So is this the "Dawning of the Age of Aquarius"? Are we headed for a "new age" of peace and understanding and brotherly/sisterly love? The fuzziness of much New Age thinking leaves my skepticism unfazed. Remember the words of the song in the late 1960s musical "Hair"--now revived, I believe, on Broadway? Sure you do:
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelationAnd the mind's true liberation...
All well and good. The optimism is uplifting, and yet... uncomfortably disconnected from the realities of the world. If we are to look forward to a better world, it seems to me, our optimism needs to be made of sterner stuff. There's hard work to be done.
Still, let's remember that despite our many setbacks and self-induced catastrophes we have made progress in some respects over the centuries--from the "Dark Ages" to the Renaissance, from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, we have come to understand more about ourselves and the nature of the world we live in. Today, that understanding continues to grow at an ever faster, truly astounding pace. We explore the mysteries of our minds and the mysteries of the universe with tools and technologies that would have been unimaginable even fifty years ago. The real question, though, is whether all the knowledge that we gain translates into wisdom.
I think we have cause for cautious optimism. If the books I have been reading recently are any indication, it is astonishing how many of us have absorbed the teachings of the dharma. Just two days ago I was reviewing The Misleading Mind. I have two more books waiting for me to read and, possibly, to write about: The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think--and How You Can Change Them, and Forgiving the Unforgivable: The Power of Holistic Living, "the true story of how survivors of the Mumbai terrorist attack answered hatred with compassion."
The curious--or perhaps not so curious--thing is that so many of us seem to be saying much the same: that what the Buddha taught about the power of the mind and our ability to train it to be fully conscious and compassionate really IS the key to our survival as a species. My sense is that the wisdom of the dharma is being disseminated in a thousand quiet ways in this country, and in others, and that our species is evolving, albeit slowly, along this path. It may take as many years, decades, centuries, as it took us to progress from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, but we are moving in the right direction. If we only manage to outlive the actions of the dark side of our nature, we will learn to live in greater harmony with the world and with each other.
The obstacles are great. Our current Republican primaries cycle reminds us that here are many troglodytes among us in this country, those whose thoughts and actions are dominated by fear and its triplet offspring: ignorance, prejudice and superstition. The broader view reveals a world still in the grip of tyranny, hunger, disease and violence. These are realities. We close our eyes and minds to them at our risk. But, from what I also see around me, if the more enlightened among us pursue their work in the fields of science, technology, philosophy, the arts, we have the chance to become a better people living in a better world.
Of course, as one of my fellow-sitters was wise to remind us yesterday, it starts with me. If I want to do my bit to change the world, I must first address the need to change myself. It's only in the practice of greater compassion, greater consciousness that I can make a difference; and I know that there's no end to the work I need to do.