In June this year the Network of Buddhist Organisations (NBO) in Britain is holding a conference on the “Student- teacher Relationship” at Amaravati Monastery. The intention is to explore the many facets of this relationship from the viewpoints of both teachers and students.
A fundamental concern is our understanding of the present state of our own society. Buddhism is new in the West, it is spreading rapidly, diversifying and responding to socio-economic pressures few of us actually understand. Mistakes have been made and continue to be made, yet at the same time a Buddhist voice is developing that can have some influence on affairs directly, or more usually indirectly.
We who practise the Dharma and are concerned in Dharma education need very much to understand the historical process in which we are embedded. It is complex, diversifying and unstable1. By contrast, those who are beginners look to the Dharma for simplicity, unity and stability. Unfortunately they cannot have this on a plate. Such an outcome can only arise from the inner work of Dharma practice. Desires for an easily adopted, comforting and simple belief to help shore up an unstable lifestyle are opposed to the need for an actual understanding of self and situation. This opposition between wants to be supplied from outside and the necessity for inner work generates a tension which may impose a threat to Buddhism. Why?
Simplistic “outer” paths are illusorily attractive because the “work” thereon is done by the institutions and the teachers that provide them, rather than by the practitioners. The “practitioner” may have faith, but no serious personal practice. The result is a cult centering on some simplistic version of Buddhism and focused on a charismatic figure - all too familiar elsewhere in the “New Age” world of make-believe religion. Such cults become fixations that enclose the mind of a believer in such a way that severe distortions of the Dharma can result, taking on fundamentalist, exclusivist, even fascist tones. If the Aum cult of Japan has roots in modern Japanese derivatives of Buddhism, we can see the danger.
The failure of American Dharma institutions to provide safeguards that would protect both the centre and the participants from abuse by so called “masters” has been well discussed2. There is clearly a need for critical feedback and democratic structuring. This is something that the Eastern models have failed to supply and Western adherents too immature to insist upon. Such feedback and social control was a feature of the original monastic life - certainly so in Tibet, where the “shung”, the body of monks governing the institution, elected abbots on a relatively short term basis. The later focus on reincarnating lamas and Zen masters for life has weakened this healthy basis and led to abuses of power.
These Western failures are set in the context of our social condition. The European “Enlightenment” that disposed of medieval superstition and replaced it with clear minded thought, science and social progress, has also led to a breakdown of community in a world dominated by market place economics3. The focus on individual rights, personalised fashions, unique identities and private belief systems is an end result of a long process, leading us away from the constraints of communal ethics and towards a personal freedom that can also become an alienation from society itself. Society in the West is now fragmented to an extraordinary degree. This fragmentation is expressed in many ways. For example in Christian disunity and factionalism extending to an almost total neglect of its deeper roots; in the multiplicity of mutually competitive psychotherapies and counselling services and the pages of mostly dotty activities engaged in by New Agers as advertised, for example, in South West Connection.
This deconstruction of community goes along with a freedom of action and expression which for poorly educated persons amounts to a loss of orientation. All guidance is open to doubt, the only control lies in debatable ethics and laws which are often out of date. The result is the creation of fantasy worlds in which identities unconstructed in a community float freely, seeking some sort of anchorage. In this situation the social holding of an individual is so weak almost anything can happen - as events this month in the USA are revealing.
Those with money can survive and thrive in such a world. At best it encourages a style of life that is critical, sceptical, healthy, expressive, open and innovative. At worst it descends to personal ostentation, egoistic idiosyncrasy and the flamboyance of the merely stupid. However, for the underclass or the unemployed the lack of any community ethic, the Thatcherite neglect of the social and the morality of market capitalism can lead to disastrous alienation and an inward turning to cults that are based in the private worlds of the isolated. How does all this apply to the Dharma? The danger is that lost individuals may seek to reconstruct elements of the Dharma to their own convenience. This would be akin to sick persons rearranging their drugs and dosages without recourse to a doctor. Indeed this may be to some extent already occurring, although most British institutions appear loyal to one or other of the orthodox and traditional modes of Dharma presentation. I do however know of one self-styled “Zen master” who is totally without orthodox training, and one self-proclaimed “Rimpoche” whose original ambition was to be a magician! Both have some following.
One cannot however simply lay down the laws of what is and is not “safe”. The Dharma has always evolved into fresh and invigorating forms; Hinayana to Mahayana, Sutra to Tantra, Yogachara to Zen and so on. These changes are creative but all of them, except possibly some of the more extreme Japanese movements, retain a root anchorage in the Sutras and Sastras and the great Mahayana scriptures and commentaries.
I think that the depth of Buddhist psychology matches that of Western psychological understanding and that each can inform one another. The same is true of contemporary philosophy and in discussion about the nature of the cosmos. It follows that positive debate between these polarities can be vastly creative. Such debate however requires the willingness to study, read and think - both in terms of contemporary thought and with respect to the Dharma. For this, only a few have the inclination, time or energy. Those seeking the Dharma simply for personal relevance and security could undermine such debate if their influence produces more cults and sects centred on simplistic versions of Buddhadharma.
We need to be cautious, neither too restrictive so as to limit creativity, nor too indulgent of the personal needs of the alienated who bang upon our doors. I feel this is not an easy path. We need to develop a user friendly Dharma community of which the Network of Buddhist Organisations could be a beginning and within which individuals can find enough support to begin the investigation of self that leads to openness.
1. "The Place of the Dharma in Our Time" by John Crook attempts to explore this issue and is included as a supplement to this edition of NCF.
2. See "A Slice of Zen in America" by Stuart Lachs; New Ch'an Forum No 10. Autumn 1994.
3. See "The Zen of Social Action" by Ken Jones in this edition of NCF.
Roger Housden was taking a tour party down the river Ganges. Half way they stopped in Lucknow and Roger took the participants to visit one of the truly insightful gurus of modern India, a man of no-nonsense clarity. All but one of his party stayed on. Even the Ganges was forgotten.
Poonja is is a Hindu without a label. Whether derived from Sankaracharya or the Buddha or both his thought is direct, immediate, personal, touching the present. Only in one respect does his insight veer off from Buddhism. On a taped interview he was asked.
'Poonja, who are you?' Quick as a flash, he replied. 'I am THAT!' A Zen master would have said 'I am THIS.' No dualism.
Listening to this taped interview, I was inspired by much of what Poonja had to say. Here is a brief summary for your reflection.
HOWEVER MUCH YOU HAVE PRACTISED, WHETHER FOR FIVE YEARS, FORTY YEARS OR TWO DAYS, WHEN YOU WAKE UP IT TAKES TWO SECONDS.
SO WHAT IS THE USE OF ALL THOSE YEARS OF PRACTISING? WHY NOT WAKE UP IMMEDIATELY?
YOU ARE IN A DREAM, THE DREAM OF LIFE, ALL THESEPREOCCUPATIONS, OCCUPATIONS, RELATIONS, WORK AND PLAY ALL ARE THE DREAM. SUDDENLY YOU TURN OVER AND AWAKE.
WHAT IS THIS MOMENT?
YOU CAN DO IT NOW. WHY WAIT? PRACTICE IS WAITING. NO NEED TO WAIT.
