Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Two-Thirds World

The terms "Third World" and "developing country" are ripe with notions of inferiority. They imply that every country with a low gross domestic product (GDP) wishes to adopt Western models of economic development, which simply isn’t the case. For instance, Cuba has chosen not to adopt Western economics, and despite being labeled “a developing country” due to a low gross national income, has a lower infant mortality rate than the United States. Another example is Bhutan, which despite having the lowest per capita household income in the world has the eighth highest gross national happiness (GNH). The United States ranks twenty-third. Bhutan's leaders achieve such high levels of citizen happiness not by focusing their policies on achieving GDP, but by following “the four pillars of GNH: promotion of equitable and sustainable socioeconomic development; preservation and promotion of cultural values; conservation of the natural environment; and establishment of good governance.”

Because so-called “developing countries” are often rich in local knowledge, systems of compassionate justice, cultural diversity, and preservation of the natural world—practices which are vital for sustainability—I propose using Madhu Prakash and Gustavo Esteva’s non-ethnocentric terminology of these countries as The Two-Thirds World. These countries, after all, compose the majority of the world’s population.

We must rid ourselves of notions of superiority and realize that we have more to learn from many of these cultures than we have to teach them. It is for this reason that Prakash and Esteva argue for an initiative of:
creating solidarities with communities and groups suffering the most marked and vicious discrimination of our times—imposed by the educated as professional assistance, aid, or help upon the three contemporary [lower] castes: the miseducated, the undereducated or the noneducated, who constitute the majority of people on earth, the Two-Thirds World.

They argue in their book Escaping Education: Living as Learning within Grassroots Cultures that Western education and promises of professionalism destroy communities and local knowledge. This occurs by imposing the employment, high mobility, and economic growth of Western life. These pro-education Westerners, despite often having good intentions, neglect the fact that if everyone on the planet lived like an American, we would need five earths to sustain us. Furthermore, Prakash and Esteva assert that human rights activists, supporting “the universal human right to health, employment, modern medicine, sewage, roads, and other social services” impose unneeded Western values on a people deemed inferior due to their non-modern lifestyles.

Those who are well-informed about the twin crises of global warming and peak oil know that our modern life as we now know it is coming to an end. As we look to our post-carbon future—what some call our ancient future—the lessons we have to learn from The Two-Thirds World are infinite. Unfortunately, our industrial society is not only trying to convert The Two-Thirds World to our way of life, we are destroying the last surviving indigenous cultures. Driven by blind desire for natural resources, industrial multinational corporations are consuming what remains of the natural world and the people who inhabit it. Luckily there are activist groups, such as Survival International, working to save Indigenous cultures by educating Westerners about the relevance and need for their cultures, notifying struggling tribes of the survival tactics of other tribes, and campaigning to governments, banks, and corporations to protect indigenous homelands. The importance of tribal cultures will become more evident to the masses as the effects of global warming and peak oil are apparent in the collective consciousness, but it will take the foresight of ecologically-concerned Westerners to support tribal people while we still can.
[Please watch Survival International’s “The Real Avatar: Mine - Story of a Sacred Mountain” and support Survival International by acting now.]

The Four Noble "Tasks"

I. Introduction

I recently came across a striking reading of the "four noble truths" in Stephen Batchelor's new book, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist (Spiegel & Grau, 2010).

Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

I think Batchelor's argument is worth discussing here because it succinctly frames what I take to be the fundamental issue of human existence: the nature of suffering.

Is suffering (here understood in the broadest sense of a deep, root passivity) an accidental feature of this world from which "grace" or "enlightenment" can free us?

Or is this deep, root passivity unexpungeable in a way that might lead us to associate it with the grace of life itself?

II. The Mythological Reading

Batchelor’s thesis is that the four noble truths – originally anti-mythological, pragmatic, and phenomenological – were almost immediately re-embedded by the Buddha’s followers into the more familiar and comfortable mythological framework of Hinduism in a way that conceals the straightforward but radical logic of the original formulation.

