This is one of those posts I feel a little uneasy about writing and publishing. I have a few drafts on similar themes that I have not followed through to the end. And I think this one will be a little unfinished. I mainly wanted to pull a few things together to provoke some thoughts:
Following the news of fires in Australia – not to mention all the fires closer to home in California, and the many other examples of extreme weather constantly recurring now – it is hard not to feel immensely depressed about the future of the human race. In this sense, I am glad not to have children, as I suspect conditions by the end of their life span will be quite horrific.
This is a lingering dread, and writing about it now is mainly spurred by a series of articles I have been reading, as well as some dharma pieces, and I was wondering how to connect them until I read a long and well-argued piece in the New Yorker about the state of relations between America and China.
This was a few hours after reading, in the last chapter of Dale Wright’s book, which you are all becoming more familiar with, on the wisdom that understands emptiness:
‘Wisdom, therefore, is the ability to face the truth and not to be unnerved or frightened. It is the capacity to be disillusioned, but not disheartened. It is the ability to consider the contingency and groundlessness of all things, oneself included, and not turn away from that consideration in fear. Wisdom means setting aside illusions about oneself and the world and being strengthened by that encounter with the truth. It entails willingness to avoid seeking the security of the unchanging and to open oneself to a world of flux and complex relations.’ (The Six Perfections)
In Evan Osnos’ article, it seemed clear that American politicians – much as many of their counterparts in the UK are in different arenas – were trying to fight the battles of the Twentieth Century, two decades into the Twenty-First:
‘The former C.I.A. analyst, said the United States must make realistic decisions about where it is prepared to deter China’s expansion and where it is not. “If we think we can maintain the same dominance we have had since 1945, well, that train has left the station,” he told me. “We should start by racking and stacking China’s global ambitions and determining what we can’t accommodate and what we can, then communicate that to the Chinese at the highest levels, and operationalize them through red lines we will enforce. We’re not doing that. Instead, what we’re doing are things that masquerade as a strategy but, in fact, amount to just kicking them in the balls.”’
‘The most viable path ahead is an uneasy coexistence, founded on a mutual desire to “struggle but not smash” the relationship. Coexistence is neither decoupling nor appeasement; it requires, above all, deterrence and candor—a constant reckoning with what kind of change America will, and will not, accept. Success hinges not on abstract historical momentum but on hard, specific day-to-day decisions—what the political scientist Richard Rosecrance, in his study of the First World War, called the “tyranny of small things.”’
(Having written the bulk of this post, I was amused to find an article in the New York Times about a Chinese company resurrecting a paper mill in Maine, complete with monks and feng shui).
What do we do with the world as it gets smaller?
Two other recent articles I had read from the New Yorker had seemed to me to stand in nice juxtaposition – the first concerning those who have great wealth and who are trying to be better citizens by using the power this gives them, the second on a previous generation of Asian-American writers setting out their stall vis-a-vis the establishment.
‘In the U.S., executive compensation has increased, on average, by nine hundred and forty per cent since 1978, according to one estimate; during the same period, worker pay has risen twelve per cent… People who support tax cuts for high earners and reductions to social programs are “very deliberately attempting to create a permanent underclass… You want people to suffer and die earlier, because your greed is more important to you than another human being.”’
‘Identity politics offers a voluntary response to an involuntary situation. Power structures beyond our grasp sort us according to categories not of our own choosing, predestining us to be seen in a certain way by (as Ching might put it) “the average person.” Choosing to call oneself an Asian-American, rather than answering to “Oriental,” makes the most of an imposition. It offers some people a ready-made sense of purpose, short-circuiting the power of an epithet imposed from without.’
Who belongs – and what do we do with a place on the podium?
I remembered, as I was thinking about this, words of Zenju Earthlyn Manuel that I have posted before:
‘Yes, my bones know the absolute life, unencumbered by labels, fixed perceptions, and appearances. But the absolute life has never been the problem I have to face in the world. In this twenty-first century, many have agreed that race is a construct or illusion used to create racism. It is also acknowledged in some places that sexuality and gender comprise a continua between opposites, and are not fixed states, as was once assumed. The very words “women,” “men,” “male,” and “female” are being transformed to include the many genders between those polarities. However, simply knowing race to be constructed or an illusion does nothing to change the mind saturated with hatred. To know that there are many ways to live sexually, with or without a prescribed gender, does not affect the extent to which one might be tortured or killed for doing so. Hatred remains potent whether directed at a construct, an illusion, or at the reality of others. Therefore, identity should not be dismissed in our efforts toward spiritual awakening. On the contrary, identity is to be explored on the path of awakening. Identity is not merely of a political nature; it is inclusive of our essential nature when stripped of distortion. In other words, identity is not the problem, but the distortions we bring to it are. (The Way of Tenderness)
And, over the end of the year, I donated to a fundraising drive on behalf of rev angel Kyodo williams – because I want any extra money I accrue to be going to worthwhile and powerful causes – and received access to a large library of radical dharma:
‘All of my work is rooted in a persistence of the people that keep holding it down on the margins in the face of the mainstream saying that you can’t exist the way that you are that you have to leave something of yourself behind in order to belong. To continue to belong to this. The ways in which our society doesn’t understand that we are enriched by our difference rather than undone by it.
I am here because when it wasn’t cute and it wasn’t comfortable, because Alicia Garza continued with Black Lives Matter, when it wasn’t cool for queer people to insist that they could be married, that they could have equality, that they kept insisting. My work is lifted and held by those people that insist on being who they are, and they do that at great cost…
I thank the people that while we were saying “this is the way to go” there were people that were saying, “but you have to include this, too. You have to include this, too.”
So i’m really, really grateful for the people that insist— persistently — to just be who they are and know that they belong for it and that out of their insistence on their own belonging they give permission for each of us to belong, too.’
I don’t know what it’s like to be extremely wealthy, and I understand my position of privilege in the overall scheme of things – I am not struggling in any meaningful way to survive in this land which has plenty. I don’t know what it’s like to be Asian-American, and I understand the disclocation of not fully belonging in the culture of where I live. I don’t know what it’s like to be a queer black woman, and I appreciate everything that I learn from those who identify as such.
In the wisdom of emptiness, we each take our dharma position – real, individual, cultural, institutional, systemic, global – and we are all in this together.
A part of me truly believes that a pendulum is swinging back towards a position of welfare for everyone (I talked about ‘the health of the people is the highest law’ in my dharma talk as well) , and that a global push of ingenuity and co-operation to avert the worst of the climate disaster will happen. I trust that everybody individually has the capacity to be a buddha, but really I don’t know if we can pull it off collectively.