I just wrote a long article at We Angry Buddhists blog that might be of interest to those who are dealing with anger, social activism or their consciences.
Addendum November 8-the blog owner over there deleted the blog for no apparent reason so I retrieved the article from the Google cache-sorry I couldn’t get the comments also-they were very interesting.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Just Don’t Talk About It: Fear, Anger and the Prevention of Right Action
In this blog, my own blog on Buddhist topics and on other blogs related to Buddhism there’s been a lot of controversy about “What’s the ‘Buddhist’ thing to do?” in relation to speaking up about practices or actions that are labeled Buddhist but are actually motivated by some other hidden or not-so-hidden agenda. And even about speaking up on social situations that are bringing harm to self and others.
The section of folks who want to advocate the quietist sort of approach;the ignore it and it will go away methodology, seem to have, in that passive-aggressive and apathetic sort of way, really burnt my ass lately. Or I’ve just taken some various comments and opinions and applied them liberally to my own inflated sense of self-righteousness and ignited the lot all on my own. Perhaps a little of both.
What gets me going about the non-active approach is that it is so often adopted out of fear, mostly fear of personal consequences of taking any action. One might be, at worst hurt or killed or at best, moderately inconvenienced by attempting to address a situation that is obviously or at least possibly, harmful to self or others. It is incredibly selfish from that point of view.
And if karma is defined as a cause-effect relationship it is also highly egotistical in that one is predicting the future, presupposing karma and possibly adopting a semi-omniscient viewpoint. That is, involvement will necessarily lead to some negative personal consequence. (Oddly at the same time it also speaks volumes about the distorted and unrealistically negative view one has about one’s own abilities to handle whatever consequences may result.)
By example if one were diagnosed with some disease the appropriate response would likely be some kind of treatment. No one would listen to a doctor who said,”Just ignore it and it will go away eventually.” But that’s just what the quietist approach does on the level of social ills.
It’s not that I don’t understand the development of a Silent Majority viewpoint either. I remember as a child when people would come to the door (usually Jehovah’s Witnesses on a Sunday) my mother used to tell me to be quiet and they would go away. They did. She was right about that one. We learn these viewpoints a lot earlier than we realize.
And then when I started to study and practice Buddhism nearly 30 years ago I also used to think that non-attachment meant detachment from all worldly events and things including emotion and compassion. I really wanted to be a Zenbot in the beginning. That was the ideal, to be in perfect control at every moment. Nothing I didn’t choose could affect me. This was all motivated by fear. And fear, while elusive, is not much more than smoke when it is examined closely enough.
But as time went on I realized some people do not go away. Some irritants cannot be ignored. Some situations require intervention. Some people need assistance for whatever reason. Some ills need treatment. And if one is in a position, physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually or in whatever capacity to even provide First Aid if not a complete cure, is there not some moral imperative, from the Mahayana Buddhist standpoint to try?
I take the following words under advisement to answer that question.
“Enlightenment without morality is not yet enlightenment. Morality without enlightenment is not yet morality.”
Morality is the sphere that involves everything not only an isolated interior conscience of the Buddhist practitioner. Even the conscience itself is a result of interaction and interdependence. That Dogen even mentions morality on the same plane of significance as enlightenment gives indication as to it’s importance. Enlightened morality is therefore engaged morality.