The Wheels of Dharma
Paulo J.S. Bittencourt
An especially auspicious night unfolds.
“Welcome! You did well to come and greet us. We are established.”
Here’s a meeting.
His guests are arranged circularly around a fire. At least in symbolic terms, it is a perfect circle. This is because, in its precise center, the continuous succession of “will-o’-the-wisps” demarcates an axial point from which radiate rays whose paths, in a straight line, culminate in the place of each occupant of the wheel. But the straight lines along which the palpitating light travels are all of equal length. They therefore denote the equidistance of all places of speech in terms of discursive equality.
[Although inspired by Jean-Pierre Vernant’s reflections on Greek democracy, this circular figure also reminded me of the “Wheel of Dharma”, a symbol that, derived from the figure of the chariot wheel, represents, in Hinduism, “dharma”, the “law”, and in the Buddha’s teachings the path to enlightenment. The “Wheel of Dharma” can also simply express the meaning of “wheel of life”.]
An organic collective like this is sheltered under an atavistic atmosphere, as it reveals an ancestral experience from ancient times, an experience hidden for many, many generations. The consultation of the small assembly seeks to be sensitive; one turns to the crackle of fuel through the flames and the silent drumming of rain’s fingers over the fasting earth. But the focus of attention is also directed to the fire of bonfires. It is that same primal fire that ensured support and stability to groups of hunter-gatherers in the face of the fear that the pillars of the earth would succumb under the imminent fall of the sky. This, then, is the paradigmatic duality between the forces of order and chaos, the symbolic and the diabolic.
The bonfire of bonfires constitutes the sharing of narratives and experiences of good living and resistance, precisely the same desire that made us the fabler species that writer and literary critic Nancy Huston referred to so much, in her own way.
It’s just that we find ourselves too confused by the great opaque bubble of perpetual accumulation that we have forged, that of the endless spiral of production and consumption. We crystallize a world apart, that of the hallucinated sphere of “better living” and the unreflective Eurocentric “well-being”. It turns out that this bubble has long since stopped being more transparent, more malleable and, above all, more porous to inner life, to others and to the world of nature. As Wolfgang Sachs states, after more than half a century, the experience of development stands like a ruin on the intellectual landscape, since we have become, with the destruction of the pillars of the earth, the very architects of the fall of the sky. A neocolonial and imperialist tool, according to Alberto Acosta, development has revealed itself to be antiquated and obsolete, an effective and relentless operator of cultural epistemicides and a destroyer of ecosystems.
However, from the composite and diverse symphonies of ancestral wisdom and practices – those from the same cultural matrices that the dynamics of inexorable progress marginalized – the antidote against passive Like beads from a japamala, see the noble paths that unfold:
From the community and biocentric experiences of Amerindian peoples.
From Bantu hospitality as a path to resilience to contain potential conflicts and tensions.
From the African notion of “ubuntu”, according to which “I am because we are”, and which boosted Mandela’s fight for reconciliation against “apartheid”.
From the Confucian principle of virtuous life as a social good that proliferates due to its manifest concreteness.
From the warrior ethic in Japanese culture of irreproachable fidelity to the cultivation of the “Way” through manual and bodily arts.
From uncompromising but peaceful resistance to systemic tyranny through benevolence towards oppressive agents as Gandhi conceived it.
There are, finally, honorable ways to operate the utopian imagination of other possible worlds, to, in the words of Ailton Krenak, breathe, push the sky when we feel it too low, and postpone, even if a little, the beginning of the end of the world, the “ultimate law” of which we are artisans, known as the Buddhist mappo that predicts that humanity will disappear [the final proof that human existence, in itself, has no substance].
I discovered that these honorable paths are only worthily glimpsed under the notion that they are done solely through the experience of walking. Outside of it there is nothing more than a concept without substance.
In fact, I spoke about a pedagogical experience that emerged to me as a unique and personal experience of these paths, even if a possibly partial experience in the theater that is already so confused and tired of the academic world.
This experience consisted of the optional subject called “Decolonial Philosophies and Readings”, offered by Gerson Severo and me, but fundamentally woven and experienced by many hands, and, tonight, students and teachers who took it – in fact, cohabitants – will read texts about what each and every one would say around the campfire when their hands wrap around the magic wand of sharing.
The beginning of my text will be this:
“A particularly auspicious night is unfolding.
‘Welcome! You did well to come and greet us. We are established’
Here is a meeting…”or negative fatalism can emerge.
Professor Paulo Bittencourt is a brilliant professor of Ancient and Medieval History at the Universidade Federal da Fronteira Sul UFFS [Erechim Campus], Brazil. He contributes articles regularly, and is a columnist in periodicals too. He has several books to his credit. He is an ardent student of Vedanta.