There are those Buddhists (and you know who you are!) who take optimism to a level whereby they avoid watching or reading the news due to the overwhelmingly negative world view it often projects. I can understand this to a point, because after all, none of us can single handedly save the whole world in a direct, immediate sense. The best we can hope to do is to help and encourage those who are closest to us at any particular time. But like poor Avalokiteshvara when he realised he was unable to save all beings from suffering, sometimes our head feels like it could also split into eleven pieces.
It’s hard to isolate yourself from the affairs of the world for very long, and no matter how mindfully you consume negative journalism, you do (well, I do) sometimes have to work at maintaining your composure. Indeed, a friend of mine recently commented that the seemingly endless stream of stupidity that humanity engages in leads him to sometimes scream in silence. The statement reminded me of a scene from the incredibly moving film (which I can’t recommend highly enough), Baraka, a frame from which is shown above. I’ll review this film another time, but watch it if you can! I digress.
Following the dreadful murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich by islamic extremists, there have been a number of anti-islamic incidents the the UK involving white racists, the EDL (English Defence League). Today, another suspicious package has been found in a mosque, and the bomb squad are on their way to deal with it. I pray that nobody else will have to lose their lives today because of the actions of a few thugs.
China looks set to see how far it can wind up America over the Edward Snowden affair. The US government is pissed because it got caught with it’s pants down, and the Chinese are projecting themselves as the wounded party. It’s insane. My wife asked me today if China will become the new Russia, and I couldn’t answer her – in a world that seems dominated by leaders who are driven by fear, uncertainty and doubt, it would seem to be quite possible. But unlike Russia, the co-dependancy between the US and China will make for a far more bitter divorce should it come.
All around the world there are people who believe they are acting on behalf of others, when in fact they are only acting on their own desires. The older I get, and the longer I practice Buddhism, the the more aware I have become that so much suffering is caused by dualistic thinking. Like matter and anti-matter, those who are ignorant enough to see the world in black and white collide creating devastation and suffering on an enormous scale.
I think I have come to appreciate the thinking behind the ultimate protest, the ultimate screaming in silence – self immolation. Writing blogs and waving banners is all well and good, but westerners are so materially comfortable it takes a lot to make make them sit up and think about how they live. I’m not about to set myself on fire to make my point, but when everything else has been taken, and you want to prevent your oppressors from making any further bad causes by hurting you, then the most compassionate act is to remove yourself from the equation. It is a sacrifice that is impossible for the modern materialistic mind to understand, because you are not there (afterwards) to accept any praise for your action. Sacrifices on this scale can only be understand by many in the West when undertaken for the sake of their own children, but never when they are undertaken for the benefit of those outside of their immediate family unit, or for humanity as a whole.
I suspect many of the 306 who were shot in the first world war for “lack of moral fibre” or cowardice were actually of the same mind. Rather to be shot and killed than to take up arms and kill, and thereby further contribute to their enemy’s hatred. Some were probably just terrified, and that’s understandable too.
The self immolating monks do not sacrifice themselves to save others, or to heal their enemy. They see beyond these discriminations. There is no self. There is no other, and there is no enemy. I’m sure it was Shantideva who said that developing the desire to help others is one thing, but to to do so without any notion of “I” or “other” is quite another. They do what they do because they have come to see themselves as a link in a chain of suffering, and they wish to break it. I confess it’s beyond my understanding of selflessness, but it’s the path we all try to walk as Buddhists.
When it all gets too much, it’s time to turn inward and seek refuge. Murray Head once sang…
My back’s against the wall, my feeling’s on show
Silence is the only reply that I know