All Are Welcome At San Francisco Zen Center! (…to join us in resisting Trump)

UPDATE:  I no longer stand by or defend this post.  Out of respect for the commentors, I’m leaving it up.  But for my current thinking, please look here.

The San Francisco Zen Center Abbots and Abbesses – all of whom I know, love, and deeply respect – are in the unenviable position of threading the needle of a public response to the election.  They reached hard for the High Road, for real love and compassion, and they gave it a good shot.

Compassion can sound like condoning, though, and calls for unity can sound like a blurring of deep and important differences.  And so there has understandably been some pushback from the wider SFZC community on this statement of unity and love.

As someone more free than the Abbots to say what’s on my mind, I’d like to offer an alternative, another approach to unity.  It might sound something like this:

San Francisco Zen Center unequivocally rejects the hateful worldview of President-Elect Donald Trump, and vows together to actively oppose its implementation.  All are welcome to join us in this.


I’d like to elaborate.

Buddhism is said to be apolitical, and we often hear that monks are warned against affiliation with political parties.  Leaving aside whether this warning has been heeded historically (it hasn’t) and leaving aside to the question of whether that old “removed from the world” monastic ethic is at all relevant to Mahayana lay Buddhists and Bodhisattva-ordained clergy (it isn’t), the case can be made – as Bhikkhu Bodhi does quite powerfully – that “taking sides” in this election is not a matter of party or personality.  It is not about picking sides out of a desire for the personal or institutional benefits of a patron ruler, but it is about values.  And Buddhism does have some values, an ethical stance.

It seems like an important time to reassert our core values as Buddhists – not just our overriding ethic of “compassion for all” and the wish for the universal welfare of all sentient beings, but specifically some implications of that ethic as we understand it in this place and time.

In that spirit, I would assert that Donald Trump represents the antithesis of Buddhist values in many ways, among them his greed and arrogance, misogny, racial and religious scapegoating, “America first” militaristic nationalism, and disregard for the environment that sustains us.  We can accordingly loudly assert that the San Francisco Zen Center unequivocally and actively opposes Donald Trump’s efforts to transform the country and world in accord with these deluded and unhelpful values.

Saying so is not needlessly divisive or uncompassionate.  In fact it may be the opposite, insofar as it sends a message of support and alliance to those who feel unwelcome and unsafe in the Great Again America that Trump proposes.

San Francisco Zen Center does have publicly articulated positions on issues like Climate Change, Racial Inclusivity, Interfaith Tolerance and Collaboration, and LGBT Equality.  It doesn’t seem like too great a leap to publicly acknowledge that all of these positions stand in contrast to those of President-Elect Trump.  We can be accused in this of “taking sides,” but it is a side we feel our teachings and precepts demand that we take –  it’s a side that emerges from our insight and faith in the deep interconnection of all things, and our practice of caring deeply for it all.

(Not to be naive here either – I am aware that it’s more than coincidental that our positions are shared by most of our secular Bay Area neighbors.)

Buddhist practice is a matter of intention – a Bodhisattva is one who lives with an intention.  It is important to not confuse having an intention with successfully living by it – on the contrary, the moment we make an intention we become aware of our failure to live up to it!  Calling Donald Trump, or Donald Trump’s supporters, “racist” or “ecocidal” or “homophobic” does not at all imply that we ourselves are not also racist, ecocidal homophobes.  The difference is one of intention.  As far as I can tell, Mr. Trump and his supporters are not manifesting an intention to be other than racist, ecocidal homophobes – insofar as they don’t, they are not Bodhisattvas having a hard time fulfilling their intentions but are just not Bodhisattvas, do not value the inderdependent basis of life that we as Buddhists value as the highest truth and calling.

I don’t think San Francisco Zen Center needs to bend over backwards to “include” those who do not intend the Bodhisattva life, and in fact I believe it’s our obligation to push against them, to insist that the Bodhisattva life is in indeed a better life, a better way to live than the life based on personal gain and disconnection from the human and nonhuman world around us.  All are welcome… to come hear us teach this.

We do actually stand for something.

So if there is someone who supports Donald Trump who would like to come to San Francisco Zen Center to work on deepening and clarifying their intention to live in wholesome and harmonious relationship with all things, as we too are trying against the stream to work ourselves on these things, then of course they are welcome.  They are welcome with all their obstacles and karma, just as all of us are welcome.  But their racist, ecocidal, and homophobic act of supporting Donald Trump is not something that we can or need to affirm.  You are welcome here despite your act of hatred, just as I am welcome here despite my many and daily acts of hatred.  But we will not in the service of “unity” or “empathy” condone or ignore it.

