In January, our editor-in-chief issued a direct call to conservative Buddhists so that their voices might be better represented. After publishing the first batch of responses later that month, more have come in. We present them here.
Thank you for reaching out and recognizing that to have a Buddhist practice one does not need to be a progressive or liberal. As I watched my Facebook feed and listened to responses from the Buddhist community to the recent election, my initial reaction was that the political left had coopted this emerging American spiritual movement when the emerging spiritual movement should have been coopting the political identity of its practitioners.
I don’t think of myself in political terms, but I suppose, social issues aside, my personal political inclinations are far more conservative than that of most of my Buddhist friends. I tend not to discuss (or think about) politics very much, so the subject of political preferences rarely arises for me in my interactions with others, until recently anyway. I tend to express Buddhist values — such as compassion, giving priority to the needs of others, or not cultivating division — in my daily interactions with actual people. I do not seek to express these values politically. My Buddhist practice has instilled in me a deep realization that I alone am responsible for my own suffering and that I need to take personal responsibility for my own divided consciousness. I need, as Dogen stated, to take the backward step and turn the light inward.
Generally speaking, I do not believe that my 25 years of Buddhist practice has given me any special insight into how the American political system should address the problems of other Americans. If anything, my practice has taught me to pay close attention to the here and now of my daily life and leave my attention there. I am not overly preoccupied with the future and certainly cannot predict it, and my practice has shown me how my personal preoccupations with the future have deepened my suffering. I thus cannot say whether one party’s or candidate’s assumption of power will result in more or less suffering for my fellow Americans. The truth is that I do not know, and were I to maintain that I do, and that my spiritual practice has given me some special right to speak truth to power, I would feel frightened.
My conservative political values find expression in emphasizing personal responsibility over societal solutions to problems, appreciating the enormous effort it takes to start and maintain a business that employs people and minimizing the burden on entrepreneurs who do so, and allowing people to make their own way in life by using their own judgment about whether, for example, incurring debt for college will pay off down the road and allowing them to live with the consequences of a wrong decision. I have made plenty of decisions that did not turn out the way I envisioned, and facing the consequences of those decisions through my Buddhist practice has been of tremendous value to me. My political values are not right, and they are certainly not better than the political values of others. Neither, however, do they make me less of a Buddhist.
Personally, I am apprehensive about the Trump presidency, but not for the reasons that most of my friends are. His values and ego do not frighten me or, in my mind, make him less qualified to hold that office. Life is filled with such people. He raises apprehension in me because he is not a status quo politician and suddenly the future seems less certain. While I am apprehensive, what a lovely injection of reality into my consciousness.
Bart Marshall, a nondual spiritual teacher, recently wrote: “I agree with Tom Hanks when he said he hopes Trump succeeds so well that he votes for his re-election. We should all be thinking like that. Why hope our lives get worse just so Trump looks bad? Who knows, maybe it takes the massive ego, bravado, audacity and pomposity of a Trump to get shit done that needs doing. It will be an interesting first 100 days.”
I agree with Bart and welcome this new direction and equally welcome the political expression of those who express different views and vehemently oppose Trump. I welcome it all. —Timothy C. Wilson
I have been practicing Buddhism for some years now, but I don’t identify myself as a Buddhist, or a conservative. For the sake of this message, however, I will identify as both.
Though I am labeling myself a conservative, I did not vote for Mr.Trump. I did not vote for Ms. Clinton either. I have been around the block, politically speaking. I have been an ardent left winger, an ardent pagan, a feminist (yes, really), an ardent right winger, and an ardent traditional Catholic. Each incarnation has caused suffering to the extent of my attachment to my precious point of view.
When I suffer, I blame those who annoy me with their political myopia: If only they were smarter. If only they were more open-minded. If only they were just like me, then we could finally be happy. We could forge a world with perfect political solutions to every ill; a society where we can all accept each other, even with our differences… Friends, that is simply not going to happen, no matter how many temper tantrums we have.
I think that any introduction of politics — liberal, conservative, whatever — leaks poison into a community. The saturation of Buddhist communities with liberalism can breed a certain smugness: the certitude of folks who have been in the echo chamber so long that they believe what they have memorized. This is a toxic environment for the politically misaligned.
To be fair, I have witnessed the same smugness among conservatives and their echo chambers. But when I sit down for a group meditation, I don’t ask who believes what, politically speaking. I don’t care. I just want to sit and breathe. That is what I am doing about the present situation. That is my humble solution to things.
Most of the time I can meet people where they are at, spiritually speaking. Many Buddhist liberals are discreet with their beliefs, which is to their credit. It is much appreciated by this non-liberal practicing Buddhist.
Thanks for listening. —Mark Fellows
I chuckled when I read that your polling showed a liberal readership. Do you not see the parallel with the polls showing a strong progressive leaning in the presidential race last November? Why do you think that is? Most conservatives (and I use the term loosely), are afraid to raise their hands when asked about their beliefs for fear of being labeled as a heretic or something and hung in effigy. For one reason or another, many of my friends are very liberal, nay, progressive as the definitions have been skewed over time. And here is the funny part: they are extremely intolerant of any viewpoint that is not like their own yet I welcome them into my circle.
