Monday, April 23, 2012

Passing on the fruits of contemplation

The reason my blog has fallen silent over the last few days is because I have been unwell. It is just the latest little bug going round but it has cut a swathe through the Shaw household. When not asleep I've been reading, and I've just finished James Mawdsley's account of his three Burmese incarcerations, 'The Heart Must Break', published in 2001.

Mawdsley is now a seminarian with the FSSP; back then he was a campaigner for Burmese democracy and human rights. His thinking has moved on from the book in some ways but it remains a fascinating insight into Burma, dictatorships, and suffering.

Here is a long quotation which I thought particularly perceptive. We've all heard it said, and we all believe, that 'to change the world you have to start with yourself'; such aphorisms can sound trite and empty if it is not explained exactly why. And this is from the pen of no mere armchair activist.

'...much as I disliked Maung Lo, the [prison] governor, he was not my enemy. The goodness in him was my friend and the badness in him was my enemy. How do I go about fighting the bad part of him without damaging the good part? Well, it is extremely difficult. In fact, if I want to fight the evil in the world I find that there is only one place where I can be assured of succeeding and that is the evil inside myself. So in prison ninety per cent of my struggle was against myself and it is precisely in striving to overcome the evil in oneself that one consequently has the effect of reducing evil in the world.
'When I received a food parcel I had the choice of sharing it with other prisoners or eating it myself. I could be more or less greedy. But if I eat most of it myself, how are the other prisoners supposed to believe me the next time I shout out "Your cause is my cause" or claim that all beings are of equal worth? My words will mean nothing if I do not overcome my greed. I will not be a source of support to other prisoners if I cannot overcome my greed.
' does not matter if person speaks truly or falsely because, if he is doing it offensively, few people are humble enough to listen. So whenever I meet with authorities I have to try to be humble. If they find the very sight of me obnoxious, I am not going to get over the democratic message. ...with high-ranking [guards], oh what a struggle for me to rein in my pride! ...
'It is a paradox. Whoever would change the world must change themselves. Strive to overcome your own pride, greed and anger and this very process will affect the world. It is not something to be done first, to make yourself a goodly person so that you can then deal with the world. To sort oneself out takes more than a lifetime. It is our task from God: to seek perfection, to strive to love our neighbour and our enemy. And by thus striving, by obeying His command, we unknowingly shape the word round us to make a better place. I should not have spent ninety per cent of my effort in prison fighting myself, I should have spent a hundred per cent of it.'

James Mawdsley, 'The Heart Must Break', pp294-5

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. Father E Whelan6:12 pm

    Hope you make a good recovery

  2. Mark M6:34 pm

    Talking of contemplation, you might like this blog:

  3. Anonymous9:38 pm

    Impressive chap, this James Mawdsley.  I was pleased when I heard he was in training for the FSSP.  (I might have made the point once or twice beofre.) I'm still pleased.

    I hope I remember to pray for him more often. It's a good time to be praying for seminarians.

  4. Simon Platt9:41 pm

    That comment was from me, by the way.