As part of my mental health journey over the last six months, I have been reading about Buddhism. My favorite book so far was, "Why Buddhism is True," by Robert Wright. I am currently reading "Buddhism Without Belief" by Stephen Bachelor. The idea I like from both of these books is that when you remove teachings of the Buddha from the context of religion, you get actionable instructions for how to address suffering in your life.
The authors - and I guess the Buddha as well - refer to these instructions as a dharma practice. According to the Buddha, one must act on four truths to achieve enlightenment:
1. Understand anguish
2. Let go of anguish's origins
3. Realize the cessation of anguish
4. Cultivate the path
In my life, it is safe to substitute depression for anguish. In my meditation practice, I am working on numbers one and two. I am finding the effort worthwhile, and I feel the grips of depression slowly loosening.
The exploration of a dharma practice challenges my political views. As I have discussed in previous blog posts, my political alignment is closest to anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism, or left-communism. Much of the political reading I do lays the blame for societal ills at the feet of capitalism. I won't do the arguments justice here but for now, let's assume they are true. Let's assume that one can trace the economic suffering and emotional suffering in our world to the alienation from our community. And that alienation is a direct result of capitalism.
One could mistakenly frame the philosophy of the left in the dharma practice as understanding that human anguish comes from capitalism. I think this framing misses an important nuance. Capitalism causes a lot of suffering, but the emotional pain caused by economic systems is inherently different than the suffering innate in the human condition.
The suffering of pain, of death, and of loss is profoundly human. We are promised - through marketing and ideological propaganda that the free market will save us from our pain, lengthen our lives and protect us from loss. We can buy insurance to guard us from financial disaster, take pills for our pain, and someday upload our brains into a computer to live forever. If only we believe in capitalism, we can create a world where, if you work hard enough, you won't suffer. This is a lie. The best that capitalism can do is distract you from your suffering.
The Buddha's philosophy is that suffering is part of the human existence. All of us die - there is nothing special about those of us currently alive. All of us experience heartbreak, loneliness, anger, and fear. These feelings are what it means to be human. The only way forward, according to the Buddha, is to accept these sufferings, to study them, to understand them. And through understanding our suffering, its hold on us will dissipate.
Understanding this intersection was a big revelation for me. To say that an anarchist or communist society will relieve human suffering is a lie no better than the one that capitalism sells us. Instead, anarchism is a promise that we can be more connected to our humanity and less alienated from our community. And if we want a future with a more honest existence, we must first understand our human suffering. We must let go of the lies capitalism feeds us. No economic system will protect us from our humanity, but capitalism alienates us from it.
To recognize a classless society, we must accept our suffering - not run from it. If we hold the promise of utopia as the reason for dismantling capitalism, it ignores the understanding that we are the source of our suffering. Instead of hoping that the death of capitalism will end human suffering - we must understand human suffering to end capitalism.