Three quarters of Mollymawk‘s crew have just returned from a flying visit to our homeland. Flying is something that we don’t like to do – partly for reasons of financial expense, and partly because of the cost in environmental terms – but Roxanne had decided that it was time she explored the possibilities of living full time in the land where she was born; and I, simultaneously, felt that it was time I saw my parents again.
Of course, the big news from England during this past fortnight has been the so-called Brexit referendum. Had we been drifting about on the ocean when it took place then we might have remained unmoved by this extraordinary débâcle – but only for so long as we remained out there. As it was, we were swept along on the current of events like a yacht struggling through heavy seas, and the final outcome was like a rogue wave smashing down on our vessel. Even two weeks afterwards, I still feel overwhelmed; I still feel devastated. The worst may be yet to come, but even as the matter stands we now seem to be bereft of mast and sails.
Twisting the analogy somewhat, I might point out that it is mutinous crew who have wilfully cut the rig down.
I need hardly go into the details of this ridiculous but none-the-less consequential disaster, for the news has been spread right around the world. Everyone knows about Cameron, the pig-fancying buffoon, and Farage, the insane-seeming racist. Everyone knows about the lies which were told by Farage’s ally and one-time college chum, Boris Johnson – blatant lies told in order to seduce those people whose primary means of education is an Australian-owned newspaper.
Suffice it to say that all aboard Mollymawk were firmly in the Remain camp, not only because it seemed to us to be a vote for continuing peace and concord but also because we had no wish to ally ourselves with people screaming for immigrant blood.
Likewise, whilst we honestly don’t know whether the British economy would be better off in or out of Europe, we noted that almost every financial expert predicted doom and gloom in the event that the nation severed her ties.
More to the point, whilst we are aware that the EU is far from perfect, we see it as a starting point for something better. And you can’t change the rules of the club if you aren’t a member.
Finally – and most important of all – one can’t help noticing that the imperfect legislation which the EU brings into being has, nevertheless, often served to put a brake on the British government’s excesses. Britain has a very bad record when it comes to renewable energy – she creates less than most other countries in the EU, ranking 21st out of the 28 – and yet our government has long sought to wriggle out of obeying laws which promote ‘renewables’. Despite what the Leave campaigners led us to believe, very rarely has Cameron’s will been thwarted and laws passed despite his opposition; and on each occasion when he lost out, it was over matters relating to the environment or energy.
On Friday 23rd June we awoke, read the news, and were amongst the 48% who felt their world turn turtle. 48%, plus – because it was soon apparent that many who voted Leave had done so “as a protest”.
And then there were the large numbers of students and other young people who hadn’t bothered voting, since they assumed that their parents and grand-parents could be trusted to do the sensible thing…
And there were the hundreds of thousands who have lived in Britain for decades but who never previously deemed it necessary to acquire British status and the rights which go with it.
And there were the British citizens resident overseas whose postal ballot forms failed to show up. (They’re currently pursuing legal action.)
Add this lot together and you begin to see why well over half the population of Britain were in shock on that Friday morning, and why there was such a wailing and a gnashing of teeth.
In view of all this, why has the narrow margin of 1.8% been accepted as the “will of the people” and the rule of democratic law?
Many of us are asking that question. The captain has abandoned his command; Farage and the other rats have fled the sinking ship; no one seems to have any idea what to do – so why don’t they just put us back on course? If they did, there would surely be nationwide and European-wide rejoicing!
But that is not the point of this article.
Shortly before the referendum I wrote to a friend who is a Buddhist monk. I wanted to know whether monks vote, and he told me that they don’t. Buddhist monks and nuns remain aloof from the affairs of the world, their minds entirely detached from the antics of what is known as Samsara.
In response, I told the monk that I felt that it was important that we do our part to ensure that Britain remains in Europe, since leaving would obviously mean division and suffering and could even lead to war. However, I assured him confidently, regardless of the outcome, as soon as the result was known and I could have no more effect on proceedings, I would let it all go. I would detach, and go back to the business of pursuing equanimity of mind.
But, as this article proves, I haven’t.
I haven’t let go. Rather, I’ve let the chaos sweep through me. Indeed, I cannot recall any previous occasion in my life when I have been so thoroughly disrupted in my emotions. Examining the matter, I see that my entire identity as a European and as a xenophile is at stake.
“Not in my name!” cries my heart, as I read of the racist remarks flung at immigrants settled in Britain.
I am a helpless member of a society which is rushing to embrace fascism, and I feel as if I were an innocent passenger aboard a plane which has been hijacked.
Suddenly I understand how the vast majority of German citizens must have felt when Hitler came to power. And understanding that – and having regard for what happened next; bearing in mind the way in which that once right-minded majority were subsumed by the Gestapo mentality – I quake.
