Not Giving in to the Fear-Driven Life!

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Tony Judt writes of the importance of trust in a decent, healthy society, with examples such as: Trust in each other to pay our fair shares of taxes. Trust in honesty and fair play in the marketplace. Trust in competent police, postal workers, road crews, teachers, medical professionals, civil servants, and politicians. Can you imagine living out your life each day without the belief (trust) that countless somebodies are doing their jobs decently, obeying traffic laws, and the like? Horribly nihilistic, then, the bashing litanies that abuse all those humble lives, turning them into abstractions and objects of angst or political gain. (Ill Fares the Land, pp. 65 ff.)

Local examples of mistrust aren’t hard to find, often mired in prejudice. Yet, what kind of society to we create when whites don’t trust Latinos and vice versa? When Lutherans don’t trust Catholics and vice versa? When old-timers don’t trust newcomers and vice versa? When Liberals don’t trust Conservatives and vice versa? When rural folks don’t trust city people and vice versa? I’ll bet this is easy to see in our not-so-communal “communities.” And it’s obvious in national politics. Whatever happened to folks relying on neighbors?

We live in a land of difference, upheavel, and vastness, so the trust doesn’t come so easily as when we all looked the same or went to the same church or did the same kind of work. Current extreme economic inequalities make widespread mutual trust even more difficult. Does difficulty make the challenge unworthy or unnecessary?

How may we reweave the frayed strands of trust in our communities? In our society? This is a vitally important question if we are to avoid hunkering down in fearful partisanship, petty isolation, and materialist selfishness. This question challenges us to ask what qualities we seek in our lives and the kind of society we wish to live in. Further, it calls us to live according to the society we require, rather than the society we are stuck with. We must be worthy of the society we want and it worthy of us.

watching for turtles?

One key piece is learning to trust ourselves. The naive may feel they already do. Yet, many of us find ourselves vulnerable to fear mongering; we fail in trusting ourselves whenever we succumb to manufactured fear. Distrust in ourselves easily gets projected onto others and society. When we esteem what is most true and worthy in ourselves, the merchants of fear have no purchase.

Ideologies can get in the way of healthy self-confidence. Some forms of faith teach trust in external authorities in violation of our inner sense of truth. Many aspects of post-modernism are profoundly skeptical, which the nature of today’s media feeds. Lack of democracy in much of the business world, especially the big forms, limits trust to narrow bounds. So what does it take to trust ourselves outside such belief structures?

Early Buddhism speaks of ‘seeds of awakening’ (buddha-b?ja, which the Mahayana has elaborated into “Buddha-Nature”). In each of us we find potentials for intelligence, curiosity, tolerance, generosity, cooperation, creativity, steadfastness, compassion, and wisdom, to name some of the powerful virtues available to us all. As our practice discovers and nurtures these seeds, we naturally have legitimate bases for trust that don’t depend on the flimsiness of ego structures, whether individual or collective. Learning to trust these seeds and their maturation is a daily practice of healing and happiness that triumphs over cynicism and despair.

blossoming though frosts and storms

A deeper level of trust emerges as we learn to live with uncertainty, which is central to Buddhist practice. As we recognize the constructed and only provisionally dependable nature of externals, such as political parties and corporations, as well as of internals, such as emotions, beliefs, and opinions, we look for a deeper freedom. Recognizing the ubiquity of change, allows us to accept impermanence, which is a whole lot more certain than mere stuff. Such radical acceptance of uncertainty gifts a counter-intuitive freedom. We thus find ourselves in better shape to cope with all the bewildering changes and challenges facing us in the early 21st century.

Then, less afraid, we can trust other human beings more.

As we practice kindness and trust, we will find ways to contribute to thriving communities and build the foundations for a more Dhammic society, if that is what we want.

What better “security” is there?


I spelled it wrong — will correct in post — properly b?ja.
I wrote from memory of hearing about Buddhab?ja from Ajahn Buddhadasa but never looked up a reference, so don’t know of the source of the term. If I have a chance, will look around more.

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