I have recently visited the largest Polish internet x-buddhist forum, as I do from time to time to assess a general mood of this still fringe, virtual community subsisting in my dear Catholic Poland. There, in the header, spread across the whole page, I read the following message taken from one of the essays by Bhikkhu Bodhi:
If we trace external conflicts back to their source, we will find that they originate not in wealth, position or possessions, but in the mind itself.
Well, there we are, I thought, another fine example of x-buddhist rhetorics that rhymes so well with the general message of neoliberal hegemony, namely: blame the victim. It is you, you, and you, and your miserable minds that are the real source of all the external conflicts and misfortune, not some wealth, position or possessions.
In a country that, for a couple of postwar decades, was molded by a communist regime, such a message of personal responsibility, touted since 89′ as individual freedom and liberty, is particularly persuasive and contrary to any collectivist way of seeing contemporary social ills. Which is rather ironic, considering the founding ethos of the Polish mass Solidarity opposition movement of the early eighties. This irony is somehow prefigured by the controversial poster made by Solidarity for the first free parliamentary election in 89′. It shows a free, fearless, but also pure and rightous individual, in the person of lone sheriff Will Kane (played by Gary Cooper) heading off with a swagger to mete out justice. Solidarity is left behind in the shadow.
The so called new Polish middle class, those who benefited the most from the process of restructuring (privatization) of the political and economic system inherited from the Communists – seems to be an ideal target for such crypto-Thatcherite TINA slogans, delivered by such exotic Holy Men as Mr. Bodhi. Those who have succeeded, reading such texts, remain assured that it has been their very flexible minds that allowed them to gracefully flow with the stream of freedom. On the other hand, those members of this social group who has slipped up somewhere while competing fiercely with other entrepreneurial minds, those who may potentially rage against it, get depressing and defeatist finger-wagging from Venerable Bhikkhu:
As private individuals we cannot hope to resolve by our will the larger patterns of conflict that engulf the societies and nations to which we belong.
But he quickly adds, to uplift the loosers, that:
But as followers of the Enlightened One what we can do and must do is to testify by our conduct to the supremacy of peace: to avoid words and actions that engender animosity, to heal divisions, to demonstrate the value of harmony and concord.
And here lies the double bind: it is not only that the poor thing is himself or herself responsible for all the external conflicts, but to top it all, s/he is explicitly prohibited by this message from meaningfully expressing his or her rage – that is, to activate political agency – thus posing direct challenge to the systemic source of his or her misery. But the only prescription offered by the Holy Man to those who happen to be hooked on the dharmic good is to form a depressing compliance with the state apparatus that – in order to hide systemic inequality – is peddling the slogans of personal freedom and individual responsibility. In short, it is your very mind that is solely responsible for all the external conflict. Do not be divisive, just bow to the supremacy of peace.