘somebody’. We think we want beauty, but we want the beauty ‘they’ want. The towering Rolls Royce trumpets our ‘achievement’. The celebrity is a ‘star’ glittering in the firmament far above mere worldly mortals. 
 
All of this involves playing a double game with others. After all, they can only ‘look up’ to us from ‘below’. We require their complicity in our self-promotion at their expense. No surprise, then, that even the deepest admiration comes with a hidden price tag – the ‘lower’ will have their revenge. The writer Robert Pirsig commented of his fans: 
 
‘They love you for being what they all want to be, but they hate you for being what they are not.’ (Quoted, Tim Adams, ‘Zen and the art of Robert Pirsig,’ The Observer, November 19, 2006) 
 
The Indian mystic Osho added some detail: 
 
‘When somebody respects you, he feels insulted deep down – deep down he has become inferior to you. So how can he forgive? He cannot. Someday the accounts will have to be put right. When he bowed down and touched your feet, that very moment a deep wound happened within him: he was lower than you. Now he will have to prove that he is not. Someday he will prove that he is higher than you.’ (Osho, When The Shoe Fits, Rebel Publishing, 1997, p.63) 
 
Sometimes the accounts are settled immediately. As I was writing this, a reader – himself an author – wrote to us at Media Lens: 
 
‘I am a devotee of what you guys do, and enjoy almost every Alert – though I would prefer if some were shorter!’ 
 
In deference to this phenomenon, celebrities are required to affect deep humility: ‘stars’ can get away with being ‘famous’ as long as they don’t rub it in. It’s fine for a tennis champ to lift the Wimbledon trophy – just let him try lifting a guitar and playing rock star! The reflexive response: ‘God, that’s awful!’ But we add with incredulity: ‘Just how much adoration does one man need?’ This is our ego talking. 
 
By contrast, warm applause greets veteran ‘stars’ willing to disown their earlier triumphs. The music produced by the surviving members of rock band Led Zeppelin was coolly received by critics until singer Robert Plant declared himself utterly done with the Zeppelin albatross and his own ‘Rock God’ status. He told one interviewer
 
‘I can’t blame anybody for hating Led Zeppelin. If you absolutely hated “Stairway To Heaven,” nobody can blame you for that because it was, um… so pompous.’ 
 
Plant’s subsequent album of duets with bluegrass-country singer Alison Krauss was garlanded with praise and awards. It was a matter of taste, but critics seemed as impressed by Plant’s self-inflicted rock deicide as they were by his music. 
 
Osho made the interesting leap from this kind of reaction to explaining why it is that we tend to dismember, poison, crucify, and even ignore, the Buddhas who appear among us (Osho may himself have been fatally poisoned by the US government). It is hard but doable to accept the superior ping-pong opponent. Try digesting the claim that someone has transcended all ignorance and suffering, and will be worshipped for thousands of years. 
 
As a counter-argument, we might respond that people clearly have no problem worshipping Enlightened masters who may or may not have lived 2,000 or 5,000 years ago. But that’s the point: the distance is so great that they do not seem like real people with whom our egos need to compete. We are bowing down to an archetype, an ideal. A gleaming golden statue is not insulting to our ‘specialness’. 
 
On the other hand, many devotees of Buddha or Jesus would find it impossible to believe that the flesh and blood human being standing before them was of the same spiritual stature. This Buddha seems far too much like us – he lives, breathes, sweats, farts as we do (Eckhart Tolle seems to have a particular problem with burping!). How can he possibly be Enlightened? He’s so… human. Imagine how we’d react if we encountered some vagabond with a few stragglers – ‘disciples’! – sitting at the side of some London street claiming to be ‘The Enlightened One’, ‘The son of God’. How could we accept such a claim when doing so makes a nonsense of the message whispered in our ear at birth? 
 
The claim to Enlightenment is deeply insulting, not least to the common-or-garden priest with his deep psychological and economic investment in his ‘special’ place among his ‘flock’. No wonder that Buddhas tend to be given a very hard time. Even WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange – who is to professional journalism what Jesus was to orthodox religion, the embarrassingly real thing – has been targeted with bitter hatred by journalists. 
Tagged as: David Edwards
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