Precisely the problem?


On Speculative non-Buddhism the post On Being an Irrelevant Dick, has the following lines in response to some bruhaha going on somewhere between status quo capitalist Buddhists and some others:

We know that ideas such as “right speech,””right action,” “compassion,” “non-reactivity,” “non-judgmentalism,” and so forth, play a significant role in x-buddhist discourse. A committed x-buddhist is precisely a person who has internalized such values–made them his/her own, uses them as a guide to proper thought, emotion, and action. The x-buddhist has done so, moreover, in a way that renders such values “unconscious.”They engender real-world response that is reflexive, in the same way that a trained craftsmen reaches for the right tool without giving it any conscious thought. The thinking, the knowledge, of what constitutes “the right tool” has been internalized to the point of unconscious reflexivity.”

This sums up many of the problems with x-Buddhism in the American convert sangha, maybe even points towards the precise and paramount one, though I think Glenn is being far too generous in using the craftsman analogy. A zombie analogy would be more appropriate often. The superficial ingesting of words and behavior, unquestioning, unthinking, playing the “good” Buddhist role by parroting words and acting behaviors without letting any of it sink in or really disrupt one’s comfort bubble.

Consider the discussion at Sex in the Sangha . . . Again or Misogyny and Sexual Assault are Still Missing Links in Conversations about Sangha Scandals or about a hundred others.

Systemic. Institutional. We can round up and crucify, or name and shame, or wring our hands in moral horror, or whatever regarding all the bad apples we want but it won’t make much difference if the rot is in the barrel itself.

Institutions and systems are made up of processes. These processes get codified—more in the unwritten rules, rituals, codes of behavior, habits and hidden agendas (include shadows in that) by the laziness of participants than in what is actually written down if anything is written down at all. Laziness in that once comfortably ensconced in an institution, it’s pretty easy to hand off control and thought and critique to that institution and simply become a piece of the machine.

Philosopher of social science, Daniel Little has a new post Culture change within an organization on his Understanding Society blog. It has to do with the workplace but much of what he writes can be equally applied to any institution. Here are a few directly relevant pieces of that though the entire post is worth a read.

The daily workings of an organization depend on the activities and behavior of the people who make it up (and those with whom it interacts). People have habits, expectations, ways of perceiving social situations, and behavioral dispositions in a range of stylized circumstances. Their habitual modes of behavior may conform better or worse to the official rules and expectations of behavior in the performance of their roles…

Within a Fordist understanding of organizations, these conflicts between habits of behavior and the official expectations of the organization can be resolved through supervision: non-conformist behavior can be identified and penalized…

Organizations involving the productive activities of well educated specialists need to rely on a high level of self-motivation and self-direction on the part of its workers. Therefore modern organizations need to encourage high level contributions to the organization’s goals through means other than close supervision and a code of penalties and rewards. This means finding ways of aligning the personal values of the worker with the goals and processes of the organization. The organization needs to create an environment of development and work in which the individual worker wants to achieve the key goals of the organization — rather than disregarding those goals to pursue his/her own agenda in the workplace…

Some of that persuasive environment in a sick institution can include undermining individuals, coercion, guilt, enforcing conformity at all costs, punishing outliers, etc. This leads an individual to self-doubt and unmoors moral anchors making them far more pliable parts of the machine. It’s cult like behavior that leads to insecurity and increases dependence on the institution by the individual. It’s co-dependence all the way down.

“Oh. Oh. Oh. Am I doing Buddhist right? Am I performing correctly? Am I policing others’ performances enough with my passive aggressive bullshit? Someone is freaking out—should I take that as a cue to froth up into a moral panic? Please please please someone tell me what to do because thinking about it on my own is too fucking hard. I might have to make an actual decision without the help of my television or pod cast or elite sangha membership or blessed guru-ji with the gilded smile.”

OK that’s hyperbole, but that’s the kind of underlying current engendered in toxic institutional scenarios. Plenty of woe to those who would stand against the stream. But is it any better to go with that kind of flow which just goes nowhere, round and round like a whirlpool? I’m using those metaphors deliberately. Round and round recreating the samsaric, sanctifying it, enforcing it not even recognizing what the effort is forming and re-forming. Same old same old.

It seems to me that if Buddhist practice in those kinds of places doesn’t even serve to help someone at least recognize such blatantly obvious suffering and pain and trauma inducing stuff, there’s not much hope of realizing anything more subtle.

Enlightenment/nirvana/liberation/realization/whatever is your own responsibility. Nobody’s going to give it to you or tell you how to do it. It’s not in learning to act like some ego-projection of how a Buddhist should be, or a groupthink version of mass hypnosis or in increasingly recreating the cycle on increasingly smaller scales or in increasingly infinite detail.

It’s your own burden. Dharma can and does support you in the struggle with it but the problem is wrestled within. While the problem is an individual one in this way, it is also a collective problem of humanity. Individualism, especially as it’s sold to us in the consumerist milieu is at the heart of this paradox. The individual, conditioned and embedded, in the world, in the organization, in various structures like families, relationships, etc is not what we think it is. The whole ox herding cycle is about this sort of thing. We’ve got to find it and find out what it is before we can deal with it. The thing one wants to escape is the thing that has to be found first. I’ll get too mired in these metaphysics if I continue writing out this line of thought right now because I’m really tired, but wanted to make a short post about some of this stuff anyways.

The thing that sticks out for me is:

If somebody doesn’t even want to confront blatant wrong doing, or question what they are being fed, or even take a look in the mirror (actually and metaphorically), how are they going to confront the great matter of life and death?