Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life. (Apocryphal saying attributed to the Buddha)
The Dharma Transmission to the West (DTW) corresponds to a crucial transitional moment in the history of Western civilization, viz., an early industrialist culture in a state of transformation from feudal-aristocracy to post-capitalism. This transition has been associated with two world wars and the cold war between capitalism and communism. The near-total triumph of capitalism has led to a society characterized by individualism, competition, great wealth, greater poverty, pollution, environmental degradation, wage slavery, periodic economic breakdown, addiction, criminality, promiscuity, perversion, and sickness – physical, psychosomatic, and psychological – dominated by nationalist fervour, warfare, and fear. This time was described long ago. It is called the Kali Yuga, the advent of which the Aryans set as 3102 BCE. Interestingly, the Mayan epoch, which came to an end in 2012, called the Great Fifth Cycle, began in 3113 BCE – a difference of just eleven years. “Kali Yuga” means the age (yuga) of strife, discord, quarrel, or contention (kali). In Buddhist writings it is often called the degenerate age. This 5,000 year cycle is also referred to in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. There are five ages or yugas in a single cycle or kalpa of 5,000 years in which the Kali Yuga or Iron Age is the lowest, most impure, and vicious, and where ignorance rules.
Humanity turned a symbolic corner in its history in 1945 when the United States exploded two atomic bombs over Japan in order to bring the Second World War to an end. In that year humanity acquired the power of self-annihilation as a species. We now face a fundamental historical choice: to organize society in such a way as to optimize our survival, or destroy ourselves by continuing to adhere to a functionally self-destructive way of life. It remains to be seen which path we shall choose. One hundred years from 1945 is 2045, which computer scientist, inventor, and technological visionary Ray Kurzweil has identified with the singularity – a technological development where the sum total of non-biological intelligence (artificial intelligence, or AI) on earth will be one billion times greater than the sum total of human intelligence. The singularity is the result of the accelerating pace of scientific, industrial, and technological development, beyond which the effects on human society become qualitatively unpredictable.
Human birth is rare, perhaps as rare as 1.25 human civilizations per galaxy, according to one solution of the Drake equation (see Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near), and should not be sacrificed lightly. To be complicit in killing is also a violation of the First Precept. While it is true that the karmic propensities will transmigrate, these carry only limited memories into each subsequent rebirth (hence every tulku must be re-educated) and all but the very essence of human civilization will be lost, including the precious dharma itself. While it may be true that Buddhas are born everywhere, all teaching the same ultimate dharma, Buddhas are also rare and each expression of dharma is infinitely precious in itself and should not be sacrificed lightly. Buddhists should seek to cure the ills of society – insofar as we can within the limitations of the desire realm of lived reality – by creating a true dharma society where spirituality can be practised by everyone. This is the Shambhala ideal.
The relationship between the ills of Western society and the dharma is clearly based on the karmas generated by the systematic violation of the fundamental ethical precepts: killing, stealing, lying, sex, and addiction, viz., shortness of life (considered worldwide, not only in the Western countries), poverty, criminality, sickness, and unconsciousness. This list neatly summarizes the critical social problems of the world today. We can ameliorate these conditions to a very high degree using social reforms, but social reforms will not be achieved unless we first change our consciousness. Spiritual culture underlies and must precede political culture. To think otherwise is the delusion of secularism. Therefore, spiritual revolution must precede political revolution. True spiritual revolution cannot be imposed. It can only occur freely in the individual.
All human religions, based as they are on mythology, including the delusion of theism, have failed the test of reason, and have degenerated into impotence on the one hand or ferocious fundamentalism and even terrorism on the other, with one exception. While Buddhism itself is not uncontaminated by religion, in its essence it is the dharma, the original and originating spiritual philosophy that is ultimately identical with reality itself and that is revealed by all Buddhas, everywhere they appear in the multiverse, in innumerable different forms, yet all sharing the same essence. This failure of religion has led to the rising tide of materialism, secularism, and consumerism that is destroying the world.
Rather than further analyze the multiple failures of capitalism it is more productive to focus on the solution. What would a truly dharmic society look like? Since the ills of society are the karmic consequence of the violation of the fundamental ethical precepts, their cure must lie in the social adaptation of the same precepts. When we think about this in this way we see immediately how “a-dharmic” Western society is, and how much it needs to change, at a time when Western society, always imperial, is becoming increasingly global.
The following social reforms follow logically from the five primary Buddhist precepts: not harming living beings, not stealing, no wrongful speech, no wrongful sex, and no intoxication. I would suggest that they constitute the essential agenda of a comprehensive dharma socialism at a time when Islamist fundamentalist terrorism is trying to position itself as the only alternative to Communism on the one hand and Capitalism on the other. In particular, Consumerism can only lead to addiction and finally unconsciousness, resulting in the general degeneration of the people back towards the animal state. Consumerism threatens human civilization and human freedom itself. Instinctual beings are wholly governed by desire, and therefore are easily able to be enslaved by a superior power. Consequently, Consumerism is anti-democratic and totalitarian in principle. Consumerism and the dictatorship of capital are the same.
Towards an International Dharma Socialist Platform
– A Sixteen-Point Agenda for the Future –
Only a society based on righteousness and truth is truly free. Absolute freedom from all restraints is chaos and degeneration.
- Abolition of killing animals including the abolition of cruelty to animals, animal experimentation, and slaughterhouses.
- Demilitarization, including the abolition of weapons manufacture and gun ownership.
- Abolition of capital punishment.
- Abolition of mandatory incarceration of prisoners.
- Abolition of the private ownership of the means of production, the exploitation of labour, and usury.
- A universal guaranteed standard of living.
- Universal access to clean water, food, living space, proper parenting, education, health care, media, transportation, and the right to work, as well as the fundamental rights of freedom of conscience, speech, and action and freedom from prejudice.
- Abolition of fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
- Development of sustainable green technologies.
- Abolition of pollution through universal mandatory recycling.
- Abolition of great disparities of wealth and income between countries and between individuals.
- Abolition of false advertising and disinformation.
- Abolition of the use of sexual images of men and women for advertising or entertainment, especially pornography.
- Abolition of promiscuity, illicit sex (i.e., outside marriage, rape, sexual harassment, genital mutilation, etc.) and sexual acts that cause hurt or harm to living beings.
- Abolition of alcohol, tobacco, opiates, and narcotics except for approved medical use in the treatment of disease.
- Abolition of the adulteration of the food chain, including farming and food manufacturing and processing, by chemicals, pesticides, and food additives that cause harm to health.