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The Buddha complex
by Bouke S. Nagel
2011-06-22 07:57:22
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A few years ago I met a grandmother in the small town of Davos in Switzerland. She, like me, enjoyed a debate during the World Economic Forum of 2009. When she noticed that I was able to produce some sentences in Swiss German she decided that I was trustworthy enough to engage in small talk. She confessed to me that as a child she always wanted to travel and see the world. I tried to be nice and polite by replying that once a year the whole world comes to Davos to see her.

Just like her, as a child, I also dreamt about seeing the world. And it is common, I think, for all of us. To go away from your village or town, enter the “real” world and experience all kinds of excitement and adventure. Hollywood addresses this longing in all of us and makes lots of money with it. However, Hollywood is very realistic in its assessment of the consequences of pursuing such a dream, because there are certain dangers to our bodies, hearts and souls when entering the “real” world.

This year I met a man. So far in his life he had lived the dream that the grandmother was speaking about. In his professional career he had been all over the world, including Africa. I got the distinct feeling and impression that something happened to him over there since everything what is wrong in our world has free reign on that continent. On the outside, the man looked perfectly normal and healthy, but on the inside something just didn’t seem right. It made me think about Buddha.

The story of Prince Siddhartha is well known. A rich prince in a beautiful Kingdom grows up sheltered from the “real” world. Then, one day, when he reaches adulthood, he is allowed to leave the security of the palace gates and is confronted with the evils that dwell in our world such as hunger, poverty and injustice. Prince Siddhartha isn’t prepared for that at all and cannot defend himself against it. As a consequence he is hurt so much by what he sees that he resigns from his position as a prince.

The official story of Buddhism looks at the choices of Prince Siddhartha in a positive way. The Prince abandons his title, his palace and whatever more and engages in a spiritual quest which results in attaining a higher level of conscience. He transforms into Buddha. The movie Samsara however speaks of the consequences of Prince Siddhartha’s choices for the people he left behind. In Samsara he is supposed to have had a wife and child that he abandoned. What kind of a man does that?

And by the way what happened to Siddhartha’s Kingdom? What happens to a Kingdom when the crown prince decides to go away? What happens to an army when the general decides he has no appetite to fight the enemy? What happens to a sick person when a doctor has no interest in fighting an illness anymore? What happens to a family when parents decide to screw other people instead of each other? The answer to these questions is plain and simple: nothing good.

The power of the story of Buddha lies in its redemption. Although Prince Siddhartha falls from grace by literally falling from the highest level of society to the lowest level of society by becoming a beggar, he ends up as a moral man. That is his victory. And up to this day Buddha’s morality inspires people from all over the world and that is why Buddhism is one of the great religions in our world. In Western Europe however Buddhism is misunderstood and popular for quite another reason.

An average individual in Western Europe, especially those belonging to its elite, is like prince Siddhartha. We live on a secure continent under the well-known American safety umbrella. There is poverty on our continent too but our welfare systems are very efficient in sheltering ourselves from the harsh realities that people face who have been in the welfare system for decades or even generations. We are also good in denying the harsh realities outside of Europe.

Once I watched a documentary about the Nuremberg laws in Nazi Germany. One of the main features of these laws was the distinction that was made between so-called true Germans and non-Germans. If according to these laws a German were to have relations with a non-German, he and she were punishable by law. In this regard, a country like Iran has exact the same laws in effect today. If a non-Muslim engages in a relation with a Muslim, the couple involved is punishable by law as well.

There are certain viewpoints and ideas that we have put in the trashcan of history for good reason. But when confronted with other societies and cultures in our world that still uphold false ideas and practices, we tell ourselves that every viewpoint has value. Our post-war philosophy is aimed at avoiding hard choices and thereby instilling no morality in all of us since we believe that all is relative in respect to everything in Western Europe.

Recently, I visited my home country Holland and watched an American show on Dutch TV which seems to be very popular over there today. It is called the Dog Whisperer. The show seems to make two points. One, dogs are not equal to pet owners. Two, one should respect every being for what it truly is (a point also made in Buddhism by the way). Dogs are pack animals and think in terms of dominance. As a pet owner you either are the pack leader or not. There is no equality.

On a subliminal level this show is a frontal attack on post-war thought within the Western world and perhaps that is the reason why the show is so popular today. And I can imagine that at this moment some left-wing sociologist is writing a book on the condition of society which will be called “The Mentality of the Dog and the Reemerge of Fascism in Europe”. It would not surprise me a bit. This dog show however made me think about another dog in European politics: Gaddafi.

In 2009 Moammar Al-Gaddafi made a state visit to Italy. He came out of the airplane in full military dress, followed by several mistresses (also dressed in military outfits, but clearly lower ranked) and then on top of that he insisted wearing a photo that was purposely intended to offend the host country Italy. Gaddafi’s message to his people back home was crystal clear: I am dominant and I can screw whoever I want, whenever I want.

