7) Recognising Wisdom|
I ended the last chapter with this:-
"Peoples of our cultures have been dispossessed but some recognise the need to follow the path. We can pursue that beneficially teaching us the need for a relationship with Gaia. At that point we would welcome Indigenous leadership."
But this recognition is not easy. Quite simply, amongst the dispossessed wisdom is not valued because our education system has been intellectualised – what I referred to in ch6 as the European Intellectual Tradition (from Russell Means App B). In this tradition intellect becomes over-empowered (aggrandised, inflated) and creates this egoic shell – I referred to it as a sankhara shell (from 5 khandhas discussed in Ch3 Ego & Enquiry) – which prevents access to wisdom.
However wisdom recognises itself, so this is the methodology of recognition – the getting of wisdom. The getting of wisdom is not something that can be taught – of course there can be guidance. It is not like studying all wise people taking and passing an exam on the thoughts of these wise people, and then you have wisdom. It might come from the school of hard knocks, when you read anecdotes of the wise it is clear that suffering has contributed. But overcoming suffering does not automatically give access to wisdom, there needs to be a recognition of conditioning, and moving beyond the conditioning:-
Recognising wisdom comes from wisdom we get following the path.
Wisdom does not come from books although many wise people have written books. It is not sufficient to read in order to gain wisdom. Yet reading and regurgitation are the fundamentals of the halls of academia within the European Intellectual Tradition. Wisdom has with it, an internalisation, a process of insight, that goes way beyond recalling a bunch of words on the surface of the mind – intellect. Whilst books might provide a signpost, intellectual appreciation is not wisdom.
But some books are written by wise people, and this cannot be ignored. However wise people use books, they select from what is written and applying their own insight use that written word as wisdom. A book without the discernment of wise people does not provide wisdom.
It is this insightful approach which is at the basis of the return to the indigenous. Under adversity the indigenous culture has maintained their wisdom – maintained their connection to Gaia. This is wisdom in practice. But there cannot be a blind acceptance of all that is indigenous as wise because that evidentially is not true. In the Fourth Way the Indigenous Elders described earlier processes of assimilation, acceptance and resistance; clearly assimilation and acceptance are not driven by wisdom, and resistance can be driven by the ego of aversion. Recognising wisdom is a process of discernment.
Whilst I consider a “return to the indigenous” as a sound strategy (see Ch5), Indigenous Wisdom is not the only wisdom, there are many paths. What the Indigenous provide is a society connected to Gaia that has survived the history of the 1%-satrapy – the European Material and Intellectual Tradition. But whilst this satrapy is clearly controlled by the 1%, it is true that there are many within the 1%-satrapy who are trying to follow the path – attempting to get wisdom. It would be a mistake to ignore this wisdom because their societies are part of the 1%-satrapy. Yet at the same time we cannot ignore the potential for dispossession amongst these people following the path. In trying to recognise such wisdom we must always be careful of ignoring dispossession.
There are many examples of this dynamic between the path, wisdom and dispossession. Suppose we consider the relationship between Gaia-consciousness and Buddhism; this ought to be a tautology. Ajaan Buddhadasa talks of idappaccayata as God – Gaia. So if the religion is Gaia, then why is it not a tautology? Some attack spiritual teachers – occasionally with vitriol, and the basis of the attack is that these spiritual teachers are not making the spirit sufficiently activist. Gaia-consciousness, in my view, is active so in a less vitriolic way I want to investigate that attack.
Buddhism has monks as teachers, and within Buddhist countries monks are often at the forefront of what is positive in those countries. This would include Gaia-conscious Buddhism where the monasteries have sustainable aspects, and the monks teach mindfulness although not always mindful consuming.
So how widespread is Gaia-consciousness amongst Buddhists in general? And here we have to consider the criticism of the spiritual teaching, not necessarily agree/disagree but consider. There is the important teaching of the 4 Noble Truths. This recognises that there is suffering, and individually we suffer because we don’t control our desires – we cling to them. To stop clinging we do not attach to desires – detach from desires. This is extremely difficult to do, and for some teachers this practice of detachment leads to accepting a withdrawal from being too active in life. This is the criticism I mentioned above. There are monks withdrawn into cloisters and some meditators also withdraw. For some this withdrawal is perceived as shirking their responsibility (to Gaia).
