Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Buddhism Beyond Without and Within

That the self advances to the ten thousand things and confirms them is called delusion.

That the ten thousand beings advance and confirm the self is called awakening, or realisation.

[Dogen, Genjokoan]
There's no one here. There's only you and me.
[Leonard Cohen, The Captain]
The subjective ideas "inside", "outside", "near" and "far" all assume a localized, fixed self. Such a "self" is contained within some kind of fixed boundary, and we call that boundary "the body". The body begins and ends in space and in time. In space, the body begins and ends at the boundary of our skin. In time the body begins and ends at the boundary of birth and death.

The Buddha taught that we should not identify with our bodies. This is often overlooked by those who are in a hurry to reconcile Buddhism with a modern secular humanist point of view. An unquestioned identification with the physical body is the central belief of what passes today under the name of secular humanism (which is neither "secular" nor "humanist" in any meaningful sense of those terms).

The Buddhist teaching of anatman, usually translated into English as "no-self", could, in my opinion, just as well be referred to as the teaching of "no-other". We imagine ourselves as entities held within containers - in crude terms, as souls contained within bodies. Buddhism does not teach that the contents of the container aren't "real" - or even that the container itself isn't real. Rather Buddhism teaches that the nice neat picture of the world according to which I am on the inside of this container, and everything else is on the outside, is misleading if we mistakenly think it is the whole story (it is part of the story).

Some Buddhists call what I am talking about "other-emptiness" as opposed to "self-emptiness". I guess that's not a bad way of looking at it, but it does kind of divert attention from the real problem: the small self hears the teaching of anatman and says, "you talkin' to me?"

I prefer to just always try to remember that if there is no self, then there is no other.

Iran: A "Saga" not a "One Act Play"

I was relieved to learn that armchair ultraleftist James Petras and the geniuses at the Workers World Party are both giving aid and comfort to the totalitarian theocracy that currently governs Iran. It would worry me if I found myself in agreement with either of them. Just like it used to make me nervous when I read something by Jean Kirkpatrick on Tibet that I couldn't help but agree with, despite the source. In fact, if I had to choose, I prefer her company to theirs.

This news came my way by way of Louis Proyect, who calls himself simply and accurately an "Unrepetant Marxist". Click on that link to read his long and detailed analysis of some of the more idiotic stances taken by what he refers to as "Manichean" Marxists who believe that we should line up behind Iran's Supreme Leader and the assassins and thugs that he commands.

I don't check in on Proyect as often as I probably should. I've never been that interested in Marxist scholarship qua scholarship. I mention this as a segue to giving credit, once again, to Al Giordano for steering me in the direction of information that I wouldn't have found otherwise. His most recent post on Brainstorming Iran: An X-Ray of Immediate History is his own summary of a discussion he had last night (monday, june 22) with seven other individuals that he describes as:

1. a prominent Iranian human rights defender
2. an award-winning filmmaker who has spent months at a time on end reporting inside the regions of Iran
3. a veteran strategist from the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa that successfully ended apartheid
4. a Polish student of social movements
5. a Mexican journalist and civil resistance trainer
6 & 7. two individuals much like me: authors with intensive experience and study of civil resistance movements and community organizing.

Here's just one snippet, from which I stole the idea for the title of this post:
What we can see in Iran today are two simultaneous struggles, one from below (people with legitimate grievances against their government), and one up above (a power struggle between factions).

Although many had hoped that the post-electoral struggle in Iran would be a one act play, this one seems more likely to be headed into a saga that is four or five acts long. Like many previous social movements throughout history, this has turned from a hundred yard dash into a marathon.

The dynamics of this struggle are also very different than those that have occurred in other countries. The Iranian system is kind of “a state within a state.” There is an elected part of the government – the president and parliament – but they are answerable and subject to a Supreme Leader and the various bodies of Islamic clergy that choose him and that, on paper at least, serve as a check and balance to his powers.

That dual state apparatus, although designed to maintain those in power, has caused the regime of Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad – very much joined at the hip - the problem of having to defend itself on two fronts at once. If it loses control of only one of those institutions, it loses everything.
Giordano also (now, since I first started writing this post) has a new update on the call by Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami for a mass protest tomorrow. Giordano's assessment is that Khatami's call to action is "quite brilliant on a tactical level. It is a method of contributing to a General Strike without calling it one." Follow the link to read Khatami's own words (translated into English).

Note: I actually found Louis Proyect's article linked to in the comments below Giordano's article.