The Buddhist teacher Zentatsu asks, “How do we call forth the world without harming ourselves, other people, and the world itself?.. How do we enter into each moment...with a clear conscience and a clear consciousness?” These are questions and suggestions about conviviality; how we live together.
We “call forth the world” wholesomely or unwholesomely. Heedlessness is the core causal condition of much harmful behaviour toward self, others and society. Mindfulness is the antidote to heedlessness.
Mindfulness is a refined, compassionate sensitivity to initial conditions. Even though mindfulness is often recognized by good people as a very good idea, its unfolding in the world must be taught and learned. Importantly, modern urban life encourages in many ways the retention of childlike impulses and the overly self-centred viewpoints which support independence, a deceptive concept, over conviviality, a necessary condition.
In theory we in the developed world have it very easy. We should all be able to congratulate ourselves. Really, our society is now so safe and successful that widespread heedlessness does not result in war, pestilence and certain misfortune as it once did. The economy sloshes with money. Easy target guys like me can walk the streets completely absorbed in music or gaming and not get mugged or run over, probably, because there are rules and customs that allow for a broad range of human behaviours without conflict. Women still fear to walk alone, especially at night, but the risk is manageable, thanks to convivial factors like the enforcement of laws and the provision of light. We are surely the most successful society in human history; top five for sure. Modern life for even the poorest of us exceeds the dreams of avarice enjoyed by our predecessors. Indeed, for those who have the money, modern urban life mitigates virtually all state-of-nature dangers.
And yet, despite great success, we continue to despair. We are still afraid, not learning the lessons of millennia and history. Not trusting cultures and intentions beyond the familiar. Too easily receptive to intolerance and crisis mongering. In our fear, we generate resentments; reflexive greed becomes normalized and entrenched prejudices create divisions. These are poisons to any body politic and social fabric. We counter them or die.
Modern society relies heavily on knowledge, but the quantum leaps of tech-induced power have far outpaced our collective ability to absorb the change that ensues. The world's knowledge is universally available, but because we are not a meditation culture we cannot find a consensus balance between our environment and our luxurious life. Our moral, ethical relationship with others do not yet include the vitality of our whole earth and how closely our own vitality is connected to this fragile configuration. It is only through the intentional practice of meditation that we can arrive at the best repositioning of these and 10,000 other factors that are stressing our ability to live together; our conviviality, long term and short term.
The antidote to such harmful poisons is the practice of mindfulness. It is more stabilizing to the world, to others and to the self than even understanding and morality. Knowledge, both academic and spiritual, mitigates fear; morality and ethics reflect and counter other fears. Mindfulness, though, puts knowledge and morality into each other's service. It is a force multiplier. Knowledge and morality interact seamlessly and thus joined, fear is unconditionally diminished. With less fear we can dwell far apart from every perverted view. That is what we are missing, here in our modern, amazing, urban world.
Wayne Codling is a former Zen monastic and a lineage holder in the Soto Zen tradition. He teaches Zen style meditation in various venues around Victoria. Wayne’s talks and some writings can be found on his blog http://sotozenvictoria.wordpress.com
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, October 13th 2018