Italy was appalled by this insult and the mere presence of Gaddafi on Italian soil. But the Italian president Berlusconi did not do anything to safe Italy’s face. He did not punch Gaddafi in the face nor kick him in his nuts when he arrived on the airport. At least he could have told Gaddafi to take a hike back to Libya. Instead he just smiled during the whole state visit and showed the world that he was submissive to Gaddafi who knows how to be the pack leader.

The problem with NATO’s approach to Libya today is that we seem to think that we are dealing with a reasonable human being and approach the problem based on those premises. We try to create a win-win situation. We pressure Gaddafi by strategic bombings. But nothing seems to work. How can that be? The answer to that question can be found in Prussia in the eighteenth century. At that time King Frederic the First had a son. The crown prince of Prussia could also have been called Siddhartha.

The prince led a sheltered life and was well versed in poetry, literature and music. As a member of the elite he was fluent in French and exchanged ideas with leading thinkers of that time such as Voltaire. It vexed Frederic the First enormously because this King was everything the crown prince was not. The King was well-grounded, frugal and full aware of the dangers and hardships of life. Besides, a crown prince with his head in the clouds was a danger to the future of Prussia.

A conflict had to erupt between father and son who were both called Frederic. And it did. The son tried to flee from the palace gates, like Siddhartha once did and the father was forced to resort to drastic measures to ground his son. He arrested young Frederic and forced him to watch how his best friend was beheaded in front of him. The message was crystal clear. Life isn’t just poetry, literature and French conversation skills; it is also hardship, injustice and cruelty.

Most opinions on history that are passed down these days by historians, philosophers, journalists and writers focus on Frederic’s passion for literature, poetry, music and his correspondence with Voltaire. For them young Frederic, who later in life became Frederic the Great, embodies the spirit of Enlightenment. For them he embodies the ideal of a man not controlled by his nature but a man led by reason rising above passions, rising above this earth that we inhabit.

The attraction of Buddhism and other esoteric approaches that one can find in many spiritual bookshops in Western Europe today is that they embody the Enlightenment ideal. We are promised to rise above our nature. We are promised to attain a higher level of conscience. Meanwhile, we lose the ability to deal with real problems on this earth that we inhabit. Like Prince Siddhartha and young Frederic before us, Western Europe, and especially its elite, has its head stuck in the clouds.

Most people in the West, who dabble with Eastern philosophies today, seem to forget that one of the core tenets of Eastern thought is the concept of balance, not higher consciousness. I live in Switzerland and can see for myself every day that one cannot reach the top of the highest mountain without setting foot in the deepest valley. One cannot be the brightest light before embracing your darkest shadow. We need to balance in ourselves two opposing sides of human nature.

I once read that man neither is a child from heaven nor does he belong on this earth. The conflict between old Frederic (earth) and young Frederic (heaven) can be seen as a metaphor representative of the struggle that we all face within ourselves. Frederic the Great embodied balance, which is a rare quality in a human being. On the one hand he represented feudalism; on the other hand he modernized Prussia beyond its wildest dreams.

It is understandable that Europe doesn’t want to put its feet back on the ground after what happened during world war two. Our soil is dirty. But that is the nature of soil! It is understandable that after more than forty years of cold war and the threat of nuclear extinction Europe only knows how to stay on the side line. It is understandable that a society, in which safety is provided by others (the Americans), starts to develop esoteric approaches towards war and peace.

Western Europe to me seems to be like Siddhartha who strives to be Buddha without embracing the inner beggar who is vulgar and coarse. And under the guise of populism, this beggar, who is more grounded, more willing to act to solve the questions of our times, has emerged in European politics. Those who represent our inner Siddhartha, idealists with their heads stuck in air, are of course appalled by its appearance. Mainstream Europe therefore does everything in its power to fight it.

But that will only give rise to it even more.

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Mainstream2011-07-08 13:03:55
There is something wrong inside every human beeing. Only if one can face his own weakness without blaming others for not recognizing the constructed ideal world he has fled into. Only if one stops to listen to the critics and denying his own limits, he will be able to harmonize with himself. The most common way to deny one`s own weaknesses is to analyze and stress other people`s problems and only interacting on a very superficial level where there is no danger of beeing confronted with ones own problems. It is easy to criticize oneself but it is much harder beeing critized and accepting it. The real success lies in not belonging to the mainstream but in still harmonizing with it whithout forcing one`s ideals on it... This is, what makes the differences between the child unwilling to accept limits and the adult, who is able to consider them as helpful... the child will always blame the others while the grown-up will focus on oneself...

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