Our separateness, our selfhood and our identities are, at best, convenient fictions, employed by ourselves to escape fear and by others to exploit it.
So, since “I” am a fiction, how can others use and abuse this fiction to their advantage? And how can we still “be” this or that, “American” Black”, Catholic” etc. if these designations are ultimately empty?
Let´s take that last one first.
The traditional Buddhist notion of self, takes all the names we ascribe to who we are as mere designations, names for a whole which simply “tags” us though that “tag” has no real significance. Fair enough. But what if, within the context of my life in this place, and in this time, I remain committed to my ancestors; that I am proudly resistant to incorporation into a dominant narrative which has abused my people and tried to obliterate our cultural identity so as to mask the depth of their deed? This is my feeling as a Puertorican and it is shared by marginalized, oppressed peoples around the world. How does that comport with a broader, less fixed notion of identity as something illusory?
Well, the two are ostensibly contradictory but they function in different realms. In Buddhist terms, this is the difference between Conventional Truth and Absolute Truth. Conventional Truth is the truth we live and work under: I am a worker, I need to pay rent, etc. Absolute truth understand those things as fictions which, in the cosmological sense, are ultimately unimportant. Having the broader view while still living in the “real world” doing what I do is the tension of Life. Holding that tension creatively is my task as a human, as a Buddhist.
So how is that manipulated by others? Well, every time an appeal is made to the strong emotional hold my “conventional” identity in order to go kill others who are said to be “different” than “us”, that is a major example. And every day we are bombarded by appeals to our conventional identities to do this or that, to buy this or that (product, idea, etc.) and rarely is the Absolute truth of our shared humanity appealed to – for obvious reasons. Were we to operate with a requisite and healthy amount of pride in who we are while acknowledging others right to their pride in who they are under the umbrella of a universal, shared compassionate concern for the whole, our political, economic and social systems would look a whole lot different than they do now.
I´ll talk more about that, in part 3.