There is something in us that believes the status quo is, or ought to be, our birthright conditions for security and community. Regardless of culture or ethnicity human beings do not give up their birthrights easily. When birthright is denied or threatened, we respond in a primal way. One way or another many of us harbour a deep sense that we have somehow been cheated of our inheritance; that the status is no longer quo and that somebody must be held accountable. Understanding this and applying this perspective can be a beginning toward contextualizing what is happening in our world today and perhaps finding ways to keep it together.
Society is increasingly diverse and the old social bonding force of homogeneity has eroded dangerously; dangerous because conviviality is survival. History is the teacher; civilizations thrive in harmony and wither in dissonance.
Finding our way back to a more stable world worthy of emulation and inheritance is necessary. It is a long-term effort but it cannot happen without meditation because only meditation is effective, completely independent of culture and prejudice and yet equally available to all. Only meditation can form the core of a new conviviality; a conviviality of inclusion rather than exclusion. We need this.
The skills of conviviality in a homogeneous society are far less complex than what is needed in a diverse society. Goals of conviviality are elusive in the face of divergent cultural viewpoints. Unwholesome, expedient cultural narratives such as fear or prejudice have been and were much more widely accepted when most of us were similar. Canadians in the past, by and large demurred in the campaigns of forced integration and cultural destruction directed at indigenous peoples. Today, mostly because of our diversity, few among us fail to see the contemporary harm from previous heedless tactics predicated on a kind of arrogance.
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word meaning harmless[ness]. It is a core Buddhist spiritual value, rooted in a deep reverence for all life, all beings. We can take this notion of harmlessness and fit it each to our own lives. Thinking this way leads to an increased sensitivity to initial conditions. The general idea of living very lightly on the earth, for example, is rapidly becoming an important factor in our thinking. We recycle, we conserve energy and we come to sense the imminence of many critical tipping points; food sources, fresh water, clean air. This changes how we live together.
Buddhism is not a very prescriptive religious tradition. There are a few rules, but only a few and those quite general in expression. It is definitely not of a “zero tolerance” persuasion, except insofar as insisting that the highest moral duty is to cease causing harm and to act to mitigate suffering. The pious Buddhist walks the Middle Path which is defined as the avoidance of falling into extremes. This is hard won wisdom, rare in human history...that even good, benign and necessary processes can become extreme and cause harm. If this wisdom is lost to humanity the Hobbesian vision of pervasive antipathy will become our destiny.
Zen practice in everyday life acts like an incubator for cultivating convivial influences and putting them to their task. Meditation, especially as part of a group, is a powerful integrator of every person's shifting notions about their own place in their world. It acts to bring relationships back into equivalence, restoring and maintaining vital symmetries. Zen meditation does this, with characteristic irony, by cultivating zero tolerance with respect to all opinion, judgement and behaviour. In this sense meditation itself is an extreme behaviour.
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.co
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was publsihed in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, August 31st 2019