Can Buddhism Help Resistance?

Source: Image by Mathieu Vivier from Pixabay

2020 has been a tough year for us. Collectively, we have seen disease, death, political strife, racial injustice, and economic adversity cause great suffering. Personally, life has been very difficult as my wife has been diagnosed with stage 2 cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments. All this angst has taken its toll. It makes me think a lot about the different methods we could use to cope, both in a personal / individual sense and for the greater good of societal harmony.

Throughout my adult life, I have been drawn to Buddhist ideas which bring me a lot of inner peace and happiness. And I am not alone. Buddhism, along with mindfulness and meditation, has grown in popularity in the Western world in recent years. In view of this, I would like to suggest that Buddhist ideas can also be useful for the Resistance, especially ideas that relate to suffering and compassion for others who are different from us.

In what way precisely? First, Buddhist ideas teach us that psychological pain is a universal aspect of human nature, which is caused by the imperfect ways in which our animal brains construct reality. The First and Second Noble Truths suggest that suffering is an inevitable aspect of our existence and that everyone experiences pain in one form or another, whether through illness, despair, loss, violence, l ‘failure, betrayal, etc. All types of suffering are therefore unified in the sense that suffering itself is a universal human experience and because all pain occurs due to the psychological limitations of our species. No one is exempt, whether beggar or prince.

These ideas give us a basis for understanding and sympathizing with each other’s pains and for working hard to achieve liberation and righteousness for all sentient beings. The story of the Buddha himself (Siddhārtha Gautama) is that of sacrifice. The Buddha was born into immense personal privilege, but gave up riches and pleasures in order to discover ideas that would help billions of others lead happier and more peaceful lives. Part of the Buddha’s vision was how individual humans are connected and unified through our suffering, and how we have a duty to help each other whenever possible. This selfless and compassionate mindset should extend to everyone, even those we think are hostile or immoral.

The reason these are important ideas for The Resistance is that they can help us overcome the negative polarization and vicious divisions that have plagued our society in recent times. By recognizing our common humanity, we can be drawn to solutions favorable to all, not just those of our political or social tribe. As I wrote in a previous post, I am disheartened to hear that some liberals distance themselves from others (including family or friends) on the sole basis that those others voted for Donald Trump. . I am frustrated and deeply concerned that if we operate in this way, the American experiment will fail. How will we be able to come together, bridge divisions, heal the wounds of our nation, and have a cooperative and prosperous future if we continue to double our feelings of antipathy towards our political rivals?

I am also concerned about how some Liberals describe people primarily or solely in terms of disparate identity groups, some of whom are seen as more noble or deserving than others. Why not focus on our shared humanity with a collective quest to overcome suffering? This is the wisdom of Buddhist reasoning. We can better serve each other and achieve our goals of justice and equality by drawing large inclusive circles instead of making distinctions. For those who are passionate about celebrating diversity and recognizing our different lived experiences and origins, I think we can still achieve this. But research has shown that calling attention to the differences between groups can have unintended negative consequences. We may need to frame the diversity of our origins in the context of broader and deeper commonalities.

Some might suggest that these ideas of depolarization are not specific to Buddhism, but rather are aspects of many (if not all) religions of the world. This is where I disagree. While it is heartwarming to think that all major religions embrace these ideas (because religions are pervasive and powerful social forces), I feel skepticism that just being religious is enough to to unify people, or that just belonging to a religious tradition makes people more morally good. This is because religions can also ignite fierce tribalism, violence and bigotry. I think it’s more accurate to say that certain types of religious messages can motivate people to be more socially cooperative and altruistic, and these messages tend to focus on universalism rather than esoteric traditions or beliefs based. on a group.

Some experimental evidence suggests that when people are exposed to Buddhist ideas, they become more compassionate and tolerant (i.e. less prejudicial) towards others who are not themselves, compared to those exposed to Christian ideas. . This result was found for a variety of participants with different religious backgrounds, including other faiths (eg Catholicism) and also among atheists. This makes Buddhism especially useful for building bridges between people of different faiths and world views. Because it is based on an agnostic framework, it does not require supernatural or metaphysical beliefs that may conflict with people’s pre-existing religious values ​​(such as belief in a Christian God or paradise), or secular beliefs.

So, can Buddhist ideas cause political cooperation or depolarization? It remains to be seen. Based on what we know about Eastern philosophy and Western psychology, I think this is a strong hypothesis and one that interested researchers can certainly study. In the meantime, it can be helpful to keep these ideas at the forefront of our minds if we are to create a better world.