FUNDAMENTALISM IS NOT PEOPLE, IT’S AN ATTITUDE

In ACTIVISM by Erik Pema Kunsang9 Comments

Often fundamentalists are regarded as other people, not me. Fundamentalism is not people, it’s an attitude. There is no copyright on the tendency to be close-minded, shutting off reason and empathy, and it can unfold within the mind, in anyone. The causes are many, a hodgepodge of circumstances including educational culture at home, in school and in the media, combined with the social and economical climate, national or ethnic traumas, and so much more.The resulting arrogance, and the aggressive and abusive behavior that the fundamentalist attitude breeds, can be changed. A practical way is to begin with noticing the pain it causes and the limited kindness, intelligence and creativity it allows. Then on to loosening it up from inside, and there are many ways to do this.

The time we live in, it is often proudly proclaimed, is one of sound reason and good-hearted human values. We call it being civilized. These values are so important for peaceful coexistence on this planet. The danger has been and still is when the best in us gets hijacked by fear and ignorance. It is fear that appears in the form of the fundamentalist attitude, but it is based on ignorance. The fear that letting human beings be humane results in chaos. It is also the fear of ending up back in the jungle, among savage animals. Control over others become justified, by a self-selected elite, be it financial, social or religious. Control needs rules that must be enforced to be effective through a strict system of punishment, both psychological and corporeal. Or it can be through bringing the majority of a population to within sight of disaster, that the threat of ending up in the street is never far away. Now that is savage.

Open-mindedness that is intelligent and combined with genuine human kindness is the direct antidote for fundamentalism. They can’t coexist in the same mind, at the same time. We see proof of this in our common planetary history, how the shared conscience in the form of writers, artists, thinkers and spiritual people have to flee a repressive regime or face its persecution. We also see it reflected into the political process when tolerance and rationality are labelled treacherous threats to national interests.

We need to direct the light that shines from our basic goodness so it illuminates the blind spot in the fundamentalist attitude, and that means each time it unfolds, each time our mind capitulates our ability to see and think clearly to a political or religious bully who tries to tell us what to think and what to do. And each time our heart becomes numbed to the pains of all peoples on our planet, and frightened into being nationally selfish.

Wouldn’t it be better to live as a content global community, working together to solve common problems and be free in the pursuit of happiness, not at the cost of others, but for the welfare, physical and spiritual, of everyone.

About the Author
Erik Pema Kunsang

Erik Pema Kunsang

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Translator of ancient Buddhist scriptures, author, bridge-builder to modern life, Buddhist teacher & meditation instructor. Board of director at 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha. Founder of Rangjung Yeshe Publications and LEVEKUNST art of life. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author. Erik's website & retreats.

Photo by Brian Neises, England.

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Comments

  1. I consider myself in some ways a fundamentalist – why? – because through my practice I have learned to limit my concerns to my own first person perspective.
    In short, it doesn’t bother me if my neighbour’s idea of religious practice involves dancing around a fire, naked, with a rubber chicken in the garden at midnight, it’s none of my concern…

    why is this important? – well, I think that a major source of neurosis stems from this idea that we have about others and their viewpoints – how they see us, what their intentions are, and basically second-guessing what they are thinking as a source of projecting our own mental disturbances onto them instead of taking responsibility for our own mind and dealing with our own hopes and fears…

    I seem to encounter this phenomenon quite often in sanghas, where many people are very self-conscious of appearances and where that encourages a kind of stiff, judgemental atmosphere which is not conducive to good practice. We fall into the trap of working on “ourselves” while at the same time failing to recognise how our representations of the other are in fact our own production and responsibility – perhaps an aspect of religious hypocrisy left over from a broadly Greco-Roman upbringing.

    How does this relate to the current geopolitical situation? – I think that arguably, what is generally referred to as “fundamentalism” arises out of a response to this mass hysteria, and in many ways suffers from that same reactivity, however one can at least empathise with those on the receiving end of the poorly conceived “good intentions” of this global project to “bring civilization to the savages” which has only revealed our own short-sighted parochialism and resulted in an unnecessary struggle for ideological dominance.

    Despite the Bodhisattva ideal of helping others, there is the even more important caveat to attain some degree of wisdom before blundering in, less our “empathy” is tainted with pride, arrogance, and the ignorance that stems from an unconscious motivation to avoid taking a good look at ourselves before attempting to force our perspective on others under the guise of being helpful.

  2. Thank you for sharing this precious message Eric….
    True Hearty actions sure are far beyond ‘ISMS and ISTS’…May our pure Hearts lead uS aLL There…~>
    ‘GATE GATE…PARAGATE….PARASAMGATE….BODHI SOHA’ ~>*

  3. The art of living with a non attachment point of view towards everything is what, all religions and self improving practices have in common. Love without expecting anything in return, give for the sake of giving and do without expecting a return. Just let it be as it is without having a goal or outcome in mind. This is our lifelong practice. With all Fundamntalism coming from any aspect of human organization. Non attachment is the one thing we all have in comon, at least the idea of practicing it. Namaste

  4. Pema Choedron

    Thank you, Erik Pema, for this illuminating text.

    Can I please have your permission to make a citation of some lines of the text as an entrance to a chapter in my coming book? I will of course make it clear, that you are the author of the text.
    Lots of respect and love from Pema

      1. Pema Choedron

        Thank you very much, Erik Pema. I will be delighted to offer you a copy of the book when it is published in the fall 2016.

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