Conditioning, Courage and Waking Up

“Rising Out of Hatred” by Eli Saslow is  book about waking up.

Derek Black, an intelligent, sensitive, even compassionate kid, was brought up as a white nationalist in the belly of the beast. He was articulate in his defense of white nationalism, and had a powerful and compelling (to some) voice even as a child and teenager.  His ability to “whitewash” the rhetoric of hate, making it more palatable to a larger audience, was part of the recent trend in that movement to gain legitimacy for their delusions and power.

Derek wasn’t himself hateful. He treated people who were different with respect. But he couldn’t see, his narrative didn’t allow him to grasp, how much he was hurting others. So it was easy enough for him to hold in his head the idea that white nationalism was not about hate. And this played into the hands of those who both loved and exploited him.

This strategy of downplaying hate and selling white nationalism as a viewpoint, a logical analysis of history and biology (which takes a lot of ignoring actual history and biology), is one that the racists have been using to gain followers. They aren’t merely frightened and hate ridden and evil, they are realistically facing the truth, they would maintain. It allows for a lot of wiggle room rationalizing bigotry and causing pain. It helps racists feel better about acting (including voting) out of fear and anger and greed and ignorance.

It is one of the ways Trump got elected, appealing to hate, greed and fear but making it palatable, leading to the horror show of the Trump administration and the white power movement Trump empowers.

After all , there are good people on both sides, Trump famously said about American Nazis. So reasonable! So inclusive! How generous (please read that as sarcastic…)

Derek managed to work his way out of white nationalism while in college. He opened his heart, and his intellect, holding to the compassion he felt and the truth he could understand when he allowed himself to explore and research his received beliefs deeply, eventually transforming himself, and, by going public, hoping to ameliorate some of the grave harm he has done.

Redemption doesn’t come easily.

This is my first post in a while. I have not had much more to say about science and Zen. Not that there’s not a lot to say, just that I have already said a lot and I haven’t felt inspired to pursue it in writing of late. I hope to self-publish my second novel soon and that says more about how I see things than blogging about science and Zen at this point for me.

So why am I back, bringing a book about a reformed white nationalist to your attention?

Because it is about conditioning, how we can be distorted by the views we imbibe, and how much harm we can do to ourselves and to others if we don’t wake up form the slumber of our delusions and see clearly.

Derek’s story shows that we can wake up. Derek did.

Even if imperfectly, even if it seems too little too late.

I bet in some way, big or small, you have woken up to Truth, even if just a bit.

This is what Zen practice is about for me at this stage of my life: not being trapped by conditioning, by the stories I have absorbed as my own. Or for that matter, the stories I have made up to assuage myself.

To not be trapped by my dreams, good or bad.

Nothing necessarily wrong with stories and dreams, if you know them for what they are. They can be useful, inspiring, a way to access truths otherwise difficult to articulate. Just like the intellect: a good servant, bad master.

I do not have the Zen chops to be a Zen teacher. I can’t tell you about enlightenment. Still, we can all understand how subtle and yet overpowering our assumptions, our conditioning, can be. How, being wrapped up in our hopes and fears and desires we tell ourselves stories to justify it all and ease the pain of a challenging existence that doesn’t obey our commands, doesn’t evolve in the ways we would like it to.

How authentic am I? How much of what I think is true, whether interpreting science, Zen/spirituality, politics, relationships, career choices and goals, are stories I have absorbed, roles I have taken on?

What does it take to wake up, to live authentically?

Most of us don’t have to do the 180 degree turn around Derek Black did, or have done the damage he had, but many have had to disappoint and disturb family, friends, ourselves, when we see how distorted our lives have become trying to make our minds, our lives, fit expectations and the desires.

I hope I have the courage to look at what is True, tough as it is.

After all, Derek Black seems to have had. And he was brought up by world renowned, hard core racists!

And politically, maybe, just maybe, others will also see the errors of their ways. The midterms suggested some will. I can dream, can’t I?

Merry Christmas

 

See You In Hell

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I have flirted with despair and anger, feelings of betrayal and even hopelessness, over this election, as have many people I know.

But time to “cut it.”

Time to get real.

