Sunday, August 13, 2017

One of the rules in an abusive family is that the truth of the abuse must remain unspoken, kept inside the family. This, of course, empowers the abusers and perpetuates the victimization of the powerless. I've seen the same dynamic in dysfunctional churches and other organizations, where speaking openly about or confronting abusive attitudes and actions in leadership is quashed. But I think this applies to the U.S.A. as a whole also. We are a dysfunctional nation. Our violent origin in warfare, slavery and genocide still play a huge role in our national identity (I mean, our national anthem is a description of a battle!), and in our national discourse and in our national troubles. Many people, particularly those who have explicitly or implicitly benefited from the system as it is, don't want the abusive dysfunction exposed and would call those who bring attention to it "unpatriotic."

Buddhists have a doctrine called Contingent Arising which states that things occur based on what occurred before them. That's a no-brainer really. But it leads into the often misunderstood doctrine of Karma. Karma isn't simply a cosmic tit-for-tat; that if you do bad things in this life you'll come back in the next life as a cockroach. Or if you do something mean, something mean will sooner or later be done to you. Karma is the idea that your intentions and thoughts and actions form patterns in your psyche and in your life (the way running water forms a channel, or wheels on a dirt road form a rut), and that those patterns get established (not only in individuals, but also in families, in organizations, in societies, etc.) and those patterns are self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing. They become the path of least resistance and so, if left unexamined and unchecked and unbroken, they become stronger and more deeply ingrained. It is sort of like the way that a microphone placed in front of a speaker will begin an audio feedback loop which will get stronger and stronger and louder and louder if permitted to continue.

I don't believe in reincarnation, but I very much believe in karma. The U.S.A. has a karma problem. Frankly, we have some shitty national karma: patterns and attitudes and systems and institutions and cultural norms established long ago that continue to reverberate and which, when ignored, propagate.

Stuff like Charlottesville, VA is not a sign of something new in America. It is an echo of something very old in our country: our national karma.  And as our national dysfunction and abusiveness gets exposed more and more, there is a strong counter reaction. It manifests as pathetic white men marching around with torches, spewing vile racist slogans, trying to intimidate by dressing up like soldiers carrying assault rifles, driving cars into crowds. It manifests in public officials who will--either obliquely or blatantly--empower white Christian supremacy (perhaps calling it "Western values"). It shows in the Christian leaders who fail to speak against it and thus fail in their charge. It shows in the Antichrist--often posing as religious authority--defending and condoning and rationalizing our national sins of militarism and racism and greed.

The thing about karma is that is can be changed. For Buddhists, that's the whole point. We unflinchingly observe the patterns so that we understand them for what they are, we act with deliberate intention to break their power by cultivating newer and healthier patterns. It's hard work: we take two steps forward and one step back, but we slowly make progress.

I don't know if it's true but I've been told that the Battle of the Bulge was the fiercest battle in Europe in WWII, but that historians can look back now and say that by the time of the Battle of the Bulge the larger war had already, for all intents and purposes, been won. The end for the Nazis was inexorable by that point. I think of that when I see the election of Trump and Pence, the appointment of Jeff Sessions, the quisling spokespeople in the White House, the cruelty of the House and Senate, the rank racist hatred in Charlotte, the complicit silence of so many Christians.

The battle for our national karma is fierce because it is slowly and incrementally changing for the better, in large part because of the courage of those who will speak out and march and write and report and expose and preach and legislate and seek truth and vote and do the hard work of self-examination. I take heart in that.


Post a Comment

<< Home