But hold on a minute. This identity stuff – it’s exactly the sort of thing that the Buddhist gurus warn us about. If I’m simply concerned about my self image then, obviously, I’m still attached to a Self; and the Self is the thing that I’m supposed to be undermining in order to gain liberation.
Since my particular Self, or ego, isn’t interested in looking good or in trying to impress other people, I’d thought that it wasn’t very big – but, hey, just look at it insisting that it isn’t part of this ethnic cleansing mind-set! Just look at it rising up in righteous indignation when I read about attacks on Poles! My Self is a construction formed of genetic traits and learned habits; my Self is a dance of thoughts and ideas; a pattern of energy…. Yeah, yeah – it’s all of that and nothing more.
But it’s a nice Self, right? It doesn’t do racism, and it harbours feelings of generosity. It wants to try to stop the suffering that this event seems bound to bring about.
“Seems”… Maybe that’s the key word.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and just detach from them, like a Buddhist monk… or to take arms, as it were, and fight the good fight. Whether to detach and get on with life, or to try to sort out the problem – that is the question.
57 years ago, after having sat in detachment, the leader of the Tibetan people was forced to flee from his homeland ahead of a Communist invasion. And ever since then, he’s had the leisure to repent of his detached equanimity and has been working to liberate his country from the oppressor.
Meanwhile, some fifty years ago, a Vietnamese monk by the name of Thich Nhat Hahn fled his country, partly in order to avoid assassination by another Communist force but also in order to be able to work as an activist in the fight against war.
So, monks do ‘attach’, when they have to; and my question is, when?
When does a monk get involved with Samsara and get to grips with suffering?
How bad does it have to be? And wouldn’t it be better if he got involved before it got very bad?
Suffering, it should be understood, is the corner-stone of Buddhism. Suffering is the inevitable consequence of birth, and the only way to escape from it is to break through the delusion of Self and thereby attain Nibbana (Nirvana). The Buddha-Dhamma talks quite a lot about compassion and love for our fellow beings, but the primary object of the teachings is to end suffering in our own lives. Nowhere, so far as I have been able to discover, does the Buddha talk about ending other people’s suffering by intervening.
I find this very relevant.
According to the Buddha, we are all responsible for what we say and do, and he urges us to check before, during, and after we speak or act, in order to ensure that we have not inadvertently brought suffering either to ourself or to anyone else. But nowhere, so far as I can discover, does he tell us to interfere in other people’s doings. The underlying attitude is one of harmlessness rather than of helpfulness.
For a man who identified the Self, or ego, as the source of all suffering and who advocated relinquishing its cravings, the Buddha comes across as remarkably selfish! In the quest for enlightenment he abandoned his wife and his newborn child; and he later encouraged another man to do the same. Although he taught that his lay followers should be generous, this was not so much for the benefit of the needy as with the object of winning Brownie points for the donor – Brownie points, and the feel good buzz which accompanies such open-heartedness.
That apart, the Buddha’s teachings are largely devoted to developing the citta-viveka, or unattached heart-mind, which simply shrugs off the follies of the world. When asked for advice regarding lay activities, the Buddha always obliged – he had teachings for everyone from the humblest peasant through to the loftiest king – but at no point that I can recall do we find him encouraging his followers to go around stopping wars or promoting one politician or ruler over another.
Now, why would that be? Well, I guess it’s partly on account of this ‘selfishness’ which is the best way to get to grips with the Self – it’s partly because Self-watching and detachment from the world is the only way to advance – but I wonder if it might also have something to do with that little word, “seems”.
It seems to me that Britain should remain part of the fraternity which is Europe, because it seems to me that this course offers the best chance for the environment.
It also seems to me that leaving the EU will open the doors to fascism; and it seems to me that workers’ rights will be better protected in the EU.
It seems to me that if we leave the EU then travellers such as myself will be greatly inconvenienced. (In the case of the Mollymawks, it will probably mean that we can’t hang out in French Polynesia for more than a few weeks, whereas EU citizens can remain there indefinitely; and Britons travelling in Europe will be even more affected.)
All things considered – and having weighed the arguments for and against – it seems to me that Britain should Remain in the EU.
But maybe I’m wrong.
And while I chew my mind apart, worrying over the whys and wherefores, and while I stir up my heart and agitate others to do likewise, I’ve set aside mindfulness and equanimity and strayed from the Buddha’s Noble Path.
Perhaps, in any case, it will all turn out to be much ado about nothing. Perhaps it’s just a ploy by the elite and powerful to make more money, or a ploy by the demons and devas infesting my mind to test my ability to renounce grasping….
Then again, perhaps historians will look back on Brexit as the trigger for World War III and the apocalypse, and my friend the monk, will go down in flames.
In which case… he still won’t be moved.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Captain, the Mate, the Ship’s Scientist, or the Dog.
We apologise for this departure from our usual theme of having as much fun as possible.
Normal service will be resumed next week.