So how about this as a statement of inclusion:

San Francisco Zen Center unequivocally rejects the hateful worldview of President-Elect Donald Trump, and vows together to actively oppose its implementation.  All are welcome to join us in this.

48 thoughts on “All Are Welcome At San Francisco Zen Center! (…to join us in resisting Trump)

  1. Jiryu HOla I so appreciate your articulation of these controversial standing for Or against a political view. I In My personal life again ​a​nd again I experience the consequences of rejecting my opponent, ​ the one that feels wants and believes different than mine the one that dies not contemplate my needs and views.
    the word and action of rejection ​ HAS inevitably an energetic response of ingraining
    ​d​eeper and deeper​
    — ​as if my rejection would feed it and make it biger​..and biger
    SO is the word, meaning, action and consecuences of rejection that seam to bring suffering and perpetuate it at list in my experience

    So I would shift the statement into
    SFZC unequivocally Does not agreeor stand next to the hateful view But
    stand together to actively defend the inclusion, well being and awakening of all beings.

    Deep Vow and appreciation for your continues commitment and devotion to this practise Silvia

  2. I’m amazed at the dualism that Buddhist progressives have created. I am a (moderate) conservative and think I am on the Bodhisattva Path. I have liberal leanings on a few issues. But you can’t tell me that the 49.9% of voters — about 50 million people — are bad human beings. You can be conservative and be a good person. You can be liberal and be a bad person.

    Liberals co-opted Buddhism from the beginning in America and are trying to re-write it’s history. Most Buddhists in Asia are what we would consider conservative. You of all people know this. According to one site in the Buddhist blogosphere, there are actually plenty of conservative/Republican Buddhists in America, but I think most are afraid to speak out about it because the liberal side is definitely more vocal and will shout you down and call you names if you voice an opinion that doesn’t agree with them.

    This election has shown me a side of Buddhism in America that I didn’t know existed. I thought we as Buddhists could stay apolitical. We SHOULD stay apolitical. Why would we want to create that dualism? Why would we want to exclude half of America from our dialogue and beliefs? But liberals in general, and sadly for me, Buddhist liberals have gone insane over the last year by persecuting non-liberals.

    • Thanks, tysondav. I appreciate the challenge and your sharing your perspective. I am sorry that you feel persecuted. There are many in our community and country who feel persecuted, especially now, and it’s unfortunate that standing up in alliance with some make some others feel persecuted.
      I appreciate that you are on the Bodhisattva Path. I am humbled by the Path and by your comments and I do commit to continuing to look into my own limited views and ways conditioned habits of carving up the One world of this moment.
      That said, for now at least I stand by my position that Buddhism rejects pretty much everything that Donald Trump stands for. The Bodhisattva Path is more than just refuge in silence, it asks us to look deeply into our relationship with our planet and one another, that we not see life and success here as a zero sum situation and that we do not see “natural resources” as God-given for our exploitation. That we value, uphold, and strive to live in harmony with the principle of dependent-coarising. Maybe that is dogmatic, but it’s the baseline. Even for Nagarjuna it was the baseline. You can’t be a Buddhist and reject dependent-co-arising. Or maybe in other words, if you reject dependent co-arising, you are not a Buddhist.
      You have noticed that I am not a conservative, and I will tell you that I felt dejected when Dubya won, was irritated by McCain, and was really relieved when Romney lost. But I wouldn’t have written this post about any of those men. This Trump thing is not about conservatism or even militarism – this is about the mainstreaming of something really dark and pernicious, the rejection of “political correctness” as an excuse to fan the flames of white nationalism and open the space for autocracy. Though in my post I didn’t use the terms you did of “good” and “bad” person, if you insist, I will: I don’t think you can fan white nationalism and be a “good person”. Or if you can, then “good person” is so generic as to be meaningless.
      I stand, for now at least, by my (admittedly conditioned) assertion that a Bodhisattva who says “Beings are numberless, I vow to save them” – who vows to “avoid evil, do good, help all beings” – cannot then just be idle while this force gains power and legitimacy and while the species of the planet are drilled to extinction.
      Maybe in your “apolitical” Buddhism that works. You can have that be your Buddhism, then, and maybe a century or two out we’ll have conservative and liberal strains of Sangha, just as their are conservative and liberal Evangelicals. But I’m asking that this more “politically correct” strain be unapologetically the flavor of the Buddhism of the San Francisco Zen Center – it’s the Buddhism I want to exist in the world, and the Buddhism I want to be part of.
      It is true that Asian Buddhism is more conservative than Western Buddhism, and as some have recently reminded us, Japanese Zen especially had a viciously militaristic and nationalistic streak in the first half of the twentieth century. Not many Buddhists had the courage to stand up to that, and I am heartened actually that more of us might this time – that’s my learning from (not re-writing of) history. Also, though, Japanese and Chinese Buddhists have always been subject to the Nativist critique of being a “foreign religion,” and in Japan at least some of that vicious twentieth-century nationalism was over-compensation for just that Nativist critique. It makes sense to me that the first generations importing a religion would be among the cosmopolitan and progressive, and that once a religion is established a few centuries it becomes the conservative status quo. So I don’t think of it as a liberal co-option so much as a predictable historical unfolding.