NO NEED FOR SHEPHERDS OR PREACHERS. THE TRUE TEACHER KNOWS EMPTINESS AND, WHEN YOU FALL INTO IT TOGETHER, TWO MINDS ARE ONE MIND AND ONE MIND IS EMPTY. THEN YOU BOTH SEE IT.
THE TEACHER'S MIND IS EMPTY. WHEN HE HEARS THE QUESTIONER THE REPLY COMES FROM EMPTINESS - NOT THE TEACHER. THE TEACHER IS ONLY A VEHICLE OF EMPTINESS.
HOWEVER DEEP THE KARMA OF MANY YEARS STANDING, ON AWAKENING IT IS ALL CLEARED UP. BUT WHAT IF YOU GO TO SLEEP AGAIN?
STAYING AWAKE IS NOT PRACTICE, IT IS CONTINUOUS REALISING. CONTINUOUS REALISING REQUIRES ATTENTION.
WHO IS IT WHO DREAMS THE DREAM OF LIFE? CAN YOU GET TO HIM? WHEN YOU FALL INTO A DOZE AT NIGHT WHAT IS THERE AT
THE MOMENT OF THAT FALLING? WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GIVE IT ALL UP.
WHAT IS THIS GIVING UP? NO NEED TO HOLD ON. NO SUCH NECESSITY. OTHER THAN THE IMPUTED THERE NEVER WAS A REALITY, PAST, PRESENT OR FUTURE, SO WHAT IS IT THAT IS?
REALISATION IS JUST PERCEIVING THAT YOU ARE NOT BOUND. SUCH A FREEDOM IS THE AWAKENING. NOTHING ELSE HAS CHANGED. WHAT YOU THINK -YOU ARE. IF YOU DO NOT THINK THE DREAM THEN YOU ARE AWAKE.
To appreciate the role that the Buddha Dharma may come to play in Western culture we need to have an understanding of the way our lives are framed by the world that both shapes us and within which we play a part. So momentous have been the changes in recent years that our suppositions about who and why we are need a constant updating. To appreciate such a history one has to stand back from it and reflect. Fortunately there are those who do this for us and their interpretations are of great value. The reasons for our contemporary concern with ancient Asian ideas lie within the dynamics of Western culture itself.
There are several ways of describing history but here we need only examine two. The first is to prepare an account in terms of the actions of leading personalities, the sequence of emperors, kings, queens or prime ministers, presidents of great powers, generals, statesmen, philosophers, devines or writers. Here we see portrayed the outcome of skill, wisdom or folly as deployed by individuals in their time. Such an approach, focussing on individual singularities, may be called action theory. The second approach is to examine history in the light of changes in economics, social systems, culture, ethics or technology; in terms, in other words, of processes not persons. Many processes relate together and co-determine one another so that such an analysis tends to become increasingly holistic. Examination may uncover underlying or hidden themes or forces often needing a quite abstract analysis. This approach may be termed a "motion" theory1.
These two approaches are essentially contrasting perspectives for clearly the one need not antagonise the other. Certainly in some periods of history great personalities have stamped their imprint on their times to an outstanding degree whether for good or ill; others have had long term influences long after their lives have come to a premature close, but always the condition of the times, economic and technological, belief systems and psychology have also played critical roles in determining historical outcomes. Since the industrial revolution, however, the complexities of economics and the geography of supply and demand set within regional ideologies have played a particularly predominant role. The individual actors seem more caged and their influence predetermined by circumstance than before. Recent history indeed suggests that the significance of individuals is being steadily eroded by the role of abstractions deriving from machine intelligence and huge multi-national industrial complexes. Even now however the person may emerge as critical in institutional change, Ford in the development of American capitalism, Gorbachov in the last years of the Soviet Union for example.
Anyone who has lived through the last fifty years is aware of accelerating socio-cultural change on a global scale, much of it profoundly unsettling to established values. No longer are the world's regions largely independent from one another, all are increasingly tied together by an ever expanding and ramifying system of finance which, beginning in the West, has spawned powerful interconnected yet competitive variants in other regions. Old stabilities and assumptions are being undermined at an ever increasing rate. Major political shifts involving changes in regional ideologies have tilted the threat to civilisation away from atomic warfare to that of ecological contamination, over-exploitation of non-renewable resources and biological destruction on a planet wide scale. National identity itself becomes increasingly meaningless in a world of regional unifications financed by transnational capital2. We must ask whether there is a theoretical position which provides us with some insight, tentative maybe, into the nature of this progressive change, an insight furthermore that may help us understand the more direct subject of this chapter, the reason why Eastern ideas and especially Buddhism are becoming of serious interest to Westerners.
The emergence of postmodernity
A major theme preoccupying a number of contemporary thinkers is the shift from "modern" to "postmodern" culture. The growth of interest in non-western thought has certainly accelerated with postmodernity so that a theory of such culture change may give us a handle on our problem. In what follows I draw particularly on David Harveys' outstanding text of 19903.
Harvey roots his analysis in historical materialism and seeks to provide an account of the processes of culture change in terms of underlying economic determinants, a motion theory approach of considerable power and persuasiveness. In effect, he argues, we are living through profound changes within the nature of Western capitalism which, since the industrial revolution, has become the predominant culture of the entire globe. These dynamic financial and commercial processes drive the cultural shifts through which we are living and also lead to the increasingly severe environmental problems still untackled and becoming ever more menacing. Furthermore, in spite of the triumphant success of the capitalist mode of production, the fundamental contradictions inherent within it as first analysed by Karl Marx are still untamed and exert profoundly destructive effects on many aspects of human life4.Whether contemporary capitalism also has a latent potential for overcoming the very problems it creates is the greatest issue of our time.
The inherent contradictions arise from an interaction between three prime characteristics of capitalism: (see Fig 1)
1. Growth orientation
The accumulation of capital upon which investment in new products is based depends upon profit. Capitalist production requires growth to function. The monetary value of the labour cost must therefore be less than the sale value of the product. Upon this differential depends the provision of dividend by the firm concerned and hence the continuing support for investment upon which further growth oriented production depends. Furthermore, since welfare provision by modern states is based in the taxation of profit, the very existence of social services of all kinds appears rooted in the success of the capitalist endeavour.
2. Labour exploitation
The need for growth if the system is to be self sustaining necessitates the difference between wages and the value creation of the process. Since the spin-off from profit goes to the ownership of companies a class differential between labour and ownership is inevitable. There will always be a struggle between the maximisation of wages by labour and the company seeking to maximise dividends for its shareholders through the control of labour.
Companies compete in commodity markets. Any company that can produce a cheaper commodity of comparable utility than others will achieve higher turnover upon which profit depends. Technological advances and organisational changes in production aim not only at more effective products but also cheaper prices, a process necessarily focussing on the reduction of labour costs. Labour, led by union activity, seeks to maintain its standard of living often by resisting technological innovation and organisational changes which may lower income and reduce the size of a work force and hence union strength. Yet firms which fail to pay high dividends to their shareholders become open to takeover bids from more successful companies. Firms therefore experience serious problems in attempting to finance research and development of new products while at the same time satisfying their shareholders. These problems are met by varying forms of financing in differing capitalist systems.
