These are strange times for sure. Who among us hasn’t had the feeling that the atmosphere has changed?
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve devoted too much time to the news or maybe I’ve been reading too many letters to the editors lately. Are times now really as dangerous as they feel? Are we really on the brink of some kind national or even global upheaval? Are the ideas of truth and justice being chipped away by sinister forces? How much trouble have we gotten ourselves into? After all, just keeping up with current events can make it seem that bad news can morph into apocalyptic prophecies overnight. It feels sometimes that we humans are collectively preparing ourselves for a cold winter’s darkness. Our jaws are tightening while at the same time we fight off a growing lethargy. We sense that another storm will strike. We feel it in our bones that it will happen. Will it be physical or psychological blow, or both? Anxiety and uncertainty can tempt us to withdrawal, to disengage, to close our eyes, cover our ears, make us hesitate to reach out and touch anything alive. A chilled atmosphere is leaving us distrustful of strangers, neighbors, our families and even our own sense of morality and benevolence.
It leads us to question what natural order is, or whether there is even such a thing as order. How do we build hope and goodwill in such strange and dangerous times as these? Can we understand the nature of this looming darkness and can we even logically define it? If we can describe it how can we harness the better angles of our nature to fix the problems that face us? How do we seek justice, truth and goodwill in the face of uncertainty and fear? Can I quell the fear in my own heart and be willing to do what it takes to make this a better place for the future sentient beings who will have no choice but to call this little planet home? I think we owe it to ourselves and them to try our best to understand the situation that we’re in, try to understand the true nature of reality.
Writing these words is my attempt to convince myself, and to convince you that this is not an impossible task. I feel I have no choice but to give it a try. I have got to go with the flow of my consciousness and the hand that I was dealt. I accept grudgingly that I may be wrong and that the reasonable way to seek a more just world is at times stand firm and at other times be willing to change, no matter how hard it may be to do so. If I want justice to be on my side I don’t know if it can occur without some sense of morality, some sense of empathy and some sense of courage. How else would we be able to recognize injustice when it shows it’s ugly face before us. But what is ‘justice’? It is a very hard thing to define. I believe it has something to do with fairness and equality, something to do with rights and freedom, something to do with truth. I also think that in order for fairness to prevail, we should reach for a willingness to forgive, prize peace as a great gift, accept the precept that nonviolence is right and that Love is powerful.
Emanuel Kant rightly pointed out the importance of justice when he said, “If justice parishes so will the very meaning of human existence.” I’m all for finding meaning in this chaotic business of being human. It’s not always a easy thing to do though. Nihilism can creep into my heart when I’m feeling sad or when I hear about violence, the indifference to suffering and the destruction of nature that too many humans greedily foster. There is also the titillating aspect of nihilism that I can’t help but to be drawn into sometimes. In a warped way it’s weirdly empowering. I don’t think every hardcore nihilist has to necessarily be a sociopath, a lazy thinker, suffer from a deep depression or simply be an unjust bastard. Why can’t it be possible to be a nihilist and be an ethical person at the same time? I would think it is possible, but I do question if it is sustainable in the long run. Feelings of meaninglessness are more often than not thrust upon us by forces that are beyond our control. But what is not beyond our control is our power to will meaning back into our lives. We are creative, loving, social beings. We can create meaning with the tools of our own consciousnesses and our desires for love and justice.
I read a very good autobiography a few years back. It’s simply titled, ‘Wave’. It was written by Sonali Deraniyagala, a native from Sri Lanka. It is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. Sonali was raised in an upper class family on that beautiful island nestled next to India. She went off to higher education in London where she fell in love and married her future husband, a talented journalist. They settled in London and had two beautiful and healthy sons. They had, what most would consider, a dream life. It was filled with love. They had successful, rewarding and intellectually challenging carriers.
At the end of December in 20004 the family, along with Sonali’s parents, vacationed together at a resort on the Southeast end of Sri Lanka. Her life changed on that vacation. For on December 26th a wave swept through the seaside resort. It was just one part of a tremendously, destructive wave that was triggered by a large earthquake under the ocean. The tsunami killed over a quarter million people who were on the land masses around the Indian Ocean. Among those that were killed were Sonali’s husband, her parents and her two young sons. She was injured but survived. How can one find meaning in life and some sense of justice when confronted with such a horrendous loss? ‘Wave’ is one’s woman’s journey to do just that. It took her many years. She suffered from depression, rage, guilt, hopelessness, drug addiction, she had reoccurring thoughts of and attempts of suicide. The book she wrote is a book about grief. It is a book being trapped on the knifes edge between the past and the future. It is a book about power, the power of nature, so beautiful and so often harsh and indifferent, the power to change one’s own way of being, it is a book about the power of love and acceptance. This little book was not an easy read but one that was rewarding and unbelievably moving.
We all have suffered and we will all suffer more in life. It is part of the deal. We can turn to Buddhist philosophy, we can turn to the philosophy of Jesus, we can turn to other religious teachings, we can turn to Nietzsche, Spinoza or Socrates, we can even turn to science for guidance. But what we can’t afford to do is to turn away from each other. We can’t turn away from nature and the search for truth and justice.
The sad thing that I feel now, especially in this country, is that there is a movement to separate ourselves from moral responsibility and love. There is an all too easy willingness to justify greed and intolerance. The powerful are using religion, patriotism, untruths and hypocrisy as a means for self benefit. They do this at the expense of justice and peace. Things like climate change, the chance of nuclear war. mass extinctions due to the man’s continuing destruction of nature and the possible misuses of bio-engineering and artificial intelligence could very well lead to the downfall of civilization as we know it.
In the face of these, now is the time for me, and for us as a whole, to take a deep look into our hearts and pinpoint what is really meaningful in our lives. I need to readjust my own moral compass, be brave enough to question my reasons and my own selfish desires. Why shouldn’t I/We take the time to contemplate deep concepts, be willing to try to examine from afar cultural constructs, misguided actions and systems that may be destructive and unhealthy.
I doubt that we’ll ever know what is true with a capital “T” or know what is just with a capital “J”. We’ll never completely end suffering. We are mortal beings and we will each die. But I do believe that we can find great meaning in our lives, temporary as they may be. The very act of trying can be what is most meaningful. For not to even try to fight for justice, seek truth, topple the forces of hate with Love, reduce the amount of suffering when possible, would be to disrespect humanity and untie our bonds with each other and with the Universe.