For me my learning is as Buddhadasa said “learning what is”, and this learning includes an understanding of political power in the world. Life is humanity’s systems as well as Nature, shouldn’t we learn about both?
As for the 4 Noble Truths there is suffering, and suffering is as a result of clinging to desire – attachment. Where does this suffering come from? Firstly misunderstanding Nature – trying to get from Nature what Nature does not offer. Living in harmony with Nature means we know how to give and take:-
But what about humanity’s system? Here is a description – the Zandtao Narrative:-
By this understanding we are consumers, no give-and-take, just consumers, no harmony. We are conditioned to consume. If we don’t learn that this is what it is, will we just consume in ignorance? Is this Gaia-conscious? Is this harmony with Nature?
Buddhism talks about removing conditioning and moving beyond. Buddhadasa called this Idappaccayata-paticcasamuppada (referred to here). It is not simply the conditioning of consuming but the conditioning of the 5 khandhas, however doesn't awareness of what all conditioning is lead to mindful consuming?
The person who was aggressive about the spiritual teachers wants to insist on engagement, personally I see that as a choice no matter how frustrating that feels at times. Following our paths is difficult especially because of the inimical way humanity’s systems are applied - making us dispossessed (Ch6). We must encourage people to follow their path, and if that path is focussed on the internal at some stages perhaps this is not to be criticised. The inimical systems cause great hardship, perhaps those on the path should question their own egos before adding to that hardship. The path is compassion and leads to Gaia, trust in Gaia. Ask questions, encourage positively, but remember our paths are different. However frustrating it is to see people inactive on the path it is their choice, their minds, their path – trust Gaia.
So whilst we can trust in Gaia because of this dynamic between path, wisdom and dispossession, the wisdom of the dispossessed might not be spiritual activism – such as pathtivism. We must be tolerant and discerning – recognising wisdom. There are many paths, and people are at different stages; without tolerance we might alienate those who are trying to help.
I feel this caveat is particularly true of the home of the dispossessed – my country the UK. It sometimes feels as a country that we are the most dispossessed. Certainly our heritage contains the worst ravages of dispossession, colonial exploitation, and attempted indigenous genocide in the US, Australia and New Zealand. Given that history one could imagine little wisdom in the UK.
Let’s consider some of that history. Was it just the disease-ridden bodies of the conquistadores who decimated the indigenous peoples of the Americas – “80-100 million Indigenous Peoples perished from disease by the mid-1600’s” (taken from Charles Mann's book "1491: New revelations of the Americas prior to Columbus" cited in Fourth Way). Whilst the Spanish gold funded British colonialism, I suspect by the time the Pilgrim Fathers arrived the Native peoples who had survived had developed natural immunity. Of course they were not immune to the British guns.
It is hard to conceive that such heinous acts did not impact on British consciousness. Historically the British have caused great suffering to others, and that suffering will have caused suffering on their own consciousness perhaps giving rise to wisdom. What also cannot be ignored is that accumulation over the centuries has given rise to a freedom to be spiritual. Academic institutions expanded with the accumulation attracting global minds to learn and contribute. Whilst surrounded by the historical debt of suffering, opening minds up to books which contain wisdom must have created some who are wise.
When I think of the UK I think of pockets of attempts to follow the path, and it would be foolish to ignore such attempts. Scattered throughout the UK are monasteries, a number Buddhist, there are people following Ascension, the theosophical society, esoteric Christians, communes, genuine creativity and much more. This needs to be celebrated as the path, seekers of wisdom. But given that they come from a dispossessed culture, how much of this wisdom is connected to Gaia? Speaking for myself (as described in Ch6), the connection wasn’t sufficient. But for each individual on the path it is an issue to be questioned. This would better be described as the connection being compromised. Following the path means you want to give back. In UK culture that "giving back" is amongst a people dominated by ego, the path gives back where people are at - working on ego. Whilst the lessening of ego improves the connection to Gaia, the emphasis is not the same as for the Indigenous on the path.
On a personal level I know that there are people struggling with the path amidst the adversity of UK’s 1%-satrapy. Whilst these people are influential they are disparate. The 1%-satrapy has always created division, and there has never been a signpost that says all people following the path should go this way in order to return and reconnect to Gaia. Instead their disparate influence has impact but not on the 1%, not on the 1% government’s policy.
But it is there, and it is the purpose of this manual to link those path-followers with the compassionate involved in social struggle – to make pathtivists.