Along those lines, the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu, a couple of old friends, have a new book I picked up as an “impulse buy” last week called “The Book  of Joy.” I find it timely and helpful. Not because it is chock full of deep or subtle dharma and cosmic vision, or that I even agree or resonate with all aspects of their conversations, but these old guys have been through hell and have some credibility, or at least experience, when it comes to dealing with hard core, vicious and violent racism and oppression.

And we are going to need those skills!

As the ground of our Buddhist practice is compassion, it isn’t just a matter of being compassionate when it is easy and the lines are clear.

As the grounds of being a liberal, progressive, or a sane person without political agendas, is fairness and justice, not idealism for its own sake, we have to be clear and real about what that means.

Yes, we need to care about the refugees, many of whom were displaced, directly or indirectly, by our interventionism. And we need to care for minorities and marginalized people.

But to have any meaning our compassion has to also be for the blue collar worker or woman or hispanic who, in fear and loathing, voted for Trump!


Our tradition says the Bodhisattva Guan Yin goes to hell because she hears the cries of the suffering. Not just the suffering of people she approves of. Didn’t see that in the fine print.

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The memorial to victims of war and oppression, Berlin. You see a statue of  a woman cradling a dead young man. The red on either side are two wreaths of flowers. It is Guan Yin in hell.

Did we (progressives, democrats, reasonably sane and caring people of all stripes) really do that? Michael Moore warned us that we were tone deaf or worse.

Where were the Democrats when big pharma and my fellow docs were pushing oxycontin? Too busy raising money to buy votes they couldn’t earn? I heard 20 million opiate addicts now and each has, or had, a family…

Our tradition says anger just gets more anger. Natural to feel anger and shock that our neighbors are so driven by fear and despair (and yes, in too many cases, outright racism and hate for the “other”), but how long do we indulge our anger and despair?

If we are all one, no separation, or if we say we are for the “people,” we have Trump and over 50 million actual people who voted for him to be “one” with! It isn’t a matter of having to like or agree with them, but we can’t just dismiss them or hate them. Despair and rage is counter-productive. 

Our tradition says buddha stopped a war caused by his family being arrogant and deceitful. Until he didn’t the second time and his clan was wiped out.

Our tradition says buddha’s cousin tried to kill him.

Yet he kept buddha-ing!

He didn’t give up even though (or maybe because) it looks so hopeless, because desires and suffering beings are inexhaustible, numberless.

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I love that about our tradition!

And remember: we DID get the majority of votes, despite a flawed candidate who to many represented the very  unsatisfactory status quo.

You and me, we are not alone. We can do this dance together.

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We were in a bubble, but it was a pretty big bubble; together lets pop it and get to the hard work of opposing fascism, fear and racism, not out of anger and hate or because of some progressive agenda, or some concept of a left wing paradise, but because it is right effort, because it is what is right, period!

Whatever system we find ourselves under (as did our spiritual ancestors), whether we are ruled by an emperor, shogun, republic, democracy, socialism, feudalism, whatever, we stand for justice and compassion if we have a Mahayana  practice, or if we have no formal practice but simply have two synapses that work and we care at all and aren’t just as selfish and short sighted as the people we decry.

This blog Zengut  is in large part about the visions of science and zen. Well, in both science and zen we deal with what is in front of us, we don’t waste time and energy wishing it were different, imagining and hoping for a better past or different universe so we could have a more comfortable future that matches how we think it should be. We don’t indulge in fantasy and dogma. We see what the data says in science and we don’t fake it or fudge it, and we own the ground we stand on in zen; no difference there.

I’m not saying be passive. Stand up for what is right. Racism and misogyny and homophobia and climate denial and the fox guarding the hen house are NOT OK. It’s not “all good” and we are not going to be alright. When someone says “oh, we’ll survive this”, I get chills down my spine. Like we survived WWII? The Cultural Revolution in China? The monks and nuns in Tibet? Like kids in Syria? Like our own devastating civil war? Like so many throughout history under colonization and oppressive regimes throughout the world of all colors and beliefs?  No, I am not saying it is all good, we will be fine. We may be a failed evolutionary experiment, and if so, it will be painful. This may be how this chapter of the greater story ends.

Neither Buddhism or science is sentimental about suffering or survival.

So:

Be strong. Be loud. Effect change. Fight the good fight for truth and justice. Out of human decency. But not out of anger, not out of hate, and not out of fear or despair.

That is our tradition(s) at its(their) best.

And it is our only hope.

Love, and see you in hell.

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