From the BlogMeet Ron


Dear friends,

Did you hear the one about the bodhisattva who walked into a polling booth?

She voted for all of the above.

As my family and I watched the 3rd and final presidential debate last night, I was reminded of how the 2nd one ended, with the last question challenging the two to say something positive about the other side.

I imagined there was collective digital sigh across the devices streaming it: it was exhausting to take in that much defensiveness and distrust for 90 minutes.

Unfortunately, this last one had no comparable moments. It’s enough to stress one out.

And, in fact, the American Psychological Association has minted a new malady for us: Election Stress Disorder, saying that 50% of all Americans feel this election is a significant source of stress.

What does mindfulness have to offer — or Buddhism, for that matter – as a countermeasure for the malady of this time?

Well, one option is to take the renunciate orthodox Theravadin stance, which I imagine would consider talking about politics to be a loka-dhamma, or worldly concern, to be shunned as a waste of time and energy, leading nowhere.

It’s a valid perspective, with a lot to offer both sides of a political divide. It’s one reason certain Buddhist meditation circles consider themselves to be “politics-free zones.”

I have a feeling that in a less renunciate-oriented Buddhist perspective, as if often, but not always, found in Mahayana/ Vajrayana circles, as well as in the more contemporary, quasi-secular mindfulness world, there may be more openness to exploring political discussion as a way of deep self-exploration.

Back to the opening joke: this fictional bodhisattva feels so much compassion for all the candidates that she can’t bear to make distinctions between them and votes for all of them.

Yes, it’s not that funny, after all I made it up.

One could say that mindfulness asks you to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings without judgment. It’s about bringing awareness to the present moment. Doing so does not make you want to withdraw from the world, no does doing so necessarily increase the quality of your mindfulness.

Ethen Nichtern, an author and teacher of Buddhist meditation, writing about mindfulness:

“There’s this idea that we should avoid or withdraw from (politics) because it’s too messy. It actually means you stay open-hearted to those who disagree with you. It should lead people to engage more in every aspect of life.”

I have a few suggestions of my own, from a bodhisattva point of view:

In casual conversation, when someone who doesn’t know where you stand politically, signals s/he may be on “the other side” of a very divisive issue, allow for a moment that they do so for genuine, thoughtfully considered reasons.

Have you considered their reason to be just as good as yours on this issue?

Yes – even THAT one (whatever “that” is for you).

Consider for a moment–in those movements—are you outright rejecting the possibility that the people who don’t agree with you on this issue just might be right?

I mean, have you considered for a moment that on this issue you might actually be on the wrong side morally or ethically? Or is it just a given because this person also believes in X and Y?

Is it possible to genuinely consider ourselves to have empathy, and be on a spiritual path which emphasizes the gradual meditative development of empathy and kindness, and at the same time, with perhaps no sincere consideration, openly belittle those who don’t agree with us?

And you can’t win over any supporters to your side of an issue if you don’t respect the other side’s positions and onions.

We clearly see this in these debates.

Here is an advanced political bodhisattva assignment (borrowing the idea from verse 5 of the Lojong text Eight Verses of Mind Training by the 11th century geshe Langri Tangpa) —

The next time you find yourself getting sucked into one of those tense political discussions where you start to want to show how right you are – lose on purpose.

Hear the other side out with your full mindful capacity. And radiate loving-kindness to them.

Jack Kornfield observed back in 2004 that

“The Dharma, the teachings of generosity, virtue, loving-kindness and wisdom are non-partisan.”

He went on to suggest that our first task is to “make our own heart a zone of peace.”

Then we can bring real healing to this fearfully divided nation.

I would love to hear your views on this!
Just hop on social media (links below) or hit reply.

Tom, Katina, Kupaianaha … and Uilalani in NYC

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