Four Noble Political Truths

First is the truth that individual suffering and delusion are socially supercharged. Collectively we commit immense follies which, if committed individually, would be pathological.

Secondly is the truth that the forces that drive history and politics are ultimately – but not the same – as those that characteristically drive the individual person. The latter experiences a profound sense of lack arising from the impermanence and insubstantiality of this flimsy self. Part of the social response to this has been to bond with other individuals to create a belongingness identity. It may be our race, our nation, our religion, our social class or whatever.

This collective identity is reinforced by emphasizing the difference of other comparable groupings – and, better still, our superiority -- and, better still, the threat that they pose to us. Ideologies add a gutsy righteousness to this black-and-white picture. Well researched hates enable us ethically to project all our rancour and frustration onto them. Hence the savage warfare, heartless economic exploitation and ravaged environment which occupy such a large part of human history. Hence the ease with which former neighbours and schoolmates have slaughtered one another in the Balkans and countless other killing fields. And this is also an easy way to win elections.

The above process I call antithetical bonding – the heart of social delusion and the Buddhist building block of history and society. These two long words are easy to understand; every citizen disgusted with conventional politics knows what they mean.

Thirdly, there is a way out of social suffering. Reformers, radicals and revolutionaries have been telling us this for centuries. But the results have at best been mixed and at worst disastrous. We now have all the material resources to provide every citizen of our planet with a decent basic standard of living. But we are unable to do this. The latest ideology, free market free-for-all capitalism, is actually making the majority of the world’s people poorer. But it provides a rationale for the greedy consumerism of a minority which is wrecking the planet. In short there must be something else, something indispensable, to finding our way out of social suffering.

Fourthly, there is the truth that we need cut the roots of our social problem, the roots of aggressiveness, acquisitiveness and ignorance as to what we are really up to and why. We need to expose and wither those roots by creating a radical culture of awakening. This would be a culture in which the work of contemplative enquiry, alone and with others, is no less important than earning a living, raising a family, and keeping physically healthy. This would not heal our divisions overnight, but it would begin to dissolve the underlying bloody mindedness that makes them so intractable. It would nurture wisdom and compassion, and a host of skilful means. Without these resources we cannot build the socially just and ecologically sustainable global commonwealth which is the collective expression of enlightenment. And which, in turn, would provide for all a positive environment for spiritual growth.