Incivility to Oneself
(As Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn use to say: “Bad Idea!”
In 1991, HH Dalai Lama asked a group of Buddhist students what in Buddhism helped the low self-esteem He had heard expressed by so many Westerners.
For in the orient, Buddhism tended to address overly inflated egoic expression.
An example of a culture promoting a healthy strong ego presence is when I once asked Dr. Lobsang Rapgay about mantras and children. He said that
“Eat my shit,” a back-off buster message… was what young children were taught as Buddhists understand that we are born with Buddha nature, a child is not lesser than – just inexperienced. I do not know if this approach was for girls as well, but I applied his logic for our two daughters and son. I did not teach them to tell people to “piss off.” But – that our authority as parents was not about us as parents being better or smarter – just more experienced.
But, why is it so different here? Why do we see a culture, especially a youth culture with so much angst, so much fear, self-loathing, so much uncertainty?
Here some of my thoughts on Causal Factors…
1. In the march of history, where the Bible and other wise books tell us that the sins of the fathers are inherited by their sons, i.e. future generations, we see, over the course of human activity, actions and results of power, avarice, greed, privilege – and all the disparities these create that lead to sickness, poverty, and warfare.
We think that those who perpetrate such and live in palaces and private islands have it made. But we ignore the karmic consequences that play out in terrible relationships, drug abuse, mental illness, and the feelings mentioned above.
During the Occupy Movement and Robert Thurman mentioned how he was raised and lived around the one percent. He said we really would not want their lives.
We feel these things. We know when our moral compass is askew. We may indulge in denial or seek absolution through religion or charitable acts. But these are really bandaids for a bleeding soul.
2. Our religiosity or ethos around original sin, our fall from grace vs. the Buddhist notion of us being nascent Buddhas endowed with basic goodness/loving nature, needing to work on transforming the 3 Poisons of Ignorance, Attachment, and Aggression.
The “sinner” approach creates rigid/linear boundaries where we even get cut off from ourselves whereas a Oneness perspective which sees personal growth and inclusivity as the only sustainable way of moving forward… This does not mean, however, the regret and remorse are not useful attitudes to exhibit when unskillful and harmful acts have been done.
The digital world and incessant stimulation of information, undigested thought and emotion – occupying our world 24/7, without stop. The result is that it is really difficult to know what is important, what we can ignore, even let go of.
Let’s look at our external world…
In a time which the Buddha Sakyamuni spoke of, we see and are in the midst of
- global pandemic
- acceleration of high intensity ecological calamities of biblical proportion in terms of tornadoes and hurricanes – the winds – floods, draughts, and rising seas, unprecedented fires and the resulting
- mass migrations – ecological and environmental refugees
- rise in xenophobic reactions to protect or hold onto the world the way it has actually never been and thus rise in
- violence and the proliferation of political refugees
And so, in the immensity of what we as spiritual beings having a human experience must accept, confront, transcend, and prevail – it is seemingly far easier to just get down on ourselves, beat ourselves up,
Which leads to, inevitably
Self loathing and
Spiritual listlessness, apathy, even laziness
In this psychically numb torpor, we can do things our healthy normal sense would not allow…
In Tantra – self denigration is a path to spiritual suicide
So, how do we challenge the habitual tendency to go down this path of incivility?
The Buddha taught the 4 thoughts that Revolutionize the Mind…
Precious human birth
Karma – what we do makes a difference
Not squandering our God given potentials which we have, since beginningless time…
As dear Dharma friend, Stephen Levine use to say…
Show yourself some mercy
In that softer, more open heart space,
Learn to see your shortcomings as opportunities for growth
When you think of extending kindness to others, from a Oneness perspective, you are one of them! And, there IS really no THEY!
Civility and the Cancel Culture
Wikipedia defines Cancel Culture as “a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to be “cancelled”. Merriam-Webster notes that to “cancel”, as used in this context, means “to stop giving support to that person” while Dictionary.com, in its pop-culture dictionary, defines cancel culture as “withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” The expression “cancel culture” has mostly negative connotations and is commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship.”
First, let’s get back to some basics – the Three Poisons of Ignorance, Attachment, and Aggression, in which I have said that we can translate them as… We don’t understand things completely. We get attached to our version of things. And, we get defensive, maybe even aggressive when people don’t agree with us. This is the habitual Samsaric mind, which we each possess and exist within cultures where reified ideas pro and con regarding virtually every human transaction create individual and group preferences and dislikes, friends, enemies, in-crowds, heretics, and maligned.
