I have been in Bangkok and Tokyo for some days, just returning home. The theme of my meetings has been a focus on, in Bangkok, the Buddha’s teachings and in Tokyo, on meeting with scholars of Shinto to learn more about an ancient practice, very ethnic, of living with the “other” – especially nature.
At Kokugakuin University in Tokyo, I was embarrassed to discover that I had never seen a key signpost for us that is contained in the word “Shinto.” The “to” in Shinto is the same character as used in Chinese for Tao or the way, the path – the best use of our energies and talents.
The “Shin” refers to deities – “kami,” usually specific spiritual presences honored in shrines, but generally can indicate the realm of unseen spiritual energies, which can materialize their power in our human experiences.
The emphasis on the Buddha’s teachings, especially brought forward by our fellow, Venerable Anil Sakya, brings to awareness the middle path or “way” of seeing reality in all its complexity – tangible and intangible – and so of comprehensively keeping our balance by not falling into extremes of emotion, thought or action.
Once home, a thought occurred that in our American culture, we do have a middle way or way of equilibrium, but have recently much overlooked it. I am thinking of the cultural, social, political and economic space between libertarianism, on the one hand and collectivism, on the other.
The libertarianism comes to us from the Englishman, Herbert Spencer, and the collectivism from the Frenchman, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Is this ideological confrontation, taking place before our eyes in our cultural divisions over wokeness or in the ostracism of those stigmatized as “deplorable” and deserving of “deprogramming” and in the factional strife among Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives as to who is most libertarian, another Manichean duel to the death between the forces of the light and the dark, a contemporary struggle between Gog and Magog?
Each side believes it has the light and must subdue the demons operating in the dark.
Is such a confrontation of extremes necessary and unavoidable or might there be a third way, a middle path?
In Israel, along the Gaza Strip, we are seeing just that commentary of a Manichean confrontation, where Hamas fights a war without quarter against Jews, even against their children and women, to vindicate the magisterial glory of its chosen God.
What good do these Manichean confrontations achieve and when will they end?