The interaction of these three factors tends to produce an alternation between periods of successful capital accumulation of products with labour control and periods of over-accumulation of products when both capital and labour lie idle and unemployment reigns. As commodity costs rise and production exceeds demand, sales fall, production drops, labour is laid off and companies move to introduce further technological and organisational fixes. When over-accumulation is excessive a major recession or depression develops as happened around 1930 on a more or less world wide scale.
FIGURE 1 THE MAIN FACTORS IN THE BOOM-BUST CYCLES OF CAPITALISM
The boom and bust business cycles develop out of the contradictions inherent in the capitalist system.
People invest in a firm that yields a good dividend but which can only do so by maintaining a differential between the value of its product and the cost of labour. Labour by contrast seeks to Maintain or increase wages.
Competing firms survive by increasing dividends so that an inherent class struggle is built into the system. Public projects are financed by taxes that are imposed on company profits. Increases in taxation and labour push up prices until demand drops and products accumulate. There is then a stalemate until accumulated capital can be utilised by starting up a new cycle. Under a Keynesian system the harshness of the cycle is ameliorated by government use of public money sustaining personal incomes and thus profitability of private enterprise. Without government planning of this type the wealthy hold their own while poverty increases the size of the underclass.
In spite of periodic setbacks, the capitalist system up until the 1970s was generally expansive and recessions controlled by careful state organised balancing of capital accumulation and labour needs based on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes. For most of this period vast potential markets existed within expanding economies at home and abroad and the low cost of raw materials under global colonialism greatly assisted the industrial powers. The economic system spawned a culture based on class divisions quite unknown before the industrial revolution. New ways of life and social consciousness emerged based upon new class relations. The production system known as Fordism, after Ford's giant motor car works at Detroit, yielded a "modern" culture characterised by an interrelating set of features. A marked simplification of architectural style to suit the functionalism of the system produced huge factories ; vast assembly lines with individuals performing robotic tasks ; magisterial bank and office buildings; skyscrapers ; high rise blocks and formal estates; in general a gigantism in scale. The country side, regimented by railway lines, motorways and system agriculture became increasingly a dormitory land for the cities. An underlying ethic of 'progress' stemmed from an optimistic science delighting in nuclear power, chemical fertilisers and fixes of all kinds. The rationalist values of the humanist "enlightenment" generally held an optimistic sway with hopes for a changed world, removal of old poverty, new styles of "modern" living generating a rationality that cleaned up the untidiness of old regional practices under a rigidifying codification deriving from capital necessity. Inevitably a reaction set in with resistance to the machine like mould into which culture was falling, identical airports worldwide, city centres increasingly interchangeable and the globalised class problems.
Triggered by periodic financial crises, the early reaction was essentially romantic whether fascist or communist. Fascism emphasised the place, the ‘volk’, the locality, and negated the universalism of the enlightenment thrust. Communism, emphasising the class struggle, the inherent exploitation of labour and the critique of monopolism failed, as did fascism, to create a democratic system of government and, lacking a popular legitimacy, degenerated into proletarian dictatorship which meant, Stalin, Mao and others even worse. Gigantism paralleled that of the capitalist world but lacked a dynamism to sustain it. Yet, in spite of the immensity of the struggle between market capitalism and these alternatives, the conflict may in retrospect be seen to have been a sideshow in comparison to the playing out within capitalism of its own contradictions between competitive growth and over-accumulation.
Ways out of recession have been traditionally associated with devaluation, debt rescheduling, retooling of the production mechanisms and the placing of excess capital in other parts of the world where new foci of capitalist expansion could be kick started and pump primed from outside, the hoped-for benefits pushed into the future.
As new crises loomed in the 1970's the Fordist and Keynesian solutions no longer seemed to work as before. Harvey attempts to trace the exceedingly complicated interfaceting of conditions which brought about changes at this time and which are as yet still improperly understood. The triggering circumstances included the exhausting expenditure of the USA in the demoralising and unsuccessful Vietnam conflict; the renaissance of European and Japanese capitalisms kick started by vast American assistance after World war II; the consequent dollar devaluation and the OPEC inspired rise in the price of oil; but a major underlying factor must have been the very success of capitalism in becoming totally global with the consequence that spatial expansion as a solution to over-accumulation ceased to be an effective response to crisis. Instead the response took the form of what Harvey terms "flexible accumulation" in many shapes and guises. These changes are linked to the cultural shifts known as "postmodernity"5.
Flexible accumulation is a change within the system whereby the gigantism and mechanistic structuring of old capitalism gives way to smaller scale networking in production, sub-contracting, diversification of products and processes, multiple company goals rather than single ones and looser more democratic even idiosyncratic organisational control with more participative and less authoritarian leadership. Labour becomes more associated with profit-taking through new forms of company ownership and management and a more flexible and enforceable relation with unions. Economics wider in scope than in scale become the norm, standardisation gives place to smaller batch production which is demand rather than resource driven. Labour focusses on multiple task learning, less robotic work tasking and wage payment is made more personal and less anchored in fixed rates for invariant jobs. On-the-job learning becomes typical as industries adapt more easily to new demands and situations.
The cultural spin off parallels these flexibilities, argues Harvey, and as the economic scene becomes more diverse and complex so does culture6. Old rigidities of class, ethnicity and gender open up as diversification proceeds and as teenagers and women are increasingly part of the network of commerce especially in the media, entertainment and service industries. Art picks up on the breakdown of rigidities and reflects it in a chaos of varying styles. All ideological assumptions become questioned and ephemeral personal values adopted through identification with short lived fads and fantasies. A myriad of life styles and gender variants emerge as "permissive" culture becomes increasingly on line with the new economics.
Philosophy itself deconstructs so that no certainties other than textual criticism remain. When the only resources for thought are found to be the fallible texts of outdated certainties the consequence is a rampant relativism wherein any belief, religion, ideology or idea is as good as any other. No basis for value remains and all values have the same value - doing one's own thing. Science, in spite of remaining the mainstay of the entire structure, gets a bad name since its values remain largely those of an outdated modernism. Vaguely defined "new paradigms" are in, their exponents usually ignorant of their origins in quite orthodox laboratories, cybernetics, holism and participative enquiry. In the superficial religiosity of our time New Age spirituality spawns old superstitions in new guises.
All this ferment anchored in changing economic practices has led to a great increase in personal liberty and expression, yet such freedom is also associated with profound uncertainties. Old role models and institutions, church, school, royalty, seem increasingly irrelevant to a churning world of high personal mobility, reduced communal values, image making, the attempt to fix oneself somewhere if only for a moment. Heavy investments in the image industries, advertisement, news selection, soap opera creation and media promotion has led to a distortion of culture through an increasing monetisation. Mini-cultures spawn around the elaborated intellectualisms of clique members talking to one another and selling their chat. Culture becomes something to buy and no longer something created by the cultured. The gutter press undermines values and taste by catering to the literally vulgar tastes of a semi-literate majority making the sophisticated appear fools or fuddy-duddy. Young fogies are in and false consciousness of all sorts appears together with imitation antiquity; every local bar becoming an Elizabethan inn with plastic oak beams and inglenooks filled with gas fired logs. Virtual reality blossoming on new televisual technology begins to provide a dreamtime in which image identifying persons float in a maze of projections ultimately controlled by commercial monitors.
