Wednesday, February 16, 2011

To A Mountain In Tibet

My impression is that most westerners who dabble in Buddhism are essentially secular in outlook and not really seeking the big hit of revelation — though you might say that many of them do so in the context of a certain nostalgia for the numinous.

Colin Thubron's new book, To A Mountain In Tibet sounds like a fascinating read. I was intrigued to hear him state on a R3 pod this morning that historically Tibet has been one of the world's most violent societies, long sporting a standing army in excess of 200,000 soldiers and that many of the previous incumbents of the position of Dalai Lama were either murdered or themselves implicated in murder.

Thubron indicates that the era of the First World War represented the high water mark of western cultural mystification of Tibet, coinciding with the moment when Europe was bleeding its old certainties most profusely.

I recently heard the authors of All Things Shining define secular outlook as one which, while not rejecting religiosity, is not only tolerant of competing viewpoints, actively encourages individuals to adopt as many of them as they might feel comfortable with.

As well as a set of disciplines for the suppression of the self in everyday capitalist existence, Buddhism offers a deeper spiritual heritage for the post-modern notion that the best case scenario for the hereafter — full preservation of the individual persona in the hereafter* — is also the least satisfying from a rational viewpoint.

* Though I grant this might not be such a satisfactory end result for the damned.

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