I was reading through a blog called The Archdruid Report recently. Whilst doing so, I happened across a post that described the principle of “Externalisation”. Now in brief, the idea is that when doing business, you can push some of the cost of what you’re doing off onto someone else. The Archdruid gives the example of a factory pushing effluent into a local river, thus pushing the cost of waste disposal onto the environment and the people downstream. Of course, our civilisation can’t afford to keep on doing that, too many birds coming home to roost; but that’s a discussion for another post.
As I thought about it, the sheer scope of externalisation became clearer and I realised that I’d touched on the subject before; albeit from a spiritual slant and I’d not known the formal name for it at the time. We do this with more than just the environment; we use insurance in many avenues of life and what is that but externalising liability? If we have an accident the insurer gets the huge bill, not us. It’s the same with the Cloud and IT outsourcing, we externalise responsibility for dealing with the complexities of various IT and business systems. But in this case, by passing the buck outwards, we hand over a large degree of power and control. We no longer control our own systems, and in time the skillset to do so will be lost. We also expose ourselves to legal frameworks we’re not familiar with. For example, US based cloud systems are subject to US law; a thing which people in Europe or Asia might not have taken into account when signing up. In some circumstances, this could lead to difficulties! I already have the understanding that some European companies will not have their data hosted in US Cloud systems for just this reason.
We externalise many things in our lives and thinking of places we do this is an interesting exercise. But I’d like to return now to old ground, the spiritual. The externalising of our spiritual lives is, in my eyes, the chief purpose of organised religion. During the spiritual journey, we’re all faced with difficult questions, things that we must resolve. The organised religions offer pre-packaged answers to these questions, “all” they require for their price is obedience and the transfer of your power over your spiritual life to them. The problem then is similar to the problem I mentioned above with IT systems. The loss of relevant skills (critical thought), the loss of power and control. The inability to go your own way.
I can’t help but think of the Kalama Sutra and that the Buddha’s last words were that his followers should be a light unto themselves. That seems to pretty much rule out this sort of Externalisation. I recall a recorded Dharma Talk by the late Rev. Jiyu Kennett, founder of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. She said quite bluntly that “Buddhism is not a religion for spiritual children”, as I reflect on her words I’m convinced that this is what she meant.
A theme that has been running through my mind very recently regards the notion of holiness. I was reading some Taoist literature and thinking back over my old Tai Chi training and I remembered my teacher telling us that the key was to do less, not more. The Taoist literature echoed this with the advice that in Tai Chi, we find that we already know how to move or how to stand properly; the case is often that poor habits or mental issues cause us to hunch or slouch and take bad posture.
So there I was recently, mulling over my own attempts to follow precepts and live up to this or that ideal. I’d already come to the conclusion that it’s probably better to just be yourself first and foremost. I do think that the very Tai Chi related advice above has bearing here, and I tended to think like this before I rebooted the blog, so old habits die hard. I’m coming to the conclusion that we already know how to live a good life, it’s built in. In fact, scientific research does show that altruistic behaviour is a part of our nature. So my own thinking is that rather than try to live up to an external standard of what’s good, we need to realise that we already know. It’s in our nature and we simply need to do less and get the hell out of our own way. We already know how to stand up straight, we just need to let go of the bad habits and issues that obscure that. The most important thing though is to be mindful of our own nature as Humans, some of the conditioning we receive from imposed moralities can obscure our view of our nature and cause us to fight against this nature.
In fact, as Yoda advised Luke Skywalker on Dagobah: “You need to unlearn what you have learned”.
It’s been a bit of a journey to get to this point. I’ve been religious and also an Atheist. Now my own position is a recognition that we have been arguing about things that are very likely not intellectually knowable or answerable.
People have been arguing about matters of religion and suchlike since before the Buddha’s time, 2600 years ago. Fast forward to now, oh look, the arguments are still going on. If matters of God, the soul and the afterlife were answerable, don’t you think we’d have answered them in two and a half millennia? In my view, people spend a lot of time searching for the truth. We shine our light in search of answers, not realising that what we see are mostly shadows cast by our own preconceptions. Sometimes, we see our own shadow when we get in the way of the light and we call it “God”. The problem is we get a fixation on the shadows and paraphernalia. We have wise people throughout history pointing out a whole wonderful universe to us, we spend our time obsessing about them and their beliefs. We have a finger pointing at a stunning view of the world, but we stare fixedly at the finger, not the world.
I think that the only word for what there is, is Tao. You cannot really know it, define it or reason it. It’s best approached in an intuitive way and is certainly not a god as commonly understood. It’s a force that’s subtle and all pervading, all things are part of it and abide by it and in it. All of our scientific discoveries are merely us shining a light on part of it’s splendour, as for our spiritual knowledge this is also the case. But in truth, there is so much more to discover and our chief danger is to take the little we know and think that it’s everything.
I am reminded of the words of Hamlet to Horatio:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”