And in the background, with looming menace, are the results of continued planetary denudation through unrestricted exploitation of non-renewable resources. Coupled with the ecological crisis is permanent, politically tolerated, unemployment. The technological complexity of electronic commerce has meant the employed earn excellent wages and acquire something approaching a yuppie lifestyle while the trend to complex skill has meant that the unskilled become the unwanted. The result is the rapid emergence of an underclass, the poverty-blighted street-sleeping cardboard box-housed population of disaffected individuals who, failing to make it in the system, have nowhere to go, nothing to identify with and no money for comfort. Furthermore, while many of the unemployed are actually highly educated, often with fine degrees from universities that remain excellent if underfunded, many belong to ethnic communities resulting from misguided immigration in earlier times of economic prosperity. For those without employment it seems there may be only a way of stasis if not of further fall. (see Fig 2)
The global spread of current over-accumulation means that kick starting enterprises elsewhere is much less of an option and interregional competition steadily increases. Even increased flexibility may not be enough in the future. As national income falls so does the tax to the state so that welfare provision for those most in need, elderly, sick and unemployed or unemployable unskilled is increasingly cut back or privatised. Imposing private insurance for the unemployed is a sick joke around the corner.
On our cinema screens appear nightmare cities of a not distant future where vast buildings of international corporations paying fat salaries to jet setting computer skilled executives overlook bludgeoning street scenes where small scale entrepreneurs come and go. Back of the streets drift the unemployed, the criminal, the addicts in an ever increasing resentful mass bursting out in joy riding and police bashing expeditions. It's us or it's them and one day may be them if only they could find out how.
A Question of Values
All these trends have produced a depressive gloom, the "feel bad factor", permeating European and American society and a sense that the accumulating problems are possibly insoluble; that we shall leave to unborn generations a severely depleted planet7 in which the electronic virtual realities of a teenage dream world may be the only compensation for the loss of quality in living8. We must ask what underlies this negativity, for in spite of wars and periodic setbacks, the trends of Western culture has been unremittingly positive for some three centuries.
The issues are compounded by the changing power structure of the world. The emergence of vibrant economies in SE Asia; the retreat of an economically unbalanced United States exhausted by military competition with the USSR and overspent in the Vietnam War; the slow and problematic re-awakening of Europe beset by renewed ethnic problems; chaos in the ex Soviet empire; the continuing socio-economic plight of Africa; the threat of international terrorism from Islam and the widening gap in both wealth and health between rich and poor in the Anglo Saxon world following the rash experimentation of Reagan and Thatcher; all reveal that the Western World has lost its hegemony of influence even if it retains a very expensive military strength, a strength which however cannot always be deployed with effect as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Somalia reveal. Local problems are subtle and do not respond to Western pressure as they tended to do in the days of the Cold War. Yet, at the heart of the matter is the suspicion that Western ways are in some sense wicked. What could be more wicked than the destruction of the precious rain forests, the ozone layer, the dumping of vicious pollutants in the third world, and the existence of vast food reserves only a few hours flying time from desperate starvation? The failure to meet these challenges suggests a profound lack of appropriate values the awareness of which creates deep unease.
In his recent study of ethical crises in civilisations Leslie Lipson9 asks whether there is evidence for ethical evolution. He finds that ethical advances come in fits and starts and the conditions for improvement are not easily understood. He argues that there have been two great revolutionary periods in the cultural history of humanity, "axial ages" during which the root values of the contemporary world were established.
In the first we find great figures living widely apart within the same few centuries, Zoroaster, Confucius, Lao Tze, Gautama Buddha, Mahavira, Hebrew Prophets and Greek philosophers whose influence has set the tone of the ethical evaluation of conduct ever since. In spite of significant differences, the basic commandments for living which they recommend have a core in common to do with tolerance rather than killing and warfare, honesty rather than deceit, respect for property, care in sexual relations and for family integrity and generosity rather than meanness toward others. It is easy to see how such values became important as tribal structures became complex, populations increased and urbanisation with commerce began; any trend in an opposed direction always led to social and economic chaos or tyranny with misery.
The second axial age, argues Lipson, occurred in Europe after the Renaissance when the soporific power of the Church was at last broken within a rapidly developing Western Europe and inventive genius flowered with the expanding commerce of the middle classes. There was in fact a return to many of the humanist values of the classical Greco-Roman world with a key emphasis on the value and importance of the individual standing for himself before God and the world, the rights of all human beings for respect to their persons and for minimum standards of health, accommodation, opportunities and freedom from exploitation. These humanistic values rapidly began replacing the other-worldly focus of the Church with its intolerance of change, moralistic prescriptions on sex and marriage, and refusal to explore the nature of the world through science.
This movement, known as the European "Enlightenment", has been at the root of "progress" ever since; progress in understanding nature and utilising the resources of the planet, in health care, in removing gross exploitation of other races, children and women in slavery and work and above all, following the French and American revolutions, in promoting the rights of human beings everywhere. Changes in ideas clearly lead to changes in action.
It seems that for such great advances to occur several factors are needed, the first is a situation of economic and technological change which poses severe problems for an existing social order, the second is a cultural structure sufficiently flexible to accommodate social change and the third is the presence of outstandingly creative individuals who perceive a way forward to a breakthrough. Indeed a breakthrough often follows a breakdown but history is far from unanimous in this regard.
The current Western dilemma, argues Lipson, stems from the deeply schizoid nature of Western culture in which the humanistic tradition of the Enlightenment rests upon a largely rejected yet powerful otherworldly tradition seeking the transcendental solutions offered by the Churches. Somehow the rejection of transcendentalism is associated with guilty doubt and the absence of a settlement with God remains supremely unsettling.
The paradox is that the altruistic values of Christianity remain rooted in an other-worldly religion while the forward march of humanism has come to lack values of any strength other than individual freedom. Thus the capitalist thrust resulting from the handing over of nature to human exploitation10 allows rampant self-promotion in business while the altruistic requirement to care for others as for oneself remains associated with an outdated religion. Indeed, in Britain, we have seen how the harsh effects of Thatcherite economics, allowing the rich to get richer while the poorer pay, have been resisted by the devines of a Church with its own values and finances in deep disarray.
None the less, even in Victorian times, the values of the "enlightenment" found expression in government initiated reforms alleviating the miseries of working people with the consequence that an opposition between liberal and hard faced capitalism became entrenched. Keegan11compares the social economics of Roosevelt which brought the USA out of recession in the 1930s with the crude market economics adopted in the 1980s. In the former scenario governments adopted the viewpoint of J. M. Keynes advocating considerable state intervention creating wealth through government led initiatives. The recovery of Europe after World War II was similarly inspired through the Marshall Plan. Such policy insured a reasonably effective balance between the need for economic growth and the need for employment. The particular problems of the I970's crises suggested that the Keynesian solution no longer worked and, although this remained unproven, radical right wing purists called for the withdrawal of government initiatives in favour of a market led economy which, it was believed, would right itself and generate profit for the successful which would "trickle down” to the rest. A lowering of taxes should therefore, it was naively expected, raise the government income from taxes - needless to say an outcome that failed to happen. The result was riches for the already rich, cutbacks in welfare and a return to Victorian style poverty for the poor.
