Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Doubt impairs Cambodia struggle

Jun. 29, 2011
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth
Said Buddha, "There is no fire like passion, there is no shark like hatred, there is no snare like folly, there is no torrent like greed." And, "Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most."

And he said: "One thought leads to heaven, one thought leads to hell."

Two thousand, five hundred years ago, Lord Gautama Buddha taught: "Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills."

He said, "There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt."

Indeed, it remains so, and it will continue to be a destructive emotion.

Doubt raises the question of trust, the fundamental foundation of human relationships. Raise the level of doubt, increase the level of mistrust. Respect is diminished. As the great Chinese teacher Confucius asserted, "Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?"

This brings to mind English philosopher Thomas Hobbes' "poor, nasty, and brutish" kind of world: A state of nature. French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought that in such a state of nature, humans are mere wild beasts driven by unbridled instinct.

Fourth-century B.C. Indian brahman Chanakya Kautilya advised his emperor that in order to protect his and India's interests, he must amass power, the beginning of realpolitik. Later, Italian Renaissance thinker Niccolo Machiavelli, known as the father of the science of politics, presented the concept of power as a natural survival behavior.

But Confucius, who said, "It's easy to hate and difficult to love," preached: "The more man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large." He warned, "To see and listen to the wicked is already the beginning of wickedness."

The younger Buddha, who said, "Nothing is permanent," called on mankind to "Fill your mind with compassion," and to accept and live up to what "agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all."

Buddha taught: "There has to be evil, so that good can prove its purity above it."

Raising doubt. Today, some individuals make it a business to detract, defame, disinform and misinform, dig dirt, engage in character assassination -- with the purpose of diminishing human trust and undermining a person's credibility. But Buddha assured: "Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth."

The truth likely is that those who are most hateful in their characterizations of others are those who have the most to hide from public scrutiny. They put forth "straw men" to draw attention from their own corruption.

As responsible citizens, we have an obligation not to be swayed by hateful rhetoric, but to inform ourselves and make our own decisions based on the most objective information we can acquire.

Buddha's teaching of the "Four Reliances" that represent the foundational elements of life includes: rely on the spirit and meaning of the teachings, not on the words; rely on the teachings, not on the personality of the teacher; rely on real wisdom, not superficial interpretation; rely on the essence of your pure wisdom mind, not on judgmental perceptions.

I write often in this space about people who are entrenched in destructive intolerance, characterized by a lack of civility. A couple of years ago I wrote about psychology professor Jonathan Haidt's "The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom."

Haidt posited that we don't live in a world of rocks, trees, and physical creations, but a world of our own creations -- "a world of insults, opportunities, status symbols, betrayals" created by humans who "believe in them." He sees human beings in all cultures possessing an "excessive and self-righteous tendency to see the world in terms of good versus evil," or "moralism" that "blinds people" into believing "We're good, they are evil."

On his website,CivilPolitics.org, Haidt observes that over the past 20 years, political leaders, political parties and mass media outlets have become "more polarized, strident and moralistic."

He says: "When political opponents are demonized rather than debated, compromise, and cooperation become moral failings and people begin to believe that their righteous ends justify the use of any means."

And so, here we are coming full circle: believing in one's "excessive and self-righteous" ends allows one to inject into relationships and into civil debate what Buddha called "poison," "thorn" and "sword that kills" by sowing doubt.

Haidt cited "The Perfect Way," a poem by eighth-century Chinese Zen master Sen-ts'an, who brands an individual's "judgmentalism" as "the mind's worst disease (as) it leads to anger, torment, and conflict."

"The perfect way is only difficult for those who pick and choose" -- between like and dislike, "for" and "against." The Zen master taught "nonjudgmentalism."

And Buddha taught mankind to meditate to calm down and not to be agitated by the "petty provocations of life."

Some readers may be wondering how I will tie this column to the contemporary political context in Cambodia, as I usually do. As Hun Sen and members of his ruling party assuage their greed, they suck into their orbit the "willing executioners" who do their bidding, hoping for a small share of the ill-gotten largesse. Meanwhile, those who assert their opposition to autocracy are riven with doubt that is a byproduct of the rumors and accusations initiated by Hun Sen and his followers or, worse, insinuated by political colleagues who perpetuate the fractures in the opposition by adhering to a single charismatic individual rather than to a set of principles.

Said Buddha, "There is no fire like passion, there is no shark like hatred, there is no snare like folly, there is no torrent like greed." And, "Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most."

And he said: "One thought leads to heaven, one thought leads to hell."

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam. Write him
at peangmeth@yahoo.com.


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