Reflecting on recent events over the past five years, not just the past few months, we have witnessed great atrocities, even worse than the pandemic, as they have been inflicted by humans on other humans with violent abandon and blind that ripples out into the wider world. -than a human world.
Add to this the theft of the resources needed to solve the climate and sustainability challenges we face as humans on this fragile planet, plundered by the masters of war.
Social media is full of memes expressing outrage at one cause or another, one ideology or another, an exclusive attitude of victimization, one-sided coercive narratives espousing the correctness of their vision of events, while presenting a self-image activists.
What is missing is seeing and presenting both perspectives, victim and aggressor, as caught in the same trap of revenge and punishment.
The second pair of verses in The Dhammapadathe founding text of Buddhism, states very clearly:
He insulted me, hit me, beat me, stole from me”: for those who think about this, the hostility does not stop.
He insulted me, hit me, beat me, robbed me” – for those who don’t think about it, the hostility is subsided.
(Access to Insight)
And the following verse reflects:
Regardless, hostilities do not end because of hostility.
Hostilities are calmed thanks to non-hostility: this is an endless truth.
(Access to Insight)
So what is the end of the conflict?
I recently saw and shared a meme on Facebook of graffiti that said, "It's okay to be heartbroken for more than one group of people at the same time." » This struck me as an outlier in the chaotic thought cloud in which competing narratives vie for virality, but at least it offers a starting point.
Shakyamuni Buddha observed that impermanence, interdependence and the absence of personal existence were the three marks of reality. This is a good starting point.
However long some of these struggles have been, spanning centuries and eons since the tribes of early nomadic humans became sedentary farmers, human nature has not changed. The desire to control resources and others, in one way or another, seems to be ingrained in us. We prosper at the expense of others. But this is not our only characteristic. We not only have a competitive character but also the ability to share. In fact, cooperation is the foundation of our well-being and our civilizations, as many have observed.
The bodhisattva's vow begins with the promise to save all beings from the sufferings of samsara, knowing full well that they are innumerable both in quantity and over time. We cannot understand the immensity of the world bigger than the humans around us. Samsara seems to be a stable and unchanging dynamic, and yet we are preparing for a Quixotic quest. As the rabbis say: “You are not obligated to finish the work of healing the world, but neither are you free from the obligation to try. »
Dōgen would say that the act of trying is also the result. You just need to start where you are.
Nagarjuna would say that there is no point in discussing specific words and expressions, slogans and talking points, because these are only labels and categories that we put on reality. Ideologues who do not realize this are condemned to suffer the oppression of Cancel Culture.
As Hakuin Zenji noted, the Great Way is not difficult for those who can rise above the false dichotomy of this and that.
Spiritual bypassers who hide their heads in the sand of “personal practice” are like the nihilists so dangerous in Nagarjuna's eyes. They cannot balance the relative and ultimate truths of Prajnaparamitano more than the agitated population who are caught up in these tragedies.
In the 1970s I first read The jewel of liberation (Shambhala 1971) by Gampopa, in the translation by Herbert V. Guenther. Wow. It’s a master’s work! I particularly remember a chapter called “The Vicious State of Samsara” and a sentence in which he says that the cause of samsaric suffering is twofold: conflicting emotions and primitive beliefs about reality.
As Bernie Glassman Roshi might have said: I admit I don't know the answers; I am ready to bear witness to the reality I find myself in, including atrocities on a genocide scale; and I will act.
Which boatman guides our journey on this raft of action? What is our compass for the journey? There is no single answer, because we are more like a flotilla of peacemakers than an armada of conquest.
Perhaps Ksitigarbha is the ship's chaplain, drawing from the treasures of the deep earth and watching over us on our perilous journey through the shallows and rapids. The ringing of his staff echoes through the forest, beyond the banks, as we are buffeted by waves of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Added to this is the trauma. After all, we are in a life raft.
I am not writing this because I have a normative response to the conflicts in Ukraine, Israel, Haiti, Xining, Myanmar, Sudan, Sri Lanka or Yemen. I cannot fix the authoritarian regime of Iran, the right-wing governments of Argentina, Hungary, Turkey and the Netherlands. I have no control over American politics, Canada's broken promises to indigenous citizens, China's expansionist aspirations, or what passes for popular culture. I am heartbroken for everyone involved.
If I can't fix the system from the inside with tsk-tsk'ing and finger-waving, my best contribution to now of public discourse is to propose an alternative narrative, namely: the Buddhadharma. I am particularly interested in the intersection of Buddhist practice and engagement in civil society, but I am open to the multiplicity of converging perspectives of others. Publishing Buddhist books is the best answer I have at the moment.
I am trying to make sense of this new reality, with its almost complete abandonment of building a sustainable future, and to understand what more I could do here in Canada. I'm just sharing my process with you. If you have anything helpful to add to the conversation, I’d love to hear them. Please don't harass me.
Ah, the Four Immeasurables. . .
May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.
May they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.
May they never be dissociated from the supreme happiness which is without suffering.
May they remain in limitless serenity, free both from attachment to loved ones and rejection from others.
(Padmasambhava Buddhist Center)
In the old children's TV show Mr. Rogers, he explained to adults how to help children make sense of suffering by seeking relief in every tragedy. They are the ones to imitate.
What does help look like, beyond the immediate? When it’s not a “thing” or an “event”, but a life of patient, constant and rewarding work? When is it a good livelihood? When each of us is a real person without rank? Each of us is a bodhisattva.