I remember the look in the old woman's eyes. She was tending a Buddhist temple in New York's Chinatown when a Shingon monk friend of mine and I stopped in to take a look. We had had lunch at the first decent vegetarian restaurant I have ever been to (the eggs really did taste like chicken) and were doing a casual micro-pilgrimage to this temple and that.
My friend, Jomyo, talked pleasantly with the woman. She asked what sect he belonged to and all he had to do was say "mikkyo" for her demeanor to change. "Mikkyo" is sometimes translated as the "secret teachings" of esoteric Buddhism and the woman's demeanor said, "Secret stuff is secret. I don't know what it entails exactly, but it is wiser not to piss off a witch." Her shoulders and eyes tensed and she turned up the humility decibels ... or anyway that's what I thought I saw. She was no longer at ease.
I guess it can't be avoided, arousing one reaction or another in others, but I felt bad for the woman. I wanted to reassure her that Jomyo was a perfectly nice guy and was not about to bite her ankles or consign her to some fiery furnace. I wanted her to know that Buddhism was not a threat-based operation ... that really, it was just for her and whatever effort she was willing to expend. She wouldn't be elevated if she did it and she wouldn't be doomed if she didn't.
But then it occurred to me that no one calls something "secret" or "esoteric" unless they are hoping to arouse attention. Everyone loves and or/fears a secret, so maybe the reason to call something secret is to arouse a greater attention ... in hopes of producing a happy result ... assuming it isn't just another power-tripper on the loose. What, for heaven's sake, could possibly be secret in spiritual endeavor? If there were something secret, then no one would know about it, in which case it would be utterly useless, a fantasy and a fairy tale. The only secret thing I can think of in spiritual endeavor is that it is obvious ... and what is obvious is far more difficult and rewarding than what is secret.
Oh well, I guess there is a need for dog-and-pony shows. Those performing need them. Those in the audience need them.
But I still felt bad for that woman.