Where I Want To Be

Sanatana Dharma

(Originally posted 2020.09.15)

It’s been over a year since I attempted to undertake the Sanatana Dharma path. It didn’t take long for me to get sidetracked, falling back on old traditions, and researching new ones previously overlooked. Following a discussion on my recent relapse back into Theravada Buddhism, knowing precisely the spiritual course I wanted to take, I summarized my next goal: I wish to perform selfless action not rooted in selfish needs.

Having settled on Theravada again, I finished cataloguing laity-friendly discourses from the Tipitaka for practice. Looking through these texts, I asked myself if there was a means to achieve my goal. The answer came swiftly because it was so obvious: No. As renunciation was clearly ideal, the few means provided for engaging with the world felt insincere.

My connection with Theravada was severed for a third time, in just under two weeks, a new record. Clearly, I wasn’t happy with this tradition, I hadn’t been for awhile, so why was I clinging to it? Maybe I feared change. For 12 years, Theravada was all I knew. I knew it well, and it was a safety net during difficult times. But with my 40th birthday coming next year, I needed a more practical spiritual push out of bed in the mornings.

Why don't I just find my own answers? Because I'd rather not reinvent the wheel at this point in my life. The benefit of tapping into a tradition is that you're accessing ideas that have been battle tested for hundreds, even thousands, of years. You can step back, observe a culture, and choose which community to follow and contribute to. Anecdotally, some communities—such as Hindus and Jews, for example — are more communal, and others— such as secularists and Theravadans—are more individualistic.

Thinking back on my research into Hinduism, I was reminded of Nishkam Karma, the central tenet of the Karma yoga path of selfless action, lovingly illustrated in the Bhagavad Gita. My goal was likely influenced by a reading of Swami Nikhilananda’s translation of the Gita last year. This seemed like the obvious path to take at the time, it felt right, but I turned away because I heard that some Hindu communities rejected converts, and that a guru, which I had no interest in finding or evaluating, was mandatory for practice.

Much has changed since then. Thanks, oddly in part, to Tulsi Gabbard running for president, I was led to Hindu communities that welcomed seekers and helped clarify the teachings. Further, I’m no longer adverse to the thought of sitting with a guru, which doesn’t seem so awkward now after having mentally prepared myself to submit to a rabbinical court (long story).

The two Hindu schools that have most piqued my interest are Advaita Vedanta and Vishishtadvaita. I will study the former for now since it appears to have more English language resources. I’ll always be thankful for Buddhism, and for the tireless work of Bhikkhu Bodhi, Bhikkhu Thanissaro, Bhikkhu Sujato, Tara Brach, Gil Fronsdal, Joseph Goldstein, and the Sangha. As the Alagaddūpama Sutta states, the Buddha-Dharma is “similar to a raft, being for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of grasping.” It’s about time for me to let go of this raft.

The Start of a New Journey

Returning to the source

(Originally posted 2019.09.07)

I was an atheist for most of my teenage years. By my mid-20s, I turned to spirituality to find purpose and stability. I settled with Theravada Buddhism, which has been proselytized as a “godless religion”, because it appealed to my lingering secular sentiments. After 12 years of Vipassana and Buddhānussati practice, I made great progress cultivating equanimity and a devotional mindset. Nevertheless, the renunciant leanings of the Theravada eventually left me feeling stifled and isolated. I pursued two other Buddhist lineages, Zen and Pure Land. Both made a strong initial connection, but, to my disappointment, this connection was only fleeting. I soon realized the futility of relying upon intermediaries. To find the Truth that I sought, I needed to surrender my ego to the highest authority. I needed to seek the voice of God.

When I Renounced Black Victimhood

Value of freedom

(Originally posted 2014.08.04)

For most of my adult life, I was a proud advocate of Marxism, a school of social liberalism that led me to see capitalism and religion as impediments of our potential—the root of humanity’s suffering that had to be stopped.

To accept a worldview I intuitively knew was tyrannical, I arrogantly oversimplified the beliefs of conservatives and theists. It wasn’t until I saw how noxious social liberalism could be in practice that my conscience could no longer validate my prejudices.

Record of Failure

As a black male, I’ve been the target of relentless propaganda from the political-left. Nearly every narrative about black culture I heard in school and from the media centered on how I was a victim. Callous white men—now in the form of racist Republicans—were the oppressors, and the loving Democrats were my saviors.

