Attention Old Hippies!

Getting ready for retirement is what a lot of the hippy generation are currently doing.  There are decisions to be made, adjustments to be considered. Sort of like the feeling when one approaches the end of high school and asks themselves “What am I going to do with my life now?”

So what are you going to do?

Arizona as a retirement destination is looking less desirable than it once was. As are some of the tropical islands threatened by rising oceans and oil spills.

There are some lovely elder-cruises I’m sure, as well as shelves full of books that were meant to be read over the years.

There’s movies and craft projects, that class in art history you always meant to enroll in, visits with children and grand children, get togethers with friends, evenings at the theater or concerts. 

The quiet countryside may be just the place to watch one’s remaining days whittle away.

Some old folks I know spend their time watching the Weather Channel in their retirement condos. They’ve downsized from the big family home now that everyone has moved out.

Seems all that extra time has both benefits and detriments.

This is not to begrudge anyone their relaxation. It’s been earned. And time for one’s self and for reflection is necessary.

I just wonder though, if there are some who are approaching this phase in life with some trepidation.

For those folks I have a little proposition.  Why not help to finish what you started?

image

[photo from Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom]

Populate a peace picket.

Write some letters.

Call your representatives.

Start a committee.

Write a speech for someone.

Make a speech.

Sing a song.

Start a band.

Start your own YouTube channel.

Write a blog.

Organize.

Make your concerns known.

Join a movement.

Start a movement.

Campaign.

Influence policy.

Get arrested.

Get elected.

You know the slogans. You know the songs. You know the system.

You have the time. You have the economic power. You have the experience. You have the knowledge.

You used to have the passion.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

~Dylan Thomas

Please.

Get up! Stand up! Help Finish What You Started!

Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don’t give up the fight!
Preacher man, don’t tell me,
Heaven is under the earth.
I know you don’t know
What life is really worth.
It’s not all that glitters is gold;
‘Alf the story has never been told:
So now you see the light, eh!
Stand up for your rights. come on!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don’t give up the fight!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don’t give up the fight!
Most people think,
Great god will come from the skies,
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth,
You will look for yours on earth:
And now you see the light,
You stand up for your rights. jah!
Get up, stand up! (jah, jah! )
Stand up for your rights! (oh-hoo! )
Get up, stand up! (get up, stand up! )
Don’t give up the fight! (life is your right! )
Get up, stand up! (so we can’t give up the fight! )
Stand up for your rights! (lord, lord! )
Get up, stand up! (keep on struggling on! )
Don’t give up the fight! (yeah! )
We sick an’ tired of-a your ism-schism game –
Dyin’ ‘n’ goin’ to heaven in an ism-schism.
We know when we understand:
Almighty god is a living man.
You can fool some people sometimes,
But you can’t fool all the people all the time.
So now we see the light (what you gonna do?),
We gonna stand up for our rights! (yeah, yeah, yeah! )
So you better:
Get up, stand up! (in the morning! git it up! )
Stand up for your rights! (stand up for our rights! )
Get up, stand up!
Don’t give up the fight! (don’t give it up, don’t give it up! )
Get up, stand up! (get up, stand up! )
Stand up for your rights! (get up, stand up! )
Get up, stand up! (… )
Don’t give up the fight! (get up, stand up! )
Get up, stand up! (… )
Stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up!
Don’t give up the fight!

White Riot

In this blog post I want to delve into the heart of identity politics. There is a lot of aversion towards this topic so that’s a primo reason to dive right in.

The most common Pali word translated as “equanimity” is upekkha, meaning “to look over.” It refers to the equanimity that arises from the power of observation, the ability to see without being caught by what we see…

Upekkha can also refer to the ease that comes from seeing a bigger picture. Colloquially, in India the word was sometimes used to mean “to see with patience.” We might understand this as “seeing with understanding.”

The second word often translated as equanimity is tatramajjhattata, a compound made of simple Pali words. Tatra, meaning “there,” sometimes refers to “all these things.” Majjha means “middle,” and tata means “to stand or to pose.” Put together, the word becomes “to stand in the middle of all this.” As a form of equanimity, “being in the middle” refers to balance, to remaining centered in the middle of whatever is happening. This balance comes from inner strength or stability. The strong presence of inner calm, well-being, confidence, vitality, or integrity can keep us upright, like a ballast keeps a ship upright in strong winds. As inner strength develops, equanimity follows.

Equanimity adapted from a talk by Gil Fronsdal

The Glenn Beck thing. He seems to be a real put upon dude. Not only is he a POC, poor, living in a 3rd world country, female, of a minority faith, homeless, non-English speakinghaving a history of oppression, dealt with colonialism, physically challenged, mentally challengedliving in an impoverished area of the country, lacking access to education, speaking with an accent unusual for TV personalities, an immigrant, without documentation, a refugee, homosexual, trans-gendered, elderly, of compromised health status, living in a alternative family arrangement, illiterate, without a voice heard in his culture of birtha victim of torture, living with a mental illness, a victim of systemic discrimination, suffering from the effects of living through a war, a target for genocide, ….c’mon I’m really trying to get at what this fellow’s issue is all about.

The best thing I can come up with in his case is narcissism. Somehow to acknowledge the truth about other’s suffering, not necessarily at his behest, but within the system at large, which he rabidly supports, is too much for him to bear. His personal suffering, as manufactured as it is for dramatic effect, is so great that every effort must be made to appease that, rather than address issues as they affect all people not only one particular segment to the exclusion of others. One man’s discomfort-for-pay (and bonus tears) becomes more pivotal than every other issue.

