By not contributing to the society they’re a part of, the richest among us have, at the very least, denied the world’s governments trillions of pounds in public expenditure.
It was estimated that in one year, in the UK alone, over £120 billion was lost to tax dodging. The total amount lost to welfare fraud however was, you guessed it, much less at around £1 billion.
What does it tell you about the government, media, and big business-funded ‘think’ tanks in this country if they’d try to save money by tackling a smaller problem (that affects the most vulnerable people alive) rather than by addressing a bigger problem (perpetuated by the least vulnerable on the planet)? Let me answer that. What it tells you is how we, the people as a whole, rate a problem is irrelevant to the establishment. The only problem worth considering for the powers-that-be is how to preserve the ruling class’ immense privilege in a world racked by oppression, instability, and economic sickness.
No justice, no peace.
When considering why you should meditate (other than the plethora of health benefits that warrant an article of their own) perhaps it is wisest, first, to remind yourself of the Buddha’s (Enlightened/Awakened One’s) words after being asked what he gained from meditation.
Nothing! However, let me tell you what I have lost: anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, and fear of old age or death.
What brought Siddhartha Gotama, fundamentally, to Enlightenment and “Buddhahood”, was a purification of the mind. Buddha realised that our thoughts determine who we are, or in his words, “what we think, we become”.
Our thoughts may be physical and determined by the physical world around us, but ultimately, by definition, the only events we control are the ones that result from our own actions. And, again by definition, what motivates actions carried out by us is our own desires.
Thoughts can become bad thoughts, which become bad desires, which become bad actions, which result in bad consequences. If one could understand how through dependant origination (the fact that all things, our own suffering and evils included, have causes) our own bad thoughts were created, we could develop a mind so strong and resilient that we would never again be the source of our own pain.
Buddha diagnosed three unhealthy mental attitudes that provided the fertile soil, or stormy sea, for samsara (the cycle of suffering): ignorance, attachment, and hate. Ignorance is in a sense an intellectual ill, attachment an emotional one, and hate a moral one, though, after deep analysis, it becomes clear just how intertwined each of these three vices are.
The futility and anti-realism of negative mentalities is expressed by the Buddhist idea that, if a problem can be fixed, it is futile to be down about it as it will only cloud your judgement when your main goal is always to overcome (not complain about) evil. If a problem is actually illusory or impossible to solve, then no amount of negativity will ever change that, so devote instead all of your energies to alleviating/preventing any psychological anguish.
Meditation, similar to some of the ‘deep prayer’ techniques we see Christian monastics use, is about ending our ills at the source. End your ignorance by contemplating the true nature of the world and goodness … the ephemeral nature of reality, how suffering is created, what makes Enlightenment a worthy goal. The importance of wisdom in the Indic philosophical tradition cannot be overstated.
End your attachment by grasping perhaps the central truth of Buddhism: all things change. The ultimate nature of existence, a constant state of flux, can provide us the motivation to stop obsessing over the temporal. Nurture a state of mind that allows you to find the silver lining in all things, and recognise that your happiness is no more important than everybody else’s. We are all as fragile, and as desperate for fulfilment, as each other.
End your hate by eliminating prejudices, consider in your mind all the people you feel are “other”, and then remember every one of us is in fact equal and born with fundamental human dignity/rights (or the “Buddha-seed”, sentient beings’ potential to be moral agents and be the objects of moral action through their ability to experience happiness).
What it all comes down to is that meditation is our way of gently moulding ourselves, altering our own natures organically by focusing on the best of what is already within us. We all acknowledge the power and value of love, so we should also all accept the need to nourish positive mind-sets throughout our lives.
An old Cherokee legend makes the case for Buddhist practice more eloquently than most ever could.
One evening an old Cherokee was telling his grandson about life’s central challenges. He said, “My son, a battle is going on inside of me. It is a terrible fight between two wolves.
