Saturday, October 27, 2018

Self defense versus aggression?

The question for me with Myanmar and the well documented (1, 2 ...) persecution and genocide of the  Rohingya Muslims, is how does one go defend oneself and what is worth defending? Many people in the USA military want to defend a country that doesn't have segregation, one that is more kind to it's citizens. Do we sometimes betray our ideals to "defend" ourselves? Is this a self defeating behavior?

On one level you could see the "Buddhist" majority, cultural Buddhists who don't see a contradiction in genocide. You are a Buddhist insofar as you partake in the ethos of Buddhism, and when you don't, then you are a cultural Buddhist, you have trappings of culture and you call yourself a Buddhist.

One could endlessly defend oneself against the encroachments of others. Walking down the crowded streets of NYC, you can bump into others and get upset that they did not respect your personal space. Or you could see it as a crowded city and that people are going to accidentally bump into occasionally because, you know, you can't be 100% vigilant about bumping into others all the time.

That's where you have to pick your battles. What is important to you?

I thought there should be no response to the felling of the Twin Towers. They got off a lucky pot shot. There's a pithy saying about giving up the victory in mind training. Anyone who's played sports knows you can't always win. I'd almost say that sports is all about having ambition to win and accepting that you lose and still trying hard. Living in an imperfect messy world when the black and white of winning and losing is appealing. You could let them have that basket, like the Knicks playing fairly even pace with the Golden State Warriors last night, but then in the 4th quarter they just crushed the Knicks.

It's an open question whether doing something actually improves the world. The unintended consequences of prohibition was to create elaborate criminal organizations with the violence and flouting of the rules. When the rules are too strict, people revolt, and make themselves into the outsiders. That is exactly Myanmar's failure--they were not inclusive--they created outsiders. They could not see the benefit of including another ethnic community. We don't usually have enough imagination and information to see all the consequences of their action. I hope this doesn't boomerang against the Myanmar people. They certainly are losing face as a Buddhist nation and in general. The United Nations has condemned them. They can try to change the name of the people to imagine they don't exist, but they do. We know that toddler trick.

I live in NYC where yesterday at the park with my daughter I met all kinds of immigrants and cultures. That white flight exists and I have friends who remember the houses going up for sale and moving to Long Island, the second most racially segregated place in America after Arlington Virginia, across the river from Washington DC. When given the choice people match up with their race and culture, but a move to New York City is the opposite of that trend. And living in the city is the most environmentally friendly thing you can do. The person who builds a house where there was not one before is ruining the environment, not loving it. But forget these paradoxes, I digress.

The political debate in America is what should the government do? Should we help each other out and support those who don't have strong families, treat everyone nicely. Or should we let people make their worlds in a free and fair society that gives everyone a chance. Trump is about taking a crap on the government he hates, that limits his freedom to be the beast he wants to be. That he gets the ire of progressive liberals is a bonus to his voters who hated the straw horses of who they imagine is liberal. I find political discussion in America often to be about an imagined foe, not real people on the ground.

(What are the unintended consequences of housing, feeding and educating the poor? Some think it's not fair to give away stuff to others, while some work. We've made sure the housing is ugly, food stamps are complicated and restricted, and the education is subpar. Most people don't know that and imagine the poor are welfare queens, living large, pumping out more babies to get more money. So called liberals can think that sometimes (I met a guy once). You don't give your child every little thing they want, you just make sure they have the basics.)

So what is the opposite of genocide? Learning about the Rohingya people. That's not easy. They are an ethnic group far away.

Speaking out about my vision of hoping we don't need to murder people for any reason, especially perceived self defense. That's my beef with the gun lobby and gun lovers in America. Where they see threats I see lost opportunities. Too optimistic? Maybe. That's the wolf I want to feed. And as always you live the questions, tolerate the negative feelings of ambivalences of not knowing.

The funny thing is that the monk who is agitating for perceived self defense is more like Mohammed, who was a general, a mayor of a city and a husband to multiple wives. Mohammed was the most worldly of the spiritual leaders. He was alternative for the tribes who were not Jewish or Christian, his was an act of cultural creation. We need more ways to make outsiders, insiders. In AA there is the gradual transition from thrill seeker to responsible meeting leader.

The Buddha when he came to a sangha that was fighting about a monk leaving a bowl in the wrong place, was to just realize he couldn't intervene to change things and he walked away and meditated. His actions were powerful, though, he wasn't about getting high and watching Netflix. He spent his whole life teaching and leading others. The first person he came across could not be persuaded to join him, so the Buddha developed his teachings to help others who were more sympathetic, the five ascetics who abandoned him after he found the middle way. Having insight into fixing things needs to be accompanied with the power to do so. You can begin to do so in a smaller community, in the spiritual community. Think globally, act locally.

That doesn't mean we can't be political and agitate for more kindness in our government. The Buddha converted a criminal and got him off the streets as a killer. The Buddha regularly counseled kings, and was a fierce leader of his own community. When a monk was sick, he chided his monk friends for ignoring him. Compassion is active.

Only you can get yourself enlightened or woke. To be sure you need other power and help from the spiritual community. One goes for enlightenment with everyone. You are included in others push for enlightenment. But it starts with your decision. I think that's why some Buddhists are conservative. This philosophy conflates the personal to the political--people need to make their own worlds, and not worry so much about others. Self reliance is a wonderful virtue.

The Myanmar government isn't going to make it's people enlightened. Individual effort is the root. But context matters. That's why I'm against the strict "pro-life" stance--to insist on bring a child into a world without supports--well, you might as well kill someone with educational neglect, housing neglect and food neglect, health neglect while they're alive. Not everyone has a family or strong community. Is that an essential trait to receive support?

So that begs the question, can someone become enlightened in Myanmar in the context of a governmental genocide? This is my ethical concern--when you do gnarly things or not act to prevent negative things, does that impact your meditation practice? I say yes. When I make ethical mistakes, it invades my meditation, and decreases my depth. You can't meditate in a vacuum.

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