Narcissism is but one expression of privilege. It says let’s jump all over any comment made about the privileged status that imbues suffering in the lives of others and cry victim at the top of our lungs just so we drown everybody else out. And it seems to work for the Glenn Becks of the world.

Instead of checking out the situation, asking questions, listening to the answers, discovering how deep the rabbit hole goes,  it becomes all about me, me, me. The Oppression Olympics fires up it’s torch again. Though what category of oppression Glenn Beck is competing in is still a mystery.

As a bit of an aside, now that the event is over, there was a quote on The Mahablog which went:

If I may, with apologies to Joni Mitchell:

By the time we got to Beckstock,
We were eighty thousand strong,
and everywhere was the sound
of white resentment.
And I dreamed I saw a Mama Grizzly
Throwing word salad at the sky
And Glenn Beck began to cry,
What a presentment!

We are white folk, we are entitled,
And we’ve got to get them folks
back out of the garden.

[For some slightly understated scathe (the noun from the adjective scathing) check out Christopher Hitchen’s piece White Fright:Glenn Beck’s rally was large, vague, moist, and undirected—the Waterworld of white self-pity and for some serious scathe check One Lump Or Two? from Howard Kunstler’s Clusterfuck Nation blog. The last one is for those who consider what I write to be over the top. Not even close.]

In GlennBeckistan, a term coined by Sen. Robert Byrd, a small group, who maintain the status quo, at the behest of huge corporate interests play upon the fear and paranoia of economically disenfranchised white people by scapegoating other marginalized groups. This divide and conquer strategy has been used for decades, if not centuries, by the powerful to maintain and consolidate their ultra-privileged condition.

As long as economically and socially disenfranchised whites are reminded of the “otherness” of various minorities, whether they be religious minorities, ethnic minorities or other groups, the division remains. And that division is one that can be manipulated in order to control and direct populations into serving the interests of the ruling classes. Because, disenfranchised white person, you are not the ruling class, nor are you a friend of the ruling class, you are their pawns as long as the divisions between all disenfranchised people are held to. This is true in all circumstances including those divisions within “Western” Buddhism. In that case it is a simple reflection of the current socio-cultural milieu in which Buddhism is growing in the “West” . There is a much larger picture than “East vs West”  “Asians vs converts” , “superstition vs science” or whatever the various factions choose for labels.

obamwhitslavdemo

The general and larger source of paranoia among whites is that they will somehow be subjected to the conditions of those who have been or are currently dealing with oppression and disenfranchisement. They may lose the freedom to operate with relative impunity. This is an interestingly paradoxical recognition of the situation that is faced by many, while at the same time an expression of fear that continues to accentuate the divided nature of those who are economically oppressed.

The fear is that whites will in fact become a minority and further that they will lose the privileged status that has been gained through centuries of genocide and colonialism. The truth is that whites are already a minority in the world and have been for a long time. Better get used to it.

But it goes deeper than that.

Here is a post that gets right to some of the issues. In poor people aren’t supposed to want nice things. the author, Monchel Pridget,  discusses the stigma that is involved with simply being an economic minority. She states:

Your job, Poor Person, is to get as far away from the have-nots as possible in thought and deed and investment. Otherwise, you will tip people off to the fact you are or have been poor. They are only supposed to suspect that you have been poor when you approach the dais to give a motivating speech, or when you are filling out an application to fund more education for yourself, or when you have fallen upon dire straits but grow accustomed to those circumstances with aplomb.

This point of avoiding the taint of economic stigma (which goes hand in hand with all the other stigmas of various minorities) goes right to the heart of much of the panic-mongering rhetoric heard in the various forms of media today.

The carrot of joining the elites is held out, which apparently removes the stigma of those with a more humble economic history, yet how many actually reach that magic plateau? And realistically what are the chances of that happening? In terms of probability, one would be more likely to get hit by lightning on the same day as they won the lottery sooner than being introduced as a member of the global elite.

The further one distances themselves from “obvious” minorities the closer one gets to the global elites or so much of the thinking goes. However that is a fallacy.

If socio-economically disadvantaged whites can continue to be fooled by the rhetoric of the elites,  can be convinced to believe a piece of the pie can actually be theirs and if more can be persuaded to join those cadres, the larger the buffer between the elites and those they *need* to keep in disadvantaged positions in order to bolster their own privilege and security globally. The white middle and lower classes are simply the expendable pawns to protect the kingdoms of the obscenely wealthy and exploitatively powerful.

This all very much rides on the acceptance of status quo consumerism and buying into delusions of might makes right, meaning economic might, as well as personal identification with ideals espoused by the elites via various media.

Joan Walsh at Salon.com recently wrote:

The forces of great wealth will use everything in their power to prevent fundamental change in this country, and one of their favorite tactics has always been “divide and conquer,” propping up charlatans like Beck to distract people from the rate at which they’re widening the gap between rich and poor.

One of the ways to maintain this buffer force between the elites and the disenfranchised is to sensitize the white middle and lower class populations to believe that they are as disenfranchised or even more disenfranchised than those who are facing much greater obstacles to equality. Methods of doing this include scapegoating, attaching blame, exemplifying and magnifying minor incidents into larger distortions, stereotyping etc.

It’s about having a population feeling psychologically insecure and defensive so that whenever an event occurs among the disenfranchised minorities it becomes an example which fulfils the stereotypes. These stereotypes include such things as “the angry black person”, “the terrorist Muslim”, “the sly, inscrutable Asian” and so on.

