Things are better now, I’m pleased to say, but my girlfriend and I fell out for a while after she read my first two posts on this site. I won’t go into the details, but I was left wondering why discussing politics is often so problematic. Why does talking current affairs tend to cause arguments and polarisation? How, as Buddhists or non-Buddhists, are we to talk about what’s happening in the world around us without harming each other by what we say? How can we discuss what we find difficult in society without, by so doing, simply adding to those difficulties?
When I mention to people that I am blogging about Buddhism and current affairs I notice, quite often, an almost instant volunteering of views, a swift taking up of positions – about the balance of power between the west and China, about what the occupy movement really stands for, about the problem with Papandreou…. or whatever. Why does this rapid mental proliferation and verbal re-armament so often take place?
It can feel like something quite essential is under threat when we hear political views that we don’t agree with. The Dharmic view would be that it is our sense of self – our very identity – that is challenged in these exchanges. Our beliefs, views and positions are brought into question, and these are our self – our self is nothing more than them. No wonder things get heated!
I was on retreat this past weekend. Ratnaprabha, from the West London Buddhist Centre, gave a short talk about ‘loosening left-over attitudes’. He gave us this quote from the Majjima Nikaya (a collection of early Buddhist scriptures):
… this is going to a speculative view, holding a view, the wilds of views, the wriggling of views, the scuffling of views, the fetter of views; it is accompanied by anguish, distress, misery, fever; it does not conduce to turning away from, nor to dispassion, stopping, calming, super knowledge, awakening, nor to Nibbana… this is a peril… ‘Vacchagotta on Fire’
So, one of the difficulties in our political discourse arises because so much of it is based on speculative views. If we could put these views to one side and rely, instead, on how things really are then we would avoid this ‘peril’.
But isn’t this just another view, to be disagreed with and argued over in turn? Yes, of course it is – it also needs to be transcended. And one of the things that I love about the Dharma is that it encourages us not to take perspectives and practices on blind faith but to test them in our own experience. It encourages us to see, quite simply, whether the teachings are helpful for ourselves and for the world around us.
My experience is that when I have enough awareness to realise I am not my views, a beautiful feeling of creativity, courage and liberation arises: the Buddha appears, in short. It is this sense of freedom that I am trying to communicate on this site, and the immense potential that it holds for re-fashioning ourselves and our society for the good.
In the meantime, I hope you – along with my girlfriend – will bear with me as I continually fall short of communicating that precious ideal of freedom, an ideal the world is crying out for. I hope you will let me know what you think about what I say here, and how I say it. Most of all I hope you will engage in a conversation here about how to talk – and, more importantly, act – together non-violently to effect positive change wherever we are and whoever we are engaged with.Share