One thing you'll come across if a buddhist precept or two crosses your path is a mantra: kind feelings, kind words, kind thoughts, kind deeds.
Such platitudes are usually spat out by the British in rejection of earnestness, and an abrupt distrust of sincerity (because if you really believe in something you've clearly lost your marbles).
You'll see it in the eye-roll of Brits when they hear an effusive American behind them in a queue (imagine you're slowly eyeing painted walls while idling round an 18C country manor, or a romanesque castle in middle Europe).
We gave up that easy innocence after the Great war, when the church started dying and before we had the NHS to believe in.
It was during that period that some of the more common buddhist precepts began to make their way into British life. Their ideas had been heading west over the preceding centuries care of Companymen returning from Ceylon and Bombay, from Burma and Siam, the land of the rising sun and other fictionalised and exoticised lands.
But it was only as the middle class interest in theosophism receded and a wider-educated polity allowed the sons of colliers to consider something other than the trinity.
(there's an abridged history if ever you wanted one)
Then the 50s hit, Camus gets smashed into a wall, and the absurd climbs out the pages and into the lebenswelt.
After that, materialism and buddhism seem to pick up in the west, especially in the US where there seems to be more dreamers.
I was thinking of London 2012 the other day, and what a crazy thing for that to be so recent: Beckham's grin hoovering up the Thames, Mr. Bean – the sole internationalist among us – and those gurning princes taking jolly-goodery to new heights.
Tessa Jowell, a roll-up-your-sleeves, 'we can do this', mum-hi-five Brit, who's dying right now of a particularly aggressive brain cancer, organised the whole shebang.
You don't see her in her pants getting a couple of mil for an afternoon's work.
I don't know much about Tessa Jowell, but she's always struck me as just someone you'd feel positive around, someone you'd gravitate towards if they were in your office.
One of those people who never lets the gossip and navel-gazing and stupifying, self-inflicted misery of humanity settle for long.
She never accepted an earnest failure, insisted we put our best face on. It's the same motivation that puts the after-school hours into the summer fete.
A wonder-ful person, I suspect.
And it's also wonderful that when Danny Boyle asked the organisers what were doing for the opening ceremony said 'fuck that shit, I'm doing it'.
Or words to that effect.
That show redeemed those games, in the same way our modernist national story – of the industrial revolution, how we darkened our country with specialisation and factoring and imperialism – is redeemed by the NHS.
The NHS is probably the best British institutional embodiment of those four buddhist tenets:
- kind feelings - that we should look after everyone
- kind thoughts - that we should make no-one unwelcome
- kind words - that we always repeat "free at the point of purchase" as a mantra
- kind deeds - that we protect it, that it sustains
It's an additional vote for peace that the NHS, in this endeavour, is the #5 largest employer in the world (one behind McDonald's).
That's some kind precepts in the macrocosm.
Here's a microcosm —
Let me pitch you the borders of modern working life, and then you tell me where you find a place to to practice these precepts:
- The bus to work, you can't sleep against the windows because condensation and it's too vibrational in commuter traffic
- Between the breakfast news, morning coffee and the Metro, work is coming
- You haven't left your desk for anything but comfort breaks this week, and the dried splashes of sauces and soups on your keyboard are a record of your diet
- No-one who's a net-contributor to the tax base is relaxing before 7.30pm
- All our caring is done by people we don't know paid the minimum living wage
I guess it's sometimes easier to put kindness on a stage than it is to sing its song.
But sometimes you should turn up and play, not buy another fucking ticket.