You ever seen anyone with a pistol come into your yoga class? Me neither. With that said, I'd like to recommend that folks go over to the blog Think Body Electric and read Carol's current post, which takes up the topic among other things. For our purposes here, though, I actually want to address a comment Carol made to another reader on her post, which I believe offers some interesting nuggets to chew on.
I take it as a given that any spiritual or religious practice is going to be integrated with the culture that surrounds it in one way or another. If it didn't, it wouldn't be meaningful to anyone.
Therefore, it's not that yoga "needs to be associated with cultural liberalism" - the fact is that, historically, it has been (e.g., all Eastern spiritual practices became much more popular in the US after the Beatles went to study TM in India in the 1960s). During the 2000s, it's become more commercialized and mainstream, and more associated with the cultural nexus represented by women's magazines (self-care, self-help, fitness, beauty, etc.). Now, I see another shift happening, with yoga starting to become more associated with the cultural right (used to train the military, promote Ayn Rand, etc.). All that is simply empirical observation.
When it comes to values, mine are that I'd like to see yoga (and meditation) play a progressive role in our culture. That doesn't mean rehashing the existing conservative/liberal, right/left divide, which is destructive and dead-end. We need something new.
That said, because I care about social equity, civil rights, environmental protection, etc., that put me very much on the left-of-center side of the spectrum. But I see the Occupy movement as the start of something new. Ideally, I'd like yoga to have something positive to contribute to that. I think that what Michael Stone is saying in that regard is great. I'd like to see more in that vein.
When I first read this, I thought of convert American Buddhism. Because debates about the political orientation of practitioners have been widespread in recent years. Like what Carol is pointing to above with yoga, there has also been an increasing number of folks who claim both Buddhism and more conservative political viewpoints. And with that, much discussion has come as to what role, if any, social and political issues have in the practice.
In her post, Carol makes reference to both Buddhists and yoga practitioners who also are gun owners. And then goes on to address the issue of gun ownership specifically for self-defense purposes, something she - and I, for the record - am not enamored with. In fact, I was in a discussion yesterday with a member of our local Occupy group who once was a member of the Tea Party, in large part because of second amendment rights. When I mentioned the fact that pro conceal carry laws have greatly expanded over the past two decades, he basically shrugged, saying he felt the need to continue fighting for his rights.
While I personally would love to be in a world without guns all together, I also don't think that mere gun ownership is an issue in and of itself. Furthermore, it's vitally important that both convert American Buddhism and American yoga be open and accessible to anyone, regardless of their political views.
However, what concerns me - and perhaps is the main underlying issue for Carol as well - is the sense that the self-defense arguments of certain gun enthusiasts tend to run counter to the non-violent aim of both Buddhism and yoga. Note that I said aim, as in non-violent intentions, and also making whatever effort you can towards manifesting non-violence in your actions, knowing that we all fall short.
I'm actually most interested in a community, or collective standpoint, and am less interested in focusing on the common self-defense narrative of a single incident where someone successfully (or unsuccessfully) defends themselves during a crime.
Living in communities where anyone, potentially, could be packing heat increases the general anxiety and fear of the entire community. Not only do you have to be concerned about people who have unlawfully acquired guns, but also with those who have them legally, and might be responding to crime with their weapons. This is probably especially true in densely populated, urban areas, where people are more anonymous, and where crime is more of an everyday occurrence.
Consider these words from Thich Nhat Hanh:
The philosophy of "an eye for an eye," only creates more suffering and bloodshed and more enemies. One of the greatest casualties we may suffer results from this wrong thinking and action. Whole societies are living constantly in fear with their nerves being attacked day and night. Such a state of confusion, fear and anxiety is extremely dangerous. It can bring about another world war, this time extremely destructive in the worst possible way.
Part of the problem I have always had with second amendment enthusiasts who aren't hunters (hunting is a different discussion in my opinion), is that their arguments tend to focus on individuals defending themselves against individuals. Occasionally, someone will also bring up being able to defend "ourselves" against a rogue military or government, but mostly, it's about protection from individually targeted crime. Which isn't the whole picture.
What's the overall impact of more guns on our communities? On each of us? On the environment? Can a society that upholds gun ownership as a collective response to potential violence also be aiming in the direction of overall non-violence?
Although I tend to support any efforts to reduce the number of guns in circulation, the larger issue is really one of approaching the violent seeds each of us carry within ourselves, and which also come together collectively in our communities and nations. Whether someone in my yoga studio or Zen sangha owns a gun is less important to me than how they handle violence in their lives. At the same time, it's difficult for me to forget the periods of history when large groups of Buddhists twisted elements of Buddha's teachings to support warfare and violent oppression. Given the collective energy here in the United States, it's possible something similar could happen in the future.
I'd like to leave you all with the plea from the end of the Thich Nhat Hanh essay quoted above. However each of us move forward, it seems pertinent.
Spiritual leaders in this country need to be invited to raise their voice strongly and speak up for peaceful solutions to the world problems and bring about the awareness of the teaching of compassion and non-violence to the American nation and the people.
By understanding the nature and cause of the suffering of humanity, we will then know the right method to begin to heal the great problems on this planet.
* A nod to the late musician Warren Zevon for inspiring the title of this post.