Keegan points out, moreover, that rampant "Reaganomics" were adopted neither by Germany nor Japan where far more sensitive government involvement in the economy produced a wealth generating response without severe social aggravation. Yet the lesson has not been learnt; the dubious Anglo-Saxon approach is being foisted upon shattered east European and Russian economies regardless of the social strain approaching breaking point and which once again encourages romantically misconceived fascist solutions. Such a view of economics is so blatant a contradiction of the values of the European enlightenment that its continuing existence in the bland politics of the British Conservative Party is becoming profoundly disturbing to many people's sense of justice.
Will Hutton’s impassioned and tightly argued analysis12 of the profound inadequacies of British capitalism when compared with those of Germany, Japan and America puts the case for fundamental reform of the financial structure of Britain. Lacking a constitution, the majority party in the House of Commons can behave in a hegemonic manner with the potential for causing national disaster. The British financial system originated from a dominance of "gentlemanly" financiers who substituted shareholding for land holding and, while developing brilliance in share trading, failed to see the national importance of investment in industry. The demand for high dividends in a climate where banks and financiers are reluctant to invest adequately in industry has led to the steady run down in our industrial economy and the brain drain in talent to America. The British are failing in competition with far more effective German and Japanese economies where more Keynesian principles are actively used. The British have had to endure a far worse recent recession than elsewhere in Europe due directly to the monetarist policies of the Conservative government and its ideological rigidity. The extension of the market principle deep into society has produced massive differences between rich and poor and between regions with dire effects on health, life expectancy, social alienation, crime, family disunity and the despair of the long term unemployed." Altruism and the civilising values of an inclusive society have been sacrificed on the altar of self interest, of choice, of opting out and of individualism." (p15)
Lipson argues that the solution to contemporary problems requires a new axial age for which the conditions would appear to be right but for which the pressure from individuals has not yet developed to a take off point. It seems unlikely that the creativity for such a change in global morality can arise within a deeply authoritarian Chinese Confucian nor from the present resentful and unreformed Islamic stand point. Hinduism remains peculiarly Indian, Christian theology unrelated to science and the appeal of Western liberalism limited by its association with the very problems the exploitation of scientific discoveries has allowed. Clearly, however, the search is on. Many are in quest of an ethic for a better world, exploring, for examples, the relevance of ideas found in North American Indian religion, ancient Astrology, Celtic mysteries, Arthurian legend, the fragile guruism of New Age spirituality and the more orthodox traditions of mystical Christianity, Sufism and Buddhism.
At root, values are about our use of time space and people. How are we to find worthwhileness in an active life? How should we spend our time? What should we do about our environment? How should we relate to others? How should we maintain a "welfare state"? Is there meaning in the cosmos or do we have to create it? Are we victims of forces beyond our control or are we responsible for our fate and that of generations to come? How should answers to such questions be taught in schools? To a consideration of our awareness of time, space and relationship we must therefore turn.
So fast have been the socio-cultural shifts in recent history that feelings of personal irrelevance and an unrooted anxiety at the very source of personal being have become endemic, especially in urban life. This is the "future shock" of Toffler13, an aspect of what Harvey terms “space time compression” or the "annihilation of space by time".
We live within our personal 'ecologies of meaning'14construing our relations with the "outer" world on the dimensions of space and time. Yet, in everyday experiencing, place and time often seem separate modes of being rather than inseparably related . Standing in front of a fine landscape painting we experience a timeless space. The landscape is static, frozen in time, it is all space. Contrariwise, when we gaze from a window witnessing the movement of the traffic in a London street everything is change and change is time. Yet reflection tells us there is just one continuing "arrow of time" pushing us relentlessly to our personal deaths and, in whatever way we experience space, time never ceases. Yet, in slowing down time, we experience space while being pushed by time increases our awareness of mortality.
Even in medieval Europe time involved money. The cost of transporting raw materials, goods or products increased with time spent in travel. Likewise time spent in office tasks of administration and management, time consuming indeed with quill and parchment, cost merchants large sums it was desirable to reduce. Time measurement, the urban ubiquity of clocks, expresses the non -agricultural concern with hours and minutes on the job rather than the opportunities of changing seasons.
A prime mode of increasing turnover and hence profit lies in the reduction of transportation time and a speeding up of administration. As new technologies, canals, railways and so on came on stream so the significance of space and distance in the economies of scale became reduced. So too with the typewriter, telephone, radio, television, word-processing and faxing the speed of task completion and associated reduction in employment of lower skilled operatives have both been maximised. Work can often now be done from the home using word processors, fax and cash cards so that the old divisions between work and home life, town and country become abolished. Dormitory villages are more continuously occupied but the disappearance of the older agricultural communities continues apace. Seasonality loses significance, coffee breaks, tele programmes, and baby sittings rule the timing of the ex-commuters lives.
Space time compression has reached the point where satellite images from anywhere in the world can appear on personal screens all within a few moments news bulletin. Time zone differentials are overcome leading to a 24 hours market in shares. Only hours separate the openings of financial markets in New York, Tokyo, Frankfurt or London. The global uniformity of high speed transactional processing annuls constraints rooted in the old spatial dimension. Dishes from every corner of the globe lie side by side in supermarkets. Art forms, dance, expressions of lifeways and religions formally cultures apart flash on and off our screens becoming mixed in an extraordinary barely digestible collage. An averaging out of values occurs, for nothing from anywhere is more valuable than anything else. Everything is merely relative while the hunger of uncertainty is never appeased.
This is a world of stimulation, of sensation not of reflection, for there is no time to reflect. It is as if the qualities of becoming have become paramount while those of being are neglected. Being requires the opposite of space time compression. To be implies a dominance of space over time, a relative cessation of psychological movement within which to savour the relative constancy of a period.
A concern with place does in fact give this need some expression. Within a place locational constancy reduces the anxiety of change. The relief that this brings becomes itself a commodity. Great cities with monumental buildings and a relaxed atmosphere from past culture have an air of permanence and value is added to doing business there. Tourism focusses on the uniqueness of place. Places themselves may be falsified or even manufactured to stop time by the creation of the imitation old. Belonging to some illusory but seemingly underlying continuity becomes a marketable commodity, a resting place between birth and death where the flight of the arrow of time seems for a moment to have paused in some reflective space.
Sadly the actual churches of traditional Western religion seem often as much concerned with the rush of becoming as our culture in general. Indeed it is precisely in this general context that many have turned to the East in sad ignorance that a deeper Christian tradition remains extant in tucked away monasteries where the practices established by the ancient desert Fathers still provide a meditativety that may yet say much to our time.
Rather than space-time compression we now need periods for space-time expansion and it is precisely in this area that the age old message of the Fathers has something to say. Yet the same or very similar message is conveyed in Buddhism with a philosophical power uncluttered by the confusions of Christian theology and with a methodology of meditation honed by yoga to answer the problem of psychological suffering itself.
In the postmodern world with its extraordinary diversity of modes of life, overlapping ethnicities, uncertain class boundaries, travel channelled for comfort in tourist managed lands, televisual experience, we are faced with virtual realities of many kinds. An inconsistent schooling, focussed more on training for modern jobs than on enriching personal life, leads to the development of a fractured personal identity. We have one face for the work place, another for the home, we are pressured by the common values of the media into the specious conformities of a fashionable individualism. Unconsciously subscribing to a collectivity of isolated selves we hoodwink ourselves into the belief we are becoming "somebody".
The development of a personal self image needs the provision of role models that can give stability. The breakdown of marriage and the family home means that figures on the television screen, mere shadows, often become the only exemplars for the young, parents no longer having qualities that command respect. The quality of the images purveyed by the media is determined by the popular demand for reality-forgetting sensation, soap operatic cardboard persons living life styles unobtainable for the majority produce for many a 'dreamtime' unrelated to socio-political realities. Single parent families without fathers can rarely provide boys with masculine models worthy of respect, itinerant males being hardly likely to provide the relationship a boy seeking a positive identity needs. Worse still, socially deprived individuals may act out the horrors of video nasties as the murders of little James Bulger by young teen age boys and 16 year old Suzanne Capper by two disturbed women and their collaborators strongly suggest.
There is an evident need to inject into this social confusion some set of ethically related ideas that link the traditions of liberal humanism to those of a spiritual quest that is not a mere nonsense in the withering gaze of the scientifically educated.
A founding consideration here may be that not all forms of capitalism lack the inhumanity of Thatcherism. In continental Europe there is a much greater respect for society. In Germany the relations between labour and business have been carefully nurtured to yield policies of socially related public financing which have had great economic success. Only the problems of German reunification have delayed the recognition of the importance of the Neo-Keynesian stance exemplified here. William Keegan and Will Hutton point out that capitalism is an evolved relationship between commerce and the wider society that is not necessarily evil. It is quite possible to create a social capitalism based neither in discredited socialist ideology nor in a socially destructive Thatcherism but in a renewal of strategic planning that can manage the world's ills. Such a renewal can be expected to have strong effects both on culture and community.
Those who have now become the technological elite of postmodern capitalism, especially perhaps those working in transnational institutions, have not only great opportunities but also major responsibilities. Far less duped than most by the cults of our time, they are already seeing beyond the limited materialism of market economics. The age of complete relativism in which all creeds and customs had the same value, simply doing one's thing, is passing into a search, not this time for some overarching ideology, but for a flexible way within which, none the less, universal values are expressed. After deconstruction perhaps we are at last turning to reconstruction. Does Buddhism have a role to play here?
The contemporary role of Buddhism in the West
What is Buddhism doing here? Given the circumstances we have outlined in Part I, let us begin by examining what it has to offer. I want to make six points of fundamental importance.
First, Buddhism is rooted in a "motion "theory, but one which is fundamentally different from the characteristic style of thought in the West for it is concerned with the subject rather than with the objects of knowledge. It is 'subjective empiricism'15. This empirical basis relates very well to the objective empiricism of science. Indeed, they are two sides of the same coin. Buddhism thus compliments and completes scientific investigation in a way no other religion can.
Second, Buddhism presents itself in a set of relatively simple formulae most of which have a self evident correctness. The intellectual elaboration of these principles is essentially a philosophical sport.
Third, the increasingly clear parallels between Buddhist and Western Psychology suggest that the Buddhist models of mind are good working descriptions of a universal human condition.
Fourth, a clear and plausibly correct view of the universals of human experience implies that the soteriology with which the working models of Buddhism are associated may have an answer to at least some of the fundamental problems of our time, in particular those centred on the nature of personal and institutional identity.
Fifth, Buddhism provides a yogic methodology for the psychological suspension of time providing respite from the shock of over-immanent futures and which examines critically the nature of the self responsible for human actions from the personal to the political domain.
Six, the practice of these yogas requires an altruistic ethic in which the maximisation of fame and gain shifts to an attitude focussing on the optimisation of welfare for all people through an educative process requiring a revolution in the conception of self.
Let us look briefly at each of these points.
Buddhist motion theory
Buddhism examines human experience in terms of the action of interdependent processes rather than in terms of persons as such. The no-self doctrine (anatta) and the principle of interdependent origination (pratityasamutpada) are among the earliest propositions of the Buddha. They are clearly accounts of the personal in terms of process, not in terms of named entities. All apparent entities are considered to be cognitive attributions arising from the interplay of mental factors (skandha). Such thinking is closely akin to the motion theory approaches we have discussed above. There are however two main points of difference between the historical materialism from which we have gained our perspective on our time and Buddhist motion theory.
Buddhism presents a subjective approach rather than an objective one. Mind and not matter has priority in the explanatory system because the world we comprehend is necessarily constructed by the mind. Buddhist theory is anchored in accounts of experience and not in mere psychologising; in an existential perspective therefore and not in academic abstractions.
In the West, a phenomenological philosophy similar in some respects to the Buddhist approach was developed by such thinkers as Brentano and Husserl and became the existentialism of Heidegger and Sartre16. In spite of Husserl’s subjective enquiries, the line taken has remained abstract, intellectualised and distanced from mainstream science-oriented philosophy, thus appearing to be quite incompatible with an experimental deductive approach to knowledge. The anchorage of Buddhism in a thoroughgoing subjective empiricism thus offers a perspective with a basis that contrasts markedly with Western thought as a whole and in this may lie its key contribution to our time.
The Buddha expounded his viewpoint very much as a doctor prescribing a cure for the unhappiness in the world. We do not therefore start with a cosmology nor with mega-philosophical metaphysics comprising a self consistent system but rather with simple statements of verifiable facts. The Four Noble Truths comprise the basic formulae17. Life entails inevitable suffering. This is due to craving, wanting what we have not and not wanting what we have. Suffering stops when this craving ceases. There is a way, the eightfold path, whereby this may be achieved. The path itself involves morality in intention, speech, action, and livelihood expressed with vigour and in mindful understanding of the nature of body and mind.
The mind is the expression of the interacting processes of sensation, perception, cognition, preconceptions built up from experience and consciousness. These processes result in the attributing of an "I" to the experience of self. This "I" is therefore no more than a useful cognitive imputation which however, through ignorance can be felt as a entity that needs enhancement, aggrandisement and protection. Since all things are impermanent such a quest is ultimately useless yet we spend our time concerned with it. Nirvana is the release from suffering that comes from the dropping of such ego related concern, the ego being seen then as merely functional in the everyday world of relations. In later Buddhism, reflection on the condition of humanity led to practices of compassion to save others from suffering even before one’s own release.
Contemporary Western psychology of identity and self concerns itself very much with the investigation of the very "I" that is the focus of Buddhist concern. Since the work of G. H. Mead our understanding of identity has moved ever closer to a formulation that parallels that of the Buddha surprisingly closely18. Although many cognitive psychologists and philosophers such as Daniel Dennet19 would be slow to admit it, their work in many respects rediscovers the findings of the Buddha. The difference is that Western cognitive psychology stems from objective analysis and is little concerned with the subjective soteriological enquiry that was the basis of the Buddha's own understanding and that of Buddhists in general. The work of Margaret Donaldson20, however, based in both a developmental and an historical perspective, reveals how the four modes of minding she describes have close resemblances with the five main categorisations of the ancient Buddhist model of mind. Likewise, in her philosophical study of morality, Iris Murdoch gives a sympathetic account of the Buddhist view21. Such comparisons suggest very fruitful lines of further investigation in which Buddhist thought can receive an appropriately respected place in discussion.
