An American Zen Buddhist training center in the Mountains and Rivers Order, offering Sunday programs, weekend retreats and month-long residencies.
Or Why the Dalai Lama is a Marxist
The mode and manner of the collective movement of the real, of the new sangha, won’t live in the same forms that we expect and have grown comfortable with. If the movement of the real lives, it must constantly escape the known, the easily reproduced form:
A general uprising, as we see it, should be nebulous and elusive; its resistance should never materialize as a concrete body, otherwise the enemy can direct sufficient force at its core, crush it, and take many prisoners. When that happens, the people will lose heart and, believing that the issue has been decided and further efforts would be useless.... On the other hand, there must be some concentration at certain points: the fog must thicken and form a dark and menacing cloud out of which a bolt of lightning will may strike at any time. (Carl von Clausewitz, On War)
This is an image of Buddhist insurgency, of the future sangha. The bolt of enlightening energy, the sincerity of search for the real, could appear at any moment and in anyone, not just a sanctioned or authorized leader. The dark and menacing cloud is only menacing to the old order, to ignorance and forces of manipulation. The awakening energy of the lightning bolt is nearly invisible in its descent, but it becomes visible in the ascent of the “return stroke”: lightning strikes from the ground up. The thickening collective of the group is the ground for the movement of the real and the abolition of error. The new sangha will be nebulous and elusive, yet it will appear in moments when the movement of the real is especially concentrated in individuals. In that moment the group will know the presence of the real.
The Dalai Lama lamented that there had not been enough time for a transition to genuine communism. Maybe the time has come to ask him what he thinks genuine communism looks like. Events are happening now that signal, for some, the end of capitalism as we know it. Several critics have suggested that we need to start thinking now about what alternatives we might work toward. We need to remember Khenpo Gangshar’s warning: study what you are, don’t lose yourself. The challenge is probably greater than we think. We are facing the same challenge today, even more intensely: we need to study ourselves, and not lose ourselves in the rebellious excitement of capitalism’s undoing. As Zizek told the Occupy Wall Street crowd: “There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves…. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives.”
Wall Street wasn’t built in a day, and its undoing won’t happen in a day either. But as the 13th Dalai Lama recommended in his own period of radical transition, we should make every effort we can “while the power to do something about the situation is still in our hands… Work diligently now, while there is still time. Then there will be no regrets.”
Stuart Smithers is chair of the religion department at the University of Puget Sound, director of the Smoke Farm Institute, and a contributing editor to Tricycle.
An edited version of this article will appear in the July issue of Adbusters.