In the midst of the historic 2020 U.S. presidential election, Lion’s Roar reached out to Buddhism-informed leaders and teachers for their responses to the process and its result: the victory of Joe Biden. Roshi Joan Halifax, Lama Tsomo, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Norman Fischer, and more provide commentary and look at what we can do moving forward.
Tenku Ruff, Zen Buddhist priest
Today, after days of waiting, the 2020 election has been decided. As tears well up, they are not tears of joy, nor of sadness. My tears are of hope. My heart feels broken open, ready to meet what comes next with tenderness.
I read recently that Joe Biden keeps his son Beau’s rosary in his pocket. This says so much to me: Grounded. Humble. Faith. Connection. Love. And most of all, a deep understanding of what it means to suffer. This understanding will connect us.
Suffering is our human condition. As Buddhists, it is what motivates us to wake up. The tender, open heart that prays with a lost son’s rosary is the tender open heart that will lead us through this dark time. This gives me hope.
Let us be a light of hope.
Kindness, groundedness, humility, and love give me hope. We need these qualities desperately in our society right now, not only in a leader, but in ourselves. We have a lot going on. COVID-19 is increasing, heightened anger and mistrust permeate society, and families are divided.
There is no magic wand for any of this. As much as we may want to escape, the only way forward is straight through, letting go of all our ideas about a particular outcome. The Buddhist path is before us; hope lights our way. Our ancestors have shown us what to do; now we need only to do it.
Let us be a light of hope. Let’s allow our practice shine through us, with compassion, kindness, integrity, decency and wisdom. Let us light the way for others.
Please, let’s all call upon our very best selves in the coming days, weeks, and months. Let us shine our practice upon the world, for the benefit of all beings.
Myokei Caine-Barrett, Shonin, head priest and guiding teacher, Nichiren Buddhist Sangha of Texas
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Ph.D, Zen Buddhist priest
Now that our eyes are fully opened to each other and we know the ballot and the bullet are both deficient tools of liberation, we can turn toward another choice of protecting the basic sovereignty of humanity by de-escalating our own fear and terror, so that we are able to act from the wisdom honed in infinite and chaotic darkness.
What is it that we are being called to do?
We will forever be pushed to expand the human capacity. Are we ready to keep living with an attention to how we navigate what feels like the worst of times, without closing off or covering it all up with optimism? We are collectively and constantly being given the path to transformation and awakening. We may have to walk it in our bare feet without knowing where we are going. Are you ready for such wandering with its trouble and beauty along the way? Can you be the open field of unknowing darkness that you are and discover what it means to live on this planet with all else that is alive? Can you still have visions of the freedom you know to have been granted in birth?
Every day is an invitation to reach the mountain that is so high you can’t climb it but you can feel its height and because you can feel it, it is possible to go there. That is our capacity now and our potential. What is it that we are being called to do? What is the darkness saying—not the candidate, not you, not your friends? Whatever you hear, act on that. If you hear nothing then work on that. Soon, we will begin to see a different way of leading the human clan that has been lost for quite some time.
Lama Rod Owens, co-founder, Bhumisparsha
Aaron Stryker, founder, Dharma Gates
To me, these results are a brief exhalation. Yet we know that the underlying structures that caused the last four years are well intact and that the climate crisis is waiting for no one. I hope we can use the next four years to face the urgency of our situation, come together, awaken together, and prepare for larger challenges ahead.
Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, abbot, The Village Zendo
Serene Jones, president, Union Theological Seminary
I have two different feelings going on inside me, and two songs keep going through my head, songs that clearly date me. (Smile). I want to sing and dance and shout for joy along with the O’Jays, “Get on the love train, love train!” We are the move, change is in the air, and there are good things ahead! Rumbling along beside this song, however, I keep hearing Leonard Cohen’s haunting song, “It’s a cold and it’s a broken halleluiah.”
We are divided, with a canyon between us, and my own faith community, white Christian folks, voted by a vast majority to continue the violent reign of white patriarchal supremacy… and they did it with eyes wide open. So for today, I am content to let both songs carry me forward.
