#OccupySamsara: Cynicism or Action

October 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

#OccupySamsaraSamsara is a Sanskrit word used by Buddhists to describe the cyclical nature of our own and societal suffering and dissatisfaction.  Cynicism is the belief that there’s no getting out of the mess we’re in.


The Buddha’s teaches “suffering and the cessation of suffering”  so one might assume that the goal is to get away from Samsara, to hop out of the hamster wheel.  But in taking the unified view we notice that only within Samsara is enlightenment, or Nirvana, possible.  In effect, Samsara and Nirvana are inseparable.  Instead of trying to get the heck out of dodge (or in this case, Samsara) we can occupy, form a peaceful resistance and using the tools of meditation, yoga, prayer, honest speech and mindful action transform our suffering into awakening.

Then there’s cynicism.  Several friends (and an agitated voice inside) say things like “What does it matter what we do?  Nothing is gonna change.”  And “it’s too complicated, too big.  We can’t fix the system.”  What does cynicism mean for a yogi, for a dharma practitioner, for a spiritual seeker?

I favor a healthy dose of skepticism always in questioning, contemplating and evaluating the evidence at hand.  But cynicism seems to bury its head in the sand alongside idealism.  Where one sees a rosy positive as the only outcome, the other judges the gloomy negative to be the only possible result.  Both purport some kind of insight into the future when the truth is we do not know what the future holds.

Despite the Tarot cards, the crystal balls, despite our hopes and our fears, the future remains as mysterious as ever.  Can the Occupy Wall Street movement affect real change?  Can our society change in a fundamental way so that the poor and the rich have equal opportunity to pursue their dreams?  Can we hold bankers accountable for the downfall of our economy and does it solve anything if we ask for better financial regulation and oversight?  Well, the wild and often overlooked answer is: we don’t know.  We can’t know.  What’s more is no one really knows, not even the folks adamant about the “right” (or “left”) way to fix it all.

So here we are, not knowing, and we have to make a choice in how we act, in whether we support this nascent populist uprising that is Occupy Wall Street, or laugh at it and keep on complaining.  There’s no guarantee that it will “work” that’s for sure.  But, just as brushing your teeth does not prevent all future cavities, making the choice to act does not prevent all future injustice, suffering, pain and sorrow.  We have to be open to failure, in fact embrace failure.  We must learn to kiss failure gently and tuck failure in for the night.  We must get really cozy and intimate with failure because that is the only way we’ll recognize success when it comes along.

Success may not be loud, may not be obvious right away.  Success won’t come as a fat check in the mail for $100,000 from the billionaires.  Success will be gradual, slow, incremental… it may creep up so slowly that we’ll hardly notice it’s there.

Has anyone noticed how a group of community organizers staged a sleep-in at Zuccoti Park and there was hardly any mention of it in the mainstream media?  Then there were marches and arrests, and that got some attention.  But what are these protesters here for, everyone was asking.  Why are they doing this?  Why occupy Wall Street?

Gradually the reasons are becoming more and more clear as more voices are heard and more people join in realizing that this is a movement not for the squabbling Republicans and Democrats in Congress, but an outcry for the 99%.  We are the 99%.  We are downsized from our jobs, we can’t afford decent health care, we are up to our ears in education debt, we are losing our homes, and we are told to pay higher interest rates and more fees at our bank.  We are tired of being second class citizens while the 1% enjoy their mansions, private jets, designer clothes, jewelry and vehicles.  Justice is blind but she can feel the scale has tipped dangerously off to one side.  The rich are drunk with power and have the politicians dancing like puppets on their strings.  There is a lot wrong with the current system.  And yeah, it’s complicated.  But that does not mean that it can’t change.

It was not always like this.  We can take solace in the truth of impermanence, one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhist philosophy.  The political and financial hegemony has changed, it’s changing now, and it will continue to change, evolve, dissolve.  And something new will arise.

Do we dare to believe that something we do or don’t do has an effect?

There’s no way to know whether we’ll eventually succeed but if we listen to the voices of cynicism then we don’t even try.  I’d rather try and fail than regret my lack of gumption later.  If you’re waiting for a sure bet, you’ll have to wait forever.  There’s no assurance that anything will work out the way we plan but we cannot let that insecurity stop us from dreaming big and then doing big.

The beautiful thing is that we are free to choose.  We can each occupy Samsara in our own way. Together we can manifest Nirvana right here in the midst of struggle and suffering just as the protestors on Wall Street are speaking out for justice, for truth, and for unity in the middle of congestion, pollution, corporate dictatorship, rampant consumerism and oppression.

Our city, our country, our planet are all changing.  What will happen tomorrow, twenty or one hundred years from now, we do not know.  Learning from our collective past and yearning for a bright future for all sentient beings we awaken to the possibilities right here in the present.


What can you do?

Get informed.

Go down to your local occupation and check it out for yourself.

Talk to your friends.

Sign a petition.

Make a donation.

Don’t let despair and cynicism stop you from living a full, honest and meaningful life.

Occupy Wall St photographs courtesy of Olga Timofeyev.

This article was originally published at The Interdependence Project Blog.


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