Batchelor’s argument is based in part on some textual criticism but its real strength is, I think, its pragmatic and phenomenological force.

Batchelor’s critical-textual argument boils down to this: the four noble truths as we typically receive them in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (or “Wheel Turning” discourse) have been profoundly molded by the later insertion of “explanatory” subheadings that nominalize and mythologize each of the truths while simultaneously reversing the causal direction of some key relationships.

The received, “mythological” version of the four noble truths looks like this:

The Four Noble Truths

1. There is suffering (dukkha).

2. There is a cause of suffering: craving (tanha).

3. There is a cessation of suffering (nirvana).

4. There is a path to cessation: the eightfold path.

Batchelor’s claim is that where the Buddha originally presented four noble “tasks,” this version presents four noble “truths” (i.e., claims or dogmas; hence the nominalization). Once the “tasks” have been turned into dogmas, it is only possible to make sense of them in relation to Hinduism’s mythological claims about karma and rebirth.


Note how their transformation into dogmas requires that we read the four noble truths out of order. The relationship of cause and effect looks like this:

2. Cause: craving/clinging.

1. Effect: suffering.

4. Cause: eightfold path.

3. Effect: cessation of rebirth (nirvana).

Note that suffering is now understood as a contingent effect of an avoidable cause (craving).

Note that talk of cessation (nirvana) as the cessation of suffering only makes sense in light of the Hindu project to be post-mortally free from the wheel of samsara and rebirth.

On this model, suffering is a contingent effect that can be avoided and freedom from suffering is framed in relation to a post-mortal reward (nirvana as the cessation of re-birth).

II. The Phenomenological Reading

Batchelor’s argument is that this traditional reading not only does violence to the text but to the groundbreaking nature of the Buddha’s entire approach.

Let’s assume, he argues, that the subheadings that transform the list into claims or dogmas were added later. Also, let’s give full weight to the final portion of the discourse where the Buddha explicitly “operationalizes” the list into twelve actions (three actions for each of the four elements).

Then what does the list look like?

The list instead looks pragmatic and phenomenological like this:

The Four Noble Tasks

1. fully knowing suffering

2. letting go of craving

3. experiencing cessation (of craving)

4. cultivating the eightfold path

On this reading, the Buddha is not presenting a list of things to be believed, but a list of things to be done.

Note that in this light the logic of the list’s order is direct and requires no creative re-ordering.

1. The task is to fully know – on the basis of a penetrating, firsthand examination of one’s own experience of suffering – the nature of suffering as an unavoidable aspect of life’s being interdependent, co-conditioned, and impermanent.

2. To the degree that we know firsthand the truth about suffering, the natural effect of this will be our letting go of clinging and craving (i.e., a letting go of our demand for the world to permanently please us when and where we require it).

3. The natural effect of a letting go of craving will be that we will experience brief periods of time in which craving ceases altogether.

4. The natural effect of this experience will be our cultivation of a new way of life grounded in and appropriate to the truth of suffering. This new path of life is characterized by eight appropriate practices (i.e., the eightfold path).

Batchelor also argues (persuasively, I think) that the relationship between the four noble tasks and the eightfold path should be understood as cyclical.

The eightfold path is clearly described as leading to the four noble tasks and the four noble tasks explicitly lead back into the eightfold path. The clarity of this cyclical relationship, however, is apparent only when the four noble tasks are not re-ordered as in the standard, mythological version. It’s also only clear when nirvana/cessation is understood as an element along the way to the eightfold path itself rather than as a final solution to a problem specific to Hindu metaphysics (karmic re-birth).

Note that in this second version nothing is organized around a post-mortal problem or question. Note that in this second version suffering is essential rather than contingent. Note that in this second version no dogmatic beliefs are required.

Where the four noble truths lay out a path to an ultimate, cosmic redemption from suffering, the four noble tasks lay out a path to the ongoing cultivation of a human redemption of suffering.

