The Republic of Conscience

IMGP3217It’s a sweet but sad thing that it’s mainly when the very best and most inspiring people die, that we come to survey and appreciate their work. So, at home we’ve been reading out some Seamus Heaney poems. His Blackberry Picking resonates with us as we’ve been foraging fruit this summer, and it is late August, and two of our tubs of blackberries and mulberries started fermenting. I like the childhood memory poem but more pertinent for me is this that speaks of transition into mature adulthood, The Republic of Conscience.

It is about a journey into a land of conscience, becoming a dual citizen of both this land and our normal world, and as such, acting as an ambassador for conscience once back home. In this republic “public leaders must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep to atone for their presumption to hold office”. I was struck by the ending: “Their embassies, he said, were everywhere but operated independently
and no ambassador would ever be relieved.” As a speaker for the Republic of Conscience you have no council but your own, you translate for your own people and you assume this duty forever.

I was struck because of its similarity to the Prophecy of the Shambhala Warrior, as passed on to Joanna Macy by Choegyal Rinpoche. This is a 1200 year old Tibetan Buddhist prophecy about a time of ecological breakdown, widely interpreted as this era. It’s a time of two world powers, one in the West and one in the centre of the Eurasian landmass, both equipped with ‘weapons of unfathomable death and devastation’. (It calls to mind the current difficulties between Russia/China and the US over Syria and the Middle East.) In this context, the Kingdom of Shambhala begins to arise. Like the Republic of Conscience it isn’t a geopolitical place, but one that exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors. They have no leaders, no insignia, no home land, and must always move on the land of either of the powers they are seeking to depolarise. They can defuse the weapons because these are mind-made, the result of choices and lifestyles. The two weapons of the Shambhala warriors are compassion and insight.

It’s a difficult, confusing, crucial time, with an overlaying of two great emerging catastrophes (ecological and political/military). Around the discussion about whether or not to intervene in Syria, we really need more insight into possibilities for peaceful humanitarian and diplomatic intervention. Compassion and insight are not harder to enact than aggression and ignorance, but the global culture insists that that they are comparatively weak and irrelevant. Governments will carry out their ideological plans despite the evidence and insight of experts. Ministers shout of the need to punish, ‘take out’, cull, to achieve effects by spilling blood, and they dismiss pacifists as naive idealists. As Alan Watts, author of The Way of the Zen, says in this must-watch short film, love has been portrayed as more dangerous than a violent attitude.

Even though these wise people lived before our time, 1200 years before or just gone, their insights should live on in us.

For myself, I’m trying to make a path that will help people rethink and ‘relanguage’ the world, through both analysis and expression. But I find it very hard to give it the required focus. To end where we began, with Seamus, here’s some advice he gave, both useful for me. One is his encouragement to a singer to ‘Sing yourself to where the singing comes from’. The other is encouragement to writers: “The main thing is to write for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust that imagines its haven like your hands at night, dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast. You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous. Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest.” Both are telling me to unplug, and to sing and write more, so I will.


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