Wednesday, June 19, 2013
I received a couple of comments on yesterday's post that I'd like to give extended answers to.
Was Once wrote:
"I have found that almost everything has it's lifespan, and now I have stepped back (some) to let my natural compassionate self to blossom. It will all fall down or not, but I see the end of my life and it felt like wisdom finally pulled in."
There's an ebb and flow of activity from what I have seen and experienced. Sometimes, you really need to turn inward and focus on yourself, where you are at. In the midst of activity and action, it's easy to loose touch with the buddha-nature energy that illuminates our greed, hatred and ignorance. And if you've been practicing for a long time, it's easy to think you've "done enough," forgetting that the path is vast and endless. Or get seduced by the idea that "you," specifically, must "do it all" in order to be worthy.
In general, this is one of the big challenges for the activist community (or folks committed to service in places like homeless shelters, hospices, etc.) Many have put spiritual or religious practice aside, or rejected it outright, including things like secular forms of meditation. And others who are spiritual or religious simply get caught up in the swirl of constant activity. There's always something to do. Developing the awareness necessary to see when you need to step back, or when to move on, isn't emphasized in these groups for a variety of reasons. And as a result, too many end up burning out, becoming highly reactionary, or totally in crisis. It's a pattern I'd like to make a dent in.
" if you live in a country where people are so ingrained with the politics of their fathers, and the generations before, that they will take up violence on account of a ‘cause’ and with very little consideration, or inner awareness this focus on the individual is a necessary, and essential, building block, for creating change."
It's necessary, but not sufficient. Let's face it, though, his primary audience are folks in post industrial nations. He's not speaking to people living under dictatorships, in war-torn countries, or other highly volatile situations. That doesn't mean that his writings and talks haven't spread to some in these places, but they aren't the people regularly attending his lectures, buying up every last thing with his name on it, and filling his pockets with cash. When I wrote yesterday that he's marketed as a "non-threatening guru," part of what I meant by that is that he doesn't challenge the economic and social status quo. The CEO of Walmart or Exxon can find some inner peace through his writings, and perhaps learn to treat his family and employees a little better, without ever looking at how damaging the business practices of his company are. Or how damaging some of the larger structures and laws that uphold our economy are to both humans and the planet as a whole.
The thing is I'm not suggesting that folks like Tolle need to be as deliberate and descriptive as I am about social and political issues, and their intersection with spiritual practice. But when you have an entire collection of writings where little or no time is given to how we might consider those intersections, and see the public realm as a clear area of practice, something is off. Furthermore, Tolle basically tells folks that if they just take care of their inner lives, it will all be good. And that this is the evolutionary plan, something inevitable that they're just plugging into.
I think Tolle places too much faith in our capacity to overcome a hell of a lot of social conditioning on our own, and that millions and millions of people doing this will somehow break through all the collective conditioning and structures that currently oppress us. He fails to recognize or acknowledge that even our greatest spiritual/social heroes - Buddha, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., etc. - still had issues with social conditioning that impacted their work. Awakening didn't wipe out internalized sexism, for example. It took multiple lobbying efforts to get the Buddha to allow women into the original sangha, and I'm not convinced they ever held truly equal standing under his watch. The original Buddhist sangha was basically doing on a smaller scale what Tolle sees as the key to our evolution as a species and yet women had to beg to gain base level acceptance.
So, while I don't expect someone like Tolle to brilliantly break down capitalism, or advocate for radical action, I do think it's entirely fair to do what I've done in these past few posts. Because this guy has an influence on some of the very people who have the most power and influence in our societies today. And even a little movement from him towards supporting collective social action and directly challenging systems of oppression could go a long way.
*Dragon Float from May Day Festival, Minneapolis 2012.