In Ch6 I was careless in my consideration of Africa when examining migration and leadership. This was not based on total ignorance as I am sympathetic to the historic struggles of African peoples, but I was not searching with an Indigenous lens and hence missed the remnants of Indigenous Wisdom that exist throughout black Africa.
Let me begin by recognising what my mistakes were as maybe there are useful lessons. My understanding of the history of Africa was gleaned through the eyes of Basil Davidson and Walter Rodney – not solely see Ndeh and Omwody. Let’s begin with Basil’s important series “Africa”. This traces the history of African civilisations from early times, and is presented, in my view, with love and respect for the African peoples. Being who he was opened up doors to many Africans who cooperated in making the series yet he looks the stereotype white man in Africa.
Basil started his series with a visit to Great Zimbabwe, a place I visited and camped at for several days. It is impressive with demonstrable origins of power indicating wealth, status and power long before there were Europeans, before they came and destroyed (underdeveloped) African culture. This was the tone of Basil’s series, and it gave me my understanding of what happened in Africa – cultures with leaders being destroyed by Europe. I should mention my African teachers whose wisdom I greatly valued – Ndeh Ntumazah and Omwony Ojwok. It was these two wise people who started my political understanding. I worked and spoke more with Ndeh but amongst other talks I will always remember Omwodi telling me that we (the UK) got the vote only when they knew it didn’t matter. This discussion with Omwody was long ago (mid 80s) – 6 or 7 years before I worked in Africa. I believe it is in this book on Ndeh that there was an interview with the Young Journal published – found in Ndeh’s papers (that was me when I edited the Young Journal – YJ article on Kamerun here). I have a certain history with black people and Africans.
Returning to Basil, in the series he presented Africa as powerful but a power that was eventually destroyed by Europe. My next source was Walter Rodney who described How Europe underdeveloped Africa, a history of European economic history in Africa. So my knowledge of Africa was that she was controlled by powerful leaders in a history long before Europe yet they had been destroyed by colonisation; it was control of these powerful leaders that gives neocolonial control of Africa in general to this day.
However this was an understanding of power and wealth, and I never looked for Indigenous Wisdom. So in my search I remember something Ndeh said to me, the American Europeans (not his words) took the slaves from Africa because they were farmers, they understood agriculture. As slaves Africans were agriculturally successful with many unattributed farming inventions – appropriated by American (European) owners. So there was a farming tradition in Africa, they were connected to the land as any indigenous people.
Once my indigenous eye was opened the connections flowed in. Desertification was as a consequence of cash crops. The leaders bought off by neocolonialism force the growing of non-indigenous crops, as Ndeh used to say to me the economies of African countries (cacao) rise and fall based on the taste buds of western children. In Ethiopia there is an agricultural tradition that prevented desertification, they had indigenous knowledge. When I remember the shocking Geldorf images of the hunger consequences of desertification, I always remember that it was western cash crop economics and neocolonial control of government that caused the famine. So with just a little thought I find Indigenous Wisdom.
Then there was the wonderful Wangari Maathai whose Green Belt Movement tradition exists to this day trying to revive indigenous wisdom – it is just not called such.
Then I began to reflect on where I saw African wisdom when I was there. I felt then and now that African wisdom has been greatly bastardised by colonial intervention, I can now call it Indigenous Wisdom. In Southern Africa, I was in Botswana nearly 7 years – Nigeria for 2, the people were strongly religious but what you saw in the churches bore little resemblance to the Sale church I was forced to attend until 11. I interpreted what I saw as bastardised, as the British missionaries imposing the shell of Christianity on a people who already had an earth religion, a nature religion. There were religious practices in the churches that were more based in animism and shamanism than anything to do with the bible. In my view the people were trying to retain their culture, their African tradition, whilst having Christian ceremony imposed on them.
African peoples are close to their tribe, from the outside it seems that the tribe is integral to their life. On the rare occasions I attended parties, it was not unusual for there to be traditional dance breaking out – I mentioned the Sisters of the Long March in the Ch5. In my view this tribal link was one of the reasons for neocolonial success – control the tribal leaders control the tribe, control Africans.
