Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Buddhism

1 – I have been thinking that the Occupy (name here) movement is futile in at least one sense: a whole lot of people are asking the very people who have taken all the money to give some of it back. Why would they do that? The 1% have spent a lot of energy setting up a system that make them and only them filthy rich. Take Egypt, a military commander (the top guy in the 1%) acted as dictator for decades. The Arab spring seemed to throw the dictator over at the demand of the people in the streets. But now a faceless military is dictating things. What changed?

2 – The banks, big biz, and the government, or at least the right wing parts of them, have yelled up and down that government should be run like businesses: lean and mean. They are right in a way. Government could be run like a business. But not the kind usually meant by the right wing. Let me explain: have you ever wondered why the biz/bank class want to limit the size of government? It’s because government can provide services at a very competitive rate. Governments compete with businesses. Like SAM of walmart fame is supposed to have said, destroy the competition.

Government is ideally a co-operative where the members (the citizens) pay a fee (based on a sliding schedule – taxes) and receive services in return. Because the co-op has so many members (the total population), economies of scale should make the government supply services better and cheaper than any smaller business – excepting of course that there is a lot of corruption in government, and except for the fact that we keep voting in people who would rather the co-operative business of government fails.

3 – Another thing. Why does it always take so long for rotten things to change? It’s because things work for lots of people and they don’t want to give up the things that work for them, even if they can see that it is not working for the majority. I suspect that even when the system is not working for one, many think that if they only do this or that they can be filthy rich too. And then when things also get really bad for them (or you, or me) we finally protest. But are we protesting so we can get on the gravy train, or so that everyone gets an equal share? Regardless, at some point the power structure hires lots of people who like playing with guns, and they tend to use these types as a military buffer between themselves and the people. We hope that guns in the streets of America will not happen.

4 – But why all this on a Zen blog? Think of the world as one big sanga, one big place where everyone helped everyone who was suffering, where compassion for others was the norm, where anyone who is suffering was listened to, when anyone who was in pain or ill or hungry had their pain assuaged. Can a Government be a sanga? Only if the people who were elected were well-trained in compassion and practised it on an everyday basis. Government based on the four noble truths and the eightfold path? Or, embody the love of Christianity (while forgetting all that mean-spirited hateful advice from Leviticus).

5 – Which brings me to my last point. I feel very positive about all the liberation movements that are happening now around the world – for one very good reason. People in the Occupied encampments are spontaneously setting up self-help resources, and resources to help others. People are being compassionate. And if they, and we, can keep it up, then there is no reason to think that compassion as the basis for government will fail.

Conclusion – There is only one problem. The government/ banks are not going to set up a compassionate government. They are trying to perpetrate the same system that made them filthy rich and bankrupted everyone else. But why play their game? Step aside. Ignore them. Take your money out of the too big to fail banks and put it into people oriented credit unions and other small local financial institutions. Or make up a completely new system and work it.

Oh yes. I asked what has changed? People are starting to realize that they can make things work for them. That they are not powerless.

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I’ve been getting a few comments questioning me about suffering and pain, and so that is what my next post will be about.

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Politics, Sex, Commercialism, Education

the scream

”Though they become our sworn enemies, reviling and persecuting us, we should regard them as bodhisattva manifestations who, in their great compassion, are employing skillful means to help emancipate us from the sinful karma we have produced over countless kalpas through our biased, self-centered views.” Torei Zenji (second entry, down the page a bit, under other sutras)

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I’m cutting my latest loaf of sourdough this morning, and I think it is too wet and heavy. My partner again states that she really likes my bread because it is good for the sandwiches that she takes to work. She says the tomatoes don’t make the bread soggy. All well and good, but what am I doing worrying about making the perfect loaf (a delusional goal) when all around the world most people have a hard time finding enough to eat? I live like the kings of old were accustomed to living, in terms of creature comfort, not in terms of life and death over others. At least not that I’m aware of, or am I?

