December 10, 2012

Healing Oneself, Healing the Earth: Second Week of David Loy's Retreat

In this second week of David Loy's retreat, he discusses how we can understand the parallels between personal and collective dukkha. By examining the ways that we construct an individual "I" that is separate from those around us, he explains how modern civilizations have separated themselves from the biosphere.

He offers a history of where this distinction between 'construction' and nature began, tracing it back to the ancient Greeks, and suggests this may be an origin for a very important aspect of modern dukkha, which is characterized by an anxiety that grows out of a sense of not knowing one's place or role in this world.


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bartones's picture

We can certainly find evidence of democratic practices amongst many so-called "indigenous" peoples, in ancient times and presently all over the world. I've read a book that describes how white European settlers in New England, the Pilgrims, learned democratic governing practices from local indigenous tribes on the northeast coast and adapted them into what became local and state constitutions. My impression is that democratic processes are more often found among small tribes, as localized forms of governance. Let's not romanticize, however, because small tribes and local communities can also be extremely repressive and dictatorial, especially when a few male tribal leaders govern the community for their own gain. However, it is the larger, mass societies, those huge civilizations, in which empires and totalitarian regimes tend to predominate. The great difficulty has been practicing democracy in mass societies.

sanghadass's picture

Dear Mr. Loy, I love your good work - don't stop till you drop. My Ajahn, would question the Western myth: that democracy was a Greek invention. He claims that the Sakyans - the Buddha's tribal clan - were practicing a form of democracy comparable to the Athenian model. The Sakyan republic was governed by a 'sangha' of elders. Unfortunately, as in Athens, elites were the decision makers. An exclusive club that governed the 'common' folk - and the slaves!

My Ajahn, has suggested, the Buddha derived his model of decision making - within the monastic sangha - from his experience as a native of the Sakyan Republic. After the Buddha's passing, a neighbouring kingdom invaded the Sakyan territory and massacred many people - stealing their lands.

It might be time to set the record straight on democracy. Why? It is one of the Eurocentric myths about the superiority of western civilisation. This is 'part of the problem' that has contributed to the sorry mess we are trying to remedy. The power and 'assumed' superiority of the European colonisers gave them a 'story' - a dysfunctional construct - that they used to justify the subjugation of women, the natural world, the peoples' of other cultures and civilisations.

The cultural narrative - the civilising influence of the West - is implicit in many forms of modern discourse. I have heard a few 'self-proclaimed' spokes-people for science dismiss the Buddha's profound insights as iron-age myth/philosophy. They have a pre-set conclusion about the ancient world! Particularly those backward Asian cultures with their religious fairy tales. Anything that is not 'science' is foolishness! The cultural narrative of the West can be clearly heard in these kinds of ignorant pronouncements about the Buddha and his teachings.

This is something that we need to 'push back' against because it is a cultural lie! And the West is no longer confined to the North - it is everywhere. It is a way of being in the world - that is destroying the life support systems of the planet. We need to question iron age myths and modern ones in tandem. We need to tell the truth as best we can. :-)