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Occupy Samsara
November 9, 2011 7:42 AM   Subscribe

"As teachers and leaders of communities that promote the development of compassion and mindfulness, we are writing to express our solidarity with the Occupy movement now active in over 1,900 cities worldwide....

"The structural greed, anger and delusion that characterize our current system are incompatible with our obligations to future generations and our most cherished values of interdependence, creativity, and compassion. We call on teachers and practitioners from all traditions of mind/body awakening to join in actively transforming these structures."
Occupy Samsara.

And here's a transcript of Robert Thurman's speech at Liberty Plaza. Video(s) here.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas (53 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
That will get those bankers with fat bonus checks to rethink delusion.
posted by Postroad at 7:51 AM on November 9, 2011


It reminds me of the Falun Gong practitioners outside of the Chinese consulate in my city. Ah, well. Practice is practice.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:57 AM on November 9, 2011


Does Occupy Samsara == Mok$ha ?
posted by Jacob G at 8:05 AM on November 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Do your dharma.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:17 AM on November 9, 2011


Don't we all occupy samsara every day? It's just that some of us realize it.

Not to say that aversion and grasping aren't the driving force behind much of what is wrong with modern Western culture, including the massive income imbalances that tend to unbalance everything else....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:23 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think this is good because it demonstrates that there are significant religious and spiritual principles supporting the kinds of changes that, at this point, are being discussed solely in the context of politics. The institutionalized inequality and sociopathic myopia of the political and financial elite is not just a political issue -- it's a moral and spiritual one as well.
posted by clockzero at 8:25 AM on November 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


And those elites would much prefer not to bring religion or spirituality into the equation because the wisdom of our religious traditions tend not to side with the wealthy and powerful in cases of social conflict, for good reason.
posted by clockzero at 8:27 AM on November 9, 2011


And those elites would much prefer not to bring religion or spirituality into the equation because the wisdom of our religious traditions tend not to side with the wealthy and powerful in cases of social conflict, for good reason.

Sadly, the "pragmatism" of our religious institutions tends to side with the wealthy and powerful in cases of social conflict, for good (if rather hypocritical) reasons.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:34 AM on November 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


"May the force ... of our virtuous aspirations and activities benefit all living beings in all six realms, in all ten directions."

Not quite as catchy as the Star Wars thing, but I'll try to spread the meme.

While our practice challenges us to cultivate compassion for 100% of human beings without villifying an “enemy,” our practice also calls on us to confront a system that causes such clear harm and imbalance.

Well put. Nice letter.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:36 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's certainly no evidence to suggest that the wealthy and powerful ever take over religious institutions at the head use them as a kind of, say, opium, against the, if you will, masses.
posted by DU at 8:37 AM on November 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Apparently 1% of the jokes are now being used for 99% of the everything.

#occupyhumour
posted by mhoye at 8:38 AM on November 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Sadly, the "pragmatism" of our religious institutions tends to side with the wealthy and powerful in cases of social conflict, for good (if rather hypocritical) reasons.

This is one instance in which the presence of a sacred text can be useful. If you read the bible with an open heart, it's hard to defend the right of the wealthy to subjugate everyone else. Specific churches will obviously come out in defense of the powerful, but their book itself doesn't really support that unambiguously, to say the least.

And this is different than pastors or priests stepping into the situation; religious leaders are often going to side with political and economic leaders, but religious communities may not. And religious communities that take the teachings of their tradition more seriously than the preaching of some slick sycophant to power are going to find that they're on the 99%'s side.

There's certainly no evidence to suggest that the wealthy and powerful ever take over religious institutions at the head use them as a kind of, say, opium, against the, if you will, masses.

Well, right, clearly your point is important. But what I'm seeing in the linked article is not religious leaders telling their communities what to do or think or how to vote, and I think that religious communities with less hierarchical emphasis and more careful attention to the real, eternal lessons of their faith are likely to find that there's a lot of space for justice, compassion, kindness, and charity in this situation.
posted by clockzero at 8:51 AM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


In this article, maybe not. I'm responding to your claim that "elites would much prefer not to bring religion or spirituality into the equation". On the contrary, the people working hardest for those elites go out of their way to bring religion up as much as possible. It's best to train authoritarianism in from a young age.
posted by DU at 8:58 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is one instance in which the presence of a sacred text can be useful. If you read the bible with an open heart, it's hard to defend the right of the wealthy to subjugate everyone else.

