A spiritual connection

In his new book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, Charles Eisenstein makes a wonderful case for what the Engaged Buddhists have been saying for a while – activism that doesn’t begin at a spiritual level has little chance of real, long term success.

This passage lays it out pretty clearly:

Let us ask, “What kind of human being is politically passive, votes from fear and hate, pursues endless material acquisition, and is afraid to contemplate change?” We have all those behaviors written into our dominant worldview and, therefore, into the institutions arising from it. Cut off from nature, cut off from community, financially insecure, alienated from our own bodies, immersed in scarcity, trapped in a tiny, separate self that hungers constantly for its lost beingness, we can do no other than to perpetuate the behavior and systems that cause climate change. Our response to the problem must touch on this fundamental level that we might call spirituality.

It is here where the root of our collective illness lies, of which global warming is but a symptomatic fever. Let us be wary of measures that address only the most proximate cause of that symptom and leave the deeper causes untouched….

He cautions against making any one cause the primary, all-important cause, because it leads to the very control-based thinking – the same ‘war mindset’ – that is part of all our society’s problems. He says that such thinking

…subordinates all the small, local things we need to do to create a more beautiful world to a single cause for which all else must be sacrificed. This is the mentality of war, in which an all-important end trumps any compunctions about the means and justifies any sacrifice. We as a society are addicted to this mindset; thus the War on Terror replaced the Cold War, and if climate change loses popularity as a casus belli, we will surely find something else to replace it— …

[Eisenstein, Charles (2013-11-05). The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible (Sacred Activism) (p. 47). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.]

He describes this dominant worldview as the Story of Separation, the idea that the universe is comprised of a multitude of separate, independently existing entities – that we as humans are separate from each other, separate from all other phenomena, and that we can effect change in any given realm without affecting anything else. As long as we are working within this mindset, within this narrative, everything we do just continues to support things as they are and really will never bring about significant change.

Drawing primarily on the wisdom of ancient cultures allied with the work of modern science – quantum mechanics specifically – Eisenstein comes to the same conclusions as we Buddhists – that we are all and everything intimately and inextricably connected. That nothing we do on any level is without consequence on every level.

On the positive side, this means that everything we are doing to help bring about understanding of the truth of our interconnectedness with all that exists is helping to deal with even the most daunting and dangerous problems in our world. Bringing up our children to understand – truly and deeply understand – that we are all one is helping to end war, poverty and environmental destruction.

Demonstrating that truth in our everyday lives, by being a good neighbor, a kind person, a responsible parent, a fearless defender of truth is true spirituality and our true calling, our true activism.

Lojong # 13 Be Grateful to Everyone!

Wonderful wonderful Lojong here!

“Be Grateful to Everyone” is such a positive admonition. Kongtrul, in his older version of these slogans, renders it as “Contemplate the great kindness of all.”

This is part of the ‘poison as medicine’ theme, or Transformation of Bad Circumstances as it’s called in Trungpa’s rendering. In this theme, the idea is that all the people and events of our lives are things to be thankful for because they are what provide us with the opportunity to practice, to follow the path, which means the opportunity to get beyond self.

Without all these apparent ‘obstacles’ in our lives, there is no path, no way to proceed on the project of developing patience and compassion, ways to transcend our normal ego-centered, reactive approach to everything. The contemplation of just how indebted we are to the others around us becomes a major part of each meditation, as well as an important piece of the mindfulness that helps us to get through the day without stressing ourselves and the others around us.

Becoming able to actually feel gratitude to someone who has hurt you or caused difficulty for you, intentionally or not, is a great transition in life. It’s not easy and it doesn’t happen in a short time, but with patience, it will come. It just takes ‘practice!’

This Lojong slogan is very close to the Christian idea of “Praise God in all things” as well as the Chinese notion of ‘disaster as opportunity’.

Shame vs. love

“I think we will be much more powerful as activists if we can create conditions for the perpetrators of injustice to feel safe in seeing the truth Rather than taking an attitude of, “You are an ignorant and morally inferior person who needs to be shamed and corrected,” we could take an attitude of, “I know you, like I, are a caring and intelligent person. Here is some information to help you act more deeply on that care.”

–Charles Eisenstein

Charles Eisenstein tells a personal story with some interesting & insightful implications in a recent blog post. He was confronted by the police for taking his kids out onto a frozen river and charged with “disorderly conduct.” He points out the social meaning of this charge as part of the whole process of intimidating us into following social norms, and describes the process of humiliation and shaming that goes on in much of our society’s normative behavior, from child-rearing and schooling to punishment of criminals.

He says this shaming is really counter-productive, because it can drive people to express negative feelings in even more harmful ways as well as force them into defensive ideologies that justify their negative attitudes and behaviors. A much more effective approach is to establish commonality with people and help them to acknowledge their mistakes, as suggested in quote (above) from the article.

This reminds me of the truth embedded in Lojong #12, “Drive all blames into one,” which recommends that one accept the blame for anything that happens, because by accepting the blame on yourself, you open up space for the other persons involved to see and admit to their own culpability in the situation.

Charles says further, “…if we believe in the fundamental dignity of all people – then the problem is not only that we use the tools of shame, humiliation, and punishment for the wrong ends; the means itself is wrong, and it is inseparable from the end of domination and control.”

Discarding shame and punishment in favor of acceptance and true communication is the action of love. It can only come when we discover within ourselves that deep connection with the other that arises with dissolving the boundaries of self.