. There were other aspects of traditional culture that most whites viewed as superstition, I can only recall it, I make no attempt to evaluate it because I cannot experience it – dispossessed; I therefore apologise if I unintentionally cause offence. In Southern Africa I know there was a widespread herbal tradition, I never used it so I don’t know how effective it was; for a white man such involvement would usually have been exploited. But associated with this herbal tradition would be this witchcraft, here is a critical academic discussion of witchcraft on a Nigerian forum – relevant later (I assume it is written by a Nigerian student). Much of what is written in this short essay concurs with what I have described as a colonial bastardisation process yet it was written by someone 6000 km away from Botswana.
I have some anecdotes, these anecdotes have no scientific evidence and appear to lack rationality yet what I describe is accurate. I had a good Zambian friend who used to visit me monthly. After a while he told me of this “witchcraft” on his left shoulder, I immediately recalled Castaneda’s death over left shoulder (Journey to Ixtlan). As an aside Castaneda’s book had a positive impact on my life when I read Ixtlan. This was just after I had started on my path, it was all so new and wonderful I was open to anything. I was in the forests of the Ardennes, and I intentionally made myself lost – it was the Ardennes I don’t think it was dangerous but back then it would have made no difference. I walked into the forest – no paths – maybe two or three hours, was lost, and then returned to where I was staying. I walked for maybe the same length of time and it was getting towards dusk and I found a road. It was remote Ardennes so I knew the road would take me to my friend’s holiday cottage – it did a curved road of 4km. The next day on the map I guessed that I joined the road 1 km from the cottage. I got lost, trusted and found myself, then trusted civilisation and got lost again. Now I don’t trust Castaneda but there will always be some truth in Journey to Ixtlan for me.
Back in Africa talking with my Zambian friend. This is a man who had a Ph D from Moscow (so he said and I have no reason to disbelieve him – not an uncommon Cold War practice, Africa was very divided by the Cold War and each side offered candy). But he couldn’t get work. He told me that it was because of this entity on his left shoulder. He told me he was a prince in his tribe, and family rivalries had led to someone using witchcraft to prevent him from being successful as part of this rivalry. At job interviews he became so flustered because of this entity, he failed. This anecdote is easily dismissed. People will ask - what did he have to gain? Maybe fooling a white man. He used to say to me that I must think him crazy because white men aren’t affected by witchcraft. What was real to me was that psychologically this witchcraft had him beaten. I used to try all the western hocus pocus of self-realisation with him, and I think he benefitted but he never got rid of the entity as he saw it. Witchcraft was far and wide throughout Southern Africa. Zimbabweans were quite powerful but he wanted to go to Malawi because he thought the most powerful were there.
I have a sad story about the ignorance associated with this witchcraft. I introduced this lady to a friend, and they lived together happily. At the time Botswana was the AIDS capital of the world. Soon after they were together, they had blood tests, and she was found positive. My friend came up with a dubious rationalisation for the results that enabled them to delude each other together, and they were happy together practising safe sex for a few years. Then she became ill, the AIDS had kicked in. My friend was prepared for this, and out of his love he had worked out how he would look after her during her death. However her superstition, African wisdom?, took over. Encouraged by family and friends she sought a healer. As the story goes some young boy claiming to be a healer (I never met him) told her she had to vomit out the AIDS and bring the vomit to him. So she was buying plastic buckets and making herself sick. This made her thinner and more desperate. She heard of a healer in nearby Zimbabwe, and disappeared in the back of beyond in Plumtree until a few weeks later my friend heard she was dead. The way she treated him (and me) towards the end, I apologised and told him I could not attend the funeral; his eulogy demonstrated love.
In Botswana muti is powerful, and I have no idea what it is. Whilst I was there, there was the case of Segametsi Mogomotsi. It was all rumour and maybe some discussion to me; I did not understand. Here is what was described. This poor schoolgirl was killed because some rich guy wanted her muti (muti was supposedly strong in young schoolgirls). The investigation was going nowhere so there were schoolkid protests throughout that region (Gabs) of Botswana. They rejected the findings of the investigation because they believed that the government had been bought off by the powerful man who had killed her for her muti. The students were only appeased when Scotland Yard were brought in, but who would be discussing muti with a mo-kweri-kweri (white man)? Reading the wiki page they found the perpetrators but they got away with it.
