Thant Myint-U’s new book, ‘The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century’, unearths the deep, historical roots of Burma’s economic, social and political challenges.

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Aung San Suu Kyi addresses European Parliament in 2013 © EPP Group

Thant Myint-U’s new book, The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century, comes at a crossroads for Burma and the West. While the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was once the darling of human rights advocates, today she is the object of deep disillusionment. …

Many feel we will inevitably emerge from this pandemic into a fairer, more caring society. By analysing this myth, we can learn a lot about the problems of our age.

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Image: Yuri Samoilov

Back in March, Madonna released a video sharing her reflections on the Coronavirus pandemic. For some reason the video was filmed with her naked in a bathtub filled with rose petals. In a hushed tone with eyes downcast, she speaks to camera:

“That’s the thing about COVID-19. It doesn’t care about how rich you are, how famous you are, how funny you are, how smart you are, where you live, how old you are, what amazing stories you can tell.”

“It’s the great equaliser and what’s terrible about it is what’s great about it.”

I find Madonna’s take rather interesting. At first I assumed she filmed the video inside her $28 million USD home in Beverly Hills, but it appears she is self-isolating in her $9 million GBP, 18th century Moorish palace in Lisbon. Meanwhile in Bangladesh, there are fears about what a Coronavirus outbreak might look like for the more than 1 million Rohingya refugees huddled together in sprawling refugees camps. In case you’re not aware, those refugees were forced to flee Myanmar after coordinated attacks from the Burmese military that are regarded by many as crimes against humanity. …

Western Buddhists have been criticised for distorting centuries old traditions and doctrines. Is there a way that they could engage more respectfully?

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A collection of Buddhist sculptures in the British Museum. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Over the last few centuries the beliefs, practises and philosophies of Buddhism have slowly permeated the Western world. Settling on a precise point of origin can be difficult, but we know that the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer undertook serious study of Buddhism as early as 1815. The degree to which this influenced his philosophy is still the subject of debate, but his interest lives on in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche — perhaps the most important philosopher of the last few centuries — who described Buddhism as “a hundred times more realistic than Christianity”.

Westerners engaging with Buddhism need to be acutely aware of the problems of dislocating Eastern philosophies. When the worldviews of vastly different cultures collide — as in, say, Western scientific materialism and Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism — a great deal of translation, interpretation and omission takes place. This is in part because Tibetan Buddhism draws not only from Indian-Sanskrit texts, but also draws on aspects of Indian and Tibetan tantra, Tibetan traditional medicine, and the shamanic, pre-Buddhist traditions of Tibet. How can a lay person possibly grasp the depth and nuance of such a cultural inheritance? It has taken generations of scholarship to attempt this task, and yet the project remains in its infancy. …

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Scott Morrison has declared war on the hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of Australians who want to see action on climate change.

So far, Morrison’s Prime Ministership has been marked by a blunt refusal to meaningfully address carbon emissions, or to encourage clean energy.

After avoiding the United Nations Climate Summit, Morrison made a speech at the United Nations Climate Summit touting his Government’s record on climate change. Taking influence from Trump, the speech either willfully distorted facts, or simply ignored them in favour of outright lies.

But today, Morrison dramatically escalated his war, declaring his intention to crack down on ‘secondary boycotts’:

“Environmental groups are targeting businesses and firms who provide goods or services to firms they don’t like, especially in the resources sector… It is a potentially more insidious threat to the Queensland economy and jobs and living standards than a street protest.” …

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Robert Wright’s book, Why Buddhism Is True: The Science And Philosophy Of Meditation And Enlightenment (2017) is part of the ‘Secular Buddhist’ movement — a project which seeks to strip away the religion’s metaphysical and mystical content and ground it in a naturalistic or science-based interpretation. In this sense the title is something of a misnomer. Wright has little interest in preserving tradition if it cannot stand up to his secular critique.

Still, he is convinced that Buddhism anticipated by a matter of centuries knowledge about the human mind that we are only now unearthing through science. Additionally, Wright believes that Buddhism has techniques which allow us to lessen certain negative aspects of the human condition, namely ignorance, suffering and discontent. To argue his case, Wright draws upon evolutionary psychology, neuroscience and his own engagement with meditation, in order to analyse the core tenets of Buddhism and reflect upon their moral and philosophical implications. …

The past decade has seen a wealth of neuroscientific research into the benefits of meditation, which goes far beyond mainstream conceptions of mindfulness.