Well, yes. And yet, somehow, that book has been used to justify just about every atrocity humans have chosen to investigate for millennia. Note: not Bible-bashing; pretty much every sacred text gets used the same way, since money, as they say, changes everything.

But what I'm seeing in the linked article is not religious leaders telling their communities what to do or think or how to vote, and I think that religious communities with less hierarchical emphasis and more careful attention to the real, eternal lessons of their faith are likely to find that there's a lot of space for justice, compassion, kindness, and charity in this situation.

It's a little heartening, since they are, in fact, making a case that sincere practitioners of their particular spiritual tradition have more in common with Occupy X than they do with the power elite. Which is a great message. Unfortunately, there are plenty of spiritual leaders ready and willing to do metaphorical violence to their own creeds to support that same power elite. It's pretty much the tragedy of religion in this world that systems which, almost universally, arise as systems of liberation get turned into systems of chains, to the detriment of both believers and the doctrine itself (and, if you are Buddhistically-inclined, the enslavers themseves). It's a lose-lose-lose-lose situation.

But, yes, it was a good piece.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:09 AM on November 9, 2011


And those elites would much prefer not to bring religion or spirituality into the equation because the wisdom of our religious traditions tend not to side with the wealthy and powerful in cases of social conflict, for good reason.

You only need to look at the Prosperity Gospel to see how this often works in practice. Or, while we're on the subject, you could examine Buddhism's contribution to discriminatory caste systems which still exist today. Somebody's always got to be a sinner, after all -- unclean, impure, evil -- and it's all too easy to cast the downtrodden and unpopular in that role rather than the powerful and "pious".

on preview: If you read the bible with an open heart, it's hard to defend the right of the wealthy to subjugate everyone else.

Many have used Christianity to do precisely this for at least a thousand years, notably including the largest and most powerful Christian church in the world, so it can't be that hard. Power always matters more than words.
posted by vorfeed at 9:14 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm beginning to not like the internet.
posted by davebush at 9:18 AM on November 9, 2011


There's certainly no evidence to suggest that the wealthy and powerful ever take over religious institutions at the head use them as a kind of, say, opium, against the, if you will, masses.

That is not at all what Marx meant by the opium of the masses.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:21 AM on November 9, 2011


thumbs up to this, or maybe in some more appropriate mudra of support.

not to mention what a better visual it offers when the troopers do storm in and now have to rough up people clearly (but powerfully) just sitting.
posted by ecourbanist at 9:21 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.
He's making a more complex point, but the root meaning is the same.
posted by DU at 9:28 AM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


That is not at all what Marx meant by the opium of the masses

Could you say more about this? I don't know as much about Marx as I'd like to, and I'd love to get some context for that quote.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:32 AM on November 9, 2011


The structural greed, anger and delusion that characterize our current system are incompatible with our obligations to future generations and our most cherished values of interdependence, creativity, and compassion

I've had this thought bouncing around in my head since OWS started (in a less refined form). When American culture became about consumption and spending and living in the now and being materialistic, we lost. We lost our way, we lost the game.
posted by SirOmega at 9:40 AM on November 9, 2011


I smell a derail. None of the links mention the Bible or Christianity or religious institutions. I'd hate to see this dissolve into the typical discussion: the bible says this/no it says that/well Christians do horrible things/well they're not real Christians then/invisible sky fairies/etc.
posted by desjardins at 9:41 AM on November 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was going to make a joke about, you know how this is won't do much good for the image of OWS as a bunch of hippies, but the I realized I kind of think liberals have spent way too much time worrying about 'our image'. It's much better that pwople take action and do something then it is to worry about looking silly.
posted by delmoi at 10:02 AM on November 9, 2011


When American culture became about consumption and spending and living in the now and being materialistic, we lost. We lost our way, we lost the game.

It always comes back to Reagan, imo.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:03 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Make me one with 99%
posted by Decani at 10:06 AM on November 9, 2011


When American culture became about consumption and spending and living in the now and being materialistic, we lost. We lost our way, we lost the game.

I dunno. I mean, I feel this has always been American culture to some level. Even if we're talking Puritan days, there was a massive war of genocide and land grabbing going on. After that, wars of colonial expansion and making sure we locked down specific trade routes, later under the guise of the Cold War, and now under the excuse of the War on Terrorism.

The wake up call isn't the culture has become materialistic, the wake up call is that the profiteers with power are abandoning the servants - us, and the benefits of collusion are coming to an end. The history of labor organizing has shown this to always be the case... except this time it's on a large enough scale that the usual excuses don't fly anymore ("Well, they're immigrants, they're not real Americans", "Those people don't work hard enough") - because it's nearly everyone. And fuck, everyone except the profiteers HAS been working hard, and everyone's losing their jobs, healthcare, and houses.

The best explanation of karma I've heard is this: "It's not magical, it's cause and effect. If you deal drugs, you have to worry about police, rival dealers, and having junkies in your neighborhood." (Arun Gandhi)

And here we are: unregulated capitalism has always cost the rest of the world resources and labor and suffering, or the minority or others amongst the American people. Now it's turned on the next class up.

The culture didn't change. The vampire got bigger. Because most folks were ok with it when it was feeding on others.

Karma.

(Mind you, this doesn't mean I'm like, "Karma! Fuck yeah, that's what we get! Awesome!". I'm more like, "Can we fucking fix the problem now? Please?")
posted by yeloson at 10:06 AM on November 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I'm with desjardins: this is really not about Christianity, or even about religious hierarchy at all. It's an open letter from two individual Buddhists.

If you want to generalize this to other religions, I think the important generalization is that religion doessn't determine a person's political position — and it definitely doesn't determine what political actions they'll take. American Buddhists are stereotypically pretty far to the left. But that doesn't mean they all lean left, or that they're guaranteed to actually show up in support of any given left-wing cause. You need to make an argument for the cause, and you need to make it in a way that engages the moral principles they've already got.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:09 AM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I smell a derail. None of the links mention the Bible or Christianity or religious institutions. I'd hate to see this dissolve into the typical discussion: the bible says this/no it says that/well Christians do horrible things/well they're not real Christians then/invisible sky fairies/etc.

Fair point. I didn't mean to derail, I was just thinking out loud, so to speak.
posted by clockzero at 10:15 AM on November 9, 2011


nebulawindphone- there's an article here that looks at the fallacious understandings of the famous Marx quote and some of the other things he wrote about religion. His critique of Feuerbach is, in Buddhist terms, somewhat reminiscent of the later Mahayana criticisms of Theravada ambition as the mere Pratyekabuddha; to over-work the comparison probably beyond what it will bear, Marx like the bodhisattvas thought we save all beings or we save no-one.
posted by Abiezer at 10:17 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would like to say one more thing in response to people who responded to my remarks: my opinion is that people who seek social control will always find a justification for it, regardless of their social context. That fact must be recognized as independent from the content of any particular religious tradition.

Again, I don't mean to derail.
posted by clockzero at 10:19 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


my opinion is that people who seek social control will always find a justification for it, regardless of their social context.

Absolutely. But a social context where you are specifically enjoined to a) follow a leader and b) not think critically is going to provide that justification very easily.
posted by DU at 10:41 AM on November 9, 2011


> But a social context where you are specifically enjoined to a) follow a leader and b) not think critically is going to provide that justification very easily.

We're talking about Buddhist teachers here. Very few of them encourage slavish following or blind acceptance of any of the Buddhist teachings without some form of personal verification. I'm not sure why people feel the need to always grind their axe about religion just because they had a bad experience with it.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:43 AM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


The videos include a (sometimes hilarious) Liberty Square speech by Bob Thurman, who's been a 'cool hero' for a long time.
posted by Twang at 10:56 AM on November 9, 2011


I like how the letter suggests compassion for all 100%, without making them an enemy or "other." They are just another unfortunate result of the unjust system. This is a hard message to internalize.

I was just talking to one of my philosopher-type friends about my involvement with OWS. He said that OWS makes one fundamental mistake by focusing on the suffering of the 99% and not including the suffering of the 1% too. I had to admit, he had a point. I said that as an Occupant and a buddhist, I can recognize the universality of human suffering. I cited the doctrine of "there is no difference between self and other," so the 1% represents part of my own Self that I am struggling against. But I said I can't sympathize with the richest 1% too much, since money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy your favorite type of misery.

But I have had my struggles with statements supporting the inherent rights of "all living beings." We had this concept come up in our own OWS Principles Committee. I said I wasn't necessarily able to express support for ALL living beings, for example, malaria-bearing mosquitos or smallpox viruses. My objection was overruled.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:05 AM on November 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Well, the important bit is that you can have sympathy for someone without needing to do anything about it.

It's not even necessarily like the 1% are all victims-of-the-system. They're not necessarily going to all get happier if things change for the better. But you can't make everyone happy all the time, so you do what's right and try to stay compassionate towards the losers.

