Am I being extreme?
Brad Warner is a zen monk, I respect him and I am a big “fan”. Now Brad takes on some interesting positions, for example he writes on the Suicide Girls’ page; I am not sure I would do that even if they were good enough to offer. But …. not important, his choice. I have not read all his books but his last one was “Sex, Sin and Zen” in which he investigated “near-the-knuckle” sexual attitudes. Excellent, I am happy monks take on socio-political issues as well as present the Dharma.
But I have found myself being critical of some of his socio-political positions, and I am not happy that I felt I had to do that because of my respect for him. As Brad is a monk and as he is, quite rightly in my view, attempting to look at the socio-political situation, I have to ask “Am I extreme?”
I have used the words “socio-political” to describe the positions I have been critical of, but this is not how I see them. I do not like to think of what I am examining as social or political I use the term “what-is-what” – as used by Ajaan Buddhadasa, teacher in the Theravada tradition. In other words these are positions that on my examination I describe as what is.
Let’s consider the issue of #BlackLivesMatter – this is not an issue where I have been critical of Brad. With #BlackLivesMatter black people are being killed by the police. The police have to try to keep people safe even in areas of the US where gangs are prevalent, but this is not a sufficient excuse for the murder of these black people. Nor is it an excuse for the police not to be held accountable. There is something wrong in the US that governments and states allow these gangs to exist, allow their citizens to live in gang-controlled areas without providing them sufficient security, and then put the police in the front line to deal with the problem. As human beings police respond and black people have been murdered. This is wrong. There are many people with far more knowledge than I on this situation but stepping back, being detached, this is wrong and #BlackLivesMatter. In my view this is what-is-what with no excuses or perspectives.
Our world is controlled by the 1%. The 1% is not a precise term, it could be seen as a development of the term bourgeoisie – the old Marxist term, but maybe not – that would be a viewpoint. What is not a viewpoint is this “Our world is controlled by the 1%”, this is what-is-what. When you look at what is happening in the world it is clear that the results of government decisions lead to the profits of the 1% increasing. The 1% do not necessarily micro-manage, they don’t necessarily have to tell a politician to vote in a certain way but the consequences of government actions is that the profits of the 1% increase.
Climate change is happening, science tells us that this is very dangerous for the world. If the profits of the 1% had to include the costs of environmental degradation caused by the production of their goods, they would be drastically reduced. The various COP conferences have not produced effective policies to prevent climate change. This is what-is-what.
This century NATO has been involved in 4 wars in Muslim countries – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. The US and other NATO countries have been involved in drone strikes against other Muslim countries – Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Following 9/11 the US and NATO countries have been involved in a “War against Terror” but the terror they have made war against is Muslim extremists – and not White Supremacists for example. When you detach yourself and examine the “War on Terror” it is difficult not to see a war against Islam.
In NATO countries there has been an increase in Islamophobia since 9/11. In a war situation it is common for governments to develop a media attack against their opponents. In war situations it is common to see funds being used to promote literature against opponents.
Science is knowledge – based on the etymology of the word. To develop scientific understanding it is often necessary to experiment. Who pays for the funding? A significant proportion of the funding comes from corporations. Do they fund science for the betterment of mankind or to develop products that they can profit from?
All of the above is what-is-what but in the “greater scheme of things” am I being extreme in the balance I perceive the West with regards to these points?
1) How important is #BlackLivesMatter?
All of these issues seem important to me. I pay the greatest emphasis on any unjust wars that countries fight. If a country is in a war then I believe a compassionate person needs to set as a priority the ending of that unjust war; is this extreme?
If the only work I can get is working for the 1%, am I wrong to think of it as wage slavery? If we are slaves should it not be a priority for all people to try to work against that slavery? Is this extreme?
If our world is heading towards ecological destruction should it not be a priority for people to try to work against such ecological problems? Is this extreme?
If this is not extreme should monks also be prioritising these actions?
In the greater scheme of things a monk has a very important role – promoting the Dharma, the teachings. I have no issue with a monk focussing solely on that. But Brad has taken on a socio-political element in his writings – good for him. But is his background suited to such writings?
By his background I am talking about possibly being “cloistered”, have Brad or other monks been cloistered?
Let me consider the background of working people. Based on the 5 above “importants”, are people free to express themselves concerning the above 5 points without it affecting job tenure? How often do people come into conflict if they try to express opinions concerning these 5? Does this conflict determine the importance of these points? If you have no conflict, can you correctly prioritise these 5 points?
