Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Personal Enlightenment or Collective Transformation?

Dormgrandpop, who was kind enough to leave a comment here earlier (see "Obama once more," below), believes, along with the Dalai Lama, that the path to tackling social problems such as the increasing gaps between rich and poor begins with personal enlightenment: see, e.g., his May 18 post beginning "A bleak view of how things are on our planet."

I am not really convinced of this, perhaps partly because I am probably unenlightened by the Dalai Lama's measures. I cannot help recalling the example -- though I'm not quite old enough to have experienced it very directly -- of some young people during the 1960s for whom personal enlightenment became a substitute for political activism. Charles Reich's The Greening of America famously argued that "a revolution in consciousness" would lead to a political and social revolution, but when it came to concrete measures, it turned out that Reich thought, for example, that eating natural instead of artificial peanut butter would herald a new age. OK, this is a slight caricature of Greening, but I do think it discloses a tendency that is at least worth worrying about.

Does this mean people should not read or listen to the Dalai Lama's books? Of course not. It does perhaps raise a cautionary flag, however, about assuming too direct a progression from personal enlightenment to collective reform.

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