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A few years ago, philosopher Owen Flanagan appeared on the Partially Examined Life podcast to discuss his 2011 book, The Bodhisattva’s Brain. In this work, he argues that the Buddhist theory of human flourishing, when rendered in naturalistic terms, should be of interest to many in the West.

For Flanagan, implicit in Buddhism is the promise that one can achieve “a stable sense of serenity and equanimity” through the cultivation of Buddhist wisdom-which we might describe as a deep understanding of particular philosophical propositions and the Buddhist model of human psychology-alignment with Buddhist ethics, and embodiment of the virtues of compassion and loving-kindness. …

I watched last Monday’s episode of ABC Q&A with Jordan Peterson so you don’t have to.

While Peterson can occasionally come across as eloquent, during the course of debate he has a tendency to commit logical fallacies.

While he wasn’t given much time during Q&A, I have outlined a few examples.

Given Peterson’s extreme popularity, I would encourage you to do your own analysis of these arguments, and see whether they stand up to scrutiny.

1. Toxic Masculinity (9:22)

In the middle of responding to a fairly benign assertion about feminism, Peterson makes this remark:

“If it’s true that theres something toxic about masculinity per se, what will that inevitably mean as women adopt more masculine roles… is that toxicity magically going to go away?” …

Last month I attended a meditation retreat in Pa Pae, a small village situated in the mountains between Chiang Mai and Pai.

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One of the meditation halls at Pa Pae Meditation Centre in Thailand.

I am awoken by a rooster just outside my window. There is something about the birds up here in the mountains that gives their crowing a rawer and more guttural quality. A villager told me that most are bred for fighting, and so, to avoid unsanctioned deaths, they have to be kept separate under large, woven baskets. One by one they are given time to roam before they are put under lock-down once more. …

Earlier this year I attended the World Sacred Spirit Festival in Jodhpur, which fuses sacred ritual and music with a dash of the profane.

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Lithuania’s Indrė Jurgelevičiūtė performs at the World Sacred Spirit Festival 2018

The sun is yet to rise and I’m in a tuk-tuk, rambling down back alleyways that split and wind like tributaries to a stream, passing cows and street dogs in the blue wash of Jodhpur’s Old City.

We’re headed for the opening performance of the World Sacred Spirit Festival. The venue is the Jaswant Thada; a tomb for a departed Rajasthani king made from layers of intricately carved white marble.

We sit at the foot of the cenotaph like loyal subjects, waiting as the still-hidden sun approaches the horizon. Lithuania’s Indrė Jurgelevičiūtė steps onto the stage. With streamers in her hair she strums an instrument resembling an ancient harp. The sound is full and resonant, rich in overtones, and with a twinkling metallic edge. As her voice slowly rises the temple behind begins to glow, taking on the orange light of the sunrise. …

In Deep Time Dreaming, Billy Griffiths examines Australia’s coming-to-terms with its Indigenous past. By charting the major archeological finds of the last century, Griffiths draws out the complex interactions between scientific knowledge, Indigenous identity, and socio-political change in his historical and thoroughly human approach to archeology.

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It was 1837 and a young, British lieutenant named George Grey was looking to make his mark on the world. His opportunity came from one of the farthest flung corners of the Empire, Australia. Supported by the British Government and the Royal Geographical Society, Grey planned an expedition in search of Australia’s fabled inland sea.

The plan was to land at Hanover Bay and trek through the Kimberleys to the Swan River Colony some three thousand kilometers away. With impeccable timing, his crew sailed through the azure waters of Australia’s north coast and landed on the scrubby shore just as the wet season began. Heavy rains, floods and skirmishes with the local Indigenous population made progress difficult — and when combined with the group’s lack of both knowledge and experience, almost impossible. They made it just fifty kilometres south before calling off the expedition. …


Lachlan R. Dale

Lachlan is Sydney-based musician, writer and meditator. Buddhism / philosophy / literature.

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