Nov. 10, 2006

Remembrance Day

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day, marking the date of the Armistice that ended World War One (aka the Great War) which occurred at 11 AM on Nov. 11, 1918. It's traditionally a day to remember the war dead, marked with a minute of silence at 11 o'clock.

It's a good thing for a culture to remember, but I think the memory tends to be selective. If we really remembered the Great War, we'd never fight another one. Sadly, the official and popular commerations of this day tend to glorify militarism, feeding the cult of "noble war."

There was nothing noble about the Great War. It was a horrific blood-bath fought in appalling conditions mostly by very young men, teenagers for the most part. And it was fought basically for nothing. Certainly, for the young boys here in Canada there was no conceivable connection. What did some Saskatchewan farm-boy know or care about the legal status of Bosnia-Herzogovina or the ultimatum to Serbia? Canadians were fighting someone else's imperial battles (and we still are.)

Do we never learn? Wave a coloured bit of cloth around, yell about "national honour" (or these days, "national security") jump up and down and "support the troops" and Johnny is marching off again to the Somme, to Normandy beach, to Diem Ben Phu, to Fallujah, to Kandahar.

War is the biggest single dynamo of greed, hatred and delusion. Greed; wars are started by greedy men who want more land, water, oil or markets. As the Buddha said, "men strap on armour and hack and hew one another just for sensual desires." If there is an exception to this rule, a war that wasn't really about gross material gain, I don't know about it. (Maybe the Aztec "flower wars?") Hatred; in war-time hate is the new love. It becomes acceptable, nay mandatory, to hate the enemy; the inhuman boche, jap, gook, hajj. There all the same, kill 'em all and let god (insert deity of choice) sort them out. And Delusion? Without ignorance and delusion war would be impossible. War isn't honourable or noble or heroic. It's mud and blood and filth. It's smashed cities, hunger, disease and misery. These days it's also hideously malformed babies because of depleted uranium.

War is also the single most entropic activity undertaken by human beings. I can't remember who first pointed this out, but it's true. War finds order and leaves disorder.

War never really solves anything either, except in the very short term. Every war seems to set the ground for the next one. The Franco-Prussian War made the Great War almost inevitable, which in turn set the ground for the Second World War. This last is often used by opponents of pacifism as the great counter-example; we needed war to stop Hitler. What this overlooks is that we needed war to create Hitler in the first place. And in the end it solved nothing; it left half of Europe under an equally harsh dictatorship and set up the conditions for the so-called Cold War that kept getting hot in places like Vietnam and the Middle-East.

I'm not really hopeful we'll ever get over our fascination with war. As a species we're as pugnacious and as territorial as baboons, and we have a lot better toys. And the supply of adolescents drunk on patriotism doesn't seem to be running short.

And this is samsara, after all, things are supposed to be broken here.

So tomorrow, remember. Remember it all.

Nov. 8, 2006

CONGRATULATIONS!

...to all my American friends on starting the long process of getting your country back!

Nov. 5, 2006

We Get Mail

From the Comments;

Could you please elaborate on the terms "the Unconditioned" and "the Conditioned"? I'm pretty informed about Buddhism, but I'm not familiar with such terminology. Thanks.

The Conditioned is this ordinary day-to-day realm of conscious experience. Phenomena here are subject to cause and effect, hence conditioned. This is the realm governed by the Dependent Origination; otherwise known as samsara. The world of birth, suffering and death.

The Unconditioned (asankhata) is another name for Nibbana or Nirvana. This is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practise. It is a plane of reality where cause and effect have no bearing, hence the unconditioned. It should not be thought of as a place, or an experience, or a mode of being. It actually cannot be described or classified in words because words and logic belong to the Conditioned level.

Hope this helps more than it confuses.

We Get Political Mail

From the comments to American Elections
No, no, no. You're going to be wrong. It'll be a thumpin', jumpin' Demo splendorama.
I sincerely hope so. Actually I think that the Democratic surge is so strong that they will take the House of Representatives, but I still think the Republicans will steal the Senate. They have to. If the Dems control both houses and start serious investigations, some of those guys will be looking at prison time. They won't let that happen.

As a side note, Canadians tend to be very tuned into American political trends whereas most Americans probably couldn't tell you who the Prime Minister of Canada is. Pierre Trudeau once compared our relationship to an elephant sleeping with a mouse. The elephant doesn't really care what the mouse does, but the mouse is keenly interested in every twitch of his bed-mate.

Anyway, I think most of us up here on the tundra are rooting for the Dems.

We Get Snarky Mail Too

From the comments to Monks in the West;
Bhante, I would really like to challenge you to justify why you think it is appropriate to your role (as a monk, or simply as a "full-time Buddhist" generally) to show up and smear the (none-too-fine) distinctions between the religions, and roll out the whitewash and red carpet for one of the most infamous, brutal, corrupt organisations in the world (leaving aside the fact that it is a "false" religion), viz., Catholicism.
Posted by E.M. in a snarky mood.

Smearing over the differences between religions is certainly not my idea of valid inter-faith dialogue. There are many important doctrinal differences between Buddhism and Catholicism and I didn't have the impression at this conference that anyone was trying to avoid that. I am very critical of writers who take the line that all religions are the same underneath. (Perennial philosophy)

However, I also think it is healthy and useful for religions to meet and discuss together in an attitude of harmony. What's the alternative? Sectarian bigotry and narrow dogmatism.

I also don't fully subscribe to the characterization of Catholicism or Christianity in general as a "false religion." Even in narrow Buddhist exegesis it would be called a "partial" religion; any belief system which promotes moral behaviour and teaches that there are consequences of good and evil deeds falls within the elephant's footprint.

Whatever the history of the Catholic Church, and we all know about that, the brothers of the Benedictine Order that I met are good, spiritually minded men who are have aspirations beyond the worldly realm. That is rare enough in these degenerate days that it ill behooves us to strain at gnats because we have metaphysical differences. The real problem these days is not the Church, but the overwhelmingly materialist zeitgeist. And I would say that the Catholics have not bought into this like most of the Protestants.

Religious tolerance is something the world needs more of. I think the Church is to be commended for overcoming their past history of triumphalism and reaching out to talk to other religions. By doing so, we don't jeopardize the integrity of our own faiths. On the contrary, the contrast sharpens our mutual understanding.