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Switzerland

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)
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

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Denied The Nile: Aboard Cairo's Historic Houseboats Facing Destruction

Despite opposition, authorities are proceeding with the eviction of residents of traditional houseboats docked along the Nile in Egypt's capital, as the government aims to "renovate" the area – and increase its economic value.

Houseboats on the Nile in Zamalek, Cairo

Ahmed Medhat and Rana Mamdouh

With an eye on increasing the profitability of the Nile's traffic and utilities, the Egyptian government has begun to forcibly evict residents and owners of houseboats docking along the banks of the river, in the Kit Kat area of Giza, part of the Greater Cairo metropolis.

The evictions come following an Irrigation Ministry decision, earlier this month, to remove the homes that have long docked along the river.

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