How To Practise
Yesterday's quotes from the Dalai Lama's book, The Way to a Meaningful Life, ended with:
"The desperate state of our world calls us to action."
The latter part of his Introduction continues:
Each of us has a responsibility to try to help at the deeper level of our common humanity. Unfortunately, humanity is too often sacrificed in defence of ideology. This is absolutely wrong. Political systems should actually benefit human beings, but, like money, they can control us instead of work for us.
If with a warm heart and patience we can consider the views of others, and exchange ideas in calm discussion, we will find points of agreement. It is our responsibility – out of compassion and love for humankind – to seek harmony among nations, ideologies, cultures, ethnic groups, and economic and political systems.
When we truly recognise the oneness of all humankind, our motivation to find peace will grow stronger. In the deepest sense we are really sisters and brothers, so we must share one anothers' suffering. Mutual respect, trust, and concern for one anothers' welfare are our best hope for lasting world peace.
Harmony and friendship cannot thrive in a climate of mistrust, cheating, bullying and mean-spirited competition. Success through intimidation and violence is temporary at best; its trifling gains only create new problems.
We can only solve our problems through truly peaceful means – not just peaceful words but a peaceful mind and heart. In this way we will have a better world.
Is this possible? Fighting, cheating and bullying have trapped us in our present situation; now we need training in new practices to find a way out.
G2 last week reported (again) on teenage gun crime, violence and killings. As usual, with such reports, there were far more questions raised than answered in this feature.
Of course there should be massive investment in work and projects that aim to “break the cycle of violence” - through dealing directly with the susceptible teenagers and gang members themselves. And of course there must be massive investment in tackling bad housing, unemployment and lack of recreational and socialisation opportunities.
But a much better long term investment must be made in ensuring that young people do not grow up without social, emotional and spiritual intelligence. In which case schools must be massively empowered, encouraged, and even directed to make these areas of learning central to pupils’ experiences in schools.
Since many homes encourage the maintenance of the culture of violence and retaliation, then it’s often only in schools that pupils can learn how to cope with destructive emotions and begin to understand human values. If schools fail to educate vulnerable pupils in more enlightened ways of coping with problems and challenges then nobody else will be able to reach them. Only the fortunate few will reach a stage in their lives where greater personal maturity plus experience of life’s harsh lessons will be enough to help them see through the madness and chaos of what passed for normality in their world.
If schools don’t even attempt to pre-empt teenage pressures to join gangs through giving vulnerable Primary age children greater insights into those pressures, then those children are unlikely to figure out for themselves more productive ways of living, and more purposeful ways of spending their time.
Do schools currently have such a focus? In America and Britain, of course not. They focus almost entirely on attaining high marks in academic tests and exams. Whilst no-one would suggest that maths, literacy, science and the rest aren’t important, it must be obvious that the pursuit of academic excellence will normally be an impossibility for pupils who lack motivation and who don’t possess high degrees of social, emotional and spiritual intelligence.
Our government’s central and driving belief is that “driving up standards” will enable more working class pupils to gain A-levels, to enter university, and thereby gain the paper qualifications that will enable them to move into high paid employment and move out of violent neighbourhoods and lives of poverty. If only life were so simple. The papers this week are full of outrage about grade inflation and the fact that this year there are thousands of pupils with A levels who can't get university places due to lack of government funding.
The reality is that for hundreds of thousands of working class kids this dream of university and a life of prosperity is virtually never going to happen, unless the individual is unusually ambitious, determined and persistent. The rates of graduate unemployment alone are sufficient to deter a lot of smart kids from being the first in their family to go on to ‘higher education’ unless they have a particular aptitude, unless they enjoy writing essays, unless they are set on entering a profession that requires a university degree, and unless they can cope with the idea of running up huge debts.
The majority will continue to live in the areas where they grew up and where they will earn their living as shop assistants, as bar staff, as butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, plumbers, carpenters and electricians, (OK maybe not candlestick makers) – and for these people the important skills they will need will be based on a strong foundation of social, emotional and spiritual intelligence. The other key attributes they will need to do well in life will be creativity, curiosity, self-confidence, communication skills, Internet skills, empathy, intuition, etc.
It’s increasingly apparent that spiritual and emotional intelligence are also desperately lacking in many Members of Parliament, bankers, city financiers, businessmen, journalists, media personalities, footballers, middle managers, bureaucrats, teachers, accountants, etc. Such people are frequently lacking in anger management skills, humility, honesty, humanity, etc. A little less academic learning and a lot more emphasis on social, emotional and spiritual intelligence would serve them well.
Does anyone seriously think our middle classes are LESS susceptible than the working classes to alcoholism, coke-snorting, relationship breakdown, neglecting and abusing children, nervous breakdowns, obesity, low self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety, depression and existential angst? Are they really any happier, even when wealthier?
