As a leader and host of a mindfulness meditation group meeting weekly now for 19 years, I can tell you what you already know – people are wigging out. Writing recently about the inauguration on the Lion’s Roar site, Susan Piver says we suffer because we are continuously “biting the hook” of our habitual reactions, and wrote
“A giant hook with a massive comb-over has just been lowered from bizarro-world. Now what?”
Yes, exactly, now what? People ask me this.
Hey, I‘m just as wigged out as anybody else. I feel despair, sorrow, helplessness, disbelief, and worry about all the folks who are undoubtedly going to suffer big time.
I have come across three basic stances being taken in mindfulness circles lately: 1) do more metta, 2) impermanence/ emptiness resolves all, and 3) and don’t get involved in “worldly dhammas.” Let’s look at these a little further.
Metta: yes loving-kindness and compassion are essential, but I feel the fruit of practices such as sending love and compassion toward the incoming administration may best appreciated as a way to alleviate burn out and as a corrective measure – to keep us from falling into the hatred and fear mongering many of us are upset about.
Impermanence/ emptiness: Again, great for soothing the beat up protester in all of us — all the despair, fear, rage and sorrow we may feel dissolves in deep meditative experience. And when it eventually comes back it’s less sticky.
So we absolutely must continue our work on the cushion – it will keep us connected to the sacred inner founts of love, compassion and emptiness. But metta and deep insights into impermanence didn’t stop monks from being slaughtered in Tibet or Cambodia.
It’s not just that untold tens of thousands of folks will suffer needlessly under the new administration. Some won’t make it, as the gay Buddhist meditation teacher Pablo Das pointed out. .
Actually, Pablo Das gave many contemporary Western Buddhist teachers a public dressing down on Lion’s Roar last month. His complaints were aimed at white privilege – people with “no skin in the game”—and passivity, which he sees as feeding each other.
Let’s give Pablo the floor: responding to a 30 + page pdf collection of thoughts and reflections by leading contemporary teachers published on Lion’s Roar just a few days after the election, which collectively emphasized taking a long view and called upon us to contemplate the issues from radical “mind-changing” Dharma perspectives, Pablo writes:
As I read the Lions Roar piece, that feeling of not being seen came up when I read statements like one that said if we could get through Nixon, Reagan, and Bush, we could get through this too. I thought to myself: who’s the “we” that got through Reagan and Bush?
The Reagan/Bush era was an absolute horror for my community. An entire generation of intellectuals, artists, friends, and lovers didn’t “make it” through Reagan and Bush. Two decades later, I worked on a suicide prevention line for gay teens during the George W. Bush administration. Lots of them didn’t “make it,” either.
Such a sentiment, however encouraging, erases queer history. By “we” the authors appear to signify only people who aren’t the targets of explicitly racist, sexist, and homophobic policies of historically Republican governments. Those who weren’t moved by desperation to dump the ashes of their dead lovers on the White House lawn (as AIDS activists did in 1992 under President Bush) in a vain attempt to get the government to give a shit that we were dying.
It’s a starling wake up – some of our brothers and sisters, in many different communities, may not survive this toxic presidency.
Not just LGBTQ folks of course will suffer greatly, and may not make it through these next four years – think about women, immigrants, Muslims, families living in poverty, those with certain diseases which might be excluded from new insurance legislations …
Pablo goes on to say:
While it’s fine to try to “understand” those who voted for Donald Trump, your compassion is, in my opinion, misplaced — or at best, incomplete … Can we, who are supposed to be more awake, please not do that thing where we jump right to compassion for the aggressors who voted for an explicitly homophobic, sexist, racist, violent president that’s readying an all-out assault on vulnerable people.. without an equally urgent call for the protection of those who are profoundly threatened by this administration?
Pablo’s sword of wisdom cuts right through the privileged narratives, admonishing us against the dangers of the two stances I mentioned earlier: the metta and impermanence strategies, calling these potential spiritual bypasses.
Don’t engage in spiritual bypassing. Don’t invoke “impermanence” or “the truth of dukkha” or the “ultimate truth of no self” as a way of normalizing Trump, minimizing people’s trauma, regulating your own feelings, or as a justification for inaction or checking out. I don’t get to check out! You shouldn’t either. After all, we’re all against delusion, right?
Yes, he doesn’t get to check out, so why should we?
And it’s not just Pablo Das who took “us” to task, one of the most elder Western Theravada monks—Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi — gives us a piece of his mind in the upcoming edition of Shambhala magazine (published online earlier on Lion’s Roar).
Ven. Bodhi writes he recently saw a news report that 2,500 religious leaders had signed a petition urging Congress to reject Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees as “a cabinet of bigotry.”
But when he looked over who had signed it he saw only one who identified as Buddhist. He writes that this puzzled him –why are Buddhist teachers and leaders in the U.S. not more outspoken in addressing issues of public concern?
While he believes that Buddhist meditation teachers should not “expound their personal political views from the cushion,” nor should Dharma centers endorse political candidates, Ven. Bodhi draws a sharp distinction between political endorsement and advocating on public issues, such as LGBTQ, civil, and women’s rights, climate change, unchecked militarism and nationalism, to name just a few.
If, from fear of upsetting others, dharma teachers shy away from addressing these critical matters, their silence could even be considered an abdication of their responsibility as spiritual leaders.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi is quite stern when he writes:
We can call, in unison, to stand up and speak out in support of a policy of global generosity in place of rash militarism, for programs that protect the poor and vulnerable, for the advancement of social and racial justice, and for the rapid transition to a clean-energy economy.
This is not the same as meddling in party politics, as Ven. Bodhi writes:
It is, rather, to bring the moral weight of the dharma to bear on matters that affect the lives of people everywhere—now, and long into the future.
Now that the Women’s March last weekend was such a success, can we keep the momentum going?
I am heartened to see that a local Buddhist meditation teacher, Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey, has set up a website to encourage folks to ring bells at dawn and dusk during the duration of this new administration as a protest – Ring The Bells.
So I ask you this week: can we bring the moral weight of the Dharma – the righteousness of the blameless in Proverbs 11:5 – to bear on what matters most?
What would this look like in your life this week?