So for example when a person of color writes on their blog the phrase “clueless white guy” there is much hue and cry among the “victims” of the phrase, expressed in numerous venues, even though the phrase is descriptive of the author’s opinion combined with a factual statement. There are accusations of racism against whites as well as a whole lot of insensitivity to the author’s predicament. Few attempt to engage the material as it  and many, in other forums, simply dismissed the author, his argument as well as those of us who attempted to understand the viewpoint. Again it became me,me,me. That episode, among many others brings up an interesting question.

Are Minorities and Disenfranchised People Discriminatory?

A person discriminates when he/she make a distinction, whether intentional or not, based on a characteristic or perceived characteristic that has the effect of imposing burdens, obligations or disadvantages on an individual or group of individuals not imposed on others or which withholds or limits access to opportunities, benefits and advantages available to others.

definition from Zinn and Brethuor, The Law of Human Rights in Canada: Practice and Procedure, (Canada Law Books) at p.1-2,3 (Insert October 2005)

Discrimination is not merely about making distinctions. It is about making distinctions for a specific purpose. That purpose is based on maintaining relative power relations in a larger scenario. Many of these discriminatory distinctions depend upon stereotypes.

Stereotypes work differently depending upon where one finds themselves upon the spectrum relative to power. At one end of the spectrum the use of stereotypes, including those embodied in racial epithets, assists in preserving a privileged distinction from others. At the other end of the spectrum such usages related to emotions arising from powerlessness relative to the target of the stereotype. In the latter case they become challenges to perceived power.

The use of racial epithets have different motivations depending upon who is using them, their target and larger social considerations. Intent is the basis of karmic relations. It is also the basis for most democratic expressions of justice. And intent needs to be discerned before judgments are made about the level of racism, or if indeed racism or discriminatory speech is even involved at all.

In the “clueless white guy” example one might substitute the word “Jew” or “black”  or other words, however this does not take into account the context nor the power relationship of the comment. It is based on the assumption that the author is in a position of racial power such that he may have the ability to unfairly impose burdens, obligations or disadvantages upon the described individual or his group. That is simply not the case since the author is of Asian parentage and does, by his own descriptions suffer the effects of discrimination on that basis. And if one looks honestly at the history of Buddhist scholarship it has primarily been “clueless white guys” doing the interpretation of cultures they neither fully understand nor belong to. The same is true in many other academic disciplines. This has included everything from making outrightly racist statements to the indignity of having foreigners speak for cultures they have little relationship with. [See Intellectuals & Power: A conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze in which “the indignity of speaking for others” is thoroughly discussed]

Again it is the power of the interpreter, using his own language and cultural framework to tell others how they think and what that thinking means without actually investigating or acknowledging how they think. It is very arrogant.

Without ascertaining intent, in fact with having intent assigned by others “You’re a racist against whites” it fully illustrates and compounds the very thing that the complainant is discussing.

A racially charged epithet has different meanings depending upon context, as Dr. Laura found out recently.

Interestingly it was this same Dr. Laura who brought up the topic of “oversensitivity” and projected it upon her minority radio listeners.  Her own privileged oversensitivity completely took over, above and beyond that of the woman who was calling her requesting assistance in dealing with racial epithets directed her way.

That is what privilege does. It makes “my issue”, “my sensitivity” move straight to the front of the line and dismisses the concerns of others. It assigns interpretation, intent and meaning without consultations and makes decisions for others based on those assumptions.

When a person in a position of privilege uses a racial epithet it carries a great deal more weight than when the non-privileged person uses similar language. It comes from a position of power, with centuries of baggage, and serves as a reminder of that power relationship.  It is used essentially to keep “them” in their place.

Now some of the complaint which Dr. Laura had was that minority folks use the same words with each other. This is different because it is within a peer-to-peer relationship. There is equal power or powerlessness in the conversational exchange. No one gets the advantage by using such terminology.  It becomes a power-neutral phrase.

When a racial epithet is uttered by someone in a relatively less powerful position towards one in a more powerful position it’s intent may well be hurtful. But it’s effect, in the larger picture is somewhat negligible because that person is not in a position, sociologically, to effect burdens or to deny advantage to the target of the slur nor to reinforce existing burdens or disadvantages.

In the latter case, one’s feelings might be hurt, but one’s social position is not in any way threatened or negatively reinforced. The damage is superficial unless one is ignorant of their own privilege and has become “oversensitized” to believe the delusion that some amount of momentary personal discomfort is equivalent to the disenfranchisement that visible minorities continuously face. It is not.

The “Oppression Olympics” is a game for suckers who either buy into the agenda of the elites, magnify their own amount of economic disenfranchisement to a delusional level, or are simply narcissists.

There’s two kinds of discrimination.

Direct Discrimination

When most people think of discrimination, they think of direct discrimination, which is the most obvious form. Direct discrimination occurs when, for example, an employer advertises a job and limits applications to “men only” or “whites only”.

from “What is Discrimination?” Canadian Housing Equality Rights Resources

There was recently an ad placed on a Canadian real estate website that conveyed the following:

Calgary residents are shocked after a home listing on a Calgary website stated the owners will sell to a “white buyer” only, in a “highly rated white community.” …
The listing also promised a private backyard that won’t have “colored people peaking” in.

from Metro News

Aside from the bad spelling (it’s peeking not peaking, and in Canada generally it’s coloured not colored-the colonial spelling hangover-though in this case perhaps both are apt), this ad provoked a flurry of controversy in Canada about the overtly racist statements made by the home-owner. It was promptly removed and various human rights tribunals are investigating the matter.

