As Po said in “Kung Fu Panda”: “I’m gonna get myself some Inner Peace… Inner piece of what?”
This basically lays out a path of spiritual work for most of us. We aim for peace, yet somehow we feel that we must do something in order to achieve it – rather than just be peaceful.
Another joke that captures this paradox perfectly is:
“My son started doing meditation. Well, that’s something. At least he’s not sitting around doing nothing.”
Sitting around doing nothing seems to be the worst sin in our society. Buddhism is quite radical in this regard. The path to Enlightenment leads through sitting around and doing nothing. Anything and everything else that we do to keep ourselves busy is determined by society, hence impermanent, hence not the truth.
Look at how a renowned Tharavadin monk Ajahn Chan explains the apparent contrast between the truth, nirvana, and the conditioned world. Ajahn Chan also points at our preference for busyness rather than quietude.
Where there is no abiding, that’s where there’s emptiness, and, to put it bluntly, we say that Nirvana is this emptiness. People hear this and they back up a bit, they don’t want to go. They’re afraid they won’t see their children or relatives.
This is why, when we bless the laypeople, we say “May you have long life, beauty, happiness and strength.” This makes them really happy, “Sadhu!” [it is well] they all say. They like these things. If you start talking about emptiness they don’t want it, they’re attached to abiding.
This need to be busy creates a tension in us, which drives us away from peace. This internal strife expresses itself in negative attitude towards oneself: “Oh, I am so lazy.” “Look, I have not achieved anything today.”
More often than not, when a woman says such things in our society, it actually means that the women have done quite a lot. It is just that usually women’s work is not valued in patriarchy.
Yet, for two reasons we drive ourselves to exhaustion and set ourselves up for failure in trying to “do” rather than to “be.” The first reason is that we have internalised patriarchal values. The second reason is that, from a Buddhist point of view, we have not “given peace a chance,” as John Lennon would have wanted us to.
This is how Ajaan Suwat Suvaco describes peace and the path to it.
Peace means letting go of mental objects so that nothing comes in to disturb the mind. All that’s left is a nature devoid of fabrication. Even the nibbana we want to reach is nothing other than a peace not fabricated by conditions. As for the peace we develop through various techniques by which the mind gathers into concentration, or gathers into stillness, that’s the peace of the mind gathering in. It stops fabricating. It stops holding onto the aggregates.
Usually, we choose clinging to mental objects rather than seeking peace. We have not let our busy self meet and greet our peaceful self. We have not quite come to terms with the fact that doing nothing lies at the foundation of our being, encompassing and supporting our activities: mental, verbal and physical.
These two factors go hand in hand of course and reinforce each other. Since we value our active selves and despise our inactive selves. Since we praise ourselves for having done stuff and tell ourselves off for not having done stuff, we project these values outward. Thus our internal strife becomes an external conflict.
This is how the famous dichotomy of patriarchy, the male/female, active/passive is enhanced. This dichotomy is not universal because it is true, but because patriarchy is universal.
We start praising people: women and men, who are active, pushy and sometimes aggressive. And we look down upon men and women who are quieter, and who do not seem to achieve much. Thus we support patriarchal values.
Oxana Poberejnaia is a frame drummer, writer and an artist at http://poeticoxana.wordpress.com. She was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and had been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention. Oxana is exploring the Sacred Feminine through frame drumming, working with her menstrual cycle, and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Her frame drum band can be found here.