“The world needs people like you” — a post-election pep talk from Roshi Joan Halifax

During Upaya Zen Center’s November 6th’s Jukai and Tokudo ceremony Roshi Joan Halifax took a few moments to acknowledge the the US presidential election.

Rod Meade Sperry
12 November 2020

During Upaya Zen Center’s November 6th’s Jukai and Tokudo ceremony — during which aspirants make commitments to follow Zen’s famed precepts (to not kill, not steal, and so on) and/or ordain, Roshi Joan Halifax took a few moments to acknowledge the other big event of the day: the US presidential election, which had yet to be called.

Though delivered to those who were participating in the ceremony, there’s wisdom for us all here about how to live with conviction and purpose even despite the separation we feel due to politics and the pandemic — and to bridge that feeling of separation. “That’s why you’re doing this,” Halifax offers, about Buddhist practice. To “be a servant to all beings.” Watch below to 54:46, or read the transcript found under the player.


For you to receive the precepts, and to be moving through this rite of passage on this day, November 6, 2020: a day when, most likely, the outcome of the presidential election will be clear, more or less; a day when we can reflect on what it means to live by vow after four years, but really, centuries, of behaviors — but most critically, of views — that have given rise to extraordinary suffering.

So no matter who you voted for, I wanted to say, going forward, in the spirit of Upaya, I urge you to reflect on the gravity and power of these vows; what it means in your life, but also what it would mean if our political leaders lived by vow — the vow to end suffering. Really addressing the truth of greed, hatred, and delusion that are reflected throughout the systems of government, education, medicine, law — in our country, and the world. And to reflect, in our collective and individual behaviors, an ethos of care and conscientiousness in relation to us as people who live in this society, and consume within the society.

Do you understand what I’m saying?

Some of you are in transition out of the close mandala here; but this is the kind of vitamin that we hope will nourish you going forward in your life. And for us also to live in a deeply principled way.

Don’t hold back. As we say in the Night Chant: “Do not squander your life.” Do not squander your time here. Do not squander your practice, and do not squander the lives of others.

And it is not about being self-righteous. It is about sowing the seeds of kindness, of compassion, of joy, and equanimity in your life and in the world and building protection, safety, trust, and love. That is why we do this. Don’t just toss out this moment the minute you walk out the door. Let it be your ballast. Let it be a light for you to follow. The world needs people like you, who are willing to make this kind of commitment. But more than commitment, it’s: live by vow. Commitments are one thing; you can take precepts and get vows up the gazoo; you can run all over the place — teachers are just handing this stuff out like candy.

No! This is your life. The length of your days, I beg of you, I urge you: correct course breath after breath and come home. And be a servant to all beings. Truly serve others. Do you feel that?

That’s why you’re here, that’s why you’re doing this. And of all days, after having observed a political knot, tangle, travesty…. I’m sorry for those who voted other than most of us did, should you not agree. Bless you. We are here to build bridges. We are here to heal. And may you be part of that force for healing in our world today.

Rod Meade Sperry. Photo by Megumi Yoshida, 2024

Rod Meade Sperry

Rod Meade Sperry is the editor of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Guide (published by Lion’s Roar), and the book A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his partner and their tiny pup, Sid.