Batchelor explicitly argues that the Buddha breaks with Hindu mythology most radically in his rejection of the idea that, at root, reality is fundamentally One. For the Buddha, the noble truths are four (and, as such, irreducible), the path to be cultivated is eight, the truth of existence is co-conditioned multiplicity, etc.

This is to say: the Buddha breaks with Hinduism in that he intentionally brackets mythological claims to a transcendent, fundamental Unity and sides wholeheartedly with the immanent and "pathetic" (in the original sense of the word pathos) givenness of phenomenological multiplicity.

Does the Buddha announce an ultimate cosmic redemption from suffering? Or does he announce a way to engage in the ongoing cultivation of a human redemption of suffering?

I think Batchelor is on the right track here.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Replacing Vacation

When you take a trip, what are you leaving behind? Vacationers spend thousands of dollars a year to visit the world’s most beautiful places, justifying their travels by the need for a well-deserved break from the daily nine-to-five and the monotony of suburbia. But why is it enough to have only two weeks of worry-free relaxation a year? Why do we accept an unsatisfying job or a home with little beauty?

Other than social pressures to succeed and the obvious need to pay for food and shelter, I see no other answer to these questions than the fact that jobs provide income, income provides possessions, and possessions promise happiness. Unfortunately, to the dismay of many Westerners, the possessions are lying. As I am sure you can attest, the thrill and satisfaction of a purchase hardly ever lasts; instead, it is quickly replaced by the desire for another possession, the next new thing. And we won’t be happy until we have it.

The myth that possessions will make us happy propels us to be unrelenting consumers. What’s so unfortunate is that this myth not only misleads us on our pursuit of happiness, but it destroys what can truly bring us joy.The beauty of nature is desecrated by the freeways we take to our city job, the billboards advertising our products, and the parking lots of our favorite malls. Back home, family conversation is replaced by television. Our addiction to consumption fuels resource wars, deforestation, and pollution on a massive scale, in turn poisoning life and warming the globe. These consequences, and the many others not listed, are justified as externalities of capitalism and “progress”.

If we broke our habit of consumption, buying only what we needed, we would need less income each year and so we could begin to take the steps that many Cultural Creatives are taking in America and across the world. Radical ideas such as a husband and wife each working only part time so that they could spend more time with each other and their kids, or accepting a lower paycheck for a new job you are happy to wake up to every morning. That kind of life needs no break.

It is time for us to replace vacation with a home, lifestyle, and community that we will never want to leave. Instead of eating out (which accounts for nearly half of the pitiful 12% of income Americans spend on food), invite your friends to cook and dine in your home. Resurrect the family dinner table and share your stories of the day. Purchase local food from the farmer’s market and savor every bite. By doing so, you are supporting your community’s farmers rather than multinational corporations who are quickly forcing the great majority of American farmers into financial ruin. Buying local fresh food is one key component of being an inhabitant, instead of just a resident, of your hometown. As David Orr writes in his book Ecological Literacy, “A resident is a temporary occupant, putting down few roots and investing little, knowing little and perhaps caring little for the immediate locale beyond its ability to gratify.” Inhabitants however, exhibit “an intimate, organic, and mutually nurturing relationship with a place. Good inhabitance is an art requiring detailed knowledge of a place, the capacity for observation, and a sense of care and rootedness.” To be an inhabitant is to know your neighbors and wish them happiness. It is ensuring the safety of its members in the face of crisis. It is to know the land well enough to teach about it, and it is the yearning that the natural beauty of your hometown will not only survive, but flourish, for your children. That is the heart of sustainability. When we act with these hopes in mind, the apparent sacrifices of sustainability will be realized as exchanges for the pieces of a better life.

[Please take some time to read and realize the Syracuse Cultural Workers’ tips to build community.]

