Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Talk without action is cheap (and worthless)

Have you ever wondered what Rip Van Winkle must have thought when he awoke after having been asleep for twenty years? Time had moved on. Circumstances had changed. It must have been quite startling, but more than likely after a few days he just went back to sleep again. We all do that sort of thing. One day we are walking along with our norms, not even aware of anything different and suddenly a Galileo shows up and shocks our norms, and then we go back to sleep again. We adjust to whatever comes our way and before very long these shocking turns of events just blend into our norms again and we return to our sleepwalk. So we go through these ups and downs only to have them eventually smooth out.

For most of human history the gap between the norms and the shocks took place every so many thousands of years. Back then (whenever that was) we had the luxury of getting comfortable with our fantasies. Now the gap is getting shorter and shorter to the point that the shocks are more normal than the norms. Makes you wonder about what a norm really is when everything is abnormal. While certainly stimulating it can become a bit tiring and disorienting. I wonder if I’m alone in my reminiscing about the good old days? Were they ever all that good? How far back do we have to go to find that whimsical Shangri-La? I suspect that the grass always looks greener in the rear view mirror even though when we were at that past juncture, the rear view greenery still looked more appealing. Nevertheless we do seem to prefer the past we never had to the present we do have. We’re a curious species.

This tendency to grow accustomed to the normal status quo, however egregious, may be our undoing. It’s very curious how, if we wait long enough, what used to be unacceptable becomes the new acceptable norms. Edmund Burke, an Irish political philosopher, was once regarded as the father of modern conservatism. When you examine what he said in the 18th century, in light of today’s politics it’s unlikely he would still be considered as such. Among the many pearls of wisdom Burke expressed are the following:

“There is, however, a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.” And “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” This latter has been recast and expressed as, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” The wording has changed but the sentiment is the same.

It has become unavoidably clear that nothing positive happens without courage and a willingness to pay a price for the betterment of all people. Examples of the small few who found it within themselves to stare evil in the face, and regardlessly pay the price, range from modern heroes and heroines such as Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. to Mahatma Gandhi. These are the stars who light the path of goodness that allow us to walk in relative freedom. Other unseen stars, but by no means lesser, are three young girls who chose prison over comfort, to act for environmental protection or the thousands of warriors who put their lives on the line to preserve our liberties, are used and then thrown away like so much unwanted trash. You may question a system that wages wars but you should never question the integrity of those who answer the call.

There are some who dogmatically cling to the idea that our current misfortunes are the result of past wrongs and we are now reaping the winds of karmic justice. Consequently, they argue, we should accept our growing demise. There is some truth to that observation but there is an alternative perspective I wrote about recently in a post called In the world: enlightened social responsibility.” In that post I addressed this issue by posing related questions such as, “What role do we play in this vast drama of life. Do we intercede? Or do we accept things as they are, regardless of how they appear? Do we have a responsibility to fight injustice and evil, or stand apart and watch with detachment the destruction of society?”

In the end we create our world of tomorrow by actions taken today. We define ourselves, not by what we say, but rather by what we do. There is a single-minded purpose to Dharma Space: to promote the well-being of one and all. It takes courage to first cast aside the delusions of egotism but once we find our true selves, we must act from the place of indiscriminate unity and that too takes a different kind of courage: the kind of willingly sticking out our necks and exposing ourselves to the axe of evil. If we don’t do that then the purpose of enlightenment stands in question. 
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