The parallels between Western and Buddhist analysis of mind suggest that we have here a basic and plausibly correct understanding of the functions of human experience22. Since Buddhist "cures" are posited on the basis of a mental model, these parallels suggest the cures too may be based on a firm empirical foundation. Certainly they are there for the testing and cannot be rejected by mere intellectual bias or academic ignorance. Buddhism is thus hardly classifiable as a "religion" in the sense of a dogmatic belief in a metaphysical interpretation of the world. Like Stoicism in the Classical world it is more a way of life based on a quasi-scientific model of human existence which can be tested out in actual scientific enquiry at a personal level. Naturally this now involves a contemporary research sophistication well beyond that of the original propositions.
The subjective empiricism of Buddhism is anchored in the practice of mental yoga. The Buddha himself argued that every proposition in his teachings should be tested against experience, and he meant not only everyday experience but also that gained through intensive meditation.
The yogic methods of Buddhism derive from those of pre-Buddhist Indian culture but these underwent a marked change in emphasis as a result of the Buddha's personal creativity. Instead of seeking a transworldly trance, the Buddha, in close self observation, noticed that no mental state was permanent, rather there was continuous movement. The problem of human suffering lay, he argued, in our seeking for an impossible permanence within an inviolable ego, a fixed security as an insurance against life's inherent instability and change. The acceptance of impermanence as basic implies that the way beyond suffering lies through not becoming attached to any aspect of it but to abandon craving, desire and attachment altogether in a discovery of a flowing-in-time that constitutes release. This approach remains very much on offer to the confused and conflictful experience of people today23.
The realisation that self promotion produces a negative and entrapping entanglement with the world results in the practitioners attempt to go beyond the everyday assumption of self. The practice of meditation shows what can be experientially possible here and as the release from "samsara" deepens there dawns a deeper insight into the suffering of others. A lowered concern with ego allows the adoption of an active role in caring. Because the ways of the world are rooted in self cherishing, fame and gain the practitioner almost inevitably comes to a thoroughgoing critique, not only of individual behaviour and mores, but of society itself and the institutions which comprise it. In modern times this leads to new forms of action in the world. The age old Christian concern with poverty is becoming matched by the even more ancient Buddhist concern with misery.
I argue that these six propositions reveal Buddhism as a very powerful source for a renewed visioning of human action. The schizoid ethical dilemma in the West, to which Lipson draws attention, involves an opposition between the worldly and the unworldly, between selfish maximisation of capitalist gain and the altruistic ethics of a Christianity confused in a postmodern world. Already the personal quests of many look towards a healing of this split which however cannot come from adherence to either side nor from the many forms of regressive contemporary superstition. Buddhism occupies a middle ground, indeed it calls itself a middle way. Three things stand out. Firstly it provides a simple working model for the release of an individual from the many forms of ego-related stress so prevalent in our time, secondly this model is open to sophisticated scientific enquiry because it is in itself scientific in its propositions and, thirdly, it provides a value system from which to re-examine the basic fault in our contemporary mode of life - rampant capitalism itself.
When I work with stress groups for executives employed by a major London Borough Council the problem of the nine-to-five existence appears in raw form. Many executives hardly ever stop worrying about their work. They begin when they leave home to travel to the office, their minds run ahead of the train, the traffic on the roads, the crowds at stations and are already in their offices ahead of them reworking in rehearsal yesterday's or tomorrow's problems. Going home at night they may carry their work with them so that they may end up being present neither within their travel time nor within their home time. And at the desk there are no gaps between the often stressful telephone calls, interviews or engagements with a frequently fractious and difficult public. Their day lacks gaps for refreshment when the mind can pause and reflect a moment. Our workshop together leads into recommendations as to how that may actually be achieved and subsequent course evaluations from participants reveal the value of such an approach. To stop and actually see the street in which you work may lead to an important realisation concerning the profound alienation from actual experience that a mind overstressed with thought comes eventually to know.
The Buddhist concern with misery is focussed upon attitudes. A man in hospital after breaking a leg suffers pain but it is his attitude to that pain that largely determines the degree of his suffering and the form of his recovery. Attitudes are framed by activities in place, time and culture. The space-time compression of contemporary culture tends to preclude those activities that allow a recalibration of attitudes simply because time to experience anything in depth is denied. The alleviation of psychic misery thus begins with a re-allocation of space and time.
Buddhist meditation is one profound way in which time expansion can be created, bringing the participant into a mind-space of being rather than becoming. Such practice anchors the "I" within an experienced space-time continuum quite different from that of the victim of office routines that the unreflective person experiences as an alienating imposition. It raises deep questions concerning the value of the contemporary Western way of life.
In Buddhism, adherence to precept has the intention of generating attitudes preventing both personal misery and that created by mistaken action in relation to others. These precepts have implications for our times that run profoundly counter to the prevailing materialism of self before others at any cost.
For example - Do not kill: _________ What about the policies that lead to the assaults on South American Indian peoples? What about policies that prevent the sharing of the food mountains with poorer lands where starvation is rampant? What about the health differential between the south and the north of England?
For example -Do not steal:________ What about the vastly inflated salaries of high ranking corporate executives and directors? What about taxation policies which over some years consistently favour the already rich over the relatively poor?
For example -Do not lie: ________What about the extensive corruption in high places by highly paid executives, Maxwell for an example? What about the consistent misinformation based on faulty interpretations of government statistics? What about Watergate, Irangate, Arms for Iraq-gate and the other obvious lyings of governments and ideologically corrupt local administrations?
For example - Do not drink: ________ Well only a little. But what about the economics of drug abuse; the failure of policies of education in relation to drugs. Tobacco advertising?
For example - Do not commit sexual abuse: ________ What about the whole gender problem today; the frequencies of rape and family failure, sex and violence on video, pornography and sick parenting?
The precepts do not refer only to personal motivation but also to the condition of society and the political-economic system that is responsible for the state of society. Clearly Buddhist radicalism and a social critique is both timely and called for. Socialism and Marxism lacked a sound underpinning in psychology, not so a Buddhist social policy. There is need for thought and action which the Buddhist rejection of self and other victimisation may well promote24.
Expressing the Dharma
The role of the Dharma is our time can be no other than its traditional role; offering a medicine for the ills of humanity. Only a fool ignores a prescription based on a careful diagnosis but, sadly, part of the malady is foolishness itself. The doctor cannot afford to give up since the social ills deeply affect him too, so he must use his skills of reason and persuasion in making his offer.
The medicine of the Dharma tackles an illness called attachment. Buddhism does not deny the necessity of meeting basic human needs nor the role of an active ego in securing them; and this includes the effective practice of honest business. The problem is the development by the ego of attachments to self inflation through fame and gain which ignores the welfare of others and, as a natural extension, the excessive accumulation of capital and influence by the institutional egos of competitive international corporations to the neglect of planetary good.
The rationality of applying the Dharma is based in the depth of its psychological roots, its model of mind which, as we see, is well supported by Western psychology. The difference between contemporary Buddhism and other religious and humanist ethics lies precisely in the application of empiricism, open minded observation and experiment, to the inner world in amplification of the sciences of the external world. It is precisely this that was lacking in all socialist solutions that based themselves solely on an academic rationalism lacking an inner dimension.
