When I usually post about religions with which I disagree with basic tenants or core principals, my usual topic is monotheism, and more specifically Christianity. It is only natural, of course, that the dominant religion in my country and western culture should bare more critique from a minority perspective than the dominant religion in other countries or cultures; that is after all how hegemony works. There does arise, however, from time to time notions from other religions which are held to be wondrous pearls of wisdom or highly thought provoking, paradigm shifting realizations which are then foisted by proponents as universally applicable, and how much better would your life be if you only understood this. In this case, I'm going to talk about that darling of "open minded" or "spiritual" people, Buddhism.
Or perhaps, not Buddhism per se, but those bits and pieces which are lifted from it and held to be wonderful, different and oh so enlightened. I realize that such drips and drabs may not be reflective of Buddhism as a whole, but they still reflect some of its core principals, albeit in a watered down way.
The particular drip which made me want to voice an opinion, was a small column in one of the morning daily's, by Natasha Dern, whom I know as the host of a now defunct radio show called "Buddha Lounge". The short piece was about the value of surrender as a virtue. Now she did take the time to elaborate and explain that surrender was not about "giving up", but actually took more strength than continuing to struggle against, well whatever the universe was telling you to stop struggling against. In most cases the thing one is supposed to be surrendering is the assertion of control. Or at the very least the worry which can come with trying to control things one can not possibly control. A good summary of this philosophy, and practical examples of it can be found here: Let Go Of Control. The gist of the philosophy is that by "letting go" of the idea (or more often illusion) of control, you will have to accept reality and what Buddhists refer to as "what is". The concept of "what is" is supposed to be the reality of a given situation, without the blocks of "fear" or "desire" getting in the way. What is stressed in these little lessons is the idea that by giving up the illusion of agency, one is supposed to gain peace and tranquility; "trust that everything will work out and it will".
Poppycock, and paradoxical poppycock at that.
I'll admit that I find many of the Zen koans interesting, and paradox can be thought provoking, but this doesn't fall into that category. This is simply giving up and hoping everything will work out on its own. You will note how much everyone who talks about the strength required in surrendering, states that it is not about inaction or "giving up". It is of course, absolutely, but they'd like to spin it another way. They stress how much strength and character it takes to realize the futility of an action, and that the stronger person will overcome their selfish ego, and trust in... well that's just it, they tend to not identify what is supposed to take over; other than "the universe". I've seen this type of thinking before, and while I've tried my best to not drag Christianity into this post, I can not help but notice this is the precise idea which is found in "Jesus take the wheel" theology. Give up, let go, things will work out.
How is this not a shinning endorsement of inaction? How is relinquishing control anything but giving up the idea that you have agency to effect your life? I understand that this is not supposed to be a rejection of agency in every situation, only in those where you haven't got any. Oh wait, is that circular logic rearing its curvy head? How is one supposed to determine if one has agency in a given situation in the first place? If you try enacting change and things get tough, stress you out, or become difficult, those are the signs to surrender? The second link above uses the idea of paddling against the current in a canoe. The proper response is to relinquish your paddles, and go with the flow, so to speak: "You can do things the hard way, or the easy way."
Well then, by the gods, I'm doing it the hard way.
Now I don't want to get off topic and explore the nature of fate in the tales; I've already had that discussion. There is, however, a definite will on behalf of gods and heroes both to resist, struggle and overcome any and all obstacles which stand in their way; or you know, die trying. Why do this, why struggle so hard when simply surrendering to their present reality would be so much easier? Because to do otherwise would bring dishonour, shame and ruin. Change is not something which occurs because things will work themselves out, change is something that happens through concerted effort and struggle. The Tuatha De Danann could have simply accepted their subjugation under Bres and his Fomorian allies, but they knew that would only bring ruin because dishonour brings dishonour. They knew the effort and the cost of throwing off the shackles of oppression, but they had to move forward because while the cost of action was high, the cost of inaction was unbearable. The Milesians confronted and did battle with the gods themselves, and won their share of the land. Yes, later on they realized the necessity of mutual respect and reciprocity was far more beneficial to all involved, but if they had just sailed away for easier settlements, they would have never gained the respect of the gods in the first place.
I'm not going to fault people for taking the easy way out, but I reject the notion that the easy way is in reality the "harder way". No, the hard way is not the path of least resistance, the hard way can be fraught with difficulty, with peril, with loss and with grief. But confronting and overcoming such difficulties is our duty, is one of the bases of the heroic virtues we strive to embody. Courage is measure against risk. Strength is measured against difficulty. Duty is measured against obligation. We are asked to be courageous, to be strong and to fulfill our duty, no matter the personal cost. It is through such effort that we are called to serve our community, and reject the importance of "the self".
Now, I've relied upon the mythic accounts to exemplify the value of struggle or of caring about outcomes; whereas the articles seek out more mundane and run of the mill experiences. They coalesce their sentiment into 'not sweating the details" which is a reasonable statement. But even in this accepting mediocrity is encouraged. If you've asked someone to do something a million times, and you have built plans around them fulfilling the task, and they fail to do so; don't sweat it, let it go and move on. Except that this establishes that people can make promises, fail to come through on them, and then not be held accountable. Certainly it would be easier to simply not have standards and expectations, but that doesn't make it the better choice. If someone tells you they are going to do something, they have an obligation to uphold it. If they fail to do so, you have an obligation to hold them accountable, and they have an obligation to make restitution. To do otherwise is to invite mediocrity and ultimately dishonour. Certainly stressing out over things which you have no control over is futile. The problem is that the philosophy above supports this, but adds that if things are difficult than you ought to relinquish any control you do have, and essentially hope for the best.
I say make it happen, and never surrender.