Adriane Rozier, Organizer, Black Breath Sits
It is good to rest in joy after so much suffering. To pause, rest even. To lift up the communities who turned out despite long lines, previous suppression, and the effects of a raging pandemic to the highest voter turnout in 120 years. This is what we can do together. In the middle of a pandemic. Let us remember this time and remember we are all siblings. While some rest in joy, others suffer, worry, weep. It wasn’t so long ago we were in their place and we are not disconnected from them any more than they were disconnected from us. The wheel turns and turns again.
Roshi Joan Halifax, abbot, Upaya Zen Center
Ray Buckner, racial, religious, and gender justice activist, scholar
Johnny Edward Dean Jr., founder, Nichiren Shu Buddhist Community Outreach of Chicago
[Written before the final decision] Regardless if Biden wins, America will have to take a good long discerning look at itself. As I walk the streets of the South Side of Chicago, there’s tension in folks’ faces. Windows of major and small businesses boarding up their windows. On television, you have The View co-host Sunny Hostin calling people who voted oppositional to the left, un-American. Gayle King questioning on live TV, whether there ever was a singular identity of America if a split in votes between Biden and Trump exists. That is, people voted for Trump, regardless of the media coverage of all his controversy.
If you are in fear, sit with it.
Is overlooking the suffering of your neighbor, and then voting for your own best interest the best option, or even un-American? What is the permanent soul that defines this country? How can there be one when there are way too many variables, historical, statistical, and cultural to determine the identity of this country? This country is changing, and old familiar ways are juxtaposed itself upon the modernity. It is best not to fear, and if you are in fear, sit with it and ponder on what Nichiren wrote in the letter titled, “Hyoesakan dono Gohenji Goszo.” As he writes, “We don’t know how this world changes. Make up your mind and pray for happiness in the next life.”
Dorotea Mendoza, writer, activist, Zen practitioner
Just now, in Brooklyn, in Grand Army Plaza, a place that has hosted and continue to host demonstrations for justice, equality, equity…, there is a collective exhale and much elation. There’s clapping, cars honking, singing, dancing, screams of joy. Strangers, of all ages, jumping as one, smiling underneath face coverings, some of which have the printed words: Black Lives Matter. There are flags, drums, pots and pans, cow bells. Yes, cow bells in the middle of a city. All to say: we did it. Together we did it. We’ve removed a dangerous, autocratic man from the White House. And installed someone who we are sure cannot, will not cause as much harm. Together, we did it. Yes, let us celebrate. Celebrate our efforts, this collectivity that reminds us of our combined strength and agency. Celebrate and keep awake to this interconnectedness that this election and this pandemic has reminded us. The wellness or the sickness of one impacts the wellness of the other. Then, we buckle down again. Continue. Because there is still the deep wounds of racism, white supremacy… Continue to see and listen to the millions who in this moment may not be celebrating. For now, we inhale courage and joy in a re/found oneness, in a re/found knowledge that real change is not in the domain of the government, but in the domain of the people.
Ravi Mishra, founder, Awaken Meditation app
[Written before the final decision] i woke up this morning much like most days. i moved my body, lit some incense, and sat. the cool san francisco morning danced with the warmth of the breath in my belly. i closed with a short Hindu prayer. i got on my bike and rode down for some last minute get out the vote volunteering for Jackie Fielder, a progressive challenger for the sf seat of the california state senate.
i go to sleep now the same way i do most nights. i move. i breathe. i brush my teeth and say a short prayer.
the tingle of hope in the morning — a bird’s song, a photo of a dear friend’s newborn, that dewy morning smell — has given way to a dejected, gnawing hopelessness. i want to write “a coming and going”, but i’m completely caught up in the going.
we are living our karma. my mind reels and tries to find light in that – we’re processing, metabolizing, working something out of our system. i recognize this process. these stories are a version of those i tell myself when my practice is plain ol’ uncomfortable.
