Attachment doesn’t have to be positive

When speaking of attachments, desires, cravings, etc., people often seem to focus on positive things: love of/for pleasure, family, friends, a certain place, etc. However, attachments can also be negative. For example: an activist might hate corruption or injustice, a police officer might hate crime or criminals, a military officer might hate foreign aggressors, a terrorist might hate another religion or ethnic group, an abused person might want revenge, an abusive person might want to exploit others, a corporate boss might want to conquer every competitor, a politician might want dictatorial power, and so on. Of course, most people probably have a mixture of positive and negative attachments.

As I understand, in Buddhism, rebirth happens because of any attachment to this (or any) world, not only positive attachments. The Buddha also seems to have been attached to “the pleasure of renunciation, the pleasure of seclusion, the pleasure of peace, the pleasure of self-awakening” (AN 8.86), which are perhaps attachments leading to nirvana.

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Knowing nationalism, culturism, and racism

You don’t really know nationalism until you’ve lived in a foreign country. People back home often don’t accept/trust things you did in the other country, sometimes even things you did at an embassy, and vice versa. Government officials in the home country ask you questions like, “why would you want to live there?”, and require you to help them spy on you and tax you (e.g., tell them what foreign bank accounts you have). People at foreign company and government offices usually ignore your emails. And locals of the other country often treat you suspiciously. People in other countries are usually nice to paying tourists, but not so nice if you try to live there.

Similarly, you don’t really know culturism and racism until you’ve lived in an area where you are in a cultural or ethnic minority. People constantly stare when you walk down the street, and sometimes comment on how (dis)similar you look to them. Taxis and buses don’t stop maybe half the time, and people are physically pushier with foreigners on buses and in crowds. Customer service people in businesses avoid you unless you confront them, and local customers cut in line ahead of you. It’s harder to get a job and to navigate relationships of all kinds. People often don’t want to hear or see things from your culture. People from both cultures sometimes do mocking/poor impressions of the other culture or ethnicity in front of you, and expect you to find it funny. And people are judgmental and rejecting, if you look or speak in any way that they don’t find beautiful/healthy, humble, thankful, and positive.

In such an interconnected world, it’s amazing to me that many people are still so small-minded.

Everyday use of canonical languages

Why don’t more people use religious canonical or liturgical languages in everyday speech (e.g., Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic for Christians; Pali or Sanskrit for Buddhists; etc.), so that they can think in the same terms as the founder(s) of their religion and unite with like-minded people around the world? Besides the tendency for modern societies to be secular, I suspect it is because many people and governments value their nation, ethnic group, or local culture more than their philosophy or religion. Modern languages often have some historical basis in a canonical or liturgical language, but they usually have evolved in the context of a specific nation or group, and have not been synchronized with other local languages.

Frogs in a well

Usually, I find that being well-educated and/or well-traveled makes people more open/large-minded, tolerant, patient, non-racist, non-nationalistic, peaceful, etc., and that being poorly educated and/or traveled makes people the opposite of those things. People who, mentally or physically, never go far from home usually seem to be the ones who are passionately attached to one (and against all others) religion, ethnic or national identity, sports team, local dialect of a language, and so on. A common metaphor for such people in south and southeast Asian countries is “frogs in a well.”

Early Greek Buddha images

Many Buddhists apparently don’t know that the first Buddha images were probably created by Greco-Buddhists living in Central Asia. For example, below is one of the earliest Buddha statues, from perhaps the 1st-3rd centuries CE in Gandhara (present-day Afghanistan). Notice the European facial features.

stone bust of Gandhara Buddha from the 1st-2nd century AD
By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Early Buddhism was mostly aniconic, representing the Buddha with objects like a footprint, an empty throne, a Dhamma/Dharma Wheel, etc. For example, here is an early Indian sculpture from perhaps the 2nd-3rd centuries BCE in Bharhut, India, representing the Buddha as a garland and Dhamma Wheel. Notice that the Wheel’s spokes look more traditional/Hindu, not the Eightfold-Path Wheel usually seen today.

Bharhut Pasenadi Pillar - Dharmachakra.jpg
By Ken Kawasaki – Ken Kawasaki: Bharhut Stupa In the Indian Museum, Kolkata [1], CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

What Star Trek says about liberal America

(As yet another Star Trek TV series is soon to be released) The most interesting thing to me about Star Trek is that it seems to try to show how liberal Americans want the future to be. Though civilians are shown occasionally, the overwhelming focus is on Star Fleet and themes like:

  • a single, globalizing/universalizing, hierarchical, US/UN-type federal government that seeks to run everything in the universe with positivist science and a defensive-only military
  • leaders should have arrogant, extroverted, emotional, and self-indulgent alpha personalities, and people should either replace them or follow them obediently
  • socialism of most things, eliminating large corporations and money, but allowing small companies (e.g., Quark’s casino in DS9) and trading of commodities (e.g., latinum, dilithium, antiques, etc.)
  • technophilia and hedonism in many forms
  • politically correct inclusion of 1-2 members of many ethnicities, genders, and species, though most humans are either Caucasians, African Americans, or East Asians
  • positivistic scientism and English in public (emphasizing math, engineering, chemistry, biology, etc.), and pushing most social science and humanities topics to people’s off-duty hours or private quarters

The reality of complexity

In my experience, every large group, nation, etc. contains the full range of people, from terrible to wonderful. “They” are not all bad, and “we” are not all good. Please stop seeing the world in terms of simplistic categories, and start seeing the incredible complexity of life.