As the press and social networks seem to be a megaphone for their own belief system, my friends find themselves living in a bubble without a clue what others believe outside of their circle. They believe that they are in the majority and they are — at about 51%. Is that a good enough reason to abuse the rest? The whole point of the electoral college is to ensure that small less populated states would not be disenfranchised. So from a states’ rights point of view, conservatism rules, by a lot. Now we are hearing for the abolition of the electoral college. So much for the left sticking up for the little guy!
One thing I find disgusting about the left is their hate! I can certainly understand disagreeing with an election, but the venom they’re spewing is so toxic that even if I identified with their politics I could not abide by their behavior. The posts on Facebook from my friends are destructive to my psyche, as they are in conflict with the dharma as I understand it. So when I read articles that Buddhism supports the liberal protests and other like agenda, I am dismayed.
Like others have said, I follow the precepts, looking for new ways to use them in my attempt to become a better Buddhist, person, friend, etc. Thus I try to lead all my thoughts, words, and actions with good intent. Isn’t that good enough? Must I sacrifice my good intentions with those of another? And who among us is so qualified to take away my free choice and impose theirs? Even Buddha expected his followers to challenge his belief system. Perhaps the progressive magazine leadership could be better Buddhists.
Challenge your beliefs; don’t make excuses for them! —Denise Ventura
Thank you for this opportunity to express my (a)political thoughts.
I am a 40+ year practitioner of Zen. As I have practiced zazen, I have noticed that gradually all thoughts, beliefs and, alas, some of what we call values, have become transparent. That is, they no longer have any substance to them. This was not intentional. It simply developed as the result of zazen. Being transparent, they all become as nothing, empty, void of inherent meaning.
So when we hold to a social, political, cultural belief or value, we are holding to something that may or may not have any practical use. But most people really hold fast to their particular views. Hence, we have what we call conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, democracy and oligarchy. We have Trump and Lincoln. Nixon and Kennedy. One of my many Zen teachers, an old Japanese Zen master, now passed on, used to challenge us to hold Nixon and Hitler in the same hand. Now I hold Trump and Pope Francis in the same hand. To hold them each in separate hands would be to fall back into the delusion of measurement and preference. I wish them both well.
As Buddhists, we are always torn between our human moral sensitivities and the “party line” of letting go of our attachments. Attachments are not only to material possessions, of course, but also include, more subtly, our values, beliefs, and judgments. But this is precisely where we must focus our attention in this new era of Trump. Do we, can we, with good conscience sit back and watch as our democracy disintegrates as Trump leads the way into tyranny? Yet I, for one, feel utterly powerless to do anything to stop this descent. That is for our elected officials to do. But they also seem to be abdicating their own moral responsibility to stand up to Trump. So the question for all Buddhists is this: Can we continue to take refuge in the Three Treasures while watching the world fly headlong into utter moral collapse? To paraphrase Verse 11 of the Dhammapada, “What is meditative serenity, what is inner tranquility, when the world is burning around us?” —George Leone
Okay, I’ll admit it: I voted for Donald Trump. Given the ranting, rioting, sour grapes, and whining from the “other side” on Facebook as well as nearly every publication I pick up – including the Buddhist magazines – I’m beginning to feel like someone who needs to go “Trump Anonymous” meetings: “Hello, my name is Clare and I voted for Trump.” At least there I could get some understanding nods and sympathetic looks!
My Facebook is filled with vitriol against anyone who dared vote for Donald Trump. One business acquaintance even posted a message to us: “If you voted for Trump please unfriend me now!” I didn’t. I was admittedly too cowardly to let him know that I had voted for Trump. The whole thing left me feeling rather disappointed that so many people were unleashing so much anger and hatred toward others over a democratically held election.
Having been a student and practitioner of Buddhism for nearly 25 years, I thought that I could find refuge in the various Buddhist magazines that I read. Surely the equanimity to be found in those writings would give me some solace. But it was not to be. I am left particularly baffled by the many anti-Trump / Republican-bashing articles I have read in Buddhist publications since the election and inauguration that leave me feeling that in order to practice Buddhism one needs to be of the Democrat/liberal/progressive persuasion. Those of us on the “other side” have no right to attend the sangha (where almost everyone I knew were Democrats and made that fact well-known), or even practice the dharma. To be a Buddhist and a Republican at the same time makes me an anathema.
One of the basic teachings of Buddhism is that we live in a world of “conceptual truth” and that nothing has any inherent existence from its own side. We put labels on things (tables, chairs, dogs, trees) and people (friend, enemy, Democrat, Republican) and those labels are mere labels – not the reality of who or what they are. Phenomena exist because of our minds, and labels mean nothing in the grand scheme of samsara.
So why are so many Buddhist practitioners (and publications) intent on creating divisiveness with their mantra of “Blame Trump?” I’m reminded one of the first books I read many years ago by Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are. In the chapter titled “Drive All Blames into One, Pema says, “When the world is filled with ego-clinging or attachments to particular outcomes, there is a lot of pain. But these painful situations can be transformed into the path of enlightenment.”