perhaps there is some relative truth to these, but ultimately they’re just more causes of suffering — everpresent novel manifestations of clinging, rejecting and ignoring. new ways to avoid the raw confusion and groundlessness of the moment.
but I still don’t understand. it is so abundantly clear — to me — what is right, and that so many fellow americans don’t agree wreaks havoc on my bodymind. my chest tightens, my shoulders slump, my heartspace aches. with some luck, Biden will win, and perhaps the senate could still come through. but all my body feels is the confusion and horror and hopelessness of knowing how many people do not repudiate the blatant hypocrisy of lindsey graham, the destructive machinations of mitch mcconnell, or the everything of 45 — how many fellow citizens clearly do not share my idea of what is wisdom, compassion, and truth.
it is 1 a.m. it feels like there is no tomorrow, even though tomorrow is already here. i am regretting so enthusiastically agreeing to contribute a piece to Lion’s Roar, wondering if these words are as torturous to read as they are to write.
i am sure of only one thing: when tomorrow arrives, i will awaken. i will move my body, light some incense, and sit down to sip the cool california morning into my belly. i will rise from my cushion, chant, and begin my day.
i have nothing to share but this conviction. what is not contained within it?
Postscript: that was written before sleeping on Tuesday. Since then, it’s become evident that Biden will, in fact, win the presidency. My despondency has shifted but not dissipated, in part because of the Senate results. If we hope to make meaningful impact on climate change, health care, criminal justice, wealth inequality, and the many other issues that plague our society, we must win the Senate. And there is hope – if we can run the table in the Georgia special election (a very tall order, but not impossible), perhaps some real progress will be possible. Let’s do everything we can to make sure that happens.
Mushim Patricia Ikeda, East Bay Meditation Center
Today, November 6, 2020, the United States, my home, is a nation divided against itself, with all sides striving to win. This is the karma of white supremacy and colonization manifesting in the midst of a global pandemic and climate crisis. I live in California, a state that is, literally, on fire.
The Buddha said this:
Winning gives birth to hostility.
Losing, one lies down in pain.
The calmed lie down with ease,
winning & losing
“Winning gives birth to hostility.” Another translator more colloquially put it this way: “The winner sows hatred because the loser suffers.”
I believe in strategic political action and liberatory movement-building. I have cast my vote. And these are my Bodhisattva vows as I move with you into the coming months and years: What actions can I take to lessen hostility and extreme reactivity, and to encourage civil discourse and respectful democratic process?
May we all complete the great journey of awakening together.
Lama Tsomo, co-founder, Namchak Foundation
Rev. Kosen Gregory Snyder, Senior Priest & Dharma Teacher, Brooklyn Zen Center
I am currently on Manhattan Island where there is widespread collective relief – joy, horns, crying, gatherings, dancing, and song. My nervous system has settled down from levels to which it had grown uncomfortably accustomed. I am looking forward, probably with many of you, to cherishing this relief and nourishing a brief respite as we orient to a slightly clearer future.
As I listen to the celebrations outside, what I notice speaking up from my quieting body is a dogged truth that no leader can free us. No leader can realize our shared humanity for us. We must do that hard and intimate work together.
Don’t get me wrong, I am so happy we will have leaders willing to shine some light on white supremacy and on our national histories of violence, leaders who admit our climate crisis, and who have a greater capacity to listen to the realities of so many set aside by an economic system that venerates profit above care for one another and the Earth.
My heart knows our nervous systems need to rest.
But I also feel our time is one of too much urgency to be satisfied any longer by what politicians say they will do. I find myself wondering what my role is in collectively giving voice to moral imperatives that move our leaders to act for the benefit of all human beings, our Mother Earth, and the whole of life. My feeling is that our President and Vice President-elect will respectfully listen, but listening has too often not translated into meaningful action without an organized and insistent voice of the people.
Ours is still a nation where food, shelter, clean water, health care, education, and basic economic stability are lacking for far too many. Our political discourse has rarely admitted to the realities of those who are poor and hungry in our nation, shrouding and shaming with a narrative that poverty is somehow the fault of those who suffer from it. Racialized, gendered, class and education-based discrimination continues to blame the vulnerable for their realities while the constant celebration of greed that is our stock market thrives.
