Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Zen Teacher to Give Nashville Lecture

The Center for the Study of Religion and Culture and the Vanderbilt Divinity School will present the 2008 Howard W. Harrod Lecture: Healing Ecology: A "New" Spiritual Perspective on the Challenge of Consumerism by David Loy, Author, teacher of Zen Buddhism, and Besl Family Chair of Ethics, Religion & Society at Xavier University on March 18, 2008 at 7:00 PM at the Benton Chapel at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Fpr more information, please contact the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture 615-322-8910 | csrc@vanderbilt.edu www.vanderbilt.edu/csrc

It helps us to understand the particular kinds of ways that we are stuck today. There is a Zen phrase, ''bound by ropes of our own making,'' which means, trapped by our own ways of thinking. Our dukkha isn't just something individual. Dukkha is also collective, culturally conditioned suffering, which has a lot to do with our cultural institutions. If there's such a thing as collective dukkha, then there's such a thing as collective lack, and collective understanding of that lack. Buddhism emphasizes delusion, and there's also collective delusion--for example, myths about what America is and what it means to be American.

An important point about lack is that it's unavoidable. It's the nature of lack that you're going to have to deal with it one way or the other. Historically, people have usually dealt with lack in religious terms, referring to some other reality. But if you doubt any spiritual reality, if you are a secular person living in what you understand as a secular world, then you're going to have to objectify and cope with your lack right here and now, which is why consumerism is so addictive. The promise of consumerism is that something you buy or consume is going to fill up your sense of lack. But it's also the nature of consumerism that nothing ever can. Consumerism never makes you happy. Yet, it's always promising to make you happy. It's always the next thing that's going to make you happy. That's one example of a collective bind that we've gotten ourselves into.

Lack can also help us understand war and our response to terrorism since September 11th. Psychologically, war, despite all its horrors, is a comforting, familiar way for us to project our collective sense of lack onto somebody else. So, for example, we might come to believe al-Qaida is the cause of our lack, they are our problem, because, hey, they are trying to kill us! This involves a lot of anxiety, obviously, but we also feel a sense of relief that we can now understand what the problem with our lives is and how to deal with it. To keep lack from gnawing at our core, we objectify it: the problem is those terrorists over there, and if we eliminate them, we eliminate our sense of lack, and then we will be okay. Part of the tragedy with that projection, of course, is that it's a false promise, just as with consumerism. If you kill those guys, you don?t solve the basic problem. There's always going to be some other enemy, somebody else who starts to threaten us, because, insofar as we're thinking in that way, we have to keep finding or creating new enemies, just like we have to keep finding new things to consume.


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