One is evil – it is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good – it is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
They who cannot conquer themselves conquer nothing, this is the central lesson of meditation.
Nice to see Ansar in there! He led some lunch classes at my college in Winchester, Peter Symonds, back in the day.
We’ve been quiet the last 2-3 weeks, and for good reason. Someone left a comment on the first blog saying “what are you gonna do to do things differently?” Well here it is.
Gandhi famously said “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony” and this has been the abiding principle we have followed throughout this project.
We like to smile and laugh, and we had an intention to make other people smile and laugh. You should know, when this was being devised and filmed there was nothing but smiles, laughter and joy on the faces of the people who participated. It was amazing to watch the raw footage that was sent in to us of people who never knew each other laugh and enjoy themselves having fun.
SO what is it? Well first we had an idea. We sent a…
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Especially relevant in light of Thomas Piketty’s recent media coverage, I’ll quote BusinessWeek’s 10th April article on him:
” A 42-year-old professor at the Paris School of Economics has scored a surprise publishing hit, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, that proposes an unusual, possibly impractical, yet intriguing response to what he calls “the central contradiction of capitalism”: the tendency of wealth to grow faster than the gross domestic product, creating inequality that undermines democracy and social justice.
In a review last year, World Bank economist Branko Milanovic wrote that “we are in the presence of one of the watershed books in economic thinking.” In March, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that Piketty’s 685-page tome “will be the most important economics book of the year—and maybe of the decade.”
Most of the coverage of Piketty’s book has focused on his diagnosis, but the most interesting part is the cure. He proposes a global tax on capital—by which he means real assets such as land, natural resources, houses, office buildings, factories, machines, software, and patents, as well as pieces of paper, such as stocks and bonds, that represent a financial interest in those assets. “
As Congress stumbles into yet another budget/debt limit conference committee round of discussions, it appears that the losers along the way remain those at the bottom of the economic heap. On November 1st, all those receiving food stamps took a cut, with the specter of further cuts coming with the next round of budget talks. Seniors and disabled people face another anemic cost of living adjustment with further cuts being called for by the GOP in Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile, the government shutdown didn’t cost Wall Street and the wealthy much of anything. The question arises as to why, despite the election results of a year ago and various polls showing popular disdain for GOP tactics in previous budget talks and the government shutdown, Democrats and Progressives always appear to be on the defensive in these discussions?
Talk constantly turns to some imaginary need to cut the programs that…
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By March 2014 Pope Francis, or Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was a year in to his tenure as leader of the planet’s largest religious organisation. Bergoglio, formerly the archbishop of Buenos Aires, had taken charge of a church whose members believe him to be the final authority on all holy matters. But interestingly enough, some in the secular world are beginning to think the same.
We are used to people like the Dalai Lama, who represent a very personal and non-invasive form of religion, being accorded praise from within and without their congregations. In recent years however, the Catholic establishment has been almost exclusively defined by its approach to matters of sexual morality (homosexuality, contraception, etc.), and its incompetent reaction to the child abuse scandal. Pope Benedict’s resignation, the first by a pontiff in over half a millennium, was of course spurred by the PR-storm the Vatican found itself in. And when Catholic laypeople were themselves leaving in droves, any talk of projecting a positive image onto the wider world would have been laughable.
With their immense power, popes have a unique ability to force change, and this is what is crucial in an institution that needs radical quantities of it. With the Catholic Church swimming in accusations of immoral and illegal activity, the worst possible kind to boot, Francis can be held to a demanding standard. The Pope’s ability to affect change is not limited to the Catholic sphere either. When you’re at the helm of a collective embodying 1 out of every 7 people alive, you are responsible for much much more.
Earth’s most influential people have always appeared to hold the Pope in high esteem, but even here there now seems to be a change in the wind. Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the Vatican last week was her first abroad since 2011’s to Australia, and like Obama when he was personally given a copy of Francis’ work Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospels) a week earlier, the Queen and Pope exchanged gifts. The Pope has described Evangelii Gaudium as a statement of his intentions for the Vatican, and Obama said, “I actually will probably read this when I’m in the Oval Office, when I am deeply frustrated, and I am sure it will give me strength.”