      May we see eye to eye and together liberate beings.


      • Thanks tysondav for the civil discussion and the Slate Star link. Both are very welcome and helpful to me.
        My takeaway from the link is that he is suggesting that the collective lefty freak-out about Trump (of which my post is a symptom) is fueling the freak out on the part of immigrants, People of Color, LGBT folks, etc., (freak outs with real consequences for mental and physical health and well-being), rather than the freak out being grounded in Trump’s actual comments or actual stance. Why shriek “racist” at a guy whose stated really clearly that he wants what’s best for African Americans? Better to let this play out in the likely moderate way it will play out than to fan the flames of “end of America!” “Nazis are coming!” and thereby create stress in individuals and the country as a whole. Like allergies, maybe, where the little bit of pollen I’ve ingested isn’t harming me – if my body would just let it run through – but my reaction to it is incapacitating me. Just let the freaking pollen in to do it’s thing – it won’t do much! The freak out isn’t helping; the fear really is all there is to fear.
        I’m open to that argument, but/and I think that the racial/religious scapegoating and resentment that I’ve heard in Trump’s presentations has a bigger pull on ostensibly “non racist” people than the Slate Star guy allows, and that he is really touching that white resentment nerve in a way that is energizing half and freaking out the other half.
        I’ve long appreciated the teaching that monk teaches fearlessness, and I appreciate the invitation to look at this through that lens. How can SFZC at this time teach and manifest fearlessness? At the same time, I have to say that if this really is going where it kind of looks like it’s going, we really need to stand up together and keep this country with some bit of “justice for all”. I really can see this guy loading up the trains with brown folks and rounding the Muslims into designated zones, and while you’re hopefully right that that’s a long way off and that it’s maybe irresponsible to keep speculating about, my sense from history is that that stuff sort of sneaks up on a country, and Trump seems to be testing the latches more than I’m comfortable with. I want people to know that our Buddhism is not just about silence and stillness in our lovely spaces but also about a vow in the world to be with suffering people in awareness and appreciation of our deep interdependence. Our vow is not to abandon beings, and we are serious about that, not just in some cosmic sense. And I really am grateful for the feedback from you and others that there’s no formula for that, and that we need to stay alert to the boundaries to the love.

      • I pretty much agree with everything you just stated. We do need to be vigilant and not let anyone take the rights and liberties away from others. I don’t think Trump will do that, but if he does I will be right in line with you to help stop it.

        I appreciate you keeping an open mind and heart about all of this. I am going to a Christian Muslim dialogue meeting at a mosque right now. I am very interested to hear what will be said. I hope everyone else can be open-minded and open-hearted too.


    • In addition to calling for unity, the Abbess could just have easily reaffirmed the “San Francisco values” of radical inclusiveness of all people, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation or physical disability, as well as the unfaltering commitment to the wise care of our planet. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch either to express a zero-tolerance policy towards racial slurs, hate speech, and other violent acts of body, speech and mind at the center. I fail to see how these types of things are In any way reflective of a liberal ideology, or in conflict with the ultimate meaning of the precepts. In fact, there are some Republicans at San Francisco Zen Center, but none of them that I know would ever condone the kind of “pro-hate” propaganda that we’ve seen out of this particular Republican candidate. This is San Francisco, after all, and we have different views from middle America. For better or worse, many of our largest Buddhist centers are here in the Bay Area. To expect that we will ignore or keep silent about the hate and divisiveness generated in this election cycle is not only unrealistic, it’s dangerous. I do not want to exclude anyone from dialog, if it is indeed a conversation, even if the views are very different from mine. But it’s not OK to yell, hit, sexually assault or crack down on peaceful political dissent.