My heart knows our nervous systems need to rest. There is so much for which we must care in this moment. My body also feels this pandemic is asking us to stop and reflect deeply about what it is to be a human community caring for each other and the world. For me, this requires stillness, loving connection, family, ancestors, and sangha. I have been taking this time to feel into the quiet center of Mother Earth where fire and soil are a singular, deeply powerful movement. From here our hearts can draw the strength to organize with those who are malnourished, denigrated, and brutalized by an economic system that has sadly been consistently supported by both sides of the aisle.
I am happy today for I feel the aggression of the last four years has been dangerous for the most vulnerable and toxic for us all. But I am also humbled and left looking into my own heart, asking how I will move forward and live honestly for those who are ignored by the whole of our political system, who will likely still not find themselves represented or safe. How do I take this time to rest, heal, and account for all that keeps me from wholeheartedly building a more compassionate world for all? This time of relief and rest, this time of silence, reveals to me my responsibility, leaving me questioning how our sanghas, our temples, our communities can turn more fully toward the realization of a world without harm, a human society whose heart truly protects the freedom and happiness of all beings.
At this moment, in the cheers and songs echoing around the stone walls of the city, I hear Shantideva’s words:
May the naked find clothing,
May the hungry find food,
And may the thirsty find pure water
And delicious drinks.
May the poor find wealth,
May those weak with sorrow find joy,
And may those whose fortunes have declined
Find replenishment and long-lasting good fortune.
May everyone who is sick
Be swiftly healed,
And may every disease that affects living beings
Be permanently eradicated.
May the frightened be released from their fears,
May those in captivity be freed,
May the powerless be endowed with power,
And may people think only of benefiting one another.
May it be so.
Norman Fischer, founder, Everyday Zen Foundation
[Writing before the decision] As of this writing, final election results are not in, though a Biden victory seems likely.
But around the country anti-Trump voters (I am one of them) are wondering how it is possible that so many people voted for this highly objectionable (to put it very mildly) person?
The prospect of living in a country full of so many (and here you can take your pick of nouns, mix and match) homophobes, sexists, racists, idiots, gun-nuts, pro-life fanatics, uneducated dupes, flag-waving America-firsters, immigrant-haters, Trumpista cultists, militia gang-bangers, or, as someone once summed them up, deplorables (etc etc….) is deeply discouraging.
But consider for a moment the fact that you don’t really know any Trump voters. What you know is what click-seeking writers write — where the above labels come from.
Oh, and labels are labels. You are not a label, neither is anyone else.
So let’s take a deep breath and recall that Trump voters, like anti-Trump voters, are complicated human beings who see the world in different ways according to their conditioning.
For many of them, Trump’s character is bracing— he’s honest, shoots from the hip, is willing to think out loud, isn’t worried about anyone’s opinion, and changes his mind when he feels like it, just like a real person. He’s brash, tough, confident.
And he keeps his promises.
If you live in the middle of the country where local economies have been shattered, you are glad he has done as much as he has against the onrush of immigration that you can see has sucked up jobs; glad he’s banged on the lousy trade agreements the Democrats haven’t noticed; happy that so many regulations have been lifted making more things possible; very content that he isn’t taking the buzzword climate change issue, which yes is important, but on a case by case basis always dubious, so much to heart that he’s willing to close down whole industries that employ your friends. And you like the way the courts are going. And you know that despite what some people say, you are not a racist.
It’s actually pretty easy for me, living in the San Francisco Bay Area, to be an anti-racist environmentalist. In fact, it would be far more challenging for me not to be an antiracist environmentalist. I’d lose all my friends.
The point is, as we continue to argue strenuously against the Trump world view (that will not disappear during a Biden Presidency) let’s do our best to understand with sympathy those who hold that view. Let’s avoid demonizing them. That won’t help us, them, or the possibility that policies we believe in will one day prevail.