Passivism – a pattern or attitude of being submissive.
(In the context of this post Passivism is not intended to be connected with Passive Resistance.)
I was giving out this morning – a bit of a habit of mine, nothing too serious – about the mad things going on in the world, and I said to Himself that if I see another ”Buddhist or Hindu style” slogan about acceptance or the illusory nature of the world I will explode. Himself is a history buff and he told me a story in response.
A long long time ago there was a battle in India that was of Biblical proportions in terms of slaughter. This was the Kalinga War, and it took place in the 3rd century BC. It was the war Ashoka fought in order to gain his throne.
After the war, Ashoka was horrified by the level of slaughter and savagery and vowed never to kill again.
Ashoka is known as a good man, and a wise king. He introduced Buddhism throughout India, and under his kingship peace flourished. Thousands of Dharmsalas (hostels with free food and alms) were established for spiritual pilgrims, animal rights were top priority, tolerance and individual freedom were promoted. And so on.
This seems like it would only be a good thing. And it was, for a while. Maybe.
Over the course of the next few hundred years however, an element of casual passivism crept into Indian culture. Hindu temples fell into disrepair, culture and traditions fell by the way side, there was a general attitude of intellectual acceptance that suffering exists and there is nothing we can do about it except overcome it internally. ”It is what it is.”
This passivism laid the groundwork for a weak resistance in the population (particularly among the ruling classes) to invasions, especially a conquest by the Hepthalites or White Huns, who swept through India in the 5th century AD. The Hepthalites were warring nomads of either Turkish or Iranian descent. (They may have been Zoroastrian, though this is not certain.) They managed to remain in control in India until eventually defeated by kings and tribes who had never converted to Buddhism after the Ashoka era. Buddhism had tended to be a faith of urban areas, and the rural villages had maintained their Hindu doctrines. After these invasions Muslim invaders swept through India and again the Buddhists in general provided little resistance. Mostly they converted quickly to Islam. An interesting point is that because Buddhists depended upon the merchant classes to provide alms to support their temples and societal infrastructures the disruption of the ancient trade routes by the Muslim invasions left them very vulnerable and easily ruled.
This is a very (very!) simplistic glance at a complex historical era, but I think the key points I have isolated from the story perhaps have something relevant to say for modern times. Of course my choosing such points is purely subjective to me, and someone else could have chosen other salient aspects of the history. And I make these points as someone with a great long-time personal love of Buddhism. Having heard this story I thought about the way spirituality is being promoted in these times; nowadays there is a widespread revival of certain philosophical aspects plucked from Advaitic and Buddhist beliefs (among many others) which are being combined in various ways in various sorts of Syncretic synergies that constitute a broad temple of what could be called ‘New Age’ religions. One central tenet of these syncretic faiths is complete acceptance of how things are on this material plane, a plane which is considered to be wholly illusory anyway. At the deepest metaphysical level, I believe these tenets to be true – this is a fleeting physical existence between births and deaths, intended to school our Souls – but on another level there is a reason we are incarnated on this Earth with these fellow travelers and rejecting it, or being nihilistic, is not particularly useful in terms of a learning experience. The overall effect of such nihilistic core spiritual beliefs would be the effective neutralisation of the wild, invested, activist power of the youthful demographic that would normally be the vanguard of resistance and who might otherwise kick up blue murder about the injustices of their time.
Perhaps this is the intention, just as drugs are introduced to other portions of the species youth to absorb their energies?
It was just a thought I had. May not be true.
(All images are by Daniel Garcia.)