Another basic teaching of Buddhism is that suffering doesn’t come from external circumstances, but you’d never know that by listening to and reading articles written by Buddhist practitioners. It’s always more convenient to blame our suffering on others or external situations or circumstances, but as a teacher once said during a dharma lesson, “We cannot always choose whether or not we feel physical or emotional pain, but we can choose whether or not we suffer. Suffering is a choice.”
How true, as during this time of anger and disappointment people feel the suffering caused by their attachment to outcomes. Pema says, “If all people would start with themselves, we might see quite a shift in the aggressive energy that’s causing such a widespread holocaust.” While she was speaking to things going on in the world while she was writing this book a number of years ago, it is so very applicable to today’s situation.
Facebook is filled with fearful people expressing their anger and unhappiness at not getting their way in the election, and want nothing more than to lambaste those who voted for Trump. While the freedom to vote is a wonderful right that citizens of countries that practice democracy have — after all, to choose one’s leaders makes people feel as if they have some control over their society, even if in reality they don’t — the democratic system is by its nature divisive. We choose sides and have preferences which, if one practices equanimity, doesn’t work because having equanimity means having no preferences or attachments to outcomes. So by the very act of voting, I’m setting myself up for disappointment if my “side” doesn’t win. When life is not to my liking, I suffer.
Pema Chödrön also reminds us in her book that we need to learn “. . . how to use the unwanted, unfavorable circumstances of your life as the actual material of awakening. This is the precious gift of the lojong teachings, that whatever occurs isn’t considered an interruption or an obstacle but a way to wake up.” I’ve read this teaching in other books, said in different ways, but the truth of this is the same: turn all conditions into the path. Conditions just are — they are not good or bad, because that is a judgment that most of us are not able to make with deluded minds. But we can be assured that all is perfect. That perfection is our ability to turn all conditions and situations into the path.
I am a capitalist and do believe that a rising tide lifts all boats because I’ve experienced that personally. I’m grateful for those people who are materially wealthy, own companies and can give jobs those of us who need jobs. I am also grateful that I have been successful materially and spiritually and can share this wealth with others. I have known many successful people who also hold these values, yet are criticized and even hated for their wealth and success. That is not the Buddhist way, I’m sure.
I truly try to put the dharma into practice. The 2008 and 2012 elections did not go the way I wanted them to go, but every day I reminded myself that all is impermanent and if I am attached to the outcomes I will cause my own suffering. I believe that all causes and conditions are meant to be the way they are from some reason that is difficult, if not impossible, to understand in samsara. But I have learned to trust in the Buddha’s teachings, and put aside my preferences and attachments, and especially my fears. Most of the things we fear never come to pass anyway.
Then just this month, shortly after the inauguration of President Trump, one of my favorite teachers, a monk I’ve known for many years, wrote on his Facebook page: “Seeing how today hundreds of thousands of people have frustration and non-acceptance, wishing for the situation to be different than it is, and creating negative karma through their actions and by the rejoicing in the negative actions of others. Seeing how this will force them to experience only suffering in the future, with a heart filled with compassion may all their future suffering ripen upon me right now.”
I felt a sense of relief upon reading his statement, knowing that so many creating their own suffering and also causing others to suffer were being helped by the kind and compassionate heart of this dharma teacher.
Another monk wrote in response that “pure spiritual practitioners should not get involved with politics,” and that also gave me food for thought. Much of what goes on in samsara is based in ego and the three poisons, and none more so than politics in which we have developed attachments, opinions and preferences. Politics creates many labels for people involved in the political arena, and those labels create more negativity. But I truly believe as a Buddhist practitioner that we can participate in the freedoms that those of us who live under democracy enjoy — even voting. But it also behooves us to remain in our practice and remember the dharma of non-attachment, compassion, exchanging self with others, and ultimately knowing at a deep level that even “self” and “other” are mere labels, even if those “others” are on the other side.
Certainly we want all beings to be happy and free from suffering, but so many times our efforts to do this just creates more suffering because we do not use Wisdom Mind. We must all make decisions for our own lives as we walk the path, and in that respect we are making choices. Life involves making choices, and we must be compassionate toward and help all sentient beings not to suffer knowing that they too must make choices. But samsara is what it is, and it will always be a state of mind in which there is suffering until we can transform what we see as adverse conditions and suffering into the path of enlightenment.
Wanting things to turn out on “my” own terms, says Pema Chödrön, is wanting “me-victorious.” When we want things to be the way we want them and allow anger and fear rise up and overtake us we lose our peaceful mind, and the world becomes less peaceful because of that. The more we want life to be the way we want it, says Pema, “the more you try to get life to come out so that it will always suit you, the more your fear of other people and what’s outside your room grows. . . . The more you try to get it your way, the less you feel at home.”
Thank you to Lion’s Roar for giving a voice to Buddhist conservatives — a space where we can find solace in knowing we’re not alone.” —Clare Goldsberry