Date: Sat, 14 Oct 1995 14:56:04 -0400
From: "Peter D. Junger" [email protected]
Subject: Some random conclusions
I fear that much of our attachment to our positions throughout this conference is the result of our wanting to be good people. I certainly know that the indignation that I feel at some of the–I would say "unfeeling"–ideas that have been expressed here–wherever "here" is in an electronic conference–such as the idea that the rights of others flow from our duties as "rational" beings–which certainly leaves me out–arises from my desire to be a good person, or at least to appear to be one.
So I want to start by quoting some cautionary words of Master Shinran, even though these words are notoriously dangerously easy to misunderstand, and even though I probably misunderstand them:
"Even a good person is born in the Pure Land, how much more so an evil person."
It seems to me much of our discussion has been afflicted with hubris.
Our motley heap of //soi-disant// Buddhists and fellow travelers are, after all, not going to stop the torture in Tibet, the "white" slavery in Thailand, the nastiness of the police in Los Angeles, racism in the United States, or the hunger of the homeless in Cleveland, Ohio.
And this is so, even though many of us have vowed to save all beings at a single bound in our sincere desire to be mistaken for Bodhisattvas.
It may seem to you, on the other hand, that I am afflicted with acedia.
One useful thing that we have demonstrated is that an electronic conference is not (necessarily) a community.
Thus it would not be unreasonable to take this conference as a working–in a disfunctional sort of way–model of the global economy–the global anomie–that is the karmic consequence of my beginningless greed, anger, and folly.
The conclusion that I draw from this–and this is //not// a conclusion of despair–is that we are not, //as a group//, going to be able to do anything effective to alleviate suffering except to the extent that we are a community, a //Gemeinschaft//.
In our desire to help others, whether by proclaiming human rights or by setting up Buddhist soup kitchens, it is tempting to forget all those others whom our rights won’t help or our soup won’t feed. Despite our denial, however, the suffering of those others will continue. . . . Our suffering will continue.
The Buddhadharma teaches the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. That path may include the proclamation of rights and the giving of soup, but the Buddhadharma is not about the proclamation of rights or the giving of soup.
I have been taught that the greatest of the paramitas is the perfection of giving, and that the giving need not be of cash or tax-deductible goods and services. A smile or a "good morning" can work (Buddhist) miracles. (I have also been taught that a good example of a Buddhist miracle is an apple growing on an apple tree.)
Some of you will be familiar with the Ox-Herding pictures that illustrate the path that students of Zen follow by just sitting. The final picture, after Ox and Self are forgotten, is, as I recall: Returning to the Village with Helping Hands.
For traditional Buddhists, unless they happened to be rajas, the responsibilities of government were not among their burdens, and thus they could hardly be expected, or expect themselves, to establish something like Human, or Civil, Rights. To the extent that they and their communities acted rightly, however, the "interests" that are protected by such Rights would be protected.
In our global anomie, however, things are different. Those of us–and I complacently assume that this includes almost all of us who are taking part in this conference–who live under nominally democratic governments have responsibility for the suffering that our governments cause. I have responsibility for the human rights violations in El Salvador that my government connived at and I have responsibility for the fact that my government is far more concerned that the Chinese government respect copyrights than that they respect human rights.
Yet as time goes by we have less and less control, even in theory, over our governments, or those parts of governments that have gotten away, like corporations. Everything is left to the impersonal hands of the market, and the market is driven, in both theory and practice, by that very ignorant greed that we are taught is, in a circular sort of way, the first cause of suffering. (Did you know that the market will not work, even in theory, if you recognize that your well-being is in any way dependent upon the well-being of others? That is a–mathematical–truth.)
As the modern system of nation-states, each compulsively maximizing its own "self"-interest, and each composed of rights-bearing "rational" maximizers of their own misperceived "self"-interests, becomes more and more indistinguishable from the hell of hungry ghosts, I submit that what we need is not more rights, but more community.
Now how we are to go about facilitating the formation of communities in the midst of a world-wide "free market" economy is quite beyond me.
But as a goal I suspect that we can all find (human) communities much less contentious than (human) rights. Perhaps it would be a profitable idea to have a conference on "Buddhism and Community".
And as a first step towards community perhaps we can each put our hands together in //Gassho// and bow in gratitude to…
Peter D. Junger
Case Western Reserve University Law School