How to Build Community

Turn off your TV – Leave your house
Know your neighbors
Look up when you are walking
Greet people – Sit on your stoop
Plant flowers
Use your library – Play together
Buy from local merchants
Share what you have
Help a lost dog
Take children to the park
Garden together
Support neighborhood schools
Fix it even if you didn’t break it
Have pot lucks – Honor elders
Pick up litter – Read stories aloud
Dance in the street
Talk to the mail carrier
Listen to the birds – Put up a swing
Help carry something heavy
Barter for your goods
Start a tradition – Ask a question
Hire young people for odd jobs
Organize a block party
Bake extra and share
Ask for help when you need it
Open your shades – Sing together
Share your skills
Take back the night
Turn up the music
Turn down the music
Listen before you react to anger
Mediate a conflict
Seek to understand
Learn from new and uncomfortable angles
Know that no one is silent though many are not heard
Work to change this

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The muddy Golden Buddha story, Part I

"Unbiddable, ungovernable - like a riot
in the heart, and nothing to be done,
come ruin or rapture."

from William Shakespeare's play
"Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter"

Sacramento homeless-help nonprofit Loaves & Fishes' "remessaging" of Jack Kornfield's story from the beginning of his most-recent book has stirred up controversy and interest. Not in Homeless World, or in the community of donors to homeless causes, but in the buddhoblogosphere1. Plus it has been noticed that Kornfield's story-with-a-message has had currency in Christiandom as church sermons published online retell the discovery of a golden Buddha, using Kornfield's words, and then append a meaning with a Biblical spin.

Allow first a recap of the now-extended controversy, with the latest, snappiest information added.

Jack Kornfield told a story. It's based on something true, but he didn't get it right. Kornfield's begins his 2008 book The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, and is the lead item in a compilation of the Best Buddhist Writing in 2009. Here's the whole of it:
In a large temple North of Thailand's ancient capital, Sokotai, there once stood an enormous and ancient clay Buddha. Though not the most handsome or refined work of Thai Buddhist art, it had been cared for over a period of five hundred years and became revered for its sheer longevity. Violent storms, changes in government, and invading armies had come and gone, but the Buddha endured.

The monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot and dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images ever created in Southeast Asia. Now uncovered, the golden Buddha draws throngs of devoted pilgrims from all over Thailand.
Loaves and Fishes used the story -- minus references to geographical locations -- in their June, 2010 newsletter, which was emailed out and posted to their website. I thought it mightily uncool that L&F used this Buddhist story from which Kornfield, a renowned Buddhist guy, crafted a sweet Buddhist meaning. L&F created their own meaning to the story which has Christian overtones, didn't make much sense (to me, anyway), what sense it can have made was condescending, and was used as a heart tugger for a donation-seeking request.

The buddhoblogosphere weighs in

I put up a blogpost in Sacramento Homeless, voicing my complaints, and three downright-famous Buddhobloggers put posts up in their blogs regarding the matter.

Mumon, blogger of Notes in Samsara, writes in "Go Read This Post by Tom Armstrong" [boy, I like THAT title!] that he finds the fundraising pitch by Loaves & Fishes to be "disturbingly reminiscent ... of the pitches of 'missionaries' to Native Americans and Alaskan Indigenous People for money from the middle classes using metaphors akin to the 'foreign' 'noble savage.'"

I don't think Loaves & Fishes intended to be that crass, let me point out, but I think they stumbled into a thick field of crassness.  The Kornfield message was one having to do with everybody being noble and good; the Loaves & Fishes message was pointing at this designated subpopulation of pitiful people, whom, by the grace of God, aren't us. Don't mistake them for us!

Nathan, in a post to Dangerous Harvests, "Buddhist Bloggers Digging In," writes

Tom goes on to comment, "Catholics, like other Christians, see people as essentially sinful. The Buddhist view is the opposite: People are essentially noble and good."