Think of yourself like an umpire. You can feel sorry for a losing team. Hell, you can feel sorry for a team that forfeits the game because they're caught cheating. But that doesn't obligate you to let them keep cheating, or to pretend that losing the game was somehow good for them.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:20 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Mind you, this doesn't mean I'm like, "Karma! Fuck yeah, that's what we get! Awesome!". I'm more like, "Can we fucking fix the problem now? Please?")

As far as I have been able to tell, "karma" had little to do with the "cosmic payback" idea most Westerners seem to have of it. Not that it doesn't have that flavor in some creeds, but, at its root, "karma" simply means action, and the idea (again, as I understand it) of karma is really just -- actions have effects, and you have to own the effects of your actions. Positive actions tend to produce positive effects, but not necessarily for you, just in general.

So the toxic financial and cultural stew we find ourselves in is the result of many, many actions adding up, and the solution will be many, many actions added up. Although doing those actions because they seem right rather than for the goal of attaining something is best.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:35 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Buddhism, in many strains, contains implicitly anarchist sentiments. This is especially true in Japanese Zen, and those anarchistic tendencies are if anything more accentuated in Western interpretations. This is the religion where the guy who scrubbed the pots for ten years was made head of the biggest temple, and where, lest we forget, the primary practice is sitting and staring at a wall, no more and no less, as easy or difficult as that may be. A priest is just someone who's stared at a wall for an especially long time, and is willing to enable others in this same behavior. There's leadership there, yeah, but it's of an enormously weak kind. A primary teaching is that the methods of Buddhism are fundamentally experimental; if something's not working for you, you're free to try something else, and probably the Sangha will be happy to help you adapt. And that's essentially anarchistic.

And this needs to be kept in mind when comparing to primary strains of Western Christianity, which are essentially authoritarian. Look at the word 'author' in 'authoritarian;' Christianity is about following the will of a particular author who is, supposedly, God. Christian churches are mainly extremely hierarchical, and the primary reforms in the church have been in the direction of lessening incredibly strict hierarchies. Good over evil, men over women, priest over flock. (That's right; the notion of 'sheeple' has it's very root in Christian discourse. Minus the whole 'wake up,' bit.)

From back when I was reading about early Christianity, I have a sense that things got screwed up around the time Christianity became the state religion of the Romans; the gnostics seemed pretty anarchistic, and there have certainly been non-authoritarian forms of Christianity since then. (cf, quakers.) But yeah, the kind of Christianity that's most popular in the US is a religion all about exceptionalism, putting a few before many, and enforcing one vision of culture and spirituality. Saying the answers are in a Book is no different than saying that the Great Leader knows best; they're both cop-outs for coming to terms with yourself.

And in OWS we see a political movement that is organized anarchically, ground up, from individuals trying to make their own way and wash away a bunch of bullshit hierarchy of haves and have-nots.

Smashing hierarchy is both political and spiritual, and Buddhism is the religion of escaping hierarchy. (What's Samsara. after all? Ups-and-downs, good days and bad days, highs and lows... The essential daily imposition of hierarchy on one's state of being.) There's as natural an affinity between these anarchistic strains of buddhism and OWS as there is between evangelical Christianity and get-rich-quick schemes.

But, of course, your mileage may vary.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:10 PM on November 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Well said, kaibutsu. Once you've crossed the Buddhist bridge, it seems like you're pretty much free to burn it. I think that's unique among major religions.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:12 PM on November 9, 2011


But a social context where you are specifically enjoined to a) follow a leader and b) not think critically is going to provide that justification very easily.

We're talking about Buddhist teachers here. Very few of them encourage slavish following or blind acceptance of any of the Buddhist teachings without some form of personal verification. I'm not sure why people feel the need to always grind their axe about religion just because they had a bad experience with it.


The most truly religious person I've ever met -- a very serious lifelong Buddhist -- is no longer an active Buddhist because of this. When she told me she'd decided to "become an atheist" (her words, not mine), I was honestly shocked at how precisely the things she was saying about the temple she'd lived at and served in for more than a decade matched the "bad experience" many people have with Christianity.

