Politics, Buddhism, & heart burn ~

Politics and suffering

Sometimes I feel like a failure. As a teacher, as a friend, certainly as a compassionate Buddhist. Anger sweeps through me like something red and avenging — a kind of flame that leaves in its wake the scorched earth of good intentions.

It happens most often when profit trumps people. In other words, politics. BAD state of being for a Buddhist in a polarised election year!

I confess to being a bit over-the-top politically: I take my politics verrry seriously. Recently I read an article, The Politics of Enlightenment, by Robert Thurman. In it, Thurman lays out what he thinks a truly Buddhist country would look like. He feels that America — not Bhutan, not Thailand, not any of a number of other currently Buddhist ‘states’ — is our best bet for a Buddhist state. It has to be democratic, Thurman notes. The Buddha, he says, might have ‘dreamed’ America.

I love this. That the Buddha might have dreamed America — that we might be a kind of Buddhist reverie, at our best moments. And sometimes, hoping to forget how so many people I love disavow precepts I find binding, I think of that. I try hard to remember that I’m at least as disappointing to some of my friends (as one reminds me!) as they are painful to me :).

It’s not good Buddhism to be disappointed. Or pained. That’s what Upādāna, or attachment feels like. You have this idea of what things ‘should’ be like. (N.B.: I have these kinds of ideas a LOT.) And that idea — or the next one, and maybe the one after that as well — doesn’t pan out. So you end up disappointed. And believe me: that brings suffering.

Lama Chokyi
Lama Chokyi

Actually, there’s nothing inherently ‘wrong’ w/ being disappointed or pained, or even being a disappointment. It’s the guilt that ensues which you need to reflect on. (Digression: Lama Chokyi once told me that there’s no word in Tibetan for guilt. And when he tried to explain the concept to a mentor, the other lama looked at him in utter disbelief: Why would you DO that to yourself? he asked.) Instead of beating ourselves up, we need to look at the ‘mistake,’ think about the how and why of it, and go on. Return to the meditation, as it were.

In other words, what it is is what it is. I know that. I just forget. So I go off on my disappointed pilgrimage, trying somehow (all by myself! what hubris!) to re-establish ‘celestial order’ — re: social justice — with FB postings, and Twitter feeds, and the technological miscellany of my fragmented modern life.

What on earth am I thinking??

I wish I believed in reincarnation. I wish I believed there was another chance, that screwing this up ~ this life, this world ~ wasn’t terminal. I used to. But now? Increasingly, I’m a blank slate — waiting for some divine epiphany or enlightenment to write with its moving finger. So far the universe is rather quiet about the whole divine plan thing. I’m voting w/ the Buddha, who said it’s not really relevant, since we are consumed w/ suffering in this life, right here & now. Certainly I am: FB gives me the worst kind of heart burn — a burning heart. Because don’t really see a purpose to all tthis hate.

Hence the whole failure thing. I get so RILED, as my Aunt Bonnie would say. It seems we all believe what we want to. And what I find most unpleasant — why I suffer — is that I don’t understand how smart, nice people can believe very mean things. How can they ignore things like the math of social equations? E.g., politician X says that this move will save Y $$. Do the math, folks — look it up. How can they ignore their backgrounds in scholarship? If it sounds like a simple fix, chances are it won’t work. Modern life is way more messy than simple fixes.

Big sky mindAnd then I take a deep breath — well, eventually I do — and I try to remember: big sky mind. The clouds will come and the clouds will go, but the sky always remains.

Somehow, I have to have faith in the universe. That people will see good in each other. I don’t always, so how on earth can I expect others to? How can I expect people to look beyond labels like Muslim and see an American family, bowed by loss? How can I help people question a pastor (I’m assured he is a GOOD man) who preaches from the pulpit that a racist demagogue, who has no experience with government whatsoever, is worthy of leading our greatly needy nation?

Sometimes the clouds are pretty damn dark, is all I can say. I’d sure like a dose of blue sky about now. A game plan would be nice, too.

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