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The Natural Duty of Activism
Whether to be active is quite an issue in Buddhism but I am not sure why.
"Activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet." From the film poster for Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth (taken from here)
Here Alice is talking about suffering indicating to me that she has Buddhist leanings but I couldn't briefly find her talking about it. Whatever that quote means to you, I interpret it as a natural duty.
For me Buddhism is compassion, freedom for all from suffering - Alice's talk is particularly relevant. I sit and I write a lot. Why? Compassion. It certainly isn't money, and it is not readership clamouring. I just write. I have no doubts at all that it comes from compassion. It comes from my path, as soon as there was my upheaval there was writing. My path took me to education so in my life I had sufficient money. I had a dubious outlet for my compassion, dubious in the sense that although I was compassionate the education system was designed more as a wage-slave factory than any form of education, compassionate outlet or a place for creativity. In retrospect I see a major aspect of my being a teacher as providing for my writing in retirement, because looking at education through my compassionate eyes I can only see education as being more controlled now than it was when I started. More control, less education, less learning, more conditioning, more wage-slavery.
So I write for compassion. There is no reason - no rational explanation, very few people read anything I write. I can say .... maybe one day?? But none of that matters because it is compassion. When I am complaining about Trump, it is not a power grab. No aware person can see Trump and the forces of which he is a part and not be frightened for Gaia and humanity. I don't write about politics because I want power, if I wanted power why would I be buried in rural Thai countryside? It is just compassion. And something else .... if I didn't write and held all this in what would happen to my mental state? This writing, this compassion, is a natural duty, a natural imperative; I just have no choice.
There is some dogma for all of this. My Buddhist teacher, Buddhadasa, in Idappaccayata wrote "The third meaning of Dhamma is "duty". We need to understand this point, that is, the necessity of doing our "duty", of living correctly according to the law of nature, otherwise there'll be problems." And "Dhamma thus has four meanings: nature, the law of nature, the duty according to the law, and fruit, or result arising therefrom. The second meaning, the law of nature, is idappaccayata, but idappaccayata is also intertwined with the other three meanings, inasmuch as nature itself is under the control of the law of nature, duty, no matter how performed, and the result or fruit coming from the doing of duty also come forth according to the law of idappaccayata."
So idappaccayata is the law of nature, Gaia, and we have a duty according to that law. For me that duty comes from compassion, and means freedom from suffering for all. I actively seek freedom from suffering for all. In this world there is suffering (1st Noble Truth). Politically the powers in this world are causing suffering because there is suffering; this is logical. Individually we allow ourselves to suffer - 4 Noble Truths. But this second does not let the first off the hook.
Does that mean I advocate politics - political action? Whilst in the past I have done such action I do not advocate it - it is of course a matter of personal choice, your own compassion. The real problem with political action is that it is concerned with power. Who controls that power? The 1%. Who are involved with power? Opportunists. If we try to wrest power then are we not playing power games? Aren't such power games ego? So if we are active in politics then we are at risk of succumbing to our conditioned egos.
What is the purpose of our compassion-in-activism? Helping people in the community - community activism. To help people within the community usually involves some form of funding, and that funding is restricted by political decision-making so the boundary between community activism and political activism is blurred. So our compassion and our egos are always in struggle, and of course we need to be detached to discern when it is compassion and when it is ego.
When there is community activism there is empowerment, people learn to do stuff for themselves. As people like Chomsky say, apathy is an integral part of neoliberalism, neoliberalism wants "for people to become more passive and apathetic and not to disturb things too much, and that's what the neoliberal programs do" [apathy and neoliberalism is a theme throughout Chomsky, this is taken from here]. Working with people, empowering them through activity helps them whilst at the same time showing them what their governments are doing ie who they represent. Maybe activism will produce a government response that is positive for the community, it would be nice to be shown to be wrong, at least instances of being wrong.
For me there is no distinction between Buddhism, meditation, compassion and activism. If we meditate and this does not affect our daily lives then we would consider that meditation to be ineffective. Being active is our daily life, so where is the distinction? We have teachers. In Buddhism those teachers put on orange robes and help us. But we are not all teachers, for most we must do. I am not telling you what to do, but it is logical if we are not teaching we must do. You choose what you are doing.
I am accused of political activism, I won't argue that unless I have time (or their interest) to raise the issue of this blogpost. Buddhadasa has described Buddhism as "Learning what is". My compassion brings me in conflict with neoliberal governments, but when I give this Zandtao-narrative I feel I am describing what is:-
But that does not mean I am calling to arms for political radicalism. What I am saying is that when we become involved in our community activism we must be aware of the system we are in. I am ambivalent about voting because of the nature of neoliberal bipartisanship although lesser of two evils is for me a legitimate strategy. However I cannot counter those who say that once the lesser has your vote they do nothing but enforce the 1%-satrapy. My personal strategy is to stay involved with the community, be compassionate, and hopefully make the satrapy responsible to an active community rather than their moneyed masters.
Buddhadasa used the phrase "dhammic socialism". Personally I advocate some form of community activism as your dhammic duty, natural duty. But it is your compassion and duty that decides what you do. But remember compassion is active, or rather if you are inactive your compassion can give you problems.
Brad Warner is a spiritual teacher I used to follow. I remember his saying that spirituality was not therapy and if people sought therapy they should see some kind of therapist/psychiatriat/counsellor. This truth amused me. My own upheaval brought with it its own solutions but these were not therapeutic. I was forced away from a norm, and had to learn to cope with that, my path and compassion gave me the strength to do that. Neither easy nor difficult entered into it, it was just something that had to be done. There are no doubts at all that this made life so much better but it was not a therapeutic journey - it was harsh.
Eckhart Tolle became popular thanks to the media exposure through Oprah. In one talk I heard Eckhart say that people were ready because they had come to him, to a public talk. This is wisdom in coincidence. What he is referring to is that it is some kind of conscious decision process bringing people to him. But what conscious decision process was there for the Oprah audience?
Eckhart is someone to study and learn from, but it is quite clear to me that there are people following Eckhart who have not reached hois tecahings through a conscious process ie they have just drifted in through Oprah. Some of these people are maybe struggling with their unnatural progress onto the path, perhaps they were not ready. Here is how compassion helps with its activity, by actively supporting the community giving helps learning. In most situation community is not online - facebook or otherwise, community activity is getting your hands dirty with people. Love is not for novels it is for life. I do hope those struggling to come to terms with Eckhart can get out there and learn about presence through giving, giving emables compassion that enables giving.
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