Alan Zendell, January 29, 2023,
Eastern philosophies like Hinduism and Buddhism treat spirituality differently than Western religions. While each applies its own spin, what they have in common is a belief that everything in the universe is connected. Life and death are a continuum, not a beginning and an end, and there’s the idea of karma. Not to put too fine a point on it, karma is about fate or inevitability, that we are responsible for what befalls us, based on how our actions measure up against what the universe considers good or bad.
Raised in the Judeo-Christian part of the world, we see things differently from people who grew up elsewhere. As westerners, we tend to focus on individuals, our personal destinies and fortunes. Asian cultures think more collectively; ideologies like Communism aside, eastern societies think more in terms of the masses than individuals. Similar differences relate to time. We tend to live in the present and the immediate future – how we feel, what we’re doing, what may occur tomorrow. Eastern cultures take a longer view, thus the pan-Asian tradition of each generation sacrificing for the good of future ones.
Perhaps that’s why western governments tend to be transitory. The combination of democracy and individualism produces governments that can change sharply every few years, while Asian countries tend toward stable, more autocratic and therefore, predictable societies. The same is true for the way people relate to their families and ancestors. The point is, our planet is split into groups that think about their lives very differently from each other. Those differences struck me in a surprising and unusual way this month.
Consider the idea of threats to our existence. Our news media have reported them at four very different levels in the last few weeks. In the United States, we’ve seen a record number of mass shootings so far in 2023. Gunviolencearchive.com reports 78 deaths and 176 injuries that also changed the trajectories of the lives of the thousands of people they touched. Politically, we hear cries from both sides – from the left that the MAGA movement is an existential threat to democracy, and from the right, that progressivism is a threat to individual rights.
At the international level, the world is struggling to come to terms with a recalcitrant Russia that seems determined to pursue its war in Ukraine, regardless of how many other nations are united against it, raising the specter of the existential threat of nuclear extinction we’ve lived with since World War 2. And just in the last few days, we were reminded of an even worse threat that effects us all, one that makes all the rest seem petty and almost trivial, and reminds us that everything really is connected to everything else in ways we rarely think about.
The effect of the death of every person from needless gun violence spreads like ripples in a pond to friends, relatives, and everyone who sees it played out endlessly in the media. Political divisions have split our country into opposing armed camps bent on destroying each other. The war in Ukraine already affects a billion people in North America and Europe – we’re all involved whether we like it or not. But two days ago, I began to see all that differently.
Early this week, a Ukrainian telescope maker and amateur astronomer, who had previously discovered the first known interstellar comet, made another startling discovery. Gennadiy Borisov, working in Russian-occupied Crimea, discovered a previously unknown asteroid the size of an SUV, in near-Earth space. A couple of nights ago, it passed within 2,200 miles of Earth, the closest near-collision with a significant astronomical body in modern times. We were never in danger from the asteroid, and had it entered our atmosphere, it likely would have turned into a spectacular fireball that sprayed a few chunks of rock into the South Atlantic.
But – in 2013, an asteroid roughly three times its size created a shock wave over southern Russia that shattered windows for hundreds of miles. What if this new asteroid had been even bigger, and it had been on a collision course with Earth while a battle for control of Crimea was underway, preventing Borisov from discovering it? What if, unchalenged, it impacted Kyiv, Moscow, Berlin, or Paris? Millions could have died, with consequences affecting the entire planet.
Western religions tell us God works in mysterious ways to effect His plan for us. Eastern philosophies say basically the same thing, attributing those effects to the unknown forces that control the universe. I’m struck by the connectedness of it all, and that makes me wonder if our priorities are all wrong. Perhaps we’re focused on the wrong things, fighting the wrong battles, when we should be concentrating our resources on the long-term survival and welfare of all of us.