I spoke in my last podcast about undigested thoughts in the virtual world. The speed of virtual communications and the way in which we revere our thoughts and feel entitled to express them in speech and writing is less an expression in our culture of having freedom of speech and more an expression of the loss critical thinking, listening, and the civility to communicate in an on-the-level altruistic intent and create as little harm as possible and benefit all.
In one of my Facebook posts on Cancel Culture I wrote… “you may think you have the right to say what you want and – within 1st Amendment protection – where you want, I have the right to be selective in what I want to hear or read, i.e. listener and reader rights. Example: I do not own Facebook, but I “rent” a space on that platform I call mine. If you come into my space to berate or belittle me or others, spread falsities and absurd unfounded conspiracies, I reserve the right to say to you for myself and those who would normally read my page, go away. I shall take down said offensive material and, if necessary, unfriend you. I am not infringing on your right to say or write what you want. But, not here. This is not about echo chambers. Based on my values, I hold that demonstrating civility is the best approach in resolving what even appears to be irreconcilable. You have the right to roam the rest of the virtual universe to plant your seeds in some other garden.” With respect to the notions of shaming and ostracism that is utilized, in the positive sense, I can see these within the context of what I would call civility rooted in wrathful compassion. See The Path of Civility…, page 28.
But, let’s open the lens on this concept of cancel culture, for although you may not like a newspaper or radio or TV station because they do not express your views, there are now media outlets for every persuasion. These indeed create echo chambers from which we need to emerge to make substantive change, but we also need to be fearless in confronting cancel culture systems like 1. Gerrymandering 2. Red lining 3. Culling voter lists 4. Providing fewer or inadequate polling places in elections 5. Making election days national holidays or times that don’t disadvantage those who fear taking off or may get hours docked to go and vote. In this regards, our last election was the fairest. 6. Practices in business, industry, and government which advantage some over others
These are the CANCEL issues we need to address to create the representative democracy we profess to have or aspire to achieve.
Towards these ends and in the best sense, we can see the notion of cancel culture within the context of discernment and being able to rally together with people of like mind without being overly distracted by those whose views only take on more real estate in our heads than is of value. Masons speak of circumscribing desires, where we learn to rein ourselves. In a laissez fare world, discipline is considered repressive. But the Tibetan word for discipline, Tsultrim, is also translated as joy. It is important to remember in this context the
Civility does not arise on its own. It takes discipline. And from this, greater joy and ease follow.
Civility and Time
Time for Civility
Think about your communication, your personal and business transactions in the Digital Age.
How conditioned have we become to instant gratification, immediate responses, and that nerve-racking wait as the three dots repeat and repeat until the answer comes. And, what if the dots stop and there is no response? What does it mean? Is the question or comment not worthy of response? Are we not worthy of response? If the answers to these questions is “yes” then certainly the response should be immediate – certainly not tomorrow.
Obviously, timely replies for those circumstances that need timely replies, deserve timely replies. But short of these usually rare or special circumstances, how many of our communication really warrant instant replies? And how is our communication and our skills in communicating effected, even truncated by time pressure?
In this context, civility is a casualty when time as a factor in healthy, open communication is not considered.
In fact, reflection and consideration of what someone is saying or writing are skills of what is called deep listening. These 2 skills are best served by the inner cultivation of what are called in the Buddha’s Dharma, the Six Perfections.
Generous spirit – one that exhibits openness and a willingness to share freely. This does not mean that one disregards history or goes into a situation with rose-colored glasses. Rather, one enters into an interaction with a sense of – what Freemasons would call, “being on the level.”
Kindness – you act without guile or a twist to make things go to your advantage to the disadvantage of the other simply because you want to win or be on top. You are straightforward in a way that allows for a transaction to feel two-way or serve the greatness number in the most beneficial way possible.
Patience – an understanding of the time it takes for our mind and habits to transform. How often do we see our own history repeating itself, where what we thought were habits or actions we had changed, once again emerge in a new or different circumstance? In patiently tending to our own awakening, we demonstrate a mercy towards ourselves, which will well serve us when we are trying to encourage a change of mind or action in others.
Discipline – when we know what to do and how to do it well in any given circumstance, there is less stress and more ease in what happens. Thus discipline in speech, knowing what to say, how to deliver it so that your message comes across most effectively, is a skill worth cultivating.
Stillness or Meditative Awareness invites an open and clear mind. To not have your internal dialogue chatting away while you are trying to pay attention and listen reduces the likelihood of you interrupting or adding commentary that is more about you than about the transaction you are trying to be engaged in. This requires training.
Wisdom – all the qualities mention above, practiced well over time, will yield this perfection. Such wisdom commands respect implicitly and almost naturally.