Are priorities in error if they are based on conflict or does the conflict arise because of the awareness of the people concerned? In conflict one sees these points, should the importance of these points be affected if unaware people do not have conflict?
Or should these points not be given importance because people have no need to be aware of these points to live their lives? And with regards to monks how much of their “job” should creating awareness of these issues be?
In the West, NATO countries, there are many good “things” that I have not discussed. In order not to be extreme I need to discuss these and try to achieve a proper balance. To begin this I need to try to describe what-is-what again. I visited the US only once for a training course – the US has never attracted me. I had a pleasant time in New Mexico, and saw bits of the US – they were also pleasant enough. And the people were good to me – mostly. They were similar to the people I grew up with, a suburb of Manchester UK where people just got on with their lives, where decisions were taken for them. What I have looked at as important were not part of the decisions of the people I grew up with, I surmise they are not part of the decisions for the people in New Mexico, and equally not for most people in the world. There is a danger to this.
Maybe 20 years ago I was in a campsite in Zimbabwe – before Mugabe bottomed out their economy. I met some guys from South Africa. Before I talk about the meeting I should give some personal background. In the UK I had been a campaigner against the apartheid system, and when I went to work in Botswana, Southern Africa, the Afrikaans accent grated because of my politics; this was unreasonable – but a description of my background. Once living in Southern Africa I became more aware of the situation but apartheid was still wrong. Back to the guys – they were South African, and they were willing to open up to me – nice of them; they were just guys. They spoke of conscription, how they had been violent going into townships – sometimes killing black guys, how they did not know about black guys but they had a bad view of them, and how they were having guilt as they were becoming aware of what their system had made them do. I looked at these guys, and they were who I had grown up with – they could have been my father. All they were doing was living in a country where they were looking after their family, and they did what they had to to do this. This was my people in the Manchester suburb, I assess this is New Mexico, Akron Ohio – everywhere. Yet now – absolutely – everyone accepts apartheid was wrong.
Ordinary people fit in with what is wrong if that is what is accepted, that is what-is-what.
Back to the 5 important things, people in the US and in NATO countries fit in with their governments who ostensibly make the decisions about these things. The guys in South Africa – white – were in a system that accepted apartheid, and yet looking back they knew it was wrong. Some white people were fighting apartheid, and were probably considered extreme – many of them were in the SACP, were South African communists. Whether fighting apartheid was right is a different issue – and not part of this description of what-is-what, but these white people who were right about apartheid were considered extreme.
In this world whether you are in an electoral democracy or not, most people keep their heads down, look after their families …. or just survive. They let the leaders make decisions whether they trust them or not, for most people dealing with their lives is enough – being active in fighting injustices does not factor into their lives unless it knocks them on their head. This is what-is-what, and it is my view that the 1% know about this and use it.
I consider monks to be leaders. As leaders monks can just teach dharma but monks such as Brad choose not to limit themselves to the dharma. I assess that Brad would like to consider that he is applying his training to daily life – admirable. But his zen training has not brought the conflict with the system that makes what I have described as apparent. Brad is much more capable of seeing what-is-what than I, but he lives in a community that actively educates against seeing what-is-what – actively educates against seeing the 5 points. The revolving door between the 1%, corporations and government does not want us to see this typical 5 points, should leaders not be giving awareness of these?
When we look at our lifestyle, in New Mexico, in Akron Ohio, in the Manchester suburb, do we see history and economic relations? Of course not. We see families, friends, community, daily life. But what is that normalcy based on? It is based on the money that pays for everything. In Manchester the standard of living historically was based on the cotton industry which was based on the colonialism of importing raw materials primarily from India. This was not fair trade but exchange imposed by force. I have no details as to the 400-year history or so of the people in New Mexico and Ohio or the US in general but it is observable that the US is a world power especially since the second world war. This power brings with it economic prowess and progress, again not based on fair trade but based on that military power. And in parts of the US especially California their economies are based on the trade in weapons – what is known as the Military Industrial Complex. Whilst day-to-day ordinary people do ordinary things that seem ordinary and reasonable, the reality of their existence is not quite so pleasant. Is it extreme to recognise this?
As a leader and teacher, aren’t the above observable facts that contribute to awareness?
What do we do with this awareness? The revolving door will not make us aware because the 1% and government have accepted self-interest as their way of life. Do meditators expect to see what-is-what? I think so. What do teachers and meditators do about this awareness? That is not for me to say, it is for them.
For me my life had conflict because of awarenesses. It helped me learn, it helps me see what-is-what.
Brad, I have no wish to be disrespectful as I respect your “teachings”. Am I extreme?