Tuesday, June 19, 2007


It's amazing, isn't it, how one person's passionately held belief can seem so foolish and wrong-headed to another? We've seen evidence of this in The Buddha Diaries recently: I confess I find it virtually impossible to "understand"--or even accept--the thinking of those who profess a certain kind of Christianity; what I broadly refer to as the fundamentalist kind. These folk embrace positions that seem profoundly un-Christian to me, who was brought up in the Anglican version of the Christian faith. Take, for example, their rejection of evolutionary theory and their hatred of homosexuality.

These thoughts are promoted, this morning, by a conversation at dinner last night with a friend--a good, right-thinking, and likely religiously skeptical liberal like myself--whose twin sister is a right-wing, evangelical, fundamentalist republican. They have, our friend reports, a very loving relationship, but they have learned to avoid certain topics in their conversations. Amazing! That twin sisters should hold such diametrically-opposed beliefs. Their shared wisdom, of course, lies in their mutual tolerance, their tacit agreement to disagree.

I have to tell you that I find it extremely hard to practice such tolerance. It's work for my struggling intellect. Not necessarily because my beliefs are passionately held or intolerant, but because I find it hard--along with most of us, I think--to maintain a healthy separation between belief and reason. But then, I know that there are those who question the validity of reason. Is it not possible that new scientific evidence, two hundred years hence, let's say, will modify our current understanding of Darwinian theory? Of course it is. There were those whose reason led them to believe, not so very long ago, that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around us.

One of the reasons I'm so attracted to Buddhism is that it's founded in an essential pragmatism. It's not about belief so much as what works--and what doesn't work--in my life as I progress from day to day. It's not so much a suspension of disbelief (Coleridge's famous formulation) as a suspension of belief. When we look around the world today, it's impossible not to conclude that passionately-held beliefs cause a lot more problems than they solve. (I guess that's MY belief!) From the absurd stalemate in our own government to the disastrous crises in the Middle East, is it not all about one side not being able to imagine--let alone tolerate--the other's view? I recall that wonderful artwork that I saw in Munich--the neon blue lettering installed on the facade of a venerable old building: you can imagine the opposite. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Would that we all could.


Cardozo said...

The difficulty for people to accept the views and perspectives of others seems to be an argument for isolationism...which is more or less what I practice in my own life.

If I cannot agree with someone/something on basic values, I (try to) disengage from any kind of inter-dependent relationship with that entity.

This concept of disengagement when an agreement can't be reached has been my long-standing position in relation to America's difficulties with certain branches of fundamentalist Islam. If we disengage economically from the region, we won't be a target, at least in the short run.

Carly said...

Well, P: Buddhism may seem practical because you don't seem to be striving for nirvana. You don't really have the personality to be at a standstill, for that would be regression. Whether I am right or wrong about that, there might be a better way for you.

Disengagement is existentialist. and not really viable today. An extremely wise path of engagement is most effective in the world, on a personal level, or global.

But how do we engage? The wisest way is through "non-action". For you, Peter, who has all the earmarks of a sage, the wise counsel would be, to treat the people as "straw dogs". The straw dog is wrapped straw fashioned in the shape of a dog used in prayers for rain, in old China. After the prayers it is then abandoned without a second thought of compassion. The Sage does not demonstrate any love nor dislike for the people, but relies on their propensity for "doing" of themselves and reposing of themselves. Therefore the straw dogs is a metaphor to comply with non-action. If the Sage were to care either way for the people his heart would not be empty. Thus, he maintains his tranquillity, and the people remain free to follow the natural laws of development.

Cardozo said...

Why shouldn't economic disengagement from any particular region be viable?

carly said...

Too much is already dependent. A better basis for involvement is preferable.

Don't forget, the middle east is focused on us. They will hang on like a friend you'd like to get rid of but can't because he's living in the same house.
They want a rich, corrupt life of their own, similar to ours.

There are other reasons as well. When the military pulls out, we will be forced to pay for many things for many years to come. It will fall on the shoulders of the now young. the US will suffer further if it leaves lock stock and without barrell. Eventually, the middle east will flourish the way Japan and Germany has since World War ll. And the US will just become something different from what it is now. If you are strongly American, you will lament in old age.

Ther are other repercusions. It's complicated. Unexpected things are going to happen.

You can't stop the capitalists from some other ploy going after the money to be made there. While you sleep, rich people are working to establish mega business between the US and Middle Eastern coundtries. Many are arabs and Armenians, and others living here. Bush/Cheney put the US between a rock and a hard place. The Republicans and their world wide friends are short term capitalists, the future be damned.

If you cannot be an effective activist, you should seek the way of the sage. Buddhislm is very ineffective in deallng with the world. Study the real history of Tibet, and you'll be enlighteined.

Cardozo said...

It seems as though you have the answers. What is this "better basis for involvement" and how can I advocate for it, or participate in it?

lindsey said...

I'll stay out of the above political discussion, but offer my thoughts on the idea of "tolerance".

Tolerance isn't what the global community needs. When there is a baby crying on a plane or a guy coughing in the movie theater next to us, we tolerate it because we know there is nothing we can do to fix it. We don't have to respect the thing we are tolerating or even like it. Instead we deal with the annoyance until it goes away.

Religious conflicts and differences are not going away. Instead of tolerance we should promote acceptance and respect. I'm not asking the world to accept Allah or Jesus or even the teachings of Buddha. Rather to accept that as humans we will have our differences and to respect those differences.

Perhaps the first step is tolerance...but I'd like to think that we as humans are better than that.

Damn me and my foolish belief in humanity. ;-)

Robin said...

Thanks for linking me.

I don't beleive that a religion actually peaches hatred and hostility. Perhaps it is the interpretation of certain practitioner of the religions.

Buddhism in it true sense is a way of life.

Carly said...

Cardozo: Politically, you're probably in no position to shape things. But as a good writer you are and will be moreso. From what I know of you, you should use words. That means you would need the power of mind to give words power. Saying you disconnect from problem people, is not good use of your mind. Here are some quotes from the philosophy I work with. See if you like them:

"It is not the private interests of the individual that create lasting fellowship among men, but rather the goals of humanity. That is why it is said that fellowship with men in the open succeeds. If unity of this kind prevails, even difficult and dangerous tasks can be accomplished. But in order to bring about this sort of fellowship......

Again, it is enthusiasm that enables us to install helpers for the completion of an undertaking without fear of secret opposition. It is enthusiasm too that can unify mass movements.....

This symbolizes the approach and condescension of the man of higher position to those beneath him. The two parts of the image indicate what his attitude toward these people will be......the sage is inexhaustible in his readiness to teach mankind......so the sage sustains and cares for all people and excludes no part of humanity......

Pigs and fishes are the least intelligent of all animals and therefore the most difficult to influence. The force of inner truth must grow great indeed before its influence can extend to such creatures. In dealing with persons as intractable and as difficult to influence as a pig or a fish, the whole secret of success depends on finding the right way of approach. One must first rid oneself of all prejudice and, so to speak, let the psyche of the other person act on one without restraint. Then one will establish contact with him, understand and gain power over him. When a door has thus been opened, the force of one's personality will influence him. If in this way one finds no obstacles insurmountable, one can undertake even the most dangerous things and succeed. But it is important to understand upon what the force inner truth depends......"

These are some general images, it becomes more specific as you go. The writer who could master and instinctively do these and other things would be a sage and a benevolent force in the world. to answer your question.