I have one final positive anecdote, this time in Nigeria. My driver had a young baby girl who was diagnosed with a fatal disease – I cannot remember the name but I do remember having a talk with a friend who said that western babies with this disease always died. My driver took the girl to the hospital and they told him she would die. As a father he was distraught, the hospital had given up in line with what my friend had said. My driver was all over the place looking for a solution trying one thing and then another. Then there was a knock at the door, he had found a solution that would cost 9000 naira. I loaned him the money – it wasn’t a loan, and I expected it to be a waste. It cured the little girl and she is alive today; I was so happy for him.
This is all about Africa and its indigenous wisdom - not religion. The people in South Africa were Christians, my driver in Lagos was quite a devout Muslim. But these religions were patched onto a culture that was deep and had survived centuries. This indigenous wisdom involved relationships with Gaia, included Wangari’s understandings of the Green Belt movement, has a strong herbal tradition, but also has this shaman/animism/witchcraft that has so much dubiousness and superstition attached to it. Whilst Africa’s leaders might partake of this wisdom, there are no leaders who are attempting to lead through this Wisdom – I perceive that there are leaders amongst other indigenous peoples such as Winona Laduke and the Fourth Way.
Did Wangari Maathai align herself with Indigenous peoples? I don’t know. Would the Green Belt Movement? Whilst 56 million Africans were not killed off by contacts with white viruses, as many if not more were taken as slaves (many who did not survive the Atlantic). Africans were still too many to marginalise in reservations but Europeans were only in Africa to use African Labour to exploit resources – not to rule over the continent, something the US hegemony is doing to this day. Given what Africans have gone through and yet have still retained this amount of their historic wisdom shows the tradition is meaningful. I doubt whether the 1% will allow sufficient refurbishment of that wisdom. But it is there, distorted by the dispossessed but still there. Only parts are what the leaders want, they are too invested in being puppets of the 1%-satrapy and its academic offshoots to promote the investment in this African Indigenous Wisdom. Uniting behind such Wisdom would be of benefit to Africa as being empowered in their own traditions would provide the armoury against neocolonialism. But it would take a wary and wise leader to understand witchcraft enough to accept it as Indigenous Wisdom.
Another country I know a little of is Thailand but discussion of Thailand is currently limited by law and media censorship. However I can affirm that despite an economy that is part of the global economic system there still exists pockets of Indigenous Wisdom here. As a Buddhist I see in some of the practices of Thai Buddhism a mixture of what the Buddha taught, Hindusim and Shamanism yet I consider my teacher to be a Thai monk (died 1993), Ajaan Buddhadasa.
In the discussion on Africa it is quite clear that there is indigenous wisdom, and I assess that there is similar wisdom in Thailand. But what is that wisdom? When scholars like Basil Davidson examine Africa they can talk of thriving civilisations that were eventually intentionally underdeveloped. But when you look at that culture you can find wisdom, tradition and shamanism. For me the big question is "which aspects of their culture are the wisdom that the world needs to survive the destruction of Gaia by the 1%?" As a dispossessed I cannot possibly answer that, I admit I do not know which aspects of their culture is essential to Gaia's survival. When I listen to Winona Laduke here I see wisdom the world needs, when I read of the Fourth Way I see application, and when I look at the 7 indigenous economic strategies put forward here I wonder how they can be used in the global economy. But then there are cultural rituals that maybe have no relevance. As for sacred lands I respect the rights of peoples to have such lands, as I respect the rights of Israel to have a homeland, a homeland they claim as part of their religion. I would defend those lands against the indiscriminate resource exploitation of the 1% because it is profit and not Gaia that is driving their exploitation. But then I also defend the rights of the Palestinians to a homeland that the power and influence of Israel is taking away. What is very clear to me is a need for communication, a need for recognition of indigenous wisdom and for that wisdom to be the guiding light in a political process to establish a Gaia-conscious economy. But I see no chance of that happening whilst the 1% continue to exploit and the 99% are so divided.
Globally there are wise people disparately following the path, many different paths. These wise people are influential in religions, creativity and community ventures, and they carry the wisdom forward generation to generation. Throughout the globe communities are practising indigenous wisdom based on the influence of the wise such as Wangari Maathai, it is only that this wisdom is lost to the leaders, the leaders of the dispossessed. Other than in some Indigenous cultures wisdom does not control the cultures they live in. With the ever-worsening destruction of Gaia it would be hoped that wise people leave behind the remnants of dispossession, unite sound community practices, and join the struggle for Gaia. This hope needs to be the hope of Pathtivism.