The difficulty for the Doctor lies in getting the patient to understand the benefits of lessening competitive self cherishing in favour of attitudes that influence the common good even to the extent of reducing his/her personal wealth. To balance the world’s economy this will almost certainly be essential. Currently our Western capitalist education and individualism makes it difficult for people to think collectively rather than in terms of personal benefit. This is why in a democracy no political party can easily adopt policies that demand self constraint by an electorate. None the less, it can be done and there are good indications. In time of war self sacrifice becomes well developed. Today our "war" is against the ruin of our planet by ourselves. Recently, we have seen the beginnings of a new peacefulness through negotiation established in South Africa, the Middle East and in Northern Ireland. If movement can be seen in these intractable problems so it can be expected on a wider stage. It seems however that things have to get very bad indeed and the future threatening to both sides of a dispute before action through negotiation is possible. Sadly this may mean the world has to get into a truly dreadful mess before anything is done. Hopefully those in power may show the pro-action of which the populace at large may not be capable.
Buddhism is strong on deconstruction - not merely as in the popular modern forms of academic philosophy but in the practice of meditation. The deconstruction of the self allows reconstruction on a contrasting base. As we deconstruct old gestalts at the personal, societal and economic levels of our global culture so we have a chance of reconfiguring the world, revisioning the meaning of our existence here in terms of setting our house in order. Time is short and Buddhists should not remain silent.
The tone of this discussion reflects the atmosphere of our time. Perhaps only in the newly wealthy states of S.E. Asia exists a more generally up-beat mood. Is the 'feel bad factor' merely a consequence of our current financial recession? In 1994 new advances in communications technology are promised and for many these will usher in a new age of shopping without visiting a shop, purchasing a house by walking though it on screen in advance of going there and other marvels. Expansion in the private sector may well produce a new run away boom in space-time compression. There was a time when such "progress" might have elicited enthusiasm and hopes for a changing world. Not so much I think now.
The problem is that such technological advance, even when associated with a burst of world trade following the new arrangements under the GATT initiatives, do not address the underlying contradictions in world capitalism and its production of divergent worlds of rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged on a global scale. The old split between economic management and ethics remains, leaving an uneasy feeling of collective guilt.
Passing the beggars in our flourishing streets we may well wonder who cares for the poor, the distressed and the needy as we rush into a new age of electronic tinsel. Unlike the Victorian period when the working class was basic to the functioning economy, these people have little economic value, no bargaining power, for they are largely unemployable and can be simply by-passed. It seems clear that the only method of drawing attention to their plight will soon be international terrorism. It only needs some genius to appropriate the methods of Islamic fundamentalism, the IRA, Animal Rights and Pro-Life activists to set the thing going. Then there will be a Law and Order crisis in earnest and another round of suppression. The rights of the downtrodden are often the least observed.
We return finally then to the crisis in values that prevents action on these issues in a way that will command electoral respect and political action. The issue is unresolved and deserves focussed attention in places where action counts. Deconstructive and reconstructive at the same time, the Buddhist stance provides a rationale for new thinking that can play a role in the active revisioning of human meaning. It is not perhaps Buddhism itself and its institutions that will do this but the coming together of a like-mindedness in a Buddhistic approach associated closely with Christian and Humanist values. Buddhist thought can fill the gaps in these ways of thinking that renders them so powerless today.
1 Bailey, W. 1986. Consciousness and action/motion theories of communication. Western Journal of Speech Communication. 50.1. 74-86. See also: Burke, K. 1969 A Grammar of Motives. University California Press. Berkeley.
Also Matson, F. 1966. The Broken Image, Man, Science and Society. Doubleday. New York.
2 Hobsbawm, E., 1994. Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991. Michael Joseph. London.
3 Harvey, D. 1990 The Condition of Postmodernity. Blackwell Oxford
4 The importance of Marx here lies not at all with the later emergence of communism as ideology but with the profundity of his insight into the capitalist process. This is a great contribution to contemporary thought that to ignore it amounts virtually to an option of ignorance.
5 There is an interesting parallel here with the social history of warlike East African tribes. Once expansion was not longer possible the social structure began to become far more complex and the internal checks and balances elaborated. See Bonte, P. 1982 Non-stratified social formations among pastoral nomads. In: Freidman J and Rowlands, M. J. The Evolution of Social Systems. Duckworth, London.
6 See further Hobsbawm, ref2, Chapters 10 and 11.
7. Crook, J. H. 1995. Psychological processes in cultural and genetic co-evolution. In Jones, E. and Reynolds, V. Survival and Religion. Wiley. London
8 For further discussion see Boyden, S. 1987. Western Civilization in Biological Perspective. Oxford University Press. Oxford.
9 Lipson, L. 1993.The Ethical Crises of Civilization. Moral Meltdown or Advance. Sage. London
10 Tawney, R. H.1926 Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. Harcourt, Brace and Co. New York.
11 Keegan, W. 1993. The Spectre of Capitalism: The future of the world economy after the fall of communism. Vintage. London.
12 Hutton, W. 1995. The State we're In. Jonathan Cape. London.
13 Toffler, A.1970 Future shock. New York.
14 Crook, J. H. 1991. Consciousness and the ecology of meaning: new findings and old philosophies. In: Robinson, M.H and L. Tiger (eds) Man and Beast Revisited. Smithsonian Institution. Washington DC. pp 203-224.
15 Crook, J. H. 1980.The Evolution of Human Consciousness. Oxford University Press. Oxford. Chapters 11-13,
16 See Paranjpe A.C. and. Hanson, R.K. 1988 On dealing with the stream of consciousness: a comparison of Husserl and yoga. In Paranjpe, A.C et al (eds) Asian contributions to Psychology. Praeger. New York.
Also Batchelor, S. 1983 Alone with Others. An existential approach to Buddhism. Grove Press. New York.
17 Cheetham, E. 1986. Fundamentals of Mainstream Buddhism. Booklet 2. Buddhist Society. London.
18 Crook, J. H and D. Fontana 1990 Space in Mind. East-West Psychology and Contemporary Buddhism. Element. Shaftesbury.
Also Carrithers, M.1985 An alternative social history of the self. In: Carrithers, M. Collins, S. and Lukes, S. (eds) The Category of the Person. Cambridge.
19 Dennett, D.1991 Consciousness explained. Penguin. London
20 Donaldson, M. 1992 Human minds: an Exploration. Penguin. London
21 Murdoch, I. 1992. Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. Penguin. London
22 Relevant discussions of biological and cultural contributions to the evolution of mind may be found in: Jaynes J. 1976 The origins of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Houghton Mifflin. New York. Crook, J. H. 1980 The Evolution of Human Consciousness. Oxford. Donald, M. 1991 Origins of the Modern Mind. Harvard. Dennett, D. see note17 and, more controversially Barkow, J.H. Cosmides, L and Tooby, J. (eds.) The Adapted Mind. Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. Oxford.
23 Crook J.H. and J. Low 1997. The Yogins of Ladakh. Motilal Banarsidaddas. Delhi.
24 Jones, K. 1989 The Social face of Buddhism: An approach to political and social activism. Wisdom. London. Also ibid.1993 Beyond Optimism, a Buddhist Political Ecology. Carpenter Oxford. Also Sivaraksa, S. (ed.)1990. Radical Conservatism: Buddhism in the Contemporary World. INEB. Bangkok. and Fu, C. W. and Wawrytko, S.A. (eds.) Buddhist Ethics and Modern Society: an International symposium. Greenwood. New York.