I was in at the swimming pool a couple of days ago and a fellow in the change room was musing about how it would be nice if the pool bought a heat-less spin dryer to dry the swimming suits. I pointed out that we were going to have to do it the old-fashioned way and dry the suits on a line. He pointed out that the ‘Y’ had a spin dryer. “Maybe the pool management is saving the cost of the electricity and the machine?” I suggested. And then he made what I thought was a nonsequitur. “Somebody pays,” he said. I offered,”Taxes.” He came back with, “Even people in the third world pay for us. They send us all their stuff.” He suggested I look up The Story of Stuff, which I pass on to you in the spirit of dancing lessons from god, or being aware of what is really going on in terms of commercialism and economy.

On many Buddhist themed blogs lately I have been reading various musings, some tortured, some determined, all reflecting on the sorry state of the world today. Topics range from poverty, sex, politics, commercialism to war. The eternal human stuff. Well, if I am going to write yet one more blog about zen, what is my stand on these topics? I started musing about what I thought about politics, although the topic, politics, stands in for all the other topics as a test case.

Lessons learned from Nathan’s blog and Peter’s blog. Nathan writes from a zen perspective, often wondering how things in the world look when subjected to a certain amount of introspection and analysis. Peter directly points to common concerns and often asks how certain difficult topics affect your life, how zen practice affects your perception of the world. Or at least this is sort of what I take from the two of them.

What does Buddhism tell us about the world? This is territory for the Four Noble Truths.

Looking at all the world’s problems from the perspective of the 4NTs

If all is suffering then all the worlds peoples are suffering. What causes suffering? Suffering is the result of having desire, but desire results from having an incorrect or incomplete view of reality. In short (in terms of Buddhism), suffering is the state of not being enlightened. If the great majority of the world’s peoples are short of enlightened then their pursuits, for the most part, can be nothing other than an engagement with and a further perpetration of suffering. When suffering is caused by misapprehension of self and the world, we have to ask what is the major error in perception. It seems to me that the major error is a person’s idea of self. The old zen saw: the problem of the ego. Suffering people often feel that they are more important than other suffering people, that their suffering is somehow more important or significant than other peoples’ suffering. Politics is often called the art of the possible, but it is really the art of one suffering person tying to get advantage over other suffering people. Yes, compromises do happen, but few people are ever satisfied with a compromise. Compromise rarely (like never) stops the suffering.

What is the enlightened person supposed to do? Or more realistically, what can anyone who is writing about zen do about politics when confronted with the solipsism of suffering? Suffering is a real thing. It is everywhere. As zen nuts we vow to alleviate it. Should we get involved with politics if politics does not really relieve suffering? That depends.

So what am I doing writing this blog? I am trying to look at the world from a zen perspective. Trying to be aware of what really is going on. What is really going on in politics is that people try to thrash out some workable compromise. But how can a compromise work unless it makes deluded suffering peoples stop blaming each other for their suffering? If we want to engage in politics we need to point out that what is good for one is what is exactly good for another and that unless the good becomes general, suffering ensues. Supposed enemies are not really enemies in the long run. They are merely suffering people who have the misguided idea that someone else is causing their suffering. Oh, yes, someone might shoot you. But the reason they do so is because they are suffering and have mistakenly blamed you for it. The only way to stop someone or their brother or sister or friend from shooting you in the future is to help them alleviate their suffering. To try to subject your enemies to suffering is no solution at all. The proof of this pudding is that we have an endless history of people blaming each other for their suffering and going to war to put and end to the situation and yet we still have suffering and war. All attempted solutions have so far not worked.

Politics to a zen nut has to be an attempt to educate people about the nature of suffering, and it cannot be making accusatory or judgemental statements, or trying to get the advantage over another. Zen does not cast blame. The “beam in your own eye” is the blame you (I) give others for your suffering.

This is a hard lesson, especially when someone is coming over the hill with guns intent on killing you. How does one have compassion for the person who is causing you pain? The only reason they are causing you pain is because they blame you for causing them pain. This situation is the universal suffering circle from hell.

I have absolutely no idea how to go about educating the world. All I can do is argue that the first step in ending suffering is to stop blaming others for your (mine, our) disease of suffering. Have compassion for the (metaphorical) suicide bomber who sees his/her life as so awful that the only way they can stop their suffering is to cause others to suffer. How to make their life one of less suffering? What do you think?