The Buddha and the World
There has been a pervasive sense of anxiety in the world, since 9/11
and at the same time a search for spiritual answers. Is violence an
aspect of human nature that can be cured, or are we caught in an endless
cycle of violence that will never end? One of the most optimistic
answers to that dilemma came from the Buddha more than two thousand
Anyone coming to spirituality from the outside asks the same
question: "What can it do for me?" There's no universal key that unlocks
the truth. However great the teaching, unless it can be made personal,
it is sleeping.
There's no cut-and-dried case, especially today. You and I seek
spirituality one by one, on our own terms. We have our own specific
suffering that we want to heal. As old traditions no longer bind us
together, isolation, ironically enough, has become the new tradition for
millions of modern people. Feeling alone, unwanted, unloved, weak, lost,
and empty is how the human disease feels today.
At no time in history have there been more stateless persons,
refugees, overpopulation, and restless migration. Globalism makes the
individual feel lost in the world, overwhelmed by its chaos, which
always seems to be teetering between madness and catastrophe. Yet when
people came to the Buddha, they brought the same complaints.
They felt helpless in the face of natural disasters, war, and
poverty. They couldn't comprehend a world on the edge of madness.
This dilemma has brought me closer to the Buddha in recent years. I
carry with me a few seminal ideas that have guided my life so far. One
of them was expressed by Mahatma Gandhi when he said, "Be the change
that you want to see in the world."
Because the world is so huge, it came as a revelation to me and also
a mystery that by changing myself I can affect the world. This idea was
not original to Gandhi. It's an offshoot of a much older idea, traceable
to ancient India, which says, "As you are, so is the world."
That, too, is a revelation and a mystery.
Most of us survive by pretending that the world is "out there," at
arm's length, which gives us breathing space. We can pursue our
comfortable lives without merging into the poverty, injustice, and
violence that surrounds us.
However, our comfort zone disappears if the world is as we are. The
individual is suddenly thrust center stage, holding responsibility for
troubles that begin "in here" before they appear "out there".
This is the same as saying that the world begins in consciousness.
The Buddha was famously practical. He told people to stop analyzing the
world and its troubles. He also told them to stop relying on religious
rituals and sacrifices, which are external.
The Buddha was the avatar of the situation we find ourselves in
today, because he refused to rely on the traditional gods or God. He
didn't use the social safety net of the priestly caste with its
automatic connection to spiritual privilege. Above all, he accepted the
inescapable fact that each person is ultimately alone in the world. This
aloneness is the very disease the Buddha set out to cure.
His cure was a waking-up process, in which suffering came to be seen
as rooted in false consciousness, and specifically in the dulled
awareness that causes us to accept illusion for reality.
The reason that people resort to violence, for example, is not that
violence is inherent in human nature. Rather, violence is the result of
a wrong diagnosis.
That diagnosis puts the limited ego-self first in the world, and
regards the demands of "I, me, mine" as the most important things to
The reason that people react with fear in the face of violence is
that the ego goes into a panic trying to defend itself and its
attachment to the physical body.
The answer to violence for both the aggressor and the victim is to
see through the false claims of the ego and thus to come to a true
understanding of who we are and why we are here.
The Buddha's answer remains radical, but its truth offers a way out
that may be our best hope for the future.
Let's examine his solution in detail. The Buddha stood for peace, and
one would think that He would praise us if we ended the present war (and
We are told that the American people have now woken up to the folly
of the invasion of Iraq. Since wars are where illusions die the fastest,
the Buddha would also want us to end a war because we became more awake.
I think these things are true, but the Buddha was more radical. He
wanted us to wake up in general, to see through all illusions. That is
the only way to escape suffering before it occurs.
Learning after the fact, doesn't really accomplish the Buddha's goal.
Observing how Buddhists follow his teaching, the steps of waking up
include the following:
Meditating on the core of silence within the mind.
Observing the shifting contents of the mind carefully, separating out
anything that sustain suffering and illusion.
Unrevealing the ego's version of reality and piercing through the
ego's claim that it knows how to live properly.
Facing the truth that everything in nature is impermanent.
Letting go of materialism in both its crude and subtle form.
Becoming detached from the self and realising that the individual
self is an illusion.
Being mindful of one's being, overcoming the distraction of thoughts
Abiding by a set of higher ethics whose basis is compassion for other
people and reverence for life.
Some or all of these things stand for Buddha's method by which the
human disease might be cured. So how is the cure proceeding?
The cure hasn't found enough people, beautiful and noble as it is.
Let's say an outsider is coming in from the cold.
He or she wants to be free of pain and suffering, wants to feel that
life at its core is meaningful. To an outsider, it seems that the
Buddhist cure has become difficult, complicated, and confusing.
Sitting and trying to find a core of silence is beyond short
attention spans and doesn't fit into the hectic pace of modern life.
Watching and examining the shifting contents of the mind is
time-consuming and exhausting.
Confronting the ego is nearly impossible, because it has a hundred
heads for every one you cut off.
Facing the truth that everything is impermanent frightens people.
Seeking detachment makes people think they will be giving up worldly
success and comfort.
Abiding by a set of higher ethics makes them anxious that they will
be prey to anyone who is stronger, less moral, and capable of using
violence without any sense of guilt or remorse.
Bringing wisdom to a world built on illusion and suffering is
difficult. Solving violence through peace seems unworkable. Detaching
from materialism has little appeal when people everywhere are pursuing
materialism with every breath. Yet the genius of the Buddha's teaching
lies in its universality, and whatever is universal is also simple.
The Buddha's cure has the capacity to appeal to the entire world.
The Huffington Post