On preview: your mileage may vary pretty much sums it up.
posted by vorfeed at 12:45 PM on November 9, 2011



This quote seems relevant:

“By assigning value and spiritual ideals to private subjectivity, the materialistic world view, threatens to undermine any secure objective foundation for morality. The result is the widespread moral degeneration that we witness today. To counter this tendency, mere moral exhortation is insufficient. If morality is to function as an efficient guide to conduct, it cannot be propounded as a self-justifying scheme but must be embedded in a more comprehensive spiritual system which grounds morality in a transpersonal order. Religion must affirm, in the clearest terms, that morality and ethical values are not mere decorative frills of personal opinion, not subjective superstructure, but intrinsic laws of the cosmos built into the heart of reality." Bhikkhu Bodhi
posted by eggtooth at 2:02 PM on November 9, 2011


Buddhism, in many strains, contains implicitly anarchist sentiments. This is especially true in Japanese Zen...

I think you've been misinformed. Zen was deeply involved in justifying Japanese imperialism during WW2 and for many centuries prior. Here are some quotes from Zen priests during that period:
Showing the utmost loyalty to the emperor is identical with engaging in the religious practice of Mahayana Buddhism. This is because Mahayana Buddhism is identical with the law of the sovereign.
—Seki Seisetsu, just before the fall of Nanking
"If ordered to march: tramp, tramp or shoot: bang, bang. This is the manifestation of the highest wisdom of enlightenment. The unity of Zen and war ... extends to the farthest reaches of the holy war now under way."
—Harada Daiun Sogaku, 1939

These are just two examples. If you read Zen at War and Zen War Stories, it gets worse. You could read Zen as anti-hierarchical and anarchistic, or you could read it as demanding loyalty to the emperor. Historically, it has mostly been the latter because it needed to ally itself with powerful forces in order to survive, so Buddhists read Zen in a way that was supportive of the emperor. Once it came to America, Zen popularizers "discovered" a reading that supported the anarchistic and anti-hierarchical ideas of 1960s counterculture movement where they were trying to gain a foothold.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:15 PM on November 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


If you read "Crooked Cucumber", Suzuki Roshi's biography, he talks about the pressures
on the Zen Buddhists during WW2, and that some went with the fascists, some did not...
perhaps similar to the pressures at the same time on the Catholics in Germany.
posted by eggtooth at 2:21 PM on November 9, 2011


eggtooth: Pardon, does that quote refer to materialism in the sense of trying to achieve happiness through the accumulation of material wealth, or to philosophical materialism which may or may not include moral realsim as well.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:01 PM on November 9, 2011


CBrachyrhynchos, Mainly I think the first, although I imagine "spiritual materialism", in Trungpa's sense, would also be included
posted by eggtooth at 3:27 PM on November 9, 2011


Ahh, well, that's not the materialism I live or experience, where you take ethics seriously because you only get one shot at it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:29 PM on November 9, 2011


"...where you take ethics seriously because you only get one shot at it."

CB: Not quite sure I understand
posted by eggtooth at 3:37 PM on November 9, 2011


Philosophical materialists are often very concerned about ethics and how to live the good life, because we have only one opportunity to do it and get it right.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:00 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, the quote seems to be saying to me that "how to live the good life" is one of those subjective
concepts that really are the antithesis of ethics in the way he's using it...that ethics in his sense is natural and organic...not biased by personal wants. Like not killing, for example.
posted by eggtooth at 4:13 PM on November 9, 2011


eggtooth: Many materialists are moral realists. That is, we agree that there are objective moral and ethical values. We disagree that those moral or ethical values require a religious or spiritual order.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:46 PM on November 9, 2011


I find it really strange that a group off Buddhists expressing their support for an international protest movement for justice don't also say something about the recent wave of protests by Tibetan monks and nuns against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. I'd have expected some small expression of kinship and solidarity.

Another Tibetan Nun Dies by Self-Immolation in China

Dalai Lama blames Tibetan burning protests on 'cultural genocide'

Senior exiled Tibetan monk urges end to immolations in China
posted by homunculus at 7:53 PM on November 9, 2011


Oh dear god
posted by bardic at 7:59 PM on November 9, 2011


The most truly religious person I've ever met -- a very serious lifelong Buddhist -- is no longer an active Buddhist because of this. When she told me she'd decided to "become an atheist" (her words, not mine), I was honestly shocked at how precisely the things she was saying about the temple she'd lived at and served in for more than a decade matched the "bad experience" many people have with Christianity.

And she became enlightened.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:21 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jacob G: "Does Occupy Samsara == Mok$ha ?"

Nah, Mok$ha's the girl who does Sanskrit covers of Ke$ha songs.
posted by symbioid at 1:28 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


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