... it's worth looking at partly because I think some convert Buddhists, who were immersed in Christian traditions before becoming Buddhists, really struggle to flip over the narrative that people are "sinful by nature."
Doctorate-in-Buddhism-candidate middle-aged2 middle-way Justin Whitaker writes in American Buddhist Perspective, in a post titled "Buddhism and Catholicism: a Fundamental Difference?", following a donations plea [hey!], that "A LOT of Buddhism and Catholicism aims to make us see the foibles of our 'human condition' (be-it sinful or ignorant) and to work toward its alleviation. The vehicles are certainly different, true. And at times even contradictory, yes. But even different schools of Buddhism, or different teachings within schools might be seen as contradictory.

"But when we find these contradictions, they might just be a call to look deeper. One of my teachers expressed the notion of 'views' very well with a figure of a pyramid or triangle. We get stuck to 'views' on one edge or the other, but it's only in the middle (when we let go) that we can move upward toward Truth. And guess what - when people on the 'other side' do the same, we both end up at the same place."

Grumble, grumble.  That pesky Justin.  Just like a lovey-dovey right-speech-doing gritless fence-sitting Buddhist, filing away at the sharp edges!  [Showing True Grit or a sort, perhaps. Or perhaps not, I'd say!]

And, now, back into the thickening controversy 

Since that tempest in a cul-de-sac, I have done some googling and found other users of Kornfield's story for their own purposes - all from liberal Christians' sermons:

  • A sermon titled "Narcissism and Spirituality" at Second Unitarian Church of Omaha, by Steve Abraham, used the Kornfield story, complete with the Thailand geography, and Kornfield's parable, to make a psychological point.
  • Ian Lawton used the Kornfield story in his sermon, titled "Reflecting the Image of God," for a sermon on September 14, 2008, at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, Michigan. Lawton's church bills itself as Progressive Christianity, which is described as accepting of evolution and "finds metaphoric meaning in sacred text and religious imagery." The church is also integral, in the Ken Wilber sense, which means it accepts "many perspectives as possible, and traces the development of thought and culture through discernable stages."
  • And then there's Rev. Dr. Matthew B. Braddock, Pastor, who used a varietion of Ian Lawton's sermon for one of his own at his church, The Trumbull Congregational Church, in Trumbull, Conn., on May 9, 2010. The Trumbull church and the one in Spring Lake, MI, have a close - albeit, perhaps, unofficial - affiliation. I think it is a fair assessment of the church's statement of core values to say that it is a liberal Christian organization.
It is easy to understand why the story of the discovery of the Golden Buddha is so compelling. A nearly ten-foot high, 5 1/2-ton solid-gold buddha statue was hidden just out of sight for five centuries, in humble disguise.

Only, what Kornfield tells us isn't quite what happened.

The buddha statue, in its clay-and-plaster disguise did not survive "violent storms" for five centuries [as Kornfield tells us], it was for only two centuries and it was a storm that was the disguise's undoing - in the 1950s [sources vary as to whether it was in 1955, 1957 or 1959].

The statue was being moved when it slipped from a crane into the mud from a storm. It was after wading in this mud that a monk with a flashlight saw a glint of gold in a crack in the plaster, which resulted in the discovery of the inner treasure.

Mistelling, at the seeming margins, the story of the Golden Buddha discovery isn't the only "whoops" on the first page of The Wise Heart. Kornfield also misquotes Thomas Merton's famed so-called Vision in Louisville, in a way that  conveniently/accidentally services his ends.

One sentence, that Merton wrote [a part of his Vision in Louisville], originally in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander reads thus [emphasis, mine]:  "Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes."

In quoting Merton at the top of his first page of Kornfield's book, Merton's words, for that sentence read thus:  "Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine."

Here's a Kornfield quote from the beginning of page 378 of his book in hard cover: "Marcel Proust once said, 'The voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes, but in having new eyes.'" Harumph.

As you can see [through your own damn eyes], God was taken out. Kornfield, or his editor, deChristianized the Merton quote! Clearly, this was deliberately done to dummydown the clear Christian focus in Merton's feeling and words to make it more appropriate in a Buddhist book. That is deplorable. [And I deplore it.] But it gets worse ...

