In One Canoe
There’s a petition circulating around the internet, sponsored by a Toronto man named Farrukh Malik, encouraging the Canadian government to do more about the plight of the persecuted Rohingya peoples of Myanmar. You might consider supporting it if you are also concerned about this issue, which is presently in the headlines as a new refugee crisis.
It’s disappointing to me to see a supposedly “Buddhist” country engaged in ethnic cleansing, but I’m not entirely surprised. Like all the mainstream or “universal” religions, Buddhism is also sick. If I tend to focus principally about the degeneracy of Western civilisation (or, better, the “Modern Era”) it is only because this is what I am most familiar with. In broader terms, though, the decay is much more global. We are all of us in the same canoe.
The title of this posting is an allusion to a vision by a Canadian aboriginal elder of few decades back in which he saw all the world’s peoples in one canoe headed for a dangerous cataract. If we worked together, we would safely navigate through, and survive, the turbulence of the rapids. It we did not, the canoe would tip over and all would drown. The “canoe” symbol is, of course, Buckminster Fuller’s “spaceship Earth”.
And you may also recognise in this elder’s vision the same dire warnings about the probable fate of humankind and the Earth according to Seth, which I once posted as “The Most Haunting Words in All Literature“. The Chrysalis is pretty much about “pulling ourselves together” — the integral — in order to meet this existential challenge of the cataract — the current mainstream, as it were. I’m an old hand at running rapids from my days in the bush and as a guide, so that elder’s vision resonated with me more than the idea of “Spaceship Earth”
In the lands of its origin, Buddhism has been tainted as much by egoism and wegoism as anything else, and could probably only have survived itself by being exported to the West. Buddhism, as “Western Buddhism” or “Engaged Buddhism”, is a refugee and an asylum seeker, too. Japanese Buddhism was tainted and compromised by its close association with fascism and racism — “Imperial Way Buddhism” or “National Buddhism”. Thai Buddhism has become “poisoned fruit” with its own version of the “Indulgences”, where monks collect money in exchange for guarantees of a favourable afterlife, no actual individual spiritual work or self-overcoming required. In Myanmar, Buddhist monks lead ethnic cleansing campaigns against minorities like the Rohingya (Myanmar’s “Buddhist terrorist problem“). So, contemporary mainstream Buddhism is as corrupt and degenerate as all other religions which have, for the most part, been “nationalised” or perverted by egoism and wegoism — the return of the gods of tribe and nation and party. And even the Dalai Lama, to his great credit (but also now as refugee and asylum-seeker), has come to recognise the deficiencies of a merely “Tibetan” Buddhism.
Each of us is therefore called upon to become more than what we are: the Buddhist must become more than a Buddhist; the Muslim, more than a Muslim; the Hindu, more than a Hindu; the Christian, more than a Christian. To survive the cataract, we have to stop flailing long enough to transcend our own boundaries and identities, and learn to coordinate and synchronise, otherwise the canoe will tip and spill its cargo and occupants into the cataract. That’s the probability of the looming “global catastrophe” that Jean Gebser also foresaw.
There’s really no chance of reaching the serener waters beyond the cataract without “pulling ourselves together” in order to pull together. And this challenge looks truly formidable given the current dominant hyper-partisan, schismatic, and fractious tendencies of what we are calling “post-modernity” (or “end of history”).
So, “carry the fire”, or dip your paddle in the cataract.