The smokescreen started to dissipate while living in Gary, a crime ridden city founded by the U. S. Steel Corporation that’s been under the control of Democrats since 1943. Nearly every night for the 3 years I stayed there, I fell asleep listening to gunfire outside a cramped house that itself had two bullet holes on its side.

It could be argued the initial blow to Gary’s stability came when Republican president Ronald Reagan exported much of the steel industry overseas, undercutting their primary source of income. But Detroit, which doesn’t have a dependence on steel production, can’t share this excuse for their decline.

Detroit, which consistently tops “America’s most dangerous cities” lists, has been managed ineptly by Democrats since 1962. Their economy finally collapsed in 2013, resulting in the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U. S. history.

Destructive Condescension

Clearly, the Democrats didn’t have the solutions they claimed to have had, and enforcing regulations rather than encouraging education and accountability only made matters worse.

When 82 people were shot, 14 fatally, in Chicago over the July 4th weekend this year, police superintendent Garry McCarthy placed the blame entirely on “weak gun control laws” rather than the obvious causes—hood culture, upbringing, and ignorance.

How can gun control amend the rage that drives most killings, or hinder the access of unregistered guns through underground channels? Are any Democratic policies actually meant to solve anything, or are they just demagogic fetters to keep us contained, complacent, and stupid so we’ll continue supporting the political-left during elections?

In another example of blatant demagoguery, Democrats claimed the voter ID laws pushed by Republicans were “voter suppression.” But wouldn’t more problems be solved if minorities weren’t just encouraged to vote against Republicans, but encouraged to get IDs—which are required to open bank accounts and get most jobs—to enable greater independence and access to society? Wouldn’t having an ID render voter ID “schemes” ineffective?

Free To Choose

The deceptions Democrats and their left-wing constituents had been using to expand and retain their base were revealing themselves: exploiting minorities, propagating a “war on women” to abrogate conservative women, classifying all dissent as bigotry to inhibit free speech—just to name a few.

My respect for social liberalism flatlined.

Free of any political affiliation, my interest opened to the other side of the political spectrum. I found some libertarian and conservative book lists online. From those lists, I settled on Free to Choose by Milton Friedman, The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek, Conscious of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater, and God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley Jr.

One of the recurring thoughts I had while reading these books wasn’t about their content, but about why their points, which were surprisingly inclusive and practical, weren’t being articulated as lucidly by popular right-wing personalities today. If more of them had ranted less about how awful “liberalism” was, and spoke more on the conservative rationale, they could’ve garnered more support from the left and middle sooner.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

While some conservatives—the loudest ones usually—do fit the unflattering stereotype of being angry, racist, young-Earth creationists who hate the poor and want to turn America into a Christian theocracy, most of them don’t. Conservatives, like social liberals, come from a variety of backgrounds, and are distinguished by their ideological position on social and economic issues.

Conservatives tend to be individualistic. Individualists prioritize the rights of the individual over the rights of any in-group. Everyone is held to the same standards, and taxed the same—with no special restrictions or exceptions. The government’s role is to uphold the law, and defend and advance the country without intruding on people’s liberties or businesses.

Social liberals tend to be collectivistic. With a priority on in-group rights over individual rights, collectivist governments are more involved. The citizenry is treated as a collective, and taxed more—on a sliding scale—to finance programs deemed important by its constituents. Regulations are imposed on businesses and, in some cases, on speech.

Taking Responsibility

I’m convinced a predominantly individualist government with minimal special programs (ex. FDA, NASA being exceptions) would be ideal. When politicians are asked to manage too much outside their expertise, they consistently come up with proposals that unfairly favor, harm, or are vehemently opposed by an in-group. To cultivate natural progress and equality, the government should tend primarily to defensive duties, and leave the citizenry free to build, innovate, and pursue happiness as they see fit.

But who will take care of the destitute?

We will!

According to statistics published by The Giving USA Foundation, $335 billion was given—voluntarily—to charitable organizations in 2013, accounting for approximately 2% of the gross domestic product.

People are inherently good, and when the opportunity arises to help someone in need, we do help them. We don’t need a paternal government to dictate every aspect of our lives, or treat us like children or perpetual victims.

Let’s take care of ourselves.

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