Society

Ponder This: The Dalai Lama Is Brainwashing You

Essay: A Swiss writer settles his score with Buddhism, which he calls "manipulative" and "brainwashing." Facing reality is a much more *centered road to salvation.

The Dalai Lama speaking at UCSD (Facebook)
Hugo Stamm

ZURICH - The scandals plaguing Christian churches in Western countries are a manifestation of their state of crisis. Image problems and crumbling credibility are causing many to leave these churches. In Zurich, the figures speak clearly: in 1970, 94% of residents were members of a church; today, only 62%.

What happens to those who leave the church? Do they become agnostics or atheists? A small minority probably does, but spiritual or religious needs do not disappear altogether. Today many people prefer to piece together their own set of beliefs from many different sources, often esoteric. Others turn to Buddhism. The hype surrounding the Dalai Lama, who in his appearances in the West is honored as a kind of "God-King" and is received by top leaders, is an indication of the fascination this religion holds.

And there is no question about it: Buddhism has a friendly face. It isn't actually a religion – rather, it offers a spiritual worldview or path of life. What is also nice about it is that it has no God. The historic Buddha rightly recognized that greed, hate, and delusion drive people and that these three attributes cause a great deal of suffering. Today it might be a good idea to add power to the list.

To overcome suffering, Buddha came up with some fairly radical rules. Besides "kill no living being," and "take nothing that is not given to you" (monks begging for alms are essentially obeying this rule), these include: "avoid degenerate sensuality;" "don't lie;" and "don't consume consciousness-altering substances."

Brainwashed by Buddhism

To help achieve these and other goals, Buddhists meditate. The idea is to free oneself from outer ties and needs to find inner calm. What this amounts to is finding a way to shut up the Ego, the great "I", source of all greed. Tackled in a rigorous and consequent fashion, this could ultimately lead to renunciation of all worldly things and total immersion in the spiritual world.

What in theory appears very honorable and worth working towards, however, on deeper examination reveals itself to be out of touch with life. Unrealistic. In Buddhism, daily life is rendered negative, devalued. The bottom line is that people are full of greed and hate, so they should chastise themselves. Instead of learning how to deal with impulses and hedonistic drives, the idea is to repress them, to overcome them through meditation. Basically, it's a kind of brainwashing, albeit a "nice" kind since the goal is to banish evil from the world. But it's nevertheless autosuggestion and no less manipulative.

More important though is the question: do I really want to define reality as the epicenter of all ugliness, the source of all evil? Does it really make sense to adopt these values, to consciously pursue inner calm to the extent of giving up my Ego?

No, I do not. The Ego has to deal with a world that is full of greed and hate – a power-driven world. It's also not an either/or situation: it doesn't exclude acknowledging an inner place of calm in my consciousness, in my body, which should be nurtured and cared for.

Nature is a miracle. I don't want to turn away from it, or demonize it as the source of all dangerous cravings. The senses, and feelings, are powerful things in life: they shouldn't be tamed, much less kept entirely at bay. I don't want to hide. What I do want is to communicate with the world. In any case, the inner and outer are intermeshed; one is not possible without the other. They mutually enhance each other, in a healthy balance. And this is something that Buddhism neglects – but the fact is that to seek the inner to the exclusion of the outer results in bloodlessness.

I personally also have my doubts about the serenity that Buddhists strive for. Of course it's wonderful to be able to face some difficult life event stoically, to write it off as a meaningless outer-world phenomenon. But isn't there then the danger that -- if I don't look out for myself and take measures to avoid a recurrence -- the same thing will happen again?

I want to mix with the outer world; to revolt against injustice; to denounce abuse. Because let's face it: injustice and abuse are going to be out there even if the whole world turns Buddhist.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Facebook

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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