If you google the quote with the sentence, how Merton wrote it, you get 280 hits. [Note your number of hits will vary do to how google works, or course.]  If you google the quote with the sentence how it is misquoted in Kornfield's book, you get 406 results. I have looked at those 406 results and they all are recent, after the misquote first appeared, in a Shambhala Sun article Kornfield wrote in advance of the publication of his book AND the ellipsis that Kornfield put in is there, where Merton wrote something that K omited.

Effectively, Kornfield (or his editor) has 'changed' what Merton wrote. And I do not know how you put this stinking opened Pandora's box of falsehood back into the box! History and what Merton miraculously said has been perversely changed, by how ever little.

[In his book, on page 380, Kornfield writes, "Remember how Thomas Merton counciled not to depend on the hope of results but to concentrate on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. ... When we act for the long term, there will be pressure to take sides, grasp opinions, constantly measure the results, and try to control everything."]  Yeah, right.  Yeah, sure, Kornfield.
1 buddhoblogosphere:  the virtual sangha of bloggers who write about Buddhism.  It some usages of the word, the virtual sangha very much includes Buddhism blogs' noble readers.  Alternate spelling:  Buddhoblogosphere.  Though the prefix buddo is often used to refer to Buddhism [as in Buddology], the spelling buddoblogosphere has been 'abandoned' due to another, urban meaning of the term buddo.
2 The first digit in Justin's age increased 50% just last week.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Appreciating Conservatives

Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, writes about ― gulp ― conservatives as he came to better understand, and even appreciate, them … maybe.
... conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer "moral clarity" ―a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.

I would say that the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way.

When Republicans say that Democrats "just don't get it," this is the "it" to which they refer. Conservative positions on gays, guns, god, and immigration must be understood as means to achieve one kind of morally ordered society. When Democrats try to explain away these positions using pop psychology they err, they alienate, and they earn the label "elitist." But how can Democrats learn to see—let alone respect—a moral order they regard as narrow-minded, racist, and dumb?

My first few weeks in Bhubaneswar, India, were ... filled with feelings of shock and confusion. I dined with men whose wives silently served us and then retreated to the kitchen. My hosts gave me a servant of my own and told me to stop thanking him when he served me. I watched people bathe in and cook with visibly polluted water that was held to be sacred. In short, I was immersed in a sex-segregated, hierarchically stratified, devoutly religious society, and I was committed to understanding it on its own terms, not on mine.

It only took a few weeks for my shock to disappear, not because I was a natural anthropologist but because the normal human capacity for empathy kicked in. I liked these people who were hosting me, helping me, and teaching me. And once I liked them (remember that first principle of moral psychology) it was easy to take their perspective and to consider with an open mind the virtues they thought they were enacting. Rather than automatically rejecting the men as sexist oppressors and pitying the women, children, and servants as helpless victims, I was able to see a moral world in which families, not individuals, are the basic unit of society, and the members of each extended family (including its servants) are intensely interdependent. In this world, equality and personal autonomy were not sacred values. Honoring elders, gods, and guests, and fulfilling one's role-based duties, were more important. Looking at America from this vantage point, what I saw now seemed overly individualistic and self-focused. For example, when I boarded the plane to fly back to Chicago I heard a loud voice saying "Look, you tell him that this is the compartment over MY seat, and I have a RIGHT to use it."

...once I had stood outside of my home morality, once I had tried on the moral lenses of my Indian friends and interview subjects, I was able to think about conservative ideas with a newfound clinical detachment. They want more prayer and spanking in schools, and less sex education and access to abortion? I didn't think those steps would reduce AIDS and teen pregnancy, but I could see why the religious right wanted to "thicken up" the moral climate of schools and discourage the view that children should be as free as possible to act on their desires. Conservatives think that welfare programs and feminism increase rates of single motherhood and weaken the traditional social structures that compel men to support their own children? Hmm, that may be true, even if there are also many good effects of liberating women from dependence on men. I had escaped from my prior partisan mindset (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later), and began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Fairness and Justice

In societies in which there is one overarching world view, fairness and justice are complex issues. Interpretations of the law, in Judaism, always include the minority opinion, a way of saying that fairness and justice are contingent, not absolute, principles.

In a society in which there is multiplicity of perspectives and world views, different views compete and fairness and justice can become functions of power.

Spiritual practice goes nowhere if it follows this path. Everything gets lost in interpretation, conceptual thinking, unacknowledged prejudice and bias, etc.

In spiritual practice, we have to dispense completely with appeals to justice and fairness, precisely because they are open to interpretation and dependent on position. And if we claim access to a higher truth, we are, in effect, claiming the power and the right to decide for others.

Aside: I dislike and avoid the notion that spiritual truth is a higher truth, in terms of society and the world, etc. Spiritual practice is based on a principles that run counter to many principles of society. To claim that spiritual practice is a "higher truth" is another form of prejudice. Instead, I have to acknowledge that the principles on which I base my decisions are different from the principles that a person in a social context may base his or her decisions.
I now rarely try to persuade people to adopt a specific perspective, Buddhist or otherwise. Rather, I seek to help them find what is true for them in the world they experience. As we explore this together, appeals to justice or fairness are almost always stories that hide or protect unacknowledged hurts or pains. As they open to those pains, people frequently find clarity on their own and know what to do, not because it is "fair" or "just" or "right" (these are, in the end, somewhat childish motivations), but because, when everything, inside and out, is included in awareness, often only one course of action is indicated — the direction of the present, to use Uchiyama's phrase.

In other words, the illusion of choice is an indication of a lack of freedom.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Feds Plan to Bulldoze N.M. Buddhist Stupa

(Cross Posted at The Reformed Buddhist)

The Federal government has announced its intentions to bulldoze a small Tibetan Buddhist Stupa near the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico after the National Park Service seized the land using the power of eminent domain to build an outdoor amphitheater. This comes on the heels of a similar case, when earlier this year the US Supreme Court voted in a 5-4 decision (Salazar v. Buono) to save a Christian Cross residing on NPS land inside the Mojave desert, after the NPS denied a Buddhist organization request to build a small Stupa near the Cross. In yet another similar case in 2006 (Paulson v. City of San Diego), President George W Bush signed into law an act of eminent domain to save another Christian Cross residing on public land inside the City of San Diego, after the US Court of Appeals had ordered the Cross to be dismantled, stating the violation of both the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the No Preference Clause in the California Constitution.

Yesterday, I was unable to reach anyone in the National Park Service Headquarters that was willing to give any comment on their plans or reasoning behind bulldozing the Stupa. Certainly, if the Federal government is willing to use the very powerful tool of eminent domain to save a Christian Cross residing on public land, its actions in New Mexico bring up very important Constitutional questions of its endorsement of religion given its willingness to use the same powers to bulldoze a symbol of another religion. The first amendment of the US Constitution strictly forbids the United States government to "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." 

The question has to be raised, is the US government indeed attempting to establish a de facto 'official' religion by its actions over the past 5 years? Ken Salazar, the Secretary for the Department of the Interior, which runs the National Park Service, has been eerily quiet about these actions, as has the Obama administration. Unquestionably, the volunteer caretakers of the Stupa have been more than willing to work with the NPS to preserve the Buddhist symbol within the confines of its amphitheater plans, however, any attempts to open dialogue have been met with no success. One of the ongoing advertising campaigns of the NPS has been "Get Involved!"; I suppose they only wish those to get involved if they are indeed Christian.

If you would like to help save the New Mexico Buddhist Stupa please visit Digital Tibetan Alter for more information.

Links To: Petroglyph National MonumentHistory of the Albuquerque Stupa