When all of these perfections are worked upon, civility becomes natural and implicit. And, to work upon these to perfect your being takes TIME.
In which case, show yourself some mercy. Be still and kind and patient with yourself. For, the most important civil dialogue you need to master is the one within your own mind.
An excerpt from my book, which I cannot stress enough, makes a profound difference in de-escalating discord and conflict…
The Five Steps to Wise Action
How do we learn to act with skill, with compassion to accomplish what we aspire for ourselves and in this world in the most civil way?
Although Wisdom is one of the Perfections mentioned earlier, it in itself can be subdivided into mental processes we need to go through in order to go from wise perception to wise action. These processes are all classified as wisdoms, which, when seen collectively, create sensible and progressive action steps to know how to employ or what level of compassion to use. Note that the discussion of the Five Wisdoms in Buddhism usually includes more theoretical and theological discussion. I shall avoid these and focus on the actionable aspects of each, which can be applied in both sacred and mundane situations.
All Pervasive Wisdom – This first wisdom action step may be the hardest as it asks us to step back from the immediacy of the situation or at least be able to keep our passions from leading us to a rush to judgment. If we are able to step back, to see a bigger picture and place the situation into a larger perspective, we then create more of an opportunity to think out of or beyond the box we may otherwise be mentally and emotionally trapped in. Succinctly, the action step is: Step back.
Discriminating Wisdom – By stepping back and getting a clearer picture, we encourage our ability to judge impartially, but with discernment Based on a wider perspective, we are not looking at “the truth,” per se. Relative reality and truth are at best, very slippery bedfellows. There are always so many sides and interpretations to any situation. And so, we discern as best we can and give an “honest” assessment . Honesty means we are coming from a place of integrity within ourselves. Honesty allows us to change our minds if more information comes to light. We may not always know “the truth,” but we can always be honest. Thus, the action step here is: Assess.
Mirror-like Wisdom – This wisdom is reminiscent of our modern psychological understanding of projection, that what we see in the world is a mirror reflection of our state of mind. (What is fascinating is that modern neuroscience has identified Mirror Neurons, which are said to reside behind our hearts and that the information from these neurons goes up to our brain. Furthermore, there are more signals going from the heart to the brain than visa versa. And so, Japanese Buddhism speaks of the “heart-mind.” It is also fascinating to reflect that this wisdom known as “mirror-like” pre-dates our current knowledge of mirror neurons by centuries.) What is called on here is for us to understand the direct impact on us personally of what we have honestly assessed. If we start there, we stand a better chance of knowing how our words or actions that follow will affect others. The action step is: Reflect.
Wisdom of Equanimity – This wisdom demands that we confront within ourselves any bigotry that sees any person or being to be ultimately superior or inferior to ourselves. Freemasonry, as a tradition of philanthropy and secular enlightenment, speaks of “being on the level.” Without understanding that we are all “equal in the eyes of God,” true, heartfelt empathic communication and civility–based action is not possible. The Yiddish word here is to be a “mensch.” Not seeing or acting as being higher or lower than those whom we engage, we overcome prejudice and invite a reciprocal response. Whether the response we get is indeed reciprocal is another matter. But, the point in demonstrating civility here is that we engage in such a spirit. Engaging another “on the level,” another important dimension of this wisdom is that we do not engage in character assassination. What we should be addressing are issues and actions. Thus, the action step here is: Engage.
All Accomplishing Wisdom – Being able to step back, assess, reflect, and properly engage, we now have the sufficient knowledge that we need to Learning summon and martial our energy wisely and apply it where, when, and how it is most effective. We step into action forthrightly. The action step here is: Enact.
The first three of these wisdoms, all-pervasive, discriminating, and mirror-like are more internal or mental. The last two, the wisdom of equanimity and all-accomplishing wisdom are the connection we make with others and our action or words in the manifest world. The bridge between the internal and outer or external is at the level of mirror-like wisdom, associated in the East with what is called the heart chakra, the center of the heart-mind. Reflection therefore acts as the gate between our inner machinations of our experience and how we are to prepare ourselves for engagement and action in the world. It is then by the wisdom of equanimity that we make the main step of social engagement. Thus, the wisdom of equanimity is the most social of all the wisdoms.
To summarize and succinctly state, in the Five Steps to Wise Action…we
1. step back – look at the big picture
2. assess – clearly discern what we are looking at
3. reflect on this knowledge, understand our part – making it personal, helping us to develop empathy
4. engage – initiate action based on mutual respect an intention of focusing on the good of all
5. enact – step into action forthrightly
Watch my “Pillow Talk” podcast, which puts this all into action.