What can we do in response to the terrors, violence and dangers that are all over the world these days?
Of course, there is a limit to what the individual person can do by personal power or genius. Even groups of people may have difficulty bringing about genuinely constructive change and, in any case, there is much confusion about the right goals and methods.
It seems to me that as a general rule it is more use concentrating upon building the alternative than trying to deconstruct the troubles. For sure, there are times when it is appropriate to protest, but, generally speaking, more is usually achieved by creating conditions of peace and wellbeing, even if only in limited areas. These are like the seeds from which many things may grow in the future.
I always have this kind of attitude in mind. When I am working with students, my great delight is to see them develop into the kinds of people who will spread empathy and kindness in the world. When I am tending my garden, I am always thinking how to make it an attractive and peaceful environment for the visitor who comes to stay - the Dharma has often been expressed in gardens. When I am writing, I am trying to produce something that will be of inspiration to those few who choose to read. Even when I go to sleep at night I am hoping to refresh my body so as to be of use in the days ahead. I do not have great expectations of achievement, but I hope that somehow through my faith in the Buddha and unseen forces, little seeds will fall to earth and out of these I pray that something of worth may spring up. One never knows how far an influence will go and one cannot hope to see all the results oneself. One can only try to stay close to the truth of the present time and circumstance and, for the rest, trust in other power.
Often the most positive forces are actually patience and restraint. Terrorism is ultimately defeated by it having no great effect. The sooner its futility becomes apparent, the sooner it will diminish. Economic crises are precipitated by widespread excessive greed and associated cheating. Better to hold to simplicity and not become over extended; then when the crunch time comes one is less likely to be swept away and better placed to help other casualties. War and aggression are the results of bitterness and xenophobia. Better to give an example of appreciation of diversity.
We are all vulnerable to the effects of forces greater than ourselves, but the Buddhas have taught us that even if the world were consumed in a great fire, the person of pure heart will be safe in spirit. Let us have faith in that and trust that such faith, carried into action in daily life, is enough.
From 1945 until 2007 the Western world had an implicit and often explicit faith that year-on-year material wellbeing increases. This was believed to be a natural consequence of and therefore validation of the secular, materialist, liberal, capitalistic philosophy that therefore dominated. Since 2007 this "progress" has faltered. Many people still think that it is bound to come back because they still have faith in the old belief system. However, mostly due to ecological strain, it may well be that this trend has ended. This will erode and is already eroding faith in the old consensus. I am inclined to see Trumpism and Brexit as symptoms of this. However, there is no clear alternative philosophy waiting in the wings - or, if there is, it has not become salient yet. The upsurge of nationalist populism seems not to have been sustainable, but it is a sign that people are casting round for a new direction, something that promises predictability. We who have faith in a religious vision are a small minority. In any case, the kind of community that we develop - wonderful as it is - is probably not reproducible on a mass scale. So I agree with both Robert and Mat and, in addition, am pondering the question where this is leading in terms of "spirit of the age to come".
I have been increasingly drawn to the view Mat... I'm not ok, you're not ok and its not ok. It all seems so unreal this quite rapid deterioration of conditions that have supported life that I just feel so lost, so lacking in understanding and capability to respond in any useful way. But Mat, if our faith does hold us and permit us to be useful then useful we need to be. There is incalculable suffering coming and I cannot agree more we live in a privileged society while billions of folk absolutely do not. Maybe a lion will roar here, if not now I sure don't know when. But regardless, we who might not roar can do our utmost to personally give up that privilege and share like we have never done before.
I was struck by the similarity between the language used by Arno Michaelis and our very own Dharmavidya. For example, Dharmavidya says: "These are like the seeds from which many things may grow in the future... little seeds will fall to earth and out of these I pray that something of worth may spring up." In his story, Arno says: "Yet a seed was planted in my heart that day you saw it behind the swastika. A seed hardy enough to take root and sprout in the desolation of fear and ignorance. The seedling grew, attracting like seeds."
I was delighted to learn subsequent to my post that Arno is a Buddhist. In the wake of the shooting at the Wisconsin Sikh Gurdwara in 2012, carried out by a white supremacist, he describes his own state in language that strongly reminds me of the Buddhist teachings on how the mind works.
"The environment that leads to this [the shooting] is based on that exhaustion that I was talking about, it's also based on living in a constant living in siege mentality. When you are a white racist, the world around you is constantly sending you information that is contrary to this lie that you're trying to believe, that white people are superior, and different than everyone else.
