Monday, September 6, 2010

What If...

... we were to lose the voice of reason in this country? What if all that remained were the voices of the idealists--or, worse, ideologues? What if the spirit of compromise were entirely lost and we could agree on nothing, like a married couple in the throes of a nasty divorce?

I very much fear that we are approaching that point, if we have not already reached it. I listen to the voices to right and left on the political scene--and in the blogosphere--and wonder if there is something wrong with me, that I am somehow weak or vacillating in my opinions, when others around me seem so certain of theirs? Are they so sure they're right? It sounds that way. Have they no doubt? No nagging questions inspired by views that are contrary to their own? On the one hand, there's a part of me that admires the quality of conviction; on the other, a part that remains suspicious of certitude--and even more of rectitude.

I came upon this quotation at the weekend, and it gave rise to these thoughts that have been playing uncomfortably at the back of my mind:

I will learn to cherish all beings of bad nature

And those pressed by strong sins and sufferings

As if I had found a precious

Treasure very difficult to find.

I regret that I don't know how to attribute the quotation, which I think I have come across before in various readings, but it struck a particular chord in the context of what I have been writing about politics in the past few days. To "cherish" the Tea Party-ers and the right wing zealots "as if I had found a precious treasure very difficult to find" seems to me a Buddhist challenge that is beyond my capabilities! I do, though, see not only the wisdom but the eventual practicality of this approach. Thanissaro Bhikkhu argues plausibly that wishing such people well is in the best interests of the rest of us: if they were to find the kind of true happiness of which the Buddha speaks, the world would be a very much better place. He's referring, of course, to the kind of happiness that takes nothing from the happiness of others, existing in a place beyond greed, anger and delusion.

I came across the quotation once again as I was reading a "Manga biography" of the Dalai Lama which was sent to me as a review copy by its publisher, Penguin Books. The author is the Japanese manga artist Testu Saiwai, and the book is called The 14th Dalai Lama. Manga is a story-telling technique using comic book pictures and words--a genre I must admit I have little acquaintance with. And I have to say that the medium tends to trivialize its subject. By its nature, it tends to favor the Kapow! Grrrrrr! and Stomp, Stomp! kind of action, and it is ill-suited to explore the religious and spiritual aspects of the Dalai Lama's life. The main focus of Saiwai's story is understandably on the history of the Chinese infiltration and eventual invasion of Tibet and the Dalai Lama's flight to his sanctuary in India.

I wish I could have liked the book more. Its intention is surely a good one: to make this inspiring story of a peace-loving world leader accessible to vast numbers of readers for whom the genre is a familiar and comfortable one. And the Dalai Lama's central message of compassion and mutual tolerance in pursuit of happiness for all humankind is forcefully conveyed. It's just that it seems to strike a minor key amongst the enthusiastic Kapows! and Blams! The medium tends also to simplify gestures, and to reduce facial expressions to fanatical grimaces and foolish grins in which all subtlety is lost. I dread to think what might happen to the life of the Buddha in such hands.

But I was glad to be reminded of that quotation. Those eager to jump on what they see as the doormat quality of Buddhism will seize on it as evidence that Buddhists are milquetoast capitulators to the evil of which human beings are capable. Personally, I see strength where others might see weakness. What these lines suggest, to my way of thinking, is that those with whom we disagree, those whom we consider misguided or even evil, offer us the gift of a mirror from which we can learn some truth about our own nature. The practice of "metta"--sending out compassion to all, even those for whom we may wish to feel the least compassion--is one that makes us more fully human, and which has the power to heal differences rather than foment discord and anger.

The Middle Path is as appropriate and necessary, I believe, in our political as in our personal lives.



A Prophecy?!

And it was the year 2000 odd
And God said:
"Son! time for a walkabout."
Buzzed Buddha on the Net.
Buddha smiled,
Let's take Mohammet too".
"Good idea!", said God.


Chana said...

"There is a season, change, change, change." We remember those famous lyrics and maybe it is really happening in the good old US of A. Personally I think it is welcomed. I see no vital culture in America anymore, just a consumer driven society. And all the pundits that comment on it, and have ideas, or yes ideologues, about what to do, now that humpty dumpty has fallin off the wall and shattered into a million pieces. We are in for some very difficult times economically and socially i believe. If your out there among the fray, and fighting for a breath of fresh air, good luck.
To me, the middle way, is to remove yourself from the fray, at least half of your everyday life. Remember who and what you are as a human being and innately a Buddha in the making. Regain a sense of being rooted to the planet for your short ride, and look around and "smell the roses". When it comes time either vote the best you can, or just drop out, get a homestead, and hunker down to make it through all the turmoil "out there".
I see little hope that we are ever going to return to being able to live the American dream as depicted in the 50's. It has long since disappeared. No jobs, more fiat money being thrown at everything movable, and a national debt that will never be paid off. Just a few of the modernized versions of our American environment.
Middle way....i wish, but i do not think it is going to happen for many, many years to come.....


PeterAtLarge said...

Good to hear from you, Chana. Words of wisdom! I'll be thinking more about the Middle Way in The Buddha Diaries this morning.