Med­i­ta­tion can help us be­come more con­vivial

Times Colonist - - Religion And Spirituality - WAYNE CODLING Wayne Codling is a for­mer Zen monas­tic and a lin­eage holder in the Soto Zen tra­di­tion. He teaches Zen-style med­i­ta­tion in Vic­to­ria. His blog can be found at so­tozen­vic­to­ria.word­press.com.

The Bud­dhist teacher Zen­tatsu asks: “How do we call forth the world with­out harm­ing our­selves, other peo­ple, and the world it­self? How do we en­ter into each mo­ment … with a clear con­science and a clear con­scious­ness?” These are ques­tions and sug­ges­tions about con­vivi­al­ity — how we live to­gether.

We “call forth the world” whole­somely or un­whole­somely. Heed­less­ness is the core causal con­di­tion of much harm­ful be­hav­iour to­ward self, oth­ers and so­ci­ety. Mind­ful­ness is the an­ti­dote to heed­less­ness.

Mind­ful­ness is a re­fined, com­pas­sion­ate sen­si­tiv­ity to ini­tial con­di­tions. Even though mind­ful­ness is of­ten rec­og­nized by good peo­ple as a very good idea, its un­fold­ing in the world must be taught and learned. Mod­ern ur­ban life en­cour­ages in many ways the re­ten­tion of child­like im­pulses and the overly self-cen­tred view­points that sup­port in­de­pen­dence, a deceptive con­cept, over con­vivi­al­ity, a nec­es­sary con­di­tion.

In the­ory, we in the de­vel­oped world have it very easy. We should all be able to con­grat­u­late our­selves. Re­ally, our so­ci­ety is now so safe and suc­cess­ful that wide­spread heed­less­ness does not re­sult in war, pesti­lence and cer­tain mis­for­tune, as it once did.

The econ­omy sloshes with money. Easy-tar­get guys like me can walk the streets ab­sorbed in mu­sic or gam­ing and not get mugged or run over, prob­a­bly be­cause there are rules and cus­toms that al­low for a broad range of hu­man be­hav­iours with­out con­flict. Women still fear to walk alone, es­pe­cially at night, but the risk is man­age­able, thanks to con­vivial fac­tors such as the en­force­ment of laws and the pro­vi­sion of light.

We are surely the most suc­cess­ful so­ci­ety in hu­man his­tory — top five for sure. Mod­ern life for even the poor­est of us ex­ceeds the dreams of avarice en­joyed by our pre­de­ces­sors. In­deed, for those who have the money, mod­ern ur­ban life mit­i­gates vir­tu­ally all state-of-na­ture dan­gers.

And yet, de­spite great suc­cess, we con­tinue to de­s­pair. We are still afraid, not learn­ing the lessons of his­tory. Not trust­ing cul­tures and in­ten­tions be­yond the familiar. Too eas­ily re­cep­tive to in­tol­er­ance and cri­sis-mon­ger­ing. In our fear, we gen­er­ate re­sent­ments; re­flex­ive greed be­comes nor­mal­ized and en­trenched prej­u­dices cre­ate di­vi­sions. These are poi­sons to any body politic and so­cial fab­ric. We counter them or die.

Mod­ern so­ci­ety re­lies heav­ily on knowl­edge, but the quantum leaps of tech-in­duced power have far out­paced our col­lec­tive abil­ity to ab­sorb the change that en­sues.

The world’s knowl­edge is uni­ver­sally avail­able, but be­cause we are not a med­i­ta­tion cul­ture we can­not find a con­sen­sus bal­ance be­tween our en­vi­ron­ment and our lux­u­ri­ous life. Our mo­ral, eth­i­cal re­la­tion­ship with oth­ers does not yet in­clude the vi­tal­ity of our whole Earth and how closely our own vi­tal­ity is con­nected to this frag­ile con­fig­u­ra­tion. It is only through the in­ten­tional prac­tise of med­i­ta­tion that we can ar­rive at the best repo­si­tion­ing of these and 10,000 other fac­tors that stress our abil­ity to live to­gether — our con­vivi­al­ity, long term and short term.

The an­ti­dote to such harm­ful poi­sons is the prac­tise of mind­ful­ness. It is more sta­bi­liz­ing to the world, to oth­ers and to the self than even un­der­stand­ing and moral­ity. Knowl­edge, both aca­demic and spir­i­tual, mit­i­gates fear. Moral­ity and ethics re­flect and counter other fears. Mind­ful­ness, though, puts knowl­edge and moral­ity into each other’s ser­vice. It is a force mul­ti­plier. Knowl­edge and moral­ity in­ter­act seam­lessly and thus joined, fear is un­con­di­tion­ally di­min­ished.

With less fear, we can dwell far apart from ev­ery per­verted view. That is what we are miss­ing in our mod­ern, amaz­ing, ur­ban world.

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