  3. You know Jiryu this is only the second long-form writing that I’ve read from someone in my first-order network about the election. It inspires to write something myself. There’s something exciting and powerful about hearing from the people who are “local” to me instead of just the short-form sharing of distant people on Facebook. Thanks!

  4. Hello Mark, This is such a good post, and I do agree that SFZC’s statement did not go far enough.
    However I live in an area 75 miles north of you that includes a fair amount of Trump supporters. (30% of Mendo and Humboldt voted for him.) I take issue with your saying that “Mr. Trump and his supporters are not manifesting an intention to be other than racist, ecocidal homophobes.” Some of them, sure. The rest of them are watching Fox News, which grossly distorts issues and censors any real news of global warming. They are guilty of ignorance, sure, but some of them are too busy working three minimum-wage jobs to do any real investigation. This was more a vote for what they see as their lifestyle and values than anything else. Marin is a beautiful place, but things look different when you are out of the bubble. We need dialogue–I need it–across these divides, which includes class and education levels. Otherwise, we get caught saying that people who live in rural areas and don’t have a college degree are stupid bigots, reinforcing a stereotype.

  5. I appreciate what you wrote and I do think some how we must take a strong stand of some kind. Not sure what it should be yet. It is inconseivable that so many people can look past so much of what Donald Trump has said. However I look to the way President Obama has spoken to and about him. In their 90 minute meeting it looked like the Donald might have actually taken in some of Obamas advice/concerns. It seems that this is the ONLY way of penetrating this kind of ignorance–person to person. people have to be open and a bit vulnerable to bypass their resistance so somehow we have to create this kind of environment. I’m as mad as you are.

  6. Respectfully, I disagree with this. I don’t think hating the messenger because we don’t like the message is going to help. Plus, even in the SF/Marin “bubble” many of us have friends and family who do not share our politics and we have to find ways to talk about our differences that are respectful of their concerns as well as expressing our own. I would like to see that kind of dialogue at SFZC too.

  7. I would rather have read a manifesto for Militant Loving Kindness that stands tall for the values that we embody in our vows, which in turn inform a reality that presupposes diversity, transformation, interconnectedness, and wholeness; and that can embody freedom with the suffering of the world that we don’t take personally, freedom with identity as merely an appropriate response, freedom with difference as a practice of equanimous compassion, and freedom with the emergence of loving kindness as the central organizing principle of what’s next.

    I thought the SFZC statement was white privileged and lame and through its lens I envisioned a world populated by ineffectual power-players posing as kitties wearing rakusus. Others might instead smell Zen sickness or hear the whooshanroar of spiritual bypassing.

    I liked the spine that is holding upright the stand you are taking at your boundary, Jiryu.

    The problem is that it is setting criteria for entry into your space – a kind of kabuki theater and karaoke bar – while claiming inclusiveness. Given the arcane nature of the SFZC culture with all of its costumed and archaic hierarchy, yours is a hard play and I’m not sure it scores on any scale of attraction other than aesthetic for whomever already possesses such privilege that entitles them to the luxury of abiding inside a spiritual humidor.

    Despite our stylistic differences or how we might package our practices, they are the same zen practice. Absent the expropriated cultural shrink-wrap that I have opted not to put on, mine looks like this and might well appeal to those whose expressions might otherwise seem too crude to inhabit the SFZC:

    HOW A FERALMONK THINKS: Koans Out of Privilege

    1. The feral monk does not abide
    Takes rest in no masters refuge

    2. Schools of thought collect like frost around ideas
    that occur largely out of schools

    3. Institutions bestow credentials
    Courage bestows credibility

    4. The street and the unbeaten path
    are my monasteries

    5. I have been feral all my life. Embraced transformations.
    Shattered cocoons. Emerged.
    Lately have lived by my wits with no greater need for nostalgia
    than that which sustains my gratitude

