Bohemian Buddhist Review

A New Buddhist Path, by David Loy, Part II

What I love about Buddhism -- full disclosure here, I'm not impartial -- is the de-emphasis on nailing down answers. As Loy says, "To awaken is to realize the sense in which I can never know, and why I do not need to know."

In other words, chill.

Grasping for knowledge and/or certainty can be a trap for our speedy-needy minds. The Buddha pointed out that grasping is the root of our suffering; no amount of book-learning will cure it, and it doesn't matter if it's after material objects, sensual perceptions, or intellectual ideations.

"To realize the activity of your own mind is another cosmic creative process is to find yourself truly at home in the universe."

And yet -- one of Loy's more powerful statements is that "nothing is lost if civilization as we know it collapses or even if humanity becomes extinct. The generativity of the universe will continue by taking other forms."

Who said Buddhism was easy?

But clearly our history doesn't speak very well of us in this regard. If we are in some ways the epicenters of a self-creating, self-organizing cosmos, the "most important thing humans create is meaning," not necessarily ever-lasting civilizations.

The question of meaning itself can be looked at from different angles. If we are Gorden Gekkos, the meaning of life becomes the promotion of our own best interests. If, however, we are  not substantial, independent beings, but rather amorphous and inter-dependent, (in which direction quantum physics is leading us), then my well-being cannot be separated from that of all others.

"Is the eco-crisis a collective spiritual crisis? Is the earth challenging us to wake up or get out of the way? It remains to be seen whether the Homo sapiens sapiens experiment will continue to be a successful vehicle for the cosmic evolutionary process."

(I would add that there are more than a few powerful beings that need to get out of the way of our evolutionary progress, but that's just me.)

"If so," Loy continues, "the cultural development that is most needed today involves spiritual practices that address the fiction of a discrete self."

Here we come to the hub of it all.

In keeping with this important insight, however, is the combining of Buddhism's goal of individual awakening and Western society's highest aspirations of collective social justice. "Today it has become more obvious that we need both . . . not just because these ideals complement each other, but because each project needs each other."

Loy puts the case I think many of us have been thinking and feeling for a long time into cogent words. " . . . unless social reconstruction is accompanied by personal reconstruction, democracy merely empowers the ego-self." I'm not sure I wouldn't substitute capitalism for democracy in that sentence, but the two are so conflated now it may be hard to separate them.

If and when we wonder why our country if not our world has gone so astray, we cannot help but look to our "roots of evil," i.e., greed, aggression, and delusion. Once again, Loy nails the diagnosis of a sick society to the super-store door: our militarism institutionalizes aggression, our present economic system institutionalizes greed, and the mainstream media institutionalizes delusion.

And on this basis we expect to be happy? From a Buddhist perspective, it would be like expecting a corpse to sing.

Loy's last section is on the bodhisattva path, and how it may be re-imagined and re-invigorated in terms of contemporary conditions. The merging of social and personal transformation is arguably the most important issue of our times and one that Loy addresses coherently, and even, dare I say it of a Buddhis book, concretely.

Rather than some far-off, idealistic dream of perfect altruism, Loy's idea of a bodhisattva is much simpler and much easier to accomplish. Without any attachment to results, the bodhisattva asks him/herself what they can do to make any given situation in their sphere of influence better.

Practicing on both the outer and inner levels, a modern bodhisattva still needs to question, first and foremost, her/his motivation or intent. Since we are all connected, any action taken on behalf of the "other" benefits us personally as well.

And yet Loy doesn't ignore causes of modern dukkha. "As we pull drowning people out of the river, shouldn't we consider why there are an increasing number of people floundering in the water?"

The Conclusion chapter is about karma and rebirth, which Loy sees as possible sticking points to a globalized Buddhism. But from what I am absorbing from numerous metaphysical sites, I don't see a conflict, the ideas are becoming universal. Which can only be good for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.