Beginnings are always exciting. And hard. This one is no different. But I must start somewhere and so I´ll begin where it counts.
Why am I doing this?
Well, because I need a new space to bring together, in one forum, the disparate strands of my intellectual life. This life is broad and deep but can be divided rather neatly into two main distinguishable areas: my inner life, and my outer life.
My inner life is focused on religion and spirituality, writing poetry and raising children, as a Shin Buddhist priest and parent.
My outer life is politics and rebellion, activism and engagement, school, degrees, and work, as a radical activist and writer.
As a teen, I had already collected a large number of books and had my home made bookshelf (painted blue cement blocks and lacquered boards) divided neatly into 2 sections. On the top shelf on one side, was a statue of a samurai warrior given me by my aunt. Below that, were all my books on politics: anarchist thought, Marxism, etc. On the other side, was a ceramic Buddha in Kamakura-style (Amida, in fact, but more on that coincidence later) and below him, my books on Zen, Advaita, Taoism, etc. It was only much later that I saw how I had carefully delineated these two strands of my interests and divided them so markedly from each other.
So how do these two seemingly at odds streams blend within me, in one larger Life?
All of it begins with what Thoreau referred to as his need “to live life deliberately.”
To live deliberately means to reflect, to ponder, and to weigh Life while at the same time participating in it. This is how I wish to live.
Every act of deep and honest consideration involves a rebellion against distraction, a rebellion against habit, and a rebellion against inclination. The first is social-for our distractions do often, and most irritatingly, come from without. The second is psychological, for what we do, we all too often simply do again and again, without thought. The third, however, though certainly related to the others, is separate in a way, for it attends to a deeper recognition: that we are impelled to consider less, or, less deeply, because distraction sets off a whole series of impulses, like the winning combination in a slot machine that finally pays out, which, when set in motion, cannot easily be suspended, for any reason. And yet, with effort, we can actually. Some old examples are quickly retrieved: Thoreau´s Walden, Augustine´s City, among others. But to do those things, that is, to stop and deeply reflect, is at the beginning, a monstrous task–an affront to inclination, habit, and the distractions of all outside us.
Thus, the true rebel must not stop only where their surface inclinations (political or social, for example) take them. They must go deeper. They must savagely attack even and especially, their own motives, their own formulae, their own remedies. They must guard against guardedness, and instead, remain open to the deepest of challenges to be sure. They must always question, resting in the love of the wonder of the entire human experience, even when it goes against one´s chosen path.
So how does this comport with those twin poles, politics and religion, I dwell upon so much? Let´s start with Buddhism.
One would think that the great “benefit” of Buddhism as noted by Albert Einstein, that it, “has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity” is belied by the ostensibly anthropomorphic Amida, the object of veneration in Shin Buddhism. Yet a deeper, more “rebellious” look reveals something much different. Amida, as a contraction of Infinite Light and Infinite Life, can be seen as most simply, Infinitude. And if the Great Vows Amida took to provide the perfect way station on the road to Ultimate Enlightenment are seen in a slightly different light, then we can say that essentially, the Infinite is Benevolent, and this suffices as explanation for my own personal journey to Shin Buddhism, for in a very deep sense, I agree.
It is fine that some project a parent-like concern into this perspective (in Japanese, Oyasama), that we are all embraced and are fine as we are, and more specifically, that all our efforts to achieve more or deserve love are ultimately unneeded. That the very Ordering of the Cosmos, the rise and fall of universes, stars, systems in an unimaginably vast and beautiful process in which I, as a solitary representative filled with miscalculation and smallness (in Japanese, bombu) am already assured of “deliverance.” This is a most wonderful doctrine and understood in this fashion, provides the ultimate solace for someone like me, resistant to too much anthropomorphizing and yet, like all people, needing to feel personally loved and assured that this journey is significant, as it is.
So where do “politics” fit in? Recently, I saw a short video from The Guardian called, “The World Beyond Capitalism” which begins with “In the anti-worlds of daily struggles is where the world beyond capitalism is to be found.” It was narrated by Prof. John Holloway with animation from students at Central Saint Martins College. It was lovely. It expressed eloquently my own small ruminations about what we can do in the face of growing death and inhumanity.
We can live.
We can live well, and live deliberately, live with compassion and concern and create new forms of Life which are not reduced to forms of exchange beyond gratitude and solidarity. This is my politics. Communist with a small “c”, libertarian socialist, or however one puts it, this is where I am and where I believe we must all begin. To reject firmly any effort or internalized meme to “capitalize” on Life and instead, to socialize it, to community-fy it, to live it in solidarity with others who share a respect for the Other, a tender openness to question, and a belief that we must get along with each other and put away the divisive reductionism which otherwise makes disposable machine parts of us all. Or we will perish, alienated from each other, and our selves.
A better world is possible and our recognition that this world, this level, is the place for us to put into practice on a small-scale what the Grander Process does at a “higher,” universal level, is where we must begin. In this age of endless war and ecological collapse, in the end, we only have each other, and either we act as our neighbors´ raft, or we will surely watch as we all drown. This is how I bring these two strands of my life together, and here is where I will spend some time talking about it.