    6. Faith is the willingness to show up vulnerable.
    Trust is actually showing up that way

    7. GOD is a three-letter word
    that stands for everything that I do not
    know at this moment.

    8. Seekers never find. Finders never seek.
    I prefer finding

    9. I aspire to see everything old as if for the first time…
    …everything new as if for the last

    10. I would rather feel the Buddha’s blisters on my feet,
    than his footprints on my sandals

    11. Who listens gives teaching…
    … Who speaks gives listening.

    12. I would like it to be said of my presence…He lived happy, joyous, and free
    on less than his share.

  8. I appreciate all of you and your comments, and am aware of my anger and lack of compassion. I would like to do better. I’m sure there is a higher road, but I don’t see a higher road that also stands up to this hatred and bigotry. As soon as we call out the bigotry, we’re being uncompassionate and “in a bubble”; if we take “apolitical” compassion and empathy, we alienate those who feel/are truly under attack in Great Again America. I feel it’s possible to have the rhetoric of “loving kindness” “understanding” and “dialogue” push away accountability and appropriate resistance. People make racist choices, are susceptible to them, out of real suffering and even despair, and I think we can empathize with that and also hold them accountable. If we take empathy over accountability, there is a different kind of condescension happening – we are denying these Trump supporters agency and not showing them the respect of holding them to account. We can sympathize with those who through history have felt themselves caught up supporting the waves of fascism, understand their suffering, but we also need to hold them accountable. They do have a choice. I don’t think we need to lack love or even dialogue to hold people to account. “I demand that you stop hitting my friend” is not an uncompassionate or condescending thing to say. “I’m so sorry for you that you are hitting my friend – I really want to understand where you are coming from” – I don’t think that can happen in the middle of the hitting.

    Thank you for engaging. This is how we learn.


  9. You are a good man among so many good people, Jiryu. I posted this up on Facebook before commenting here –


    “The Story”
    All of these lines across my face
    Tell you the story of who I am
    So many stories of where I’ve been
    And how I got to where I am
    But these stories don’t mean anything
    When you’ve got no one to tell them to
    It’s true… I was made for you

    I climbed across the mountain tops
    Swam all across the ocean blue
    I crossed all the lines and I broke all the rules
    But baby I broke them all for you
    Because even when I was flat broke
    You made me feel like a million bucks
    You do and I was made for you

    You see the smile that’s on my mouth
    It’s hiding the words that don’t come out
    And all of my friends who think that I’m blessed
    They don’t know my head is a mess
    No, they don’t know who I really am
    And they don’t know what I’ve been through like you do
    And I was made for you…

    All of these lines across my face
    Tell you the story of who I am
    So many stories of where I’ve been
    And how I got to where I am
    But these stories don’t mean anything
    When you’ve got no one to tell them to
    It’s true… I was made for you

    Oh yeah, well it’s true… that
    I was made for you…

  10. My most loved Brother Jiryu, I hear your stance for ethical protection of all beings. I thank you for expressing and deepening this conversation of what is the Bubbha Way here and now. Myself, I live pretty much free of media, so I heard not a single speech or add of Donald Trump’s campaign. I know that campaigns are full of lies and exaggerations. (Bernie Sanders excepted.) Only 19% of the citizens of this country voted. Of those most voted for the Democrat, last I saw it was nearly a million more votes, with many more still coming in. Of the 9% of the people of this country that did vote Republican, more than half were women, many were nonwhite and even Muslim and Buddhist. I think it is fair to say that people believe they are having a hard time and want a easier life. This is after all very natural. This is after all the fruit of the delusion that is the cause of suffering in the most basic truth. Instead of appreciating things as it is, we thirst and maneuver for more favorable conditions. I do not call people operating this way “bad people”. Yes there is a fringe minority of Americans who will commit hate crimes on other human beings. There are also political and corporate elites that will enact policies that kill, injur, threaten and destroy life on local and global levels. Though this later group still have Buddha Nature and might wake up in this life time, it would be best for the whole world, I think, to name them as criminals and lock them up in a safe place where they will no longer pose a threat to the planet and Her children. In this way I very much appreciate your strong stance for saying “No, we don’t treat others that way! And you will not act as our President with that worldview.” The very first voice, every day at all SFZC practice places is that of the Han, saying, “Wake up! Great is the matter of Birth and Death. Don’t waist time.” I think this is what the post election statement ought to echo. Perhaps something like: “As a religious institution whose membership is all inclusive (of race, sex, class, orientation, etc.), SFZC recognizes the threat to the safety, well-being and justice of the people and the natural world that President-elect Trump is. At this time we invite all to join us in the practice of actualizing our dependent co-araising with all beings through the cultivation of wisdom and compassionate action.”

  11. Creatures of love are both liberal and conservative and that is very very important to remember if we value patriotism and brotherly love. That being said we can resist the bigotry of Trump’s comments without opposing conservatism whole cloth.

    It would go like this: SFZC actively opposes the divisive rhetoric of Trump while bearing in mind Bodhisattvas come in diverse political backgrounