Issue 26 is out and about in the shops, and we are looking into a distributor on the East Coast of the USA. We are starting to think about issue 27, which will be on the theme of Buddhism, culture and ecology. Views of nature, and the natural, are as many and various as there are human beings. In my article for the upcoming issue I will attempt to interrogate the notion that nature is the only valid category of reality, which is a reaction to the previous notion that all values must come from the human. Buddhism has an amelioritive stance, which is that man is a particular node of being within the much vaster natural cosmos, which includes the imaginal as well as the physical. I will be looking at how the romantic stance of Blake has definite affinities with this view.
Amongst Western Buddhists I notice a definite tendency to miss this middle stance and favour one or the other of those old metaphysical views. This is exemplified in attitudes to rebirth. Some deny the idea of life before life as a leftover from more primitive atavistic eras. Others seek to validate their status as privileged ‘spiritual’ seekers by affirming a no compromise orthodox Buddhist view with no quarter given to scientific methodology unless it happens to hint at realities beyond the merely physical.
My own view is that the rebirth idea takes place on the level of the imaginal. This way of apprehending reality collapses if one tries to turn it into a subset of a physicalist view. It simply doesn’t work. Rebirth is not a poetic way of talking about the fact that all of our actions in this life will continue to affect the human community after we have gone. But the opposite stance of trying to bend science so as to potentially afirm the non-material is never going to impress a real scientist! Better to keep an essentially mythological or imaginal view of who we are on its own level without attemting to resolve it with the scientific materialist view. We are imaginally the latest manifestation of a stream of being which has no discernable beginning, and we are the product of a set of genes interacting with the environment into which we were born. Attempts to resolve one view to the other are doomed to failure!
Review of Waterhouse exhibition to follow soon – is he more than a decadent late pre-Raphaelite like those satirized on the BBC lately?