You can find me atbackalleyradio.wordpress.com
You can find me atbackalleyradio.wordpress.com
For a couple years I was very much into Buddhism and meditation. The lessons learned during this season in my life were invaluable and I still use many of the practices and principles in my daily life. Mindfullness, meditation, and awareness are things that all religions and spiritualities teach, and are things which everyone should integrate into their life. My disconnection with Buddhism came when I first began to realize that it is often (mis)used as a vehicle of denial. It seems appropriate that the rise of Buddhism in the west has taken place among a very particular class of people, the upper-middle class. The teachings of Buddha and the practice of meditation, at their core, represent a radical disassociation with reality. In the East, this has been used as a means of overcoming the suffering that is an inevitable part of civilized life, the first noble truth. It has been an avenue to channel inner peace despite the suffering. Yet in the West, for those who are largely unaccustomed to suffering, it has become a way to channel inner peace, denying that suffering exists. We "create our own reality" and "only suffer if we let oursleves." This whole philosophy of dismissal has been created in which people believe that the way to peace is by convincing themsleves that the world is perfect in it's present state. The practice of "accepting the present moment" has lost it's radical ability to focus the mind and has been twisted to represent a utopian wish for a perfect world, denying the reality of suffering. This is no longer Buddhism.
Suffering exists. Within the capitalist system, suffering is inevitable. For some reason this stark reality is hard for the peace-loving 60's generation to accept. They, out of anyone, should be intimately acquainted with the inevitable suffering in the world and the bursting of utopian bubbles. The events of 1968 show us exactly what we are up against. There is something deeper going on. Perhaps it is precisely the bursted bubble that has created this tendency for people to deny the reality of the world. The efforts of the 60's failed, giving way to more of the same. Perhaps this is the reality that modern Buddhists accept. Yet when taken with a certain portion of nihilism, the acceptance of this reality can create a tendency for escapism, which is exactly what Western Buddhists seem to latch onto.
Accepting the suffering of the world is not nihilistic in and of itself, as it may seem. It's realistic, leaving room open for investigation as to where the suffering is coming from. Denial closes this door of investigation. Things are bad, yet not hopeless. Utopian dreams are not escapist in and of themsleves. They leave room open for hope, for praxis, and shut the door of nihilism.
Denial and escapism are the fuels that keep the wheels of the capitalist machine spinning. How many people do you know who hate their job, or are bogged down by their many responsibilities? A few, a bunch, everyone? It's only possible to swim through the drudgery of this system's reality if we accept it as inevitable, and if we accept is as inevitable and natural, then we accept it as eternal and unchanging. No wonder we must create or co-opt a religious system that will help us "just get through" the stress and hardship of daily life. This is what Buddhism has become.
"The problem of Capitalism is one of meaning, and it is here that religion is now reinventing it's role, rediscovering it's mission of guaranteeing a meaningful life to those who participate in the meaningless function of the capitalist machine."
-Slavoj Zizek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce
Buddhism has the potential to be a revolutionary force, as the monks overseas have attested to this last decade. When practiced properly, it offers one a way to move through life unaffected (emotionally) by the things that are inevitably affecting them. It does not necessarily produce denial or nihilism, it simply helps one cope. Yet in the West, just like most religions, it's revolutionary potential has been cut short by a mindless co-opting of an Eastern religion to Western standards. That's why I don't associate with Buddhism anymore.
Feed the hungry, undermine the system!
Philathropists often have limits. Most people care about the poor, and will jump at a chance to make a legitimate difference in the life of someone who is going through a rough financial spot. But as soon as the gift makes a significant difference in the life of the giver, things get shady. If a hungry person walks into a soup-kitchen, they will ideally be met with hospitality and a warm bowl of soup. Yet if a hungry person walks into a grocery store and begins eating the food, they will surely be forecfully moved and arrested, not to mention scorned at. Our chairty has limits, and the limits are that is must exist with in the confines of the system. As soon as one begins to question those confines, shit hits the fan. It seems that there is a time and a place for charity, and that is exactly the difference between charity and justice. Justice would say that food, clothing and shelter are human rights and to deny someone food, clothing or shelter is wrong... period. Yet when we try to insert a value so simple into a society so complex, the problems are endless. The system dictates who get what, how they get it and when they get it. The complexity of the system is the cause of need and greed, unquestionabley so. As the famous quote goes:
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
Recently a british priest has come under fire for a sermon he gave in which he argued that shoplifting can be justified if a person in real need does not take more than he or she really needs to get by and as long as they do it at large national chain stores, rather than small family businesses. One of the many news reports says the following:
The Daily Mail reported that Jones claims his sermon at St. Lawrence Church in York did not violate the Bible commandment: "Thou shalt not steal," because God's love for the poor is more important than the property rights of the rich.
"Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift," Jones was quoted as saying. "This is a call for our society to no longer treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt."
The sermon has drawn fierce reaction from police, retailers and politicians in Britain.