reflections for a new year, 2021

We are in a new year, 2021. With everything going on in our country and the world at large I can’t help but anxiously ask “How have we come to this? What is the solution to our problems?” Yet no matter what answers I come up with I feel helpless and powerless to do anything.

You may feel the same.

Therefore, I would like to share my reflections on this in the hope that you may find it helpful.

The great wisdom traditions all point to similar causes of our worldly problems. In Buddhism, these are identified as the three root causes; ignorance, greed, and hatred. These root causes do not exist out there but are inner causes of suffering that manifest outwardly in social dynamics, cultural prejudices, government policy. We can and should spend a great deal of effort on changing these outward manifestations to solve our world problems but such effort is pointless if we do not also address the inner root causes.

If you reflect on the world problems we have today it is not difficult to see how they all stem from these three inner root causes. The prejudice and racism on display is a clear manifestation of ignorance and hatred. There is also greed involved in the systemic racism that exists in our institutions; those upholding these structures do not want to lose the benefit and power they get from such a system. The power that misinformation has had for many years on ordinary citizens beliefs about science and politics is astounding. We no longer have basic common facts to base our discourse and debate on. The ignorance and hatred behind this misinformation was most recently on display as our system of democracy was, and still is, under threat. This is only scratching the surface. If you reflect more deeply it becomes only more obvious how ignorance, greed, and hatred lie at the heart of our world problems.

When I reflect on this it is more difficult to connect this realization with what I can do about it. I tend to reflect on the ignorance, greed, and hatred of others. Any ignorance, greed, and hatred I personally have seems relatively insignificant compared to those causing so much suffering in this world. I am not the problem. They are, those other people. They are the ones that need to change not me.

If you are not careful this can become a dangerous line of logic to follow. Take this logic to it’s end, the result is only more extreme division, pride, condemnation of the other, and will completely ignore one’s own inner root causes. It identifies the other as the root cause. This is just more ignorance. It is tempting to go down this because there is some truth to the premise but it cannot solve our problems. It also takes all the power from you to do anything about it.

The flaw in this logic is that my own ignorance, greed, and hatred are separate and independent from that of others. This is false.

Reflect on the interconnectedness of our ignorance, greed, and hatred and this is not difficult to see. The knowledge (and lack thereof) you have now is completely dependent on others. Your teachers in school, what news source you listen to, what accounts on social media you follow. This truth was wonderfully on display during the Black Lives Matter movement. Even though those, like myself, that feel relatively educated and empathetic to those suffering from systemic racism and inequity, recognized that we do have too much ignorance that leads to a lack of taking any action and personal responsibility. There was a recognition of our shared interconnected ignorance and how we need to do better at learning from one another. Reflect on the interconnectedness of your own knowledge and ignorance.

It is also obvious how our greed is interconnected as well. I do not have a strong greed for power and influence or really even financial gain. But I can see how my consumerist habits are intertwined in our materialistic and capitalistic society. Which then has a uniquely strong influence on the environment, politics, social inequality and inequity, and even mental health. My greed to want other people to like me and hold respectable opinions about me is eerily similar (in quality not magnitude) to some who hold powerful political positions. Reflect on the interconnectedness of your greed.

Hatred is a strong word to use here, but aversion and contempt are aspects of this. It is clear how our aversion and contempt for one another just feeds off itself in a never ending feedback loop that only creates more division, retaliation, and eventually violence. Hatred only leads to more hatred. This is a statement of interconnectedness. Reflect on your own aversion and the contempt you have today. Can you say it is separate and independent from the hatred going on in the world? I cannot.

If you only reflect on the ignorance, greed, and hatred of others it will be impossible to see how your own ignorance, greed, and hatred are interconnected to theirs. We are not separate independent individuals, the solution to our problems are not out there.

We are interconnected beings participating in a shared reality, the solution to our problems are both inside ourselves and out there. But we have the most direct and powerful influence on what goes on in our own minds. The commitment to eradicating your own ignorance, greed, and hatred can be an act of personal responsibility for the problems we face in the world today.

We are in a new year, 2021.

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Jason Tsukahara

My spiritual practice is primarily within the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. As a scientist I study the mind, how it works, and its potential.