A Wilderness Of Mirrors
My political adversaries comprise two groups, one of which I am in partial agreement with. The first group consists largely of the morally corrupt who recognize nothing except money, power, and contempt for others. They are boring beyond words and largely beyond help in this life. All one can do as a Buddhist is dedicate the good results of sincere practice to their eventual enlightenment in some future life. I do this every time I practice.
The second group consists of honest and sincere people whom the morally corrupt exploit for political advantage. These are the people with whom I often agree and among whom I have sustained [up to now] a real, if strained, dialog.
The honest and sincere people who are my adversaries, and who are largely Christian, agree with me on one important point. The United States is in the midst of a moral struggle and not a political one.
But my view of the moral struggle is not the same as theirs. Theirs, essentially, is that of a struggle against a nebulous consortium of evil demons: Muslims, illegal immigrants, gays, news organizations, liberals, and, and, and, and....Even the ones whom I like the most show lapses in viewing mere strong political disagreement as a struggle with irredeemable moral evil. In other words, lapses of plain common sense.
In my view, the real moral struggle is a struggle to continue to sustain plain common sense.
We can take any issue you please. We can take global warming, for example. There are certain objective things we can ask and answer about the issue. We can ask whether Greenland's ice cap is melting or not. We can ask how fast is it melting. We can ask what it will do to the oceans if most of it melts. We can ask what we can and should do about all of these things.
My adversaries simply refuse to ask these questions seriously. They act as if the answers to such questions are mere matters of opinion. And that is the abandonment of common sense.
They live in a wilderness of mirrors and the demons they see are the reflections of their own terrified faces. One of the useful things about this blog [besides the fact that the owner of it has a darn good left hook, which I know empirically because I have put my head in the way of it] is that it puts the reflections of self-loathing and self-horror at the head of every post.
Struggling against these adversaries is, as I said, a moral struggle. It is as much a struggle for their future--or, as they would say, their immortal soul--as it is a struggle for the public future of this country. The greatest flaw of most of them, even the one in the highest office of the land, is that they believe themselves to have moral principles without first establishing mental principles.
This is a subtle matter and one which is not wholly measurable with literal description. You can best point at it by reflecting that religious doubt is just as religious as religious faith. For many of my Christian adversaries, their political and social opinions are primarily a means of evading the problem of religious doubt.
You may wonder that I include the President among my Christian adversaries rather than among my amoral ones. Unlike many of my party, I take his Methodist Christianity seriously. He is no longer a drunken, drugged sot, as he once was, because of it, and that is an objective moral result. You do not get such things without some modicum of faith.
But the point of taking religious doubt seriously is the fact that merely accepting religious faith does nothing to address the underlying qualities of personality which make you a drunken, drugged sot. If you wish it translated into Christian terms, it does nothing to foster a sense of personal sin, and the humility which accompanies a sense of personal sin.
Why? Because merely having faith in God, in Christ, in Allah, in something or someone else bigger, better, and more powerful than you are does nothing to address who and what you really are. And you wear who or what you really are for all to see. If you can't or won't look at it, it will rule your actions for good or evil no matter how strongly you believe in what "higher power". And the good or evil you do will follow you inexorably like the Eye of God followed Cain in the desert. So will your defiance of plain common sense.
Indeed, such religious faith without address of your real and personal qualities as a human being is the source of the blackest spiritual pride.
It is also the absence of the firm mental principles that need to ground the assertion of moral principles by anyone. For religious doubt is not doubt of a Diety. The Diety is not self-evident in our common world. This is why Christianity, say, must be held to with "faith". If God were interviewed on Larry King tonight and was taking questions from around the country, there would be no need for "faith" whatever. And disbelief in God is as much a matter of "faith" as belief in Him. His non-existence is no more self-evident than His existence. Real religious doubt is doubt by you about you.
The firm mental principle which must ground your assertion of any moral principle is the fact that you are limited. You are not omnicient. You are not automatically right or good or even sane in whatever you think and whatever you do. In fact, a good percentage of the time you are wrong, bad, and nuts. Keeping from being wrong, bad, and nuts is a constant mental struggle which the wrong sort of "faith" projects on the actions of others in the blithe assertion of personal omnicience, rightness, goodness, and sanity.
When you do this, you are really wrong, bad, and nuts.
I find that my adversaries do this quite frequently and I strongly suspect it pervades the public policy of our most Christian President. But there is always room for doubt whether, in believing this, I, myself, am not being wrong, bad, and nuts.
As a Buddhist, I not only cleave to and practice Buddhism as a religion, I also sustain an abstract intellectual interest in my own struggles to be a Buddhist. I have an equally abstract intellectual interest in anyone else's struggles to be a Christian or a Muslim or whatever. When I have written about Buddhism here it has been in that spirit, under the assumption that the readers find spiritual struggles interesting, too.
Why I find Buddhism, and, particularly, the Tibetan tradition of it which I practice, intellectually riveting is that virtually everything you do in it is a confrontation with who and what you really are. And it is undertaken, in part, with the goal of achieving "enlightenment" which is simply the total accomplishment of sanity and common sense, a state where mental principles and moral principles are finally unified and need no "faith" to sustain them.
The way I have been taught to practice Buddhism is like riding a burning razor in the middle of a windstorm. That is why it is interesting. And also why it is painful. Inordinately painful, because it is real; because, as we Buddhists say, "life is suffering", and no mere "faith" in someone or something else is going to make it any better.
What is the point of faith without such pain? None that I can see. The moral struggle to sustain common sense is the use of that pain as the starting point for all judgments. And when I, or anyone else, abandons this, we are condemmed quite literally to the Wilderness of Mirrors.
In this life the Wilderness of Mirrors is bad enough, but it is not absolute. The mere fact that totally abandoning common sense causes you to frequently stub your toes [if no worse] keeps you sane to the degree that you cannot ignore everything in life which contradicts your opinions.
But after death the Wilderness of Mirrors can turn into an endless chamber of horrors where any form of objective common sense is no longer possible. And this is the danger that I strongly believe most of my Christian adversaries face without realising it. Not because they are Christian, but because, essentially, they are not Christian enough. Because they have religious faith without religious doubt.
It is not fashionable to say such blunt things about the followers of other beliefs. But I care little for fashion and I care a lot for the future of my Christian adversaries as well as that of all beings. And the reactions my adversaries have to me when I do say such things can be quite personally painful. But I will ride that burning razor into the very wall of the storm, if need be, if doing so alerts anyone to the horrid danger of the Wilderness of Mirrors. The need to do this, and for this very reason, is the bedrock of my own "faith".