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 [Book Reviews]


The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

William L. Shirer

This will seem like a strange choice for review on this site, but the relevance is significant.

I have spoken many times about the phenomena I call 'Pajapati's Problem': the situation where in deep meditation one arrives at the perception that one is, one's self, the One and Only God. Cap G. I have been observing the Buddhist landscape now for almost 50 years and I have come to the conclusion that the biggest obstacle to making headway in this system is fear of awakening to the power of the mind. The fear of facing this phenomena.

This fear is reasonable. The power, relative to ordinary men, is god like. Or Mephastophalian. It is the temptation to use this power for selfish reasons and reap the karmic consequences in Hell that is, I believe, what is sub-consciously hindering the greater progress of the many who have approached the Buddhas system with high hopes of finding enlightenment and who have gone no-where or have fallen into self deception as to their accomplishments.

It is because of not seeing the problems arising because of this power that the ultimate goal of the system, the ending of rebirth, simply does not make utilitarian sense.

Outside of this goal, the pursuit of worldly happiness is rewarded to a high degree by many practices in the system, but that is not the objective, it is a by-product. And because the most important doctrines consider the pursuit of worldly things a low, mistaken practice, having them as a goal puts the student who pursues them or the teacher who teaches them in opposition to the higher goals ... and, insidentally, vulnerable to making huge mistakes, misleading many people, and in the end not escaping the problems raised by the issue of power because it surfaces at death no matter how much or little one has experienced it in meditation.

This book is relevant as a read for anyone who thinks there may be more in Gotama's system than control of stress, or attaining happiness by paying attention to the breathing.

Shirer is not unbiased. He is biased, and I believe he makes a big mistake in suggesting that it was primarily a flaw in the German character that gave rise to Hitler. I believe what we had in the rise of Hitler and his Reich is a story we have seen in many races (certainly at lower levels, in all races), and which was, not very long ago in China and India [see Rhys Davids, Buddhist India, page 269], Greece and Rome, and Constantanople, a more or less common way of establishing power: The Warlord. A great number of these powerful men who are now considered heros were from as common circumstances as those of Hitler and of a similar nature in terms of cruelty, corruption and ego-mania. The rise of Hitler and the Third Reich in other words, was something that could happen with any people, at any time. — I have sometimes joked with people worried about these times of radically diminishing personal privacy and radically increasing intrusion into one's life of the state by saying: "Well, after WWII the people here were always asking "How could the good Germans have let that happen?" ... now they are getting the answer." All that is missing here today is a person who can see the common denominator and who has the will to power.

What one finds one's self saying over and over again in reading the story in this book is: "How could they be so blind to the lies?" (with regard to any possible opposing powers) and "How could it be that this man had such fantastic luck?" (country after country falling without a shot, seven, ten, a dozen assasination attempts escaped by quirks of fate) and then, too, one must acknowledge a brilliant clarity (jhāna) there in Hitler's perception of situations and strategies. One finds it very tempting to believe a true pact with the Devil was made. What was made was a pact with personal power.

There are two things that are key to understanding the rise and fall of Hitler that are deeply relevant to our practice: Hitlers early experience of hunger and poverty in conjunction with his thirst for knowledge; and his change of intent at the peak of his power.

There is nothing in my experience which quite as powerfully stimulates the urge to power as hunger (especialy involuntary hunger. That's one reason the bhikkhus are beggars!). It brings out the hunter in a person. It also brings one, through desperation, into dialogue with ones self in terms that we are all familiar with: 'Why me?" This is the same quest, minus the structure, that is being pursued by the seeker here. It leads to confrontation with power. That power, in Hitler, was molded into the structure the world saw by a lopsided and unawakeded literature. Most specifically by the will to power and the determination to right perceived wrongs done to the German people subsequent to WWI.

That perception of perceived wrongs, and the determination to right those wrongs was the initial intent of Hitlers will to power, and the picture is very clear reading this book, that the scope of power Hitler exercised was enveloped and protected by two factors: it was harmonious with the thinking of the overwhelming majority of German people (98%!); and it was protected by the guilt and uncertainty of those powers that might have stopped him (that is, they were blinded by a sort of empathy with his goals.)