Much direct discriminatory activity is now socially condemned, as the situation with the ad illustrates. Even the Republicans have requested to the Tea Party activists, “everybody ought to ratchet back just a little bit.”. But much that is systemic is not socially condemned. Unfortunately the systemic variety is very insidious. In some places it can even become the social norm without people even realizing that they are enacting this kind of behavior.  Just like much of our cultural learning, it ceases to be conscious enactment. This is of particular importance to those on the Buddhist path. We are trying to wake up, trying to see things as they are, not as our unconscious conditioned behavior and learning dictates.

Constructive or Adverse Effect Discrimination

Constructive discrimination or adverse effect discrimination is a subtler and arguably more widespread form of discrimination. Constructive discrimination refers to rules, policies or practices that may not be intentionally or obviously discriminatory, but which have a discriminatory effect on persons protected by human rights legislation.

For example, an employer who requires that all employees must work on Saturday constructively discriminates against those employees who, for religious reasons, cannot work on Saturdays. In this case, the rule applies equally to everyone, but only those with particular religious observances are negatively affected.

from “What is Discrimination?” Canadian Housing Equality Rights Resources

In this case such discriminatory activities may not be intentional at all. They are based on the perspective of the person in power who is enacting such activities. They are based on the assumption that all who will be affected by such directives are cool with that.

These and similar assumptions are where the “blind spot” lies. They are the product of cultural learning.  Assumptions are very dangerous. They lead to blind trust, unthinking responses and even worse, actions based on ignorance.

There is a viewpoint that identity politics in relation to minorities has the express purpose to dis-empower the powerful and hold sway over them. In effect a reversal of current situations. What is often not realized is that the upliftment of minorities to a position of equality, not a position of dominance, which is not what is generally being sought, is to the benefit of society as a whole, that is towards the greater good.

And the Greater Good is one phrase that gets a lot of play in the media. In addition to this agenda being pushed by conservative pundits it also gets a lot of play in both liberal-progressive and Buddhist circles. It is the position that states we are “post-racial”, “post-feminist”,  all humans without differences, “colorblind”, all Buddhas or Bodhisattvas already, etc. What it does is pay lip service to an unrealized ideal and then sweeps the matter under the rug because of the discomfort it causes to deal with the reality of unequal relations between individuals and groups.

The Greater Good or Special Interests?

In a a recent article All Politics Is Identity Politics:We can’t forget that ideology is shaped by personal experience Anne Friedman wrote:

Calls to reject identity and adopt a “greater good” approach never make clear who defines that greater good. Who decides which issues have to wait and which are of utmost importance?…

The common good is a laudable goal, but asking progressives to subsume their identities and interests is not the way to achieve it. Allowing people to organize based on their identities and deeply held beliefs is just smart politics. Those groups can — and do — work together to craft policies and organizing strategies that lift all members of the coalition, not just those who are white, heterosexual, economically advantaged, and male…

Critiques of identity politics fail to acknowledge that people join social-justice and political groups because they actually do want to look beyond themselves and make our country a better place….

Most political acts — even those done under the auspices of “special interests” like immigrant rights, abortion rights, or racial justice — are done in service of a greater good…

Identity groups are made up of people who want to be part of something bigger, people who recognize personal injustices and want to channel their indignation into a greater quest for a better country…

Those who wish to castigate activists, particularly those who advocate for identity groups, might stop and question the motives of the activists themselves. Why would someone work towards the betterment of the life situations of groups or persons to whom they have no familial, social or racial ties? Occasionally it might be a subversive way to express their privilege and massage their ego, though those kinds of activists burn out pretty quickly. Could it perhaps have something to do with fairness, justice and compassion?

Where the racist expressions of discrimination are rampant, not only overtly but in covertly culturally-coded ways as well, one walks into a bit of a mine field. Hence the aversion for delving deeply into such subjects. People who take an activist stance on the matter need to deal with that. As do others who would comment on such issues. Without appropriate reflection and analysis the problem becomes exacerbated by people acting from conditioned responses rather than responding to the actual situation.

Here is one such example. There is a question that has been under discussion for quite a few years. It’s a bit of a tangent but sometimes it is the kind of thing that comes up in activist and leftist circles. In general it gets expressed as “Those people (racists) are crazy.” This kind of expression does nothing to alleviate the situation and in turn seeks to discriminate, based upon the stigma of mental illness, against those who have inculcated racist ideology from their cultures. It rests upon an assumption that the “crazy” are somewhat “other” and that to label racists as such is to demean them. Therefore it concomitantly marks another group as inferior by implication.

Should racism be classified as a mental illness?

That’s something that has been under consideration with the new updates in the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association). The specific position of racism would be possibly covered under the category of “Pathological Bias” (Bigotry as Mental Illness Or Just Another Norm-New York Times)

A pathological bias is a point of view that is held to with such insistence that it reaches delusional proportions and begins to inform every aspect of a person’s life. It is a type of possibly psychotic delusion. In many of categories of mental illness there is a delusionary component. So on those grounds alone, dissecting out some delusions because of racist content leads to a very slippery slope wherein people end up becoming unjustifiably multiply labeled and possibly treated for erroneous mental health statuses.

