One of the vows in my daily Buddhist practices contains the following line:
"I avoid setting myself against the world."
This is something that I find myself returning to again and again over time. Not setting yourself against the world means (among other things) recognizing the world is as it truly is, not as we wish to be. The world can only be such, regardless of how we throw ourselves against it or wish it to be otherwise. The world simply is… So much of our anger or frustration in life, our basic unhappiness, is because we want the world to be something other than it really is when it comes down to it. Learning to accept the world is part of the path to peace.
This isn’t to say that we don’t struggle or strive to change the world. This is not simply an excuse to look at the problems of the world and say, “Well, that’s how the world is. I need to accept that and let it go.” Much of the world, especially the human world, is the product of choices. Sometimes these are simply the choices of individuals as individuals and sometimes they are the choices of individuals in aggregate, as societies. As we all know, often it is the “system” that restricts and controls choices, or at least the easy ones.
We have a duty, a necessity, to make the world a better place. The one aspect of modern Buddhist thought that I agree with, at least conceptually, is that of engaged Buddhism. Aligning ourselves with the powers and archons (rulers) of this world is not an acceptable choice when there is so much suffering around us constantly. We should not be coopted. We should not simply be good little citizens accepting of the choices made for us. To be truly free individuals, we have to be willing to subvert the dominant paradigm, to use a cliche, and go against the grain. There is so much suffering that could be alleviated in the world simply by the choices of individuals if people actually make a choice. This would leave us to focus on those facets that are not simply the products of choice but intrinsic to the human condition, which Buddhism can address.
Not setting myself against the world means recognizing what can be changed and what cannot be changed. It means not throwing myself against the brick wall of reality over and over again, beating myself bloody, because I am unwilling to accept reality. Recognizing things as they are allows me to focus on what can actually be changed for the better, for everyone as well as myself. As I’ve said before, we need to recognize that no rescue party is on the way. No one is going to save us, from ourselves, from our choices, from our leaders, or even from our civilization. It is necessary for us to step up and save ourselves. You, me, everyone. We are the leaders and our existing leaders are no different than us except for their wealth, their positions in the system, and their willingness to made decisions.
I believe we are all free, radically so. My spirituality is antinomial and I believe that any truly free individual will operate in that space as well but we need to recognize that we are truly free and that we can change the world in order for it to occur.
Think about it. Think about your place in the world, not the one that you’ve been told or the hole that the peg of yourself fits in. Make a choice and look at the world. Do not set yourself against the world and recognize what can and cannot be changed and what is fundamental to the world. Act.