One of the central themes of Evangelii Gaudium (arguably as it was in the gospel), is inequality and poverty. Such themes could give the Democrats, particularly the more left-of-centre economic populists, the resolve they need in the upcoming battle with the deeply entrenched plutocratic political class. It is this ability to inspire Davids rather than Goliaths that characterises the ‘Francis factor’.
There are fairly few doctrinal differences pre and post-Francis, but it is the change in focus that counts, as a recent theological conference at Jesuit-run Georgetown University noted. Rather than pick on the already embattled women and sexually oriented minorities of our time, Francis has chosen largely to fight against those who create rather than experience suffering and oppression. By saying “who am I to judge” when asked about homosexuals who want to practice Catholicism, asking the world at Lampedusa to remember “how to cry” for refugees, kissing the feet of female Muslim prisoners, or assuring atheists their good deeds may earn them a place in heaven, Francis truly sets wonderful precedents that the liberals in the church can at last look forward to building on.
Francis’ ability to also pinpoint institutional rather than isolated injustices, like the dog-eat-dog social Darwinism of unfettered capitalism, has earned him the scorn of neoliberalism’s most vociferous defenders. Rush Limbaugh described the Pope as a “Marxist,” and his criticism isn’t entirely misplaced, as one of the Catholic Church’s greatest traditions is the critique of dominant economic systems’ excesses. Unapologetically, the Pope described the collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh, and the economies complicit in it, as representing “slave labour.” On a separate occasion Francis described capitalism as idolatry and tyranny.
Francis’ simple attire, which he said like his namesake Francis of Assisi, is in itself a direct challenge to the vanity of the day. Other senior figures in the Church have already started imitating him. On top of it all, the Pope drives a Ford Focus, often cooks his own meals, and immediately chose to avoid living in the luxurious Papal palace. Francis has taken more combative action as well; by firing Germany’s Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, or “Bishop Bling,” he is reminding everybody of the distaste for ostentatious wealth that a life in the developing world can instil.
Francis is far from perfect–he has only just named the people who will sit on the child sex abuse commission and has yet to come even close to supporting women’s ordination (though he did advocate the creation of a ‘women’s theology’). Not to mention that, while the Pope is making advances like reforming its bank, the Vatican still sits on mind-blowing quantities of hoarded wealth. And, Bergoglio entered the Papacy accused of not doing enough to fight Argentina’s fascist regime during the dark days.
Ultimately though, Francis doesn’t have to reach perfection if he is simply capable of being a force for more good than evil in world, or if one can say he is a huge improvement over his predecessor. To one of these things observers can almost certainly say yes, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say both.
When the Pope blesses a statue of a homeless Jesus near St. Peter’s Square, falls to his knees and confesses his sins to an ordinary priest, or the theologian, George Mannion, at Georgetown’s conference describes Evangelii Gaudium as “ecclesiological dynamite” — clearly something is amiss. Mannion continues to say, “there is no sugar-coating” it, the exhortation has “little substantive continuity with the ecclesial agenda” of Francis’ predecessors.
If what Mannion says appears to portray radicalism, add to this the Pope’s words that a true church should be poor and for the poor, or the Vatican’s creation of a Council of 8 Cardinal Advisers (C8) which Francis has filled with other collegial members of the Catholic hierarchy. Professor Alberto Melloni, an ecclesiastical historian, has described the decentralisation of power embodied by the C8 secretariat as the “most important step in the history of the church for the past 10 centuries”. And it’s worth reminding oneself, a millennium ago, the Catholic Church was only a third of the way through its life. If in just a year the 266th, but 9th youngest Pope can transform a thousand years of tradition, imagine what else he may leave behind.
Co-writer: Peter Hardy