Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Outer vs. Inner Modernity

This idea that Asia's failure to conquer Europe can be seen as a sign of its being more, not less, advanced than Europe is shattering to our materialist and militarist preconceptions. But if we go deeper, we can find a valuable consolation. For us to understand the nature of Tibet's inner modernity, we must analyze the five main transformations that Europe went through from Reformation to Enlightenment: 
(1) the unification of the life-world by the process of removing the sacred as relevant to human purpose, leaving an all-absorbing secular realm;
(2) the disenchantment of the natural world, removing traditional concerns that had restrained its exploitation;
(3) the rationalization of all human effort in the goal of maximizing human comfort during the temporary existence in the secular realm;
(4) the absolutization of material progress; and
(5) the destruction of the channel of effort toward the sacred (represented by monasticism and its organized striving for perfection), which had been the institutional brake against materialism, industrialism, and militarism, leaving all human enterprise focused on those three pursuits.
Each of these strands in the Western process of outer modernization corresponds, in the reverse, to a strand in the process undergone by Tibet in its inner modernization:
(1) Instead of the life-world being unified by secularization, Tibet unified it by what we can call "sacralization" -- the sacred gradually absorbing the secular. The ultimate perfection of the individual the society, and even the buddhaverse became the prime concern of the whole society. The modernist unit of the sacred/secular dichotomy was achieved at the sacred, not the secular, pole;
(2) instead of disenchantment, the whole of reality became reenchanted. The magical/ordinary dichotomy was resolved by all becoming magical, opposite from all becoming routine and mechanical. Since the inner science of the Buddhist curriculum is based on a sense of the mind's natural power over nature, the transformation of the mind became the main avenue of progress toward the transformation of nature;
(3)  actions and goals were totally rationalized in Tibet as in the West, but in Tibet the rational made everything in life instrumental for the individual's attainment of evolutionary perfection in buddhahood, perfect wisdom and complete compassion;
(4) spiritual progress was the goal of absolute concern--the development of human perfection was industrialized--turning the whole of society into one vast school for enlightenment; and finally
(5) while commercial materialism was always a part of the seminomadic Tibetan economy and lifestyle, monasticism became completely dominant over all other institutions, disarming the military, transmuting the warrior spirit of Tibetan militarism into the ascetical heroism of monastic and contemplative adepts.  
-Robert Thurman, Inner Revolution, pgs. 245-7.