This started with thinking about dying and then living, then it developed into an attempt to see what life gives us and what has been taken away from us. Without understanding the greatness that has been given us, it is hard to come to terms with how much has been taken away.
Recently I have had a revival in political awareness, in reality this was a rejection of processes that had led to a personal political repression. This repression process started when I was a teacher where I had to learn how little truth I could say in the classroom and how little truth I could bring into the workplace. I retired because I wanted to study, and I felt that understanding life was missing because I had been forced to divert my thinking in order to teach in the prevailing corporate system – and also to earn money as that teacher. I turned to Buddhism because that was what I thought I had been missing. I took to that Buddhism as it developed personal awareness, but ultimately Buddhism is institutionalised and so has been compromised in its expression of the truth. What the Buddha taught is not compromised, but what the institutions teach has been.
It is hard to draw this distinction without placing the Buddhist teachers in a life context. These are people that have two teaching approaches, the first is the 4 Noble Truths that recognises that desire as craving is what leads to distress in our lives. The second approach is that we recognise that we are working towards Nirvana. What is missing in these Buddhist approaches is that we are in life and are part of communities. If that Buddhist teaching is to be complete it needs to encompass this understanding of life and engage it.
To complete the teaching there needs to be a life perspective. Let me clarify what I mean. As people we primarily live in communities, and this life was intended to be living in harmony with Nature – Nature and Life is harmony together. This harmony revolves around the harmonious procreation of human life through the learning and giving to our children. Society exists to bring up children well, parents bring up children aided by grandparents and the wider community. Within this aspect of wider community are elders, and I would see monks as significant in these elders. So let us consider what a monk is. Now their backgrounds are diverse, but within monkdom they are people trained in the Buddhist institution, in Elder terms primarily revolved around the two approaches of 4 Noble Truths (or a broad-based sila in a wider context) and Nirvana. But have these Elders gained an understanding of society? One Elder has – Thay, he has setup Plum villages to demonstrate how people can live in communities, Thay wants to teach people how to live by practice. In this talk he says we “need to educate our citizens to see that happiness does not lie in consumption but that you are free enough to enjoy each other and and enjoy the environment. All of us need healing to renew hope”. We need to learn how to live properly. This is an Elder.
However he avoids through this approach an important aspect of Elder work for those who are teaching within society, teaching people in society about what life should be about – he teaches by practice in an alternative society. But for those still in society they still need Elders to teach, where are they? Now I point to monks because teachers in schools and universities have been disenfranchised by the corporate paradigm, they are not able to educate they teach a curriculum that supports the corporatocracy. Do monk Elders then have a life perspective? Do they understand the societies they are teaching in? And the best answer for that is maybe some do. The institution itself does not teach a true perspective of life because the institution is part of society’s paradigm – the corporate paradigm. How can their teaching go against the money that funds them?
So we are a society without Elders, without direction, because of the 1%. Our society is directed by their addiction to profit and power – and maybe drug addictions as well. So we do not know what life is about. And this is what we need to learn, Plum villages would be a place to start.
However I don’t know them so this will have to come from my own analysis. People live in harmony with Nature bringing up children through leaerning and giving, that is life. Elders direct this and for them their reward is Nirvana. No detailed analsysis but it is enough. Sadly monks cannot direct this whilst they are part of the paradigm in the same way that teachers cannot.
Nature has provided us with land and food, around us are the great pleasures that are offered by its Beauty. Beauty, land with materials to build homes and food are given freely by Nature when we are in harmony with that Nature. But what has the 1% done? We have to buy our homes, buy the land Nature gave us, and we have to buy our food. And we buy these with money that we gain from doing jobs that the 1%’s society imposes on us. And what are the purposes of those jobs? Profits for the 1%. In other words the 1% force us to work for money to pay for what Nature originally gave us. Human beings as part of Nature were entitled to land, homes and food, now we pay the 1% for them.
And as for the Beauty. This is slowly disappearing as the 1%’s corporations are destroying the climate and denying responsibility for that destruction – as was evident at COP 17. So if we are detached enough we can see that the 1% have taken all that we have been given by Nature in return for slavery through money to buy what Nature had originally intended for us. This teaching is fundamental to understanding the society we live in, and both teachers and monks are prevented from teaching us this. We have no Elders and no direction.
Monks help us in coping with the ravages of the 1%’s addiction by teaching the 4 Noble Truths. The mindfulness of desire and its implications would cause social change if practised by all. However without the recognition by those same teachers that the 1% will try to prevent us from controlling our own desires such a teaching is not complete. When we want to come to terms with desires in our current society we need to understand that those desires are being imposed on us by the 1%. Even living in this society we are capable of using our mindfulness to control desire, but it is important to understand that in doing so we are going against the powerful direction that the 1% are taking society in. What is so thankful about this is that Nature gives us insight, integrity and ensuing personal strength to cope with this adversity, and once we open our eyes to Nature’s Beauty She has a permanent source of revitalisation and reinforcement.
Buddhist monks bring us to an understanding of desire, does it matter that they don’t make us aware of the adversity – an adversity that many are not themselves aware of? An important aspect of Buddhist teaching is awareness – overcoming ignorance. In this case unaware monks would be teaching with an aspect of ignorance. How important is that? I believe it is very important. For monks the adversity of the 1% is limited. Their monasteries are funded, they have their homes, their land, their food and access to Nature’s Beauty – look at where many monasteries are situated. For the rest of the 99% we have to go to work to earn money to pay for all of these, and then try to overcome the adversity the 1% put in our way. These are lives that are so fundamentally completely different that it is difficult to consider that the monks have knowledge enough of those lives to teach. Yet they do teach, and importantly their teaching is helpful. But it is lacking, it is short in the fundamental – that the suffering of our lives is at this stage and time directed by the 1%.
What is also important is that monks have a responsibility as do we all to recognise this truth and do something about it. For monks a fundamental social duty is that of teaching, and in my view they are failing in this – as are teachers. We need Elders and we don’t have them because of the 1%.
I began this by saying that I was considering the process of life and death. Here I have examined life and seen how currently the 1% have taken Nature’s gifts away from us. I have examined how monks and teachers are being prevented from understanding life by the paradigm they live in. How does Nirvana fit into this? I mentioned that Buddhist teaching is concerned with 4 Noble Truths and Nirvana, but I have not discussed Nirvana. That is something we prepare for by being in Harmony with Nature during life, and as we near dying we prepare for passing and possible Nirvana. And here monks have an important function in putting forward suitable teachings in preparation for death. But this preparation for death is only appropriate at the time of death, and a suitable period leading up to it. But that preparation period does not last the whole of life, and this is where I went wrong in my early retirement. I was not ready to prepare for death as I have much to give back – even if that giving is not readily accepted. Preparing for death comes later when I have done more to complete what I have learnt and need to give back.