Q: I feel a little frustrated, maybe a little angry, impatient about the need for significant political change. I worry a lot about injustice, climate change, corruption, democracy. I just wonder what is in your opinion, the best sort of Buddhist Way to seek political change but quickly. I mean how do you feel about civil disobedience, do you recommend that we do that? Do you feel that we are in a serious existential threat over the political issues that we have? I’m just wondering. What is your take?
P: The essence of Buddhist teaching is the middle way. This actually means doing your best under the situation and conditions that you are in. So the middle way is not talking of some fixed way. Instead, it means you are flexible to change strategy and directions according to the situation and environment you are in.
If you take an individual for example, it is much easier to change an individual’s thoughts than emotions. This is because thought resides in your consciousness while emotion resides in subconsciousness.
Karma refers to emotional cognitive habits, and it takes time for you to change that. So if you try to affect change quickly, it won’t work. If you feel disappointed over the fact that your habits do not change quickly then you start blaming yourself and suffer. If the other person’s habits do not change quickly then you start blaming them and become angry at them.
It is very natural not to be able to change quickly.
But it is very natural not to be able to change quickly. Change needs a lot of failures, trial & errors, and it needs time. So it is this unrealistic sense of urgency that is making us angry, hateful and disappointed.
So we must have an insight and awareness of that principle before we get started. And that is why we study history. There are many singular events throughout history that have failed. But from a historical perspective, many of them actually succeeded, because that was something that could not happen over just one event.
So if you try to accomplish something at once, you will likely fail. Because change and improvement happen over a period of time through repeated failures.
Let’s take the environmental issue for example. Our environment is at a very critical state. But if you look at the reality we are facing today, it is very difficult to affect change. Because consumption is deeply embedded in our everyday lives. And the values and criteria for success in this society are closely tied with one’s capacity to consume more.
So even though consciously we recognize the danger of environmental destruction, our habits force us to go on living the way we have. So, I think no matter how much we try, there’s a good possibility we will not be able to change our way of living.
Then is that despair? Not so…