The fortunate children acquire a strong foundation of personal, social, emotional and spiritual development in loving and caring homes and extended families that protect them and teach them through personal example, and through discussions about human values and spiritual values. The majority of young people in good homes, both working class and middle class, positively do not want to live their lives in ways that vex and displease their elders.
A very significant minority of pupils, however, will not live and learn in positive households. They may choose not to attend school, or they may turn up physically but not in mind or spirit. They may know or strongly suspect that they won’t be the ones getting 5 A-C’s in GCSEs, let alone A Levels. They may be the ones for whom drug taking and drunkenness, knives and guns and domestic violence are a day to day reality. They may be the ones for whom street violence seems as natural and inevitable as eating and drinking. They may be the ones who will kill, if necessary, to ‘protect’ ‘their’ ‘territory’.
Of course the National Curriculum doesn’t cater for the needs of these pupils. It was never designed to. It was always intended to dominate the school day, and it prescribes academic study as the dominant pursuit of each child’s school day. It was never about learning to learn, learning to enjoy learning, learning to be creative, learning to be expressive in a variety of ways, or learning to manage destructive emotions.
To create an edifice of academic attainment without attending to the other intelligences is like building on sand, and sooner or later there’s a very real chance of collapse. Unless there are strong and durable foundations of social, emotional and spiritual learning young people may do well academically, and even professionally for a while, without ever finding lasting happiness, fulfillment, or even lasting achievement. (see Layer 181 – yesterday – the Dalai Lama) Is this what we really want for our children?
With children whose lives are violent and chaotic any attempt to teach them for examination success without also offering development in the other key intelligences is like building on a bottomless pit of quicksand or a flowing river of red-hot lava.
“Why the American right make me sick”
I don't normally rate Simon Hoggart as a writer, but he's right on the money with this post:
“There are few tribes more loathsome than the American right, and their vicious use of the shortcomings in the NHS to attack Barack Obama's attempts at health reform are a useful reminder.
I was thinking of this during a visit to my 91-year-old dad who is still in an NHS hospital after three weeks, recovering from a broken hip. He has had fantastic care, including a new metal hip, blood transfusions, different antibiotics to match every aspect of his condition; all administered by nurses who remain cheerful even when asked to perform tasks on men – the lethal combination of pain and old age makes some in the ward exceedingly grumpy – that I would not want to do for £1,000 a time.
If he was in an American hospital he'd be using up half his life savings to get that standard of care, and few ordinary Americans could afford the insurance that would provide it. (This is because health insurers spend a large part of their income on PR against the "socialised medicine" and on sending pro forma letters explaining why your policy doesn't cover actual illness.) All over the US there are people whose lives are being destroyed for lack of proper health care provision, and there is no sight more odious than the rich, powerful and arrogant trying to keep it that way.”
This past week or two has been incredible for the mad-dog attacks on Obama's proposals to set up a decent health service in America that will provide a safety net for all, regardless of income or prosperity. Not only do his opponents, in their town hall meetings, on talk radio, and on TV, continually attack Obama's proposals – they are cranking up their personal abuse to the point of absolute hysteria. They're continuing to insinuate he's 'non-American' – i.e. he's 'an African', with no birth certificate to prove otherwise. They're continuing to accuse him of being a 'socialist', which in their book is the same as a communist, and therefore un-American. The degree of anger and hatred is truly appalling. Those of us who want the American people as a whole to be better off, better provided for, more enlightened and much happier, can only look on with pity and a horrified fascination. Especially now that these lunatics have started to mock, ridicule and traduce our NHS, aided and abetted by various scumbag Tory MEPs and MPs.
End of the Beginning
The Dalai Lama concludes the introduction to his book by saying that the book aims to
“Introduce the three aspects of spiritual practice – morality, concentrated meditation and wisdom – which are the book's principal themes.”
“I describe two types of morality: reorienting physical and verbal deeds so as to cause no harm to others, and cultivating deeper concern for others.
“In [the section on] Practicing Concentrated Meditation I describe how to achieve mental focus and how to restore calm in stressful situations.
“Practicing Wisdom . . . addresses the difficult but fruitful topic of dependent-arising and emptiness.
“These discussions on morality, concentrated meditation and wisdom flow into . . . Tantra, which presents a special yoga practice combining the three.
“The concluding part, Steps Along The Way, presents an overview of the path of practice from its beginnings right through to enlightenment, a state wherein mind and body are fully developed in order to be of service to others.
“From beginning to end, our focus is on developing a good heart and mind through a moral attitude and an understanding of reality, empowered by concentration.
“Think of morality, concentrated meditation and wisdom as a blueprint for enlightenment, reminding us of the highest aim of practice – a transformation of attitude towards peacefulness, compassion, calm focus, and wisdom. Understanding the blueprint is itself part of the path, drawing us toward the destination.”
Not a word wasted there, and not a word concerning God, or anything about heaven, hell, angels or devils.