The Turn We Can All Take

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The Buddha

A lot of people have expressed their unhappiness with 2020 as a year. The pandemic emerged early in the year, which then caused a sharp economic downturn. Various incidents of violence against Black people produced an unprecedented level of response in various forms, including protests and some riots.

And all without any effective national leadership.

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A defining characteristic of modernity is an active sense of ourselves as occupying a specific historical moment, however inaccurate that historical sense may be in substantive terms. A very common addition to this sense is the absurd belief that the current moment is the worst the world has ever seen.

We might call this “automatic nostalgia.” People have a strong tendency to believe in a mythical past when the problems of the present did not exist.

Clearly, in the time of the Buddha, four hundred years before Christ, a lot of our current problems did not exist, in specific terms. But the basic problems of human existence, old age, sickness, and death, have changed not a whit. The Buddha’s diagnosis of what ails us is as relevant now as it ever has been, as his prescription.

We suffer, the Buddha told us, because we cling. Nostalgia is a particular form of clinging. The clinging is mental. The Buddha was all about mind, or, as I choose to put it, consciousness as seen through the scratched, unfocused, dirty lens of mind.

The solution is to meditate. Meditation allows us to see what is going on inside our own minds, which can be surprisingly surprising. We think we know what is going on in our minds, but we usually don’t. We can find out, if we take the time to meditate. It takes effort. It is not a quick fix.

The Buddha did the best he could. He attracted thousands of followers, just by teaching what he had discovered. He did not have a television show or a web site, or books or magazines. He just talked. After he died, his enlightened followers got together and assembled a record of what he had said.

Teachers ever since have handed down his lessons, such that we can now follow them in our noxious year of 2020, some 2,400 years after his death.

The Buddha changed the world by teaching what he had found, but he lacked the ability to distribute his message as widely as we can do easily now. We could avoid another 2020 quite easily if we got everyone to meditate and find the remarkable peace and beauty of consciousness, of luminous emptiness.

It’s a tall order, but there is no obvious reason why it is impossible. The more people meditate, the more they will become walking examples of peace and beauty.

Let’s do it. Let’s prevent a second version of 2020. Let’s make future years better. Let’s meditate.

Help spread the word.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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