New Year's Resolution

31 December 2023

Dear fellow beings,

In yet another of our human narratives, we’ve labelled the old year as finished. And therefore, the old year must inevitably be followed by a “new year”. With those man-made categories, along comes something even more ludicrous called a “new year’s resolution”.

These new year’s resolutions require looking “back” and looking “forward”. When we do that, we see that things in the world haven’t been too easy in the recent past. And from the way it’s all going, it looks like the future won’t be easy either. Ecological destruction is one big reason. Another is that the old lords and masters are so threatened by newbies who want to be just like them and particularly by those who are managing to achieve that.

But we’re caught: How can we stop a billion Chinese wanting to clean their butts on the toilet seat the way a few million Japanese clean theirs? And how can we deny the aspiration of a billion Indians to water their lawns and dry their clothes with automatic dryers the way Americans do? The pain felt by those who were once lords as they watch the rise of subordinates is splendidly captured by none other than the great Satyajit Ray in his beautiful film Jalsaghar.

And if all the wannabes do get what they want, like a billion Indians and Chinese getting their own cars, taking holidays in campervans or on Mallorca and Aruba, and a whole lot more, which they surely deserve as much as those who presently have all that, then what? Surely that will not only accelerate ecological destruction but may well lead to global warfare as the former lords and masters use all their might to cling to their old privilege and control.

So, in the big picture, it’s hard to make an upbeat new year’s resolution for the world from anyone’s point of view. All I can do personally myself, is re-resolve to follow what Gautama taught.

I came to this resolution because the only way I can liberate myself from the delusion of expecting a perfect society is to follow this man Gautama. And because the only way I won’t be caught in the games of the dream is to wake up from the dream, not by adding even more systematic dreams in the name of politics, the economy, science, technology and the rest.

I also want to put effort into letting other human beings know what Gautama taught. I have come to realize that the only reason why people like Gautama, Lao Tzu and Mahavira are not widely known today is because of colonial and neocolonial might that has convinced itself that its own modernity is “the end of history” and convinced the rest of the world that westernization and modernization are one and the same.

That is why Obama quotes Kant and not Mahavira, why Deng Xiaoping quotes Karl Marx and not Gautama, and why people in the larger world only know about Kama Sutra not Arthashastra. I have read philosophers like Aristotle, Kant, Hegel and Marx, though of course not thoroughly. But I have also not read the Buddha’s teachings thoroughly. Still, I’ve so far not found any insight into so-called reality that these western writers have said that the Buddha has not said, and I’ve found so much that the Buddha said that those writers have not even begun to say.

It’s one thing for traditions to die out if they are archaic, useless, or harmful like female infanticide, genital mutilation or forced enslavement. But the degeneration of genuine wisdom traditions into nothing more than objects of anthropological interest is a grave and even dangerous loss to humanity.

So I ask those who share my concern and aspiration to join me in this or a similar resolution. May this year bring you wakefulness and cheerfulness. And in doing so, may that bring us confidence and free us from panic and anxiety.

— Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse

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