Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I Me Mine

I saw the above meme today, and was struck by how obviously false both versions of the platitude are.  Good things come to those who work their asses off and never give up?  Someone is not living in these United States.  This is Social Darwinism: if you don't get any good things, obviously you haven't worked hard enough.  Those who have lots of good things deserve them, because they worked hard for them.  If Mitt Romney is worth a thousand times as much as I am, it's because he worked a thousand times harder.

The person who shared this meme is also a devotee of Soka Gokkai Buddhism; in addition to generic motivational memes she posts daily inspirational quotations from Soka Gokkai International's schismatic leader, Ikeda Daisaku, which are at best noteworthy for their vacuousness.  At times, though, something like the above sentiments peeks through.  I don't know enough about Soka Gokkai to make any broad generalizations about the movement, but I have noticed that Westerners will often embrace teachings from Eastern religions that they would scorn from Western ones.

Which reminded me of something Vijay Prashad wrote in The Karma of Brown Folk (Minnesota, 2000).  Here's my inspirational quotation for the day.
In 1967, during the Summer of Love, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi gave a revealing press conference in New York City. "The hungry of India, China, anywhere," he noted, "are lazy because of their lack of self-knowledge. We will teach them to derive from within, and then they will find food." Four months before the World Food Conference in Rome in November 1974, the CIA noted that because of grain shortages induced by the shifting cultivation patterns due to the uneven terms of trade "Washington would acquire life and death power over the fate of the multitudes of the needy." These details did not enter the worldview of the guru, who was content with the imaginary freedom for sale to the disenchanted bourgeois. Some reporters found the Maharishi's statement to be unacceptable, and one asked, "Do we have to ignore the poor to achieve inner peace?" The Yogi answered, "Like a tree in the middle of a garden, should we be liberal and allow the water to flow to other trees, or should we drink ourselves and be green?" "But isn't this selfish?" "Be absolutely selfish. That is the only way to bring peace, to be selfish, and if one does not have peace, how is one to help others attain it?" [Deepak] Chopra is not very different. One might expect his Law of Giving to contain a call for charity, but his notion of a gift is more indulgent. "Wherever I go, and whoever I encounter, I will bring them a gift. The gift may be a compliment, a flower, or a prayer." These neither feed nor clothe anyone. Further, "I will make a commitment to keep wealth circulating in my life by giving and receiving life's most precious gifts: the gifts of caring, affection, appreciation and love." He will give important emotional gifts, but he will be ready to accept "all the gifts that life has to offer me." Of obligations, a classic liberal trope, we hear nothing. Of the poor, we get an idealized picture that rivals Mother Teresa for condescension.  "On his many travels to India, [Chopak's son] Gautama has witnessed the harsh reality of the street children who have no belongings other than their beautiful souls. In India, even amidst the immense poverty and destitute conditions, one finds in the children no trace of violence, no hostility, no rage, no anger. There is a simple, sweet innocence even among the extremely impoverished." The poor cease to be human with the capacity to struggle and to aspire; they appear as contented people willing to sacrifice their material well-being for the spiritual happiness the bourgeois tourist wants them to enjoy. If the poor are unhappy, it ruins the tour as well as the image of the spiritual East [60-62].