The Four Noble Truths of Spiritual Social Ecology

The Four Noble Truths of Spiritual Social Ecology

The problem is suffering: avoidable personal, spiritual, social and ecological suffering.

The cause of this global suffering is alienation: personal, spiritual, social and ecological alienation.

The cure for alienation is personal, spiritual, social and ecological liberation: the abolition of alienation.

There is a way of liberation: a watercourse way fed by the countless searching streams of human freedom-seeking that ebb and flow, trickle and rage, dry out and issue majestically into the great ocean, sink and source of all beings, symbol of our own original nature or Self.

Notes on the Four Noble Truths

I Duhkha

The deep current of suffering, which includes wavelets of happiness, is now total. The closer the potential for liberation, the greater the suffering. The tide of suffering reverberates through all our systems: economic, social, ecological, psychological, spiritual. Hungry and exploited peasants and workers, prisoners and refugees, abused women and children, epidemics of anxiety, narcissism and depression, the pervasive isolation, meaninglessness and spiritual emptiness of capitalist culture and society, the silent suffering of animals and plants under ecological stress or industrial abuse.
However, the suffering of gradual breakdown also contains the potential for break-through, total emergency the potential for total emergence, the emergence from alienation.

II Trishna

Alienation is a form of split and loss. Things that are, in essence, one, or that should be in close communication for healthy functioning, are split apart and made antagonistic or placed in a relationship of domination and subservience, of craving and frustration. The list of alienations is endless, reaching from the most personal to the social and ecological.

The person is alienated from his/her ground or centre, in Jungian terms the ego from the Self. The patriarchal male, fearing and dominating women, is alienated from his gentler female aspects, the patriarchal woman from her energetic male aspects. With the breakdown or destruction of subsistence economies and community in advanced capitalism we have all been alienated from our independent means of livelihood, from our personal power of shaping or growing things and from each other as productive indiviudals. With the historical and ongoing enclosures, proletarianization and industrial urbanisation we are alienated from nature and its local ecosystems. The industrial city dominates and syphons off the surrounding and global ecosystems.

Money, Capital and the State are dominator abstractions with no intrinsic connection to nature and human inner nature. When inner nature is split off from external nature, our conscious minds also tend to split off from the creative potentials of our wild and unconscious natures; art tends to the hyper-cerebral or over-compensatory neo-primitivism, others and bodies become dominated by abstract minds as in most scientific reductionism and industrial medicine. Cyberspace adds another level of abstraction from nature and inner nature.

These splits, separations and alienations have developed over the millennia of human history with the key socio-economic markers being the agricultural, industrial and post-industrial revolutions. However, this ‘Fall’ from the ‘Eden’ of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer society was definitely also a great Ascent. Collective consciousness has evolved from animist and magic thinking to modern critical and post-modern thinking. The long history of domination, exploitation and suffering, and now potential ecocide or nuclear apocalypse, is also one of widening consciousness and gradual liberation.

III Nirvana

Liberation is simultaneously personal and collective or it is not liberation. Anarchism would seem to possess the only acceptable social ethics: no one can be truly free when anyone else remains in chains. Conversely, there can be no free society without ex- and internally strong and free individuals. Liberation is thus no primitivist regression but a forward-thrusting emancipation based on both present individualised-globalised consciousness and lingering collective memories of one-time independence. Liberation is freedom that has gone through domination and alienation, and knows it. Liberation is the healing of humanity’s deep splits and losses. Liberation is the revolution, the revolving, the turning around, the re-finding of true Self, true Nature and community, on a higher, now more individualised, level. Liberation is, reflecting the complexity of the cosmos and ecosystems, a spontaneous self-ordering by enabling the free communication of differences within and between free and equal human beings.

For the first time in human history, commensurate with the encompassing nature of the global crisis, an encompassing liberation of humanity is possible. The material and immaterial, collective and individual, economic and ecological, spiritual and scientific have become increasingly interwoven strands of one critical knot and can only be liberated together or not at all. For the first time truly universal individuality, based on material equality, is now possible on a mass scale. Liberation is One World Consciousness practically realised.

IV Dharma-chakra

How to get there? Ends cannot be separated from means. Liberation cannot be achieved by domination or violence, elitism or sectarianism. The end is the means, the Way, the Path, the Dharma, the Tao. Humans have struggled against oppression, domination and exploitation in a multitude of forms, many but not all of them violent, over the millennia. This is a rich heritage and reservoir of creative tactics for liberation, from sullen go-slow and boycott to sit-in and general strike. The sense of justice and freedom would seem to be innate.

Strictly, i.e. paradoxically, speaking, these means, these tactics already contain the ends, the liberation itself. Totally unfree individuals could not even conceive of freedom, much less struggle for it. Even more paradoxically still, the splits, un-freedoms and alienations are in some spiritual sense illusory, otherwise they could not be perceived: we can only even conceive of liberation if we are, in some sense, already liberated. The split can only conceive of the One if it is in some sense already one. One can only suffer under a sense of alienation and desire the end of alienation if some aspect of one is non-alienated. The ego can only conceive of the true or original Self if it is already that Self. How can we conceive of, or hope for, a liberated future if that future is not already in some sense contained within, or some version of, the present?

This paradox also relates to all scientific endeavours and their tacitly assumed splits between observer and observed. Scientists never seem to understand they are the cosmos they are peering at through their telescopes. Their complex mathematical theories and models of the universe are models of their own minds. The universe is the mind in its explicated aspect. The mind is the universe in its implicated aspect. Like scientists we are all a little like cats chasing our own tails pretending the tails are separate from us, that natural laws, mysterious dark energy, black holes, liberation, ‘God’ are somehow ‘out there’.

In that sense, there is truly nothing that needs to be done for liberation except realise that we already are liberated. This revolution is not one of compulsive, busy strategic doing for planned outcomes but one of not-doing, of ‘wu-wei’. This does not at all mean doing nothing. It means, as in the Mahayana Buddhist notion of the Bodhisattva, acting radically in the spirit of disinterested non-action for the benefit and liberation of all beings. It means knowing liberation is both already there in the means and, in another sense, not there at all.

Thus, the final paradox perhaps: the avoidable suffering, domination and alienation in the world are totally real, outrageous and unbearable, to be passionately struggled against with all one’s strength, and, at the same time, they are ‘unreal’ aspects of our true selves. We seem to be both in the world and at the same time not of it. This paradox cannot be solved by any sleight of thought but only within radical action in the paradoxical spirit of non-action that seeks to transform self and society into the liberated cosmos of community, free of avoidable suffering, they already are. It means floating flowers in the void as we struggle for bread and roses for all.

zen motivational poster from mojo 1000


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on February 13, 2011.

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