So, the only recourse is to be in denial about this information from the outside world, which make all sorts of energy. You can't listen to mainstream music, you can't watch TV, you can't watch movies, you can't read anything that's not White Power, you can't associate with anyone who is not a white racist, because doing any of the above will destroy this very fragile card house of racism that you staked your identity on. Now, not only is it a threat to the ideology, therefore it's a threat to that individual's identity.
So, imagine every waking moment, from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed, seeing threats everywhere you look. It's a matter of being in a state of constant intimidation, constant fear, and that will absolutely drive a person crazy. It will drive you to the point where you walk up and murder six people that you never met.
In that life, there is no room for happiness, there is no room for joy.
I fortunately never got to that point, but a thought that's been re-occurring to me since this happened is that this very easily could have been me. If it wasn't for my good fortune, and if it wasn't for these acts of kindness that were shown to me, that led to my course changing, I could've been that man."
He then goes on to talk about "what inspires me spiritually, which is the Dharma..." Full article here. Today Arno appears to have dedicated his life to promote peace and understanding via the organisations Life after Hate and Serve2Unite.
Clearly a sea change for the man whose life used to look like this: "I spent seven years as a leader of hate groups, perpetrating wanton violence against innocent people and twisting the minds of other hurt white kids to do even worse. I’ve beaten people and left them for dead. We would comb the city, looking for the “anti-racist skinheads” and beating up whoever we could find. Though we did attack people because of skin color or suspected sexual orientation, we most often attacked random white people, claiming after the fact that they were race-traitors. Aside from trips to Chicago and Minneapolis to brawl with their anti-racists, the bulk of the violence we committed was relatively spontaneous. We had a tendency to start assaulting each other if we didn’t go on a manhunt."
I am awestruck by the power of the Buddha, whose example has reached across nearly three millennia to completely turn around the life of this modern-day Angulimala. What must it have been like to actually have been in His presence?
What a spontaneous and genuine response it is! What a spiritual and inspiring essay it is!. It arouses peace and equanimity in the mind. I will try not to forget that faith and trust in the Buddhas, carried into action in daily life.
Thank you David so much.
Thank you for these beautiful words, David, a reminder at this time--when it is so easy to fall into a state of utter despair--of the power inherent in simple acts of kindness. Your words remind me of what Mother Teresa once said about the power of kind words, which may be quick and easy to say, but whose echo is infinite. You add to that thoughts and actions, which together with your words send ripples outwards towards that alternative you envisage. Who knows who might be touched where and what kind of transformation in the chain of events might thus ensue? It is faith in that power which uplifts me at this otherwise very dark time.
I found it particularly heart-breaking to see in the news the faces of the mothers of the perpetrators of the violence in Barcelona. Young men (some barely out of childhood) gripped by an evil ideology at a vulnerable time of life, but mothers know that evil does not define their children, even as the consequences of that evil horrify them. And the consequences of that evil create another kind of ripple, touching countless lives with pain and heartbreak to endure for generations.
"Sometimes it's difficult having a strong moral compass in a mixed-up world. But in this case, I saw where I could help and I did. That's all you can ever do." - http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40993880
I have a few friends who resolutely will not own a TV and I expect many of us have such friends. But Mat to have only watched TV twice in your life; that is a very strong statement I notice. And there is much wisdom in not watching the news habitually- which I do. I read recently that the prime source for today's historians as they write today's history is ' The News'. Maybe these days are the end of history for real but it is quite some reflection to see that future consumers of history will face a basis of history as today's media representation of reality.
Mat Osmond said:
Building an alternative is in itself a form of protest. My experience of modern times tells me powerfully that people identity with their oppressors who generally are the corporate state. I particularly try to show people that our primary identification with the country we live in is what is holding us in chains.
A peaceful world is contingent on a world where resources are shared as needed. People who identify with the corporate state may see the wisdom in such sharing but they wait for their government to do so. Particularly at this time as our ecology, political and cultural structures are collapsing we need to act. But it seems to me to be so much business as normal.
Our relative wealth in the West is our heart of darkness. There can be no peace while the people who have wealth cling to it even though they know most of the world's population may face starvation and lack of shelter. Western greed deeply angers me and with that energy I try to speak the most unacceptable words a greedy person can hear. Stop it and give it up. So many unnecessary luxuries inhibit global compassion. In particular, if you live in a home that is way beyond anything one could refer to as shelter; for heaven's sake sell it and share this wealth with those who need it. No-one is deserving of such uncompassionate ways of living. SUch an action on a large scale may overwhelm those suffering from lack of access to basic human needs and from there and actual sense of a global community may grow.
But David, such a path is so unwelcomed by even those who see themselves as peacemakers.
Let's pray for pure hearts for everybody. NAB