2B an activist?

Posted: 22/04/2018 by zandtao in Insight, Struggle

Activism is a phenomenally-important issue. Compassion means ending suffering, so as compassionate beings we have a duty to decide how we are helping end suffering.

As a Buddhist this issue came to me as what am I doing in retirement and the related question of putting on robes. Just before I retired I resolved it as “if I was learning in retirement then no need for robes”. In retirement I gradually became a writer, and that is activism – despite a very limited audience.

When I was debating this decision (with myself), an abbot said to me that his monastery provided a refuge from daily life, and that was worth doing. I didn’t disagree with that but we can’t all be abbots. Buddhadasa was a great teacher, we cannot all be Buddhadasa.

And that brings me to this article. Eckhart Tolle is a great teacher but not all people who follow the path can be great teachers. Not all Buddhists can be monks, and so we arrive at the question of activism because there is a duty in compassion to contribute. In the interview all the required discussion is there.

I start with this “Conscious awareness, conscious living, is the ultimate activism.”, this is undoubtedly true. But I now want to refer to 24 in which I discussed the path and activism. Addressing activists and the failure of activism currently I put forward the following:-

If you note who I am addressing (activists) this fits completely within the sense of the interview. On an individual level we have to work towards conscious awareness – follow the path. But in terms of activism there needs a change in approach as discussed in 24. My short but important spell in political activism made me completely aware of the problem of egotism. The left stupidly divided itself (and that is before the right tactic of lumping PC liberalism in with the left), the argument between commies and Trots highlights this. In my own political activist development I recognised the importance of unity, and I knew already how divisive the Trots were. Initially they were trying to work with me, use me, but when my need for education turned me into a commie they ostracised me and the more understanding I got through good Marxist education the more I eschewed them.

Now although my path brought me to activism to enable more people to follow the spiritual path I still fell into this trap. After the education I left the commies and joined the “George Cooper” party. Sadly he wasn’t far from death, I think I read online somewhere that he died in 94 (my activism was 1987-1992). George was a mass movement activist, he did not hold to theories (I am sure he probably had during his life) he just organised – he told me once that the nearest description would be anarcho-syndicalist. In general I would say that communists just see themselves as organisers but because of the prevailing divisions being a communist was divisive on the left. At the time there were three communist parties in the UK. I have forgotten the letters. One was trying to get elected, one was supporting the Morning Star, and one was holding to the need for revolution (NCP). I was in the NCP and there were great activists there but membership was maybe 600. In total the membership was definitely less than 5000, and there were three parties. Commies, look at that isn’t it ludicrous that commies have three parties and yet they regularly spoke of Trots causing splits?

Now all Trots and Commies. Please look at the state of the movement. Funding has produced a division of the class that has allowed Trump and Brexit to happen. Where has all your organising gone – my organising gone?

At the time I was politically active I was not too spiritually active ( 21) so I got too sucked in. If I had been active longer – after joining the George Cooper alliance, I might well have moved towards the kind of path activism ( 24) I am now promoting:-

But there is one important point about activism – genuine left-wing activism. Whilst these activists hold to Marxist theories they put people first – at least their theories do. They are compassionate and want to end suffering. Unfortunately the way our conditioning goes ( 22), the set of ideals (sankhara) we picked up in miseducation becomes replaced with a set of ideals of Marxism, and that compassion can be hidden by the addiction to sankhara – egotism.

But these activist-egotists have already touched their compassion – presence (to be fair there are some trade unionists who are only in it for their ego and greed). These are important people to work with in efforts to promote the path – conscious awareness.

And at the same time they are trying to hold back the ravages of the 1%-system. Are monks who are just trying to meditate actually holding back these ravages which are causing suffering? If we study Eckhart at home and go to work for our money, are we holding back these ravages? In my life (born 1952) the suffering has got far worse, in the 20 years since “Power of Now” was published the suffering has got worse. In the last 7 years alone (since Occupy of 2011), it has now become publicly acceptable to be racist and sexist, and cause violence to each other in protests (Antifa) (I note it was always acceptable for supremacists to be violent); and with all the public turbulence Syrian air strikes are carried out with barely a whimper.

In joining the commies I did something else – I learned. Through their education I began to understand the suffering that was caused, and how it was caused. Prior to this, in my life that was just compassion-as-teacher I was not aware of the suffering. In Brixton because of the alienation that the SWP-Trots caused in me in my first job it took me a while to begin to understand the suffering. I started as a non-political anti-racist, and then started to become politically aware. Then I became more aware as an activist. All of this is discussed by Eckhart in the interview, but I want to emphasise the understanding of suffering that comes from activism. We live in a society that hides the suffering it causes, activism clears the veil. But without conscious awareness, being an activist will usually make you part of the problem.

Awareness of our own suffering brings us closer to following the path – conscious awareness. Doesn’t awareness of the suffering in the world also bring us closer to the path. Whilst conscious awareness has to be concerned with our addiction to self – egotism, exposing that addiction to the suffering that exists in the world has to increase awareness. Shutting ourselves away from the suffering does not end suffering. There is a balance between our need to develop on the path – develop conscious awareness, and our duty to help end suffering. Being active in helping end suffering through activism might help develop conscious awareness, I might also make us part of the problem. It is a dilemma od the path that we need to live with.

I have a propensity for activism, this I recognise as a bias. The path is first, we need conscious awareness. Our compassionate duty is to end suffering, it is important for us to come to terms with how we deal with ending suffering.

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  1. zandtao says:

    The interviewer was Simone Marie Lorenz. In this biopic https://www.bodhijeffreys.com/about/simone-marie-lorenz her husband talks about her. She was working on a book on conscious activism, uncompleted when she died. Some is available here https://www.bodhijeffreys.com/read/conscious-activism.

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