20 Feb

The ancient roots of the most up-to-date thinking on values and frames

What do all these have in common?: . .

  • In all the great traditions of Buddhism, there are central metholodogical-and-more ideas that concern not getting overly fixated on your goal. “If you see the Buddha on the road to Enlightenment, kill him” is one famous enigmatic expression thereof. ‘Getting to the other shore’ is not really the point of the spiritual journey: the journey is the point. Enlightenment is not something you can have/attain; enlightenment is every step. The journey is the arriving. See for instance this talk by the great contemporary Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jXOkvjNJKI . The spiritual path is something that you explore forever, she says – and I would add, it is constructed by the very exploration. The ideas of the great Zen Roshi Shunryu Suzuki are much the same (See the argument I make to this effect here: www.uea.ac.uk/~j339/wzennewest.doc? , and in the final chapter of my latest book, A WITTGENSTEINIAN WAY WITH PARADOXES.) Chodron argues this quite beautifully through her discussion of the paramitas (especially of ‘prajna’) in her book, WHEN THINGS FALL APART. She stresses that in spiritual life, you need to strengthen what you actually want to foster, not what is opposed to it. Thus, for instance, discipline is an essential component of spiritual wisdom; but discipline does not mean over-attachment to rules, small-mindedness, etc. . These point in fact in the opposite direction to spiritual wisdom. . .
  • If one is suffering from depression, it is counter-productive to beat oneself up about it. Being depressed generally centrally involves a disappointment with oneself, an anger with oneself, a perpetual self-criticism. If you get angry or self-critical or depressed about yourself for being depressed, that’s just more of the same. It’s just a ‘clever’ disguised reinforcement of depression. You cannot beat depression by playing its own game. You need to do something different. The means you take to seek to emerge from depression need to be consonant with the aim of being a person who is not depressed (not bashing themselves all the time). If you are going to emerge from depression, you need to find a way of forgiving yourself, being gentle with yourself, loving yourself, being kind to yourself. (This represents my own thinking (and experience) on the matter – and it is broadly consonant with the increasingly-influential thinking of Jon Kabat-Zinn, and his ‘mindful’ version of Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy.) . .
  • I’m reading Derrick Jensen et al’s fascinating radical book, DEEP GREEN RESISTANCE, at the moment. They argue compellingly against an absolutist prohibition on revolutionary / radical violence. But I wonder whether they really have an effective answer to the claim famously made by Gene Sharp in his famous world-historical work, FROM DICTATORSHIP TO DEMOCRACY: that Gandhian precepts of non-violence, of “Being the change you want to see in the world”, etc., are much more likely ultimately to succeed because they do not undermine themselves in the very act of being instantiated. Whereas revolutionary violence can in numerous ways, as Sharp documents, undermine even the very best and most necessary of intentions. . . .
  • Spiritual wisdom (‘skilful means’, as the Buddhists often call it), skilful/effective means of fighting psychological disorders, effective means of pursuing political liberation…

What they all have in common, across their apparent diversity of subject-areas, is this: they all recognise a truth that is absolutely central to Tom Crompton et al’s ‘Common Cause’. That any mode of campaigning that is not consonant with what it aims to achieve endlessly risks serious ‘collateral damage’.

What Common Cause gives us, and this is really very exciting in my view, is a new way of understanding some ancient wisdom which occurs again and again in apparently diverse areas of thought and life. That the ends do not justify the means. Crucially, what Common Cause is able to contribute is this: a powerful reason why the ends don’t justify the means. It is endlessly tempting in life – in politics, in campaigning, and so on – to seek quick-fixes, ways to get directly to one’s objective. Those arguing in effect for the ends justifying the means are so seductive. What Common Cause offers us is something that can be used by many of those gestured at in my bullet points, above: a detailed, coherent and compelling set of arguments for why it is that we need to resist those seductions.