For those interested here is a series of articles  and letters from The American Psychiatric Association’s on-line publication Psychiatric Services

Racism: A Mental Illness? by Carl Bell, M.D (Psychiatr Serv, Dec 2004; 55: 1343.)

Letter to the Editor on Racism: A Mental Illness? by Daniel Chinedu Okoro, M.D. (Psychiatr Serv, Feb 2005; 56: 220.)

Letter to the Editor on Racism: A Mental Illness? by Carl Bell, M.D. (Psychiatr Serv, Feb 2005; 56: 220 – 221. )

Letter to the Editor on Racism: A Mental Illness? by Robert L. Leon M. D. (Psychiatr Serv, Jun 2005; 56: 753. )

Robert L. Leon states in his letter listed above:

It would involve psychiatry’s taking a hard look at pathology in the society as a whole. Are racism and other forms of so-called cultural beliefs that harm others psychopathology? Is psychiatry prepared to confront this question? Maybe it is time that we did.

Including racism as a mental illness or even as a symptom of a mental illness would too often excuse the racist, ignore the institutionalization of the racist practice as well as the role of socio-cultural learning and deny the systemic nature of it. When a practice is culturally embedded it is well beyond individual psychopathy. It has become normal. And “normal” according to Buddhist philosophy is the realm of Samsara.

In Buddhist philosophy it has been posited that delusion is the state in which we all live on a day to day basis. This has been taken up brilliantly by Buddhist teachers Alan Wallace as well as Clarke Scott, both of whom make use of the psychological term “Obsessive-Compulsive Delusional Disorder” to describe the non-awakened  Samsaric viewpoint. In the following video Clarke Scott outlines what this means in terms of cognitive psychology and Buddhist philosophy for those who want the in depth explanation.

http://vimeo.com/14373748

One quote  from the video that explains a couple of facets of the OCDD aka non-awakened state that have direct bearing on our general experience of ourselves, others and the world in which we all live [emphasis mine]:

Now in Alan Wallace’s book Contemplative Science, he describes cognitive-deficit as
“characterized by the failure to perceive what is present in the five fields of sensory experience and in the mind. While it’s opposite, cognitive hyper-activity, sets in when we conflate our conceptual projections with the perceptual experience. That is we fail to distinguish between perceived realities and superimposed assumptions and fantasies.”

Another part of that video is the section about dispositional narrative. That applies directly to who we are and who we think we are. It is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. By implication it is also tied up with stories we tell ourselves about others. We do not, in conventional terms, define ourselves without relationship to others.

This is where we get into inter-relatedness, self-definition, our place in the world, perceived threats to self and those we use to define ourselves and all the attendant emotions, including fear, paranoia, hatred, insecurity.

Consider the fluidity of the dispositional narrative or rather the distorted story we carry which is fed by the societies and culture that surrounds us. Where nothing is sure, the power of narrative carries the day.

If someone we perceive as powerful, utters a statement it is more likely to be perceived as true than if some random stranger utters it. Hence we attach to those statements, make them part of our own story and act from that position. This is the foundation of delusion.

And this is also part of the mechanism of learned racism as well as other discriminatory behavior.

What About Differential Power?

Let’s not bring up privilege here. Let’s talk about differential social power or lack thereof instead.

It is well and good to talk about the ideals of “We are the World” or “One Nation…” or “United We Stand” or “All People are the Same” and other expressions of solidarity. It would be very nice if that actually existed…somewhere…in the world. But it doesn’t. Anywhere.

We have a United Nations, which is fairly powerless. We have treaties, organizations of states and agreements, most of which relate to the exchange of goods. There are such things as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which most countries are signatories. However as a non-binding effort it’s barely worth the paper it’s written on. It is a statement of ideals, which if inconvenient, are often set aside.

What needs to be acknowledged and examined, not only in geo-political realms but in day to day interpersonal relations is the fact of differential power relationships.

If we are going to truly overcome differences first they must be recognized. The injustices arising from discriminations of all types need to be addressed and conscious effort made to adjust attitudes to preclude continuance of such practices. This is wholesale culture change, not piecemeal efforts. But it does start with individuals facing reality.

Racism, Classism and Social Power

…how is it that people whose interests are not being served can strictly support the existing power structure by demanding a piece of the action? Perhaps, this is because in terms of investments, whether economic or unconscious, interest is not the final answer; there are investments of desire that function in a more profound and diffuse manner than our interests dictate.

Gilles Deleuze in Intellectuals & Power: A conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze

The power of desire, of grasping, of imagination, of believing in delusions all serve to manifest social injustice. Desire can subsume the reality of our own best interests.

The desire to be identified with, and hopefully obtain “a piece of the action” held by the global elites is a powerful draw. When the manufacture of threats instills fear on top of that desire and the heady religious notions of guilt, repentance, spiritual in-groups and demonized out-groups additionally become bound to the ideational cluster there are many levers that can be struck in order to direct large populations towards delusional actions.

Racism is one of the handy weapons or levers to maintain social power. It thrives on fear of the “other”. It thrives on fear of losing what we have. It thrives on maintaining a tie between familiarity and good, as well as equating  strangeness to badness. [see video 21st century enlightenment for more on that] It thrives on artificial notions of purity. It thrives on the development of delusional levels of fear and paranoia. It thrives on panic.

There can be no effective social change, no effective reconciliations, no effective negotiations, no effective communication until these ideational clusters are unscrambled within each one of us.

Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyses us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. Our problem is not to be rid of fear but, rather to harness and master it.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Links on Culture, Racism and Psychology

‘Pathological bias’ being considered for DSM-V: some fear that inclusion may provide an excuse for people charged with engaging in racist behavior by Robert Finn (Clinical Psychiatry News) This article includes a draft of the proposed criteria for Pathological Bias

Racial Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis by Alisha Ali, PhD from the Association of Women in Psychology

Should Racism Be Classified as a Mental Illness? by Tiaja Ellis

Should Racism Be Classified as a Mental Illness? a general overview of the idea and it’s many facets

Social Class and Classism in Psychiatric Diagnosis by Heather E. Bullock, PhD and Shirley V. Truong, MA from the Association of Women in Psychology

Links on Equanimity

Equanimity by C. M. Tan

Upekkha from Wikipedia -with further links

Musical Accompaniment- The Clash – White Riot

Yes this song is ironic, like much of the music by The Clash and many other viewpoints coming out of the first wave of Punk.

chorus

White riot – I wanna riot
White riot – a riot of my own
White riot – I wanna riot
White riot – a riot of my own

Black man gotta lot a problems
But they don’t mind throwing a brick
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick
An’ everybody’s doing
Just what they’re told to
An’ nobody wants
To go to jail!

chorus

All the power’s in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it
While we walk the street
Too chicken to even try it
Everybody’s doing
Just what they’re told to
Nobody wants
To go to jail!

chorus

Are you taking over
or are you taking orders?
Are you going backwards
Or are you going forwards?

chorus

Musical Finale- Bob Marley- Redemption Song

Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the almighty
We forward in this generation
Triumphantly
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs
Redemption songs
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
‘Cause none of them can stop the time
How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look? Ooh
Some say it’s just a part of it
We’ve got to fulfill the book
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs
Redemption songs
Redemption songs
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our mind
Woh, have no fear for atomic energy
‘Cause none of them-a can-a stop-a the time
How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look?
Yes, some say it’s just a part of it
We’ve got to fulfill the book
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever had
Redemption songs
All I ever had
Redemption songs
These songs of freedom
Songs of freedom

Travels of Unreal and Real Monks

Travels of Unreal Monks

Recently a blog and a twitter account @themonkblog sprung up that purported to belong to a monk who was traveling in North India and Nepal. Within two weeks there were over 1200 followers.  The About page of the blog reads as follows:

Hello Friend!

My name is Tenzin. I am a 23-year old theravada buddhist monk. I currently travel Nepal by foot, figuring out what to do in the future. When my old monastery was turned into a tourist location, my grandmaster Xi returned to his home monastery and said that I could not go with him. He said I needed to find my own way in life.

My interests are people, and their stories. I am also interested in english language and the computer. Of course I study much buddhism and how to live in harmony with my surroundings.

I am happy you want to read about me. Comment, so I can get to know you also!

In the past couple of days this person has revealed via further blog posts (here and here) that they are actually a young psychology student named Mikael who lives in a suburban city and “Tenzin” is a character he has created.

There was discussion on Twitter about it (check my timeline @NellaLou for Aug.12 for some of it) and some folks were surprised and disappointed. That is the reason I am posting about it here. So that others aren’t taken up by the ruse.

Upon reading that little bio the contradictions are rather stunning. A Tibetan name for a Theravada monk, who travels in Nepal after training with a Chinese named teacher. It is basically a set up for a Kung Fu, Kwai Chang Caine retelling. Which basically it is, as the author admits.

Grasshopper there are more than enough fake monks, teachers, priests, sociopaths and con artists with alleged dharma on their lips running around already.  So please give it a rest.

Travels of Real Monks

Bhante Kovida has studied in Asia for much of his life. Here is a little from his biography:

Bhante Kovida grew up on the tropical island of Jamaica, West Indies, of Chinese descent. He immigrated to Canada… then traveled overland from Europe to India and Nepal (via Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) during 1974-1975, where he began the study of Indian history and culture, Hatha Yoga and meditation, classical Indian music, and Buddhism…

…in Sri Lanka, Bhante Kovida took ordination with Venerable Balangoda Anandamaitreya, a noted scholar, teacher and meditation practitioner, in January, 1991.

Bhante Kovida left Sri Lanka towards the end of 1993 and began traveling and sharing the Dharma in the Toronto area with occasional visits to Hamilton, Ottawa, Halifax and Vancouver. He has also visited inmates at Warkworth Correctional Center near Campbelford, Ontario, AIDS patients at the Casey House hospice in Toronto for a period.

He continues to give teachings in Canada as well as in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

His approach is unique in that he discusses the dharma with a solid eye on the reality of today and contemporary viewpoints, both East and West.

He has produced a couple of e-books that are available for download and free non-commercial distribution on his website.

The first is titled An Inquiring Mind’s Journey:a book about a life with Buddhism. In the first chapter he discusses his early life in Jamaica, his burgeoning interest in science and discovery of his questioning nature.  Taking university studies in North America led to more questioning particularly with regard to the materialistic nature of the culture there. He then discusses his early journey to India and embarking on learning from gurus and others there. Like so many other seekers he moved from place to place and met people from all over the world.

And during this time his sense of himself in the world and the universe changed. Perspective broadened and viewpoints were altered.

When I returned to Canada, I experienced horrendous reverse culture shock. I was so
open and childlike, and profoundly affected and transformed by my experiences in India and Nepal that I felt very vulnerable to the realities and superficialities of modern, materialistic society. After being in a culture where communication in public was easy and effortless, I found people quite self-centered, isolated and lonely, and shopping in supermarkets terribly cold and impersonal. It seemed really amazing that one could buy a lot of groceries, go through the checkout counter, pay your money, and not have to utter a single word. In Asia, it is the human contact that is important, the product that you are purchasing is secondary; in modern society it is the product and its cost that are important, human contact is secondary, seemingly unimportant. I found the environment very sterile, uninteresting, superficial and isolating. (p.13)

Having shared a similar feeling upon occasion I understand where this kind of statement comes from. At times though I do find some of Bhante’s descriptions somewhat idealized and even slightly romanticized. Now that may just be the writing style or a function of memory or my own distrust and questioning attitude towards idealism in general.  However this point, about social relations and human contact is one of the main reasons I stay in India as much as I do-and that has changed my perspective and practice of Buddhism tremendously.  So in some ways there is an impulse to credit the environment but I feel not at the expense of the reality of the place, which can be as harsh, even brutal, as it can be enveloping. He does touch upon that harshness occasionally though.

He goes on to discuss the first thoughts he had about becoming a monk while he was in Sri Lanka and the process of making such a decision and the meetings with the man who became his teacher.

Succeeding chapters include a question and answer portion about Buddhism that is very comprehensive and suitable for beginners. Further chapters include the texts of two talks given at the University of Toronto entitled Self-knowledge and Freedom and The Nature and Ending of Fear. This is followed by a section on travels and commentary on South-east Asia particularly Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and Hong Kong. He spent considerable time in these places within both English speaking and Chinese speaking sanghas and groups so the contrasts are quite interesting.

The second book is called The World is Myself:a monk’s travel journal part 1 It covers his travels from Thailand, Malaysia and India.

I’ve really enjoyed reading this journal. It’s written in a conversational style that gives the reader the sense that they are sitting sharing tea and stories with the author.

If you want to know what the day to day life of a monk is like, this book gives a detailed view. He describes how it feels to go on an alms round, the camaraderie of the monastic sangha, what life is like in these parts of Asia both the joys and frustrations, as well as his critical viewpoint on certain of the practices such as merit accumulation. The latter is not too favorable. In that regard his viewpoint is somewhat similar to Bhante Dhammika‘s, whose book, The Broken Buddha,  I reviewed previously.

He gives more of his history prior to becoming a monk, in which he was a development worker for the Canadian government in Sri Lanka as well as other details of his life before that time.

He is very well read and discusses the philosophies of Krishnamurti, as well as the series of lectures by Krishnamurti himself that he attended, and Ramana Maharshi with ease equal to his discussions of Buddhist Suttas. He tells of his meetings with interesting people including during the time he volunteered at the hospital set up by Mother Theresa in Calcutta, throughout his journeys and it gives an almost documentary feel to the writing.

The descriptions of locations, people and events are scintillating. I felt like I was right there as I read. Bhante Kovida has an exceptional memory for details as well as a very sharp observational ability. And this is complemented by his honesty and humor in documenting his reactions, both positive and negative to every situation. He doesn’t make himself out to be either a hero or a victim of any situation, only a participant and experiencer. Here is an example when he helped guide a group of Americans in northern Thailand.

The rising sun is warming up the awakening landscape and slowly burning away the night mist and fog. The roosters and hens are stretching and flapping their wings and for the first time I recognize some guinea fowls with their unique grey and black
colouring and tiny white spots. It’s a peaceful village setting. After breakfast, tea and chitchat about the night spent in mud-walled huts, we gather up our gear, bid farewell to the villagers with thanks, and start walking down a lane towards the main road. We walk about one kilometer along this road admiring the surrounding bamboo-covered hills, corn and vegetable fields, already harvested paddy fields, and then we begin to ascend on the other side of the road along a footpath. Up and up through bamboo forests, up and around the hill side, using bamboo poles for support, as we head to the next village which they say will take around 4-5 hours to reach. It is hard going at times and we stop occasionally to rest, drink water, catch
our breath and admire the view of the surrounding hills and river valleys below. It is an amazing and vigorous hike in Thailand’s northern hill region even though wearing Theravada robes for this adventure isn’t quite suitable; I long for a more practical dress with two sleeves, but at least I can wear running shoes in these remote parts. The green hills turn to shades of blue the further away they are. The high mountains in the distance are so awesome and majestic that they seem as if they’re holding some ancient, mysterious secret which present- day man cannot possibly comprehend; one can only gaze at them in wonder at their beauty, aloofness and unreachable distance.

(p.25)

His cross-cultural observations are anthropological in description sometimes, in that he doesn’t judge but observes, analyzes and compares. Here’s a portion from his visit to a Karen (hill tribe people in Northern Thailand) village.

The Karens, who also live across the border in Burma, are very friendly, hospitable
people, rice and vegetable cultivators, part Buddhist, part animist, and very much in harmony with the jungle environment, using the abundant and fast-growing bamboo for everything imaginable including food, building material and disposable cooking pots. Formerly, they grew opium poppy but they’re now growing soya beans, sweet and Irish potatoes, and other foreign crops thanks to an anti-drug campaign funded by the U.S. Government. At times we can smell opium being smoked by some village elders who are addicted to the habit; they get
it from villagers elsewhere. It’s an old crop in these parts of SE Asia and smoking opium is an old relaxing pastime which also helps to alleviate the aches and pains of old age, physical labour and mental worry. Ingested, opium is medicine for stomach troubles including diarrhea, and for pain, in general. These people cannot understand and relate to the drug abuse and money-making, crime-related culture in America and Europe, although they’ve become more aware of the demand for raw opium to be used in heroin production and that, because of this, opium poppy cultivation has become increasingly profitable which is very tempting
indeed. Now the American-backed Government in far away Kreung Thep [Bangkok] is telling them to stop this old [and now lucrative] crop and its traditional uses and they cannot really comprehend what the fuss is all about. If the Americans and Europeans want to kill themselves with heroin injections that’s their stupid business, they muse. Why don’t they just leave us alone in peace? In these parts, habitual opium smoking is seen as no more harmful than smoking and chewing tobacco, chewing betel nuts, and drinking tea.

(p. 22)

This is very similar to the attitude of people in the high Himalaya as well. These things are not demonized but dealt with according to their usefulness. And as there is not much by way of excess, in terms of crops, money or goods, chronic overuse of such things is not generally an issue. And the view that many Western countries should be more concerned with the health and control of their own populations rather than what people in remote villages are doing is also common in India.

Throughout the book there are discussions and musings on the Dhamma as part of every day life and situations.

I’m in Kwan’s village, somewhere outside of Chiang Rai, and we have some Americans to deal with. I’ve slept quite well considering. I recognize the smoky,
musty smell of the mud-walled hut and the noise of pigs and chickens come to mind. It got chilly during the night and I had to put on a sweater. I use our host’s toilet and it’s not as bad as I’d expected; and I reflect on how our mental projections are often worse than reality itself. Once I was an intrepid world traveller, now I’m behaving like a spoilt, pampered westerner from suburbia. I smile at the change in myself; no permanent, concrete self or personality to be found in this mind-body process, only a constantly changing and rapid sequence of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking and imagining. (p.24)

The quoted sections above are all from the first section of the book on Thailand.

In the section on Malaysia we have such delicious descriptions as this:

A waiter brings us two pieces of banana leaf recently cut from the tree which we wipe with a little water then shake off onto the floor. It’s a cheap, organic and plentiful material that is easily disposable; there’s no need to wash plates and sometimes utensils, you only have to wash your hands before and after eating. I can still recall my first banana leaf rice meal during my earlier travels in. S. India towards the end of 1978 – it was such a novel and unique experience! The waiter puts a heap of rice on each of our leaves, then places three small portions of different vegetable curry next to the rice with some hot lime and mango pickle plus papadam chips made from legume flour. Then he pours dahl, a spiced split pea soup, on top of the rice together with another kind of spiced soup-like mixture, and he brings us small stainless steel cups of liquid yoghurt and a spiced liquid concoction called rasam to be consumed at the end of the meal to aid digestion. I dig in with the fingers of my right hand and start mixing wet rice with small amounts of vegetable curry, adding a bit of hot pickle and broken pieces of papadam chips, forming small balls of the mixture and popping them expertly into my mouth.

I got hungry reading that.

There are often a number of parallel narratives going on throughout this book. Situations bring up recollections of other situations, people or experiences. Isn’t this just the way our being in the world operates? The connections, memories, apparent continuations and social settings combine to create this appearance of personhood and solidity of existence. Yet it is interesting how unique each of these combinations are, rather like recipes.

Additionally Bhante Kovida has some critical thoughts on many schools of Theravada practice, as well as Vipassana and other techniques. The very devout might be a little uncomfortable with that. However sometimes well considered critical reflections, particularly of those intimately involved, contain valid points that need addressing.

He is equally concerned with some of the trends that occur in the North American context.

If you care to examine more closely this sectarian attitude in people and Dharma practitioners in general, you’ll see that in essence they’re all clinging to their egos, their self-centered “spiritual trip,” their personal preferences, desires, ambitions and attachments. And behind it all is fear and insecurity, isn’t it? (p.52)

As well he examines, equally openly, his own motivations and reasoning regarding the Buddhist path and practices.

I also remember that when I first began to give talks in Malaysia I had this immature desire to give the “perfect” Dharma talk; I would jot down all the important pointers that I wanted to include on a piece of paper but I would keep forgetting to look and check my list as I tend to be more of a spontaneous rambler than an organized speaker. And after each talk I would go over it in my mind recalling in vivid detail what I’d said and only to realize that I’d once again left out a few things because I’d forgotten to look at the piece of paper and check my list. And I could see the suffering and disappointment in my mind: that I was again unable to deliver the “perfect” talk; I took these talks so seriously. Talk about craving and clinging!…

…I would discover to my surprise during discussions that not only did people not understand what I’d said during the previous talk but that they had totally misunderstood what I had been trying to convey. This was indeed a good lesson for me! So much for trying to give the “perfect” talk! (p.54)

His travel tales are wide ranging and interesting. The focus is generally on the interrelationships and dynamics between people, groups, Buddhist and other viewpoints, practices, nationalities, languages, cultures, geography and so many other aspects. The fluidity with which these intermingle, influence, exchange and flow is very well captured by Bhante Kovida’s writing.

Conclusion

If you want to know what a monk’s life is really like Bhante Kovida has provided a thorough and honest assessment. His frankness is one of many compelling features of the book.

He is knowledgeable, sincere, well-traveled, open minded as well as discerning and occasionally critical  in this account of the events of his life. It’s kind of a refreshing change from some of the sugary frosting that coats many bookstore shelves. And these fascinating books are available for free without a trip to the store. That in itself makes a statement.

Musical Accompaniment

If you are suffering from the vertigo of what’s real and what’s not…

U2-Vertigo