In July I posted a link and a few paragraphs from a BPF article on the trend to McMindfullness, with the following paragraph:
Bhikkhu Bodhi, an outspoken western Buddhist monk, has warned: “absent a sharp social critique, Buddhist practices could easily be used to justify and stabilize the status quo, becoming a reinforcement of consumer capitalism.” Unfortunately, a more ethical and socially responsible view of mindfulness is now seen by many practitioners as a tangential concern, or as an unnecessary politicizing of one’s personal journey of self-transformation.
Since then I’ve discovered Charles Eisenstein, or at least begun reading deeply into his thought, and seems he presents a wonderful example of someone who sees a way forward for society as a whole to embrace mindfulness, or at least the insights that come from it, in a way that incorporates both a sharp social critique and an ethical, socially responsible view.
His philosophical insights are rather complex and difficult, at least for me at this point, to reduce to a few paragraphs, and trying to do so seems to risk putting people off by creating the impression that his comments are facile and overly ambitious.
Rather than try to digest his thoughts as I understand them so far, I’ll just say here that he (and his ideas) seem to embody the Buddha’s teachings – apparently without claiming to be a Buddhist – better than any American with equally high profile credentials and visibility that I’ve come across. He offers his writings on a gift, or donation, basis so you can go to his website and read the full text of his books (at least the latest one) and decide what you think of it. Then there’s the opportunity to download it or order a print version, again, paying whatever you feel led to contribute.
I’m really just beginning to get into his thought deeply, and am finding it very helpful in bringing me back into a positive view of my meditation practice.
I have long been convinced that ‘there are no individual solutions’ (a loose quote from Peter Marin) to our world’s problems. One of the issues that keeps coming up for me is that at times it seems my spiritual practice is just one of those solutions that blisses me out and doesn’t really contribute to the overall betterment. Just a process, as Trungpa says in Spiritual Materialism, of collecting nice spiritual practices, feeling good about myself for having all these lovely collected practices on my mantle, but not truly a liberating practice that is taking me on the bodhisattva path.
So I have been happy to find, in Eisenstein’s writings, some confirmation that what I’m about is not so far from all that. I guess what is most interesting is that from his very different perspective, that of a scientific philosophical analysis of the whole of life’s evolution, it is the misunderstanding of self, the reification of this illusion we call the self, that is at the heart of our social malaise.
Of course, in Buddhist teachings, this ignorance of the true, impermanent, empty nature of self – and the craving to make that self real – is what causes our suffering.
I’ve been struggling to articulate all this for a while now, and tho I’m still not there, I’m getting a better idea of what it is that’s driven me into this state of disillusionment and doubt, and getting better at seeing how and why what he says is beginning to make me feel better about things.
The best I can do at this point to articulate that is to say that it is clarifying to see that our personal, my personal, suffering has the same root cause as the suffering and degrading of humanity at the social level.
I am working on a better understanding and better explanation of all this… and I’m working on doing better in my meditation practice!