Finally, there was a point when Hitler had reached what the world might have called the achievement his goals in having re-united with Germany the surrounding areas which could be understood to 'belong' to Germany. It was at this point that Hitler's intent changed. It went from "I am doing this for the body and soul of the German people" to "I am doing this because I want to for me" (often from motives of personal anger, vengence, ego). And it was at exactly this point where his power began to diminish. This turning point is made inescapably clear in this book. The rest of the story is just the story of how things which are formed on the basis of lies, deception, trechery, disloyalty, corruption, cowardness and blindness end in lies, deception, trechery, disloyalty, corruption, cowardness and blindness (Hitler is surprised, disappointed and enraged that those following him follow his own methods in deserting him when things go wrong), and how point after point, endings short of utter catastrophy for Hitler and the German people could have been avoided but were not for reasons of self preservation and ego of the few. It's an old story.

The tendency is to think that a Hitler is an unusual phenomena. I suggest it is no further away for many many people than a few days of sit-down practice or a few weeks of hunger. I suggest that knowledge of power of the sort found by Hitler and of much greater power than that is 'sub-conscious' knowledge, not 'unconscious knowledge.' I suggest that this sub-conscious knowledge conjoined with equally sub-conscious knowledge of the way the story usually goes, is preventing a large number of people who have approached Gotama's system from doing more than puttering around on the ground floor because they have no confidence in their mastery of ethics, their self control, their ability to decline the offer of power where it involved lies, murder, theft and every sort of human depravity.

What needs to be understood is that the power can be reached and not put to use. It doesn't belong to the self. That is the escape from Pajapati's problem: to understand that though there is power there, it is not an aspect of the self.

That is why this book is important. It makes it clear, if you look, that what took place at this time was a more or less ordinary phenomena. If the story is seen in the context of how it might have gone otherwise if controlled by the ideas found in Gotama's system, it just maybe will have the effect of encouraging strenusous practice in meditation conjoined with rigorous self discipline.

"There is nothing to fear but fear itself" ... that is, if controlled by faith, ethics, self-control, energy, memory, knowledge, serenity, vision, wisdom and the will to freedom.



Friday, March 27, 2015 6:37 AM

Also recommended to be read along with this is:

Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts.

What looks to me to be a more or less balanced account of this extraordinary man. The points to consider for the Buddhist reading this are: The similarity in the story to that of Hitler, and because of that similarity the ever-repeating nature of worldly power; and the (at least according to all the reports given in this work) apparent detachment of Napoleon to virtually everything that was happening to him throughout his lifetime. He apparently viewed the entire thing as a game or as a play or as a dream. One must wonder how this quality which is so highly ranked in the evolution of the mind towards awakening could have found itself manifested in a man whose occupation was so violent and bound up in ambition and worldly indulgences. For the 'seer' there is a challenge in this story to understand what exactly happened to the judgment of this man in his invasion of Russia and his abandoning of his own successful tactics just before the allies invaded Paris and in the subsequent battle of Waterloo. Or maybe it doesn't take a 'seer' — the turning point is extraordinarily similar to the one in the story of Hitler. Napoleon's power was not based on the unification of France as Hitler's was the unification of Germany, but on the overwhelming majority's belief that the monarchical system had to change. As long as that was Napoleon's motive, he was unstoppable; when his motive became self-serving and vengeful, he began to fail and ended badly.

Also recommended as complimentary to this theme:

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Three Volumes. by Edward Gibbon. Three gigantic volumes! But an emence pleasure to read. This is not simply a history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, it is a wide-ranging history of the western world from the time of the end of the Roman republic to the end of the sixteenth century. The writing is elegant and humorous, the attitude philosophical, the scholarship vast in scope. In addition to the picture of the political kamma that is the theme of this review, there is a picture here of Christianity and Islam which is virtually unknown today [Friday, March 27, 2015 6:53 AM]. Here too we see the same story of the quest for power and it's end in corruption being played out again and again.

I have read one, but look forward to finding a more comprehensive history of China, and along these lines I recommend finding a few of the many historical tales made into movies by the Chinese. The similarity of the stories to those found in European history are striking.

Given the perspective of these works it is no difficult job to let go of any hopes that 'this time it's different.' That there is any reason to believe that change is always evolution and does not also always include devolution.

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