Dharma Message from Sensei Hayashi
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” C.G. Jung
While I was watching some of November 28’s Black Friday coverage and seeing some pretty blatant acts of aggression, it reminded me of the self-centredness that lies at the heart of the consumerist mindset. It also reminded me of an article by Howard Zinn that I had read some years ago.
Zinn had already published his landmark “A People’s History of the United States” in 1980, when some years later, Americans were getting ready to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in America in 1992. Originally published as “Christopher Columbus & the Myth of Human Progress”, the article chronicled the rising controversy about whether to see the anniversary as a celebration, or a disaster as the year approached and some of the fall-out as ordinary Americans and teachers were offered a more rounded view of the history they had been taught in school. In the last third, the article questioned a common habit of interpreting conquest as progress; especially when the ones who benefitted interpret the history.
Some of the ideas brought to light in the article and other works by Zinn might benefit the Buddhist cause, as we seek to relay the benefits of living in a more communal fashion in a world that is more focussed on the individual. A very interesting section chronicled events covering the mid 1800’s to the early 1900’s as the American government and the indigenous Native populations negotiated their treaties. It points to a core concept that most North Americans tacitly hold without even realizing it.
In the 1880’s as Congress was drafting legislation to break up communal lands on which the natives lived, Senator Henry Dawes presented this evaluation of the Cherokee Nation he had just visited: “... there was not a family in that whole Nation that had not a home of its own. There was not a pauper in that Nation, and the Nation did not owe a dollar. It built its own capitol, in which we had this examination, and built its schools and its hospitals. Yet the defect in the system was apparent. They have got as far as they can go, because they own their land in common. It is Henry George’s system [sic], and under that there is no enterprise to make your home any better than that of your neighbours. There is no selfishness, which is at the bottom of civilization.”
(bold added by me) (Proceedings of the Third Annual Meeting of the Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian, Held October 7-9, 1885 [Philadelphia: Sherman and Co., Printers: 1886] pg. 43)
The cultural and ideological divide is even more obvious when we look at one group’s definition of civilization, or “civilized” and extend it into a related concept like “progress”. Some years after the indigenous peoples found themselves on reserves, Chief Luther Standing Bear wrote: “True the white man brought great change. But the varied fruits of his civilization, though highly colored and inviting, are sickening and deadening. And if it be the part of civilization to maim, rob and thwart, then what is progress?
I am going to venture that the man who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures and acknowledging unity with the universe of things, was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization. And when native man (and by extension all mankind) left off this form of development, his humanization was retarded in growth.”
(standard font section and bold added by me)
(“What the Indian Means to America (1933)”, Luther Standing Bear (Sioux) in Wayne Moquin and Charles Lincoln Van Doren’s Great Documents in American History [New York: Da Cappo Press, 1995] pg. 208.)
In the end, we do not all have to agree on every single thing every second of every single day. At the same time, we are all responsible for maintaining and creating the world that our children and their children’s children will inhabit. The Buddha’s teaching has always been about awareness. The rationale being that, if we constantly strive for awareness, the decisions we make will entail less, or maybe even no, dangerous and damning consequences.
For the purposes of writing this, I had to look up a few facts about Howard Zinn. It turns out he was a pretty fantastic human being. If you have the time to do the same, I think you will be impressed at what can happen when an idealistic and responsible human being graces the earth. Overall, he is an example of a person who lived by the ideal of “Do the right thing”; whether that meant he would invite adversity, or not. So very glad and grateful that you are out there; navigating this harried, crazy world we have been creating.
Luv you all, or in other words ...
In Gassho, Sensei Hayashi
February 15, 2015
***The following quote comes from an article, “Changing Minds, One at a Time”, published in the March 2005 issue of The Progressive, when Zinn was 82 years of age, so please forgive the anachronistic use of the royal “we”. "We were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness – embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television. This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas."