Out of a living silence

A contemplative shares thoughts that emerge in moments of quiet reflection

The dog’s curly tail

with 6 comments


It is said that Sri Ramakrishna Swami Vivekananda used to tell his disciples that devoting time to healing the world is like trying to straighten a dog’s curly tail. No matter how much one may try to straighten a dog’s tail, it will always revert back to being curly.

There are times when Ramakrishna’s words sound to me like an invitation just to let the world go on its own course and not to wear myself out striving to do the impossible. I hear the words as advice to take care of my own spiritual well-being, let others take care of theirs, and hope for the best. At other times it sounds more like an invitation to keep tirelessly at the task of trying to make things a little better and never to wipe the dust off my hands and congratulate myself for having completed the task. After all, the fewer people there are who make an effort to make a positive difference in the world, the less the chances the world will spontaneously straighten up and follow a course of wisdom and justice. On the other hand, a great deal of what has gone wrong in the world has come about precisely because of some people zealously applying their solutions and trying to save a world whether the world wanted to be saved or not. The pendulum of my attitudes toward activism sway slowly back and forth, showing no signs of finding a stable resting point.

There are profoundly discouraging signs that the dog’s curly tail will yield to no efforts at all to straighten it. Senator Dodd proposed a bill in the US Senate that would put limits on how high the interest rates on credit cards can be until such time as new regulations take effect. The bill died before it could even be debated, reportedly blocked by Republicans. No spiritual tradition in the world recommends usury; most prohets and philosophers throughout history have condemned it in no uncertain terms. And yet Senators, probably fearing a loss of campaign funds from banks and other financial giants, side with the wealthy and powerful rather than with those who are suffering from the usurious rates the giants are charging. 

Cardinals, bishops, priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, swamis and lamas should be making it abundantly clear that the inaction of the senators is a shameful betrayal of every religious tradition in the world, and the followers of those religious leaders should be informing their representatives in no uncertain terms that politicians will not be getting the vote of sincere Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists until they liberate themselves from their addiction to the backing of major corporations and return to the business of providing legislation designed to promote the welfare of the people.

That the politicians are not being denounced by religious leaders for betraying their promise to serve the people is a sign that religious leaders themselves ae betraying their promises to care for their flocks of believers. A silent pulpit in a time of injustice becomes part of what makes that injustice possible. There are, to be sure, people making themselves heard. But there is nothing like the quantum mass of outraged voters filling the streets that it takes to bring about change in a country the size of the United States. There are nothing like numbers it took some decades ago to bring an end to racial segregation and the unconscionable war in Vietnam. The hounds of heaven, those who afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, are sleeping on the porch. Perhaps they have themselves become dogs with curly tails.

It times like the ones we are going through now, it is mighty tempting to become a quietist, to retreat into the comfort of isolation and solitary prayer and meditation. It is tempting to focus on another world, a better world to come along when one has been released from active duty in this one. It is tempting to visualize heavenly realms and pure lands and distant paradises while the world outside rots and stinks. It is even tempting to retreat to a peaceful valley somewhere and to wait until the times have changed, thinking “When the parade comes along, I will join it.”

If no one marches now, then when and where will there be a parade to join?

Those who would continue robbing little people by tempting them into debt, and then by charging exhorbitant rates to enslave them, and then by forcing them into bankruptcy—those robbers are counting on you and me to give up the struggle for achieving a fair and just world. They are counting on us to shrug and say “Oh well, I guess some dogs just have curly tails, and I should just learn to love curly-tailed dogs.”

Can they count on your support?

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Written by Richard P. Hayes (Dayāmati Dharmacārin)

Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 15:03

Posted in Faith and practice

6 Responses

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  1. Mr. Hayes,

    I have enjoyed reading your blog posts and often agree with the general liberal spirit with which you write. I also agree with the thesis of this post, which I presume is: “don’t let corporations/banks charge unethically large amounts of interest.” However, I disagree with the method you use to support this thesis.

    For example:

    “No spiritual tradition in the world recommends usury…”

    No spiritual tradition recommends homosexuality either, so should we remind our members of Congress of such when they are considering gay rights legislation?

    Many spiritual traditions suggest that males are in some way superior to females. Is this an argument one can use when debating legislation that could affect gender equality?

    I’m not suggesting that religious tradition is ethically bankrupt and I’m acutely aware that some religionists support gender and gay equality. However, how do you choose what beliefs or recommendations in your religious tradition to act on and what not to act on? I would suggest that our experience of the humanity, or humaness, of gays and females is what compels us to treat them as equals. More generally, experience and rationality combined with (some of) the deep moral teachings of the world’s religions should inform our actions, not appeals to “recommendations” which exist or don’t exist in religious traditions.

    I think there are good arguments (of the logos and pathos variety) that the government should stop credit card companies and banks from engaging in predatory lending, I just don’t think you’ve referenced any of these arguments in this post.

    Grad Student

    Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 18:29

  2. My last sentence was too harsh. Please mentally cross the last part of it out and replace it with:

    “… I just don’t think your appeal to religious tradition is one of them.”

    Upon rereading your post I recognize that you have indeed referenced what I consider to be good arguments.

    E.g.

    “Those who would continue robbing little people by tempting them into debt, and then by charging exhorbitant rates to enslave them…”

    Thus, my previous comment should be taken only as a critique of the way in which you appeal to religious tradition in your post.

    Grad Student

    Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 18:41

  3. […] Posted in Uncategorized by Grad Student on November 19, 2009 I just read an interesting post by Richard Hayes at the blog, Out of a living silence.  Please read the post if you want the […]

  4. I see the reference to religious tradition not as an argument for limiting usurious lending practices, but as an invitation to religious people to broaden their political horizons to something more than worrying about whether taxpayer money might pay for an abortion or whether some municipality might allow same-sex marriage. If one is going to object to those things on religious grounds, then one should also object to predatory lending practices, and the fact that taxpayer money is supporting war and torture, and the fact that taxpayer money is supporting obstacles to environmental responsibility. Where is the moral outrage at all these things from people who claim to be doing God’s work?

    Richard Hayes

    Thursday, November 26, 2009 at 17:22

  5. Thank you for your response.

    I suppose that this point seemed wrong to me simply because I don’t fall into the category of religious people that look to religious tradition for directives on political issues. However, I recognize that many people do fall into such a category and I suppose it is worth making the point that you do.

    Grad Student

    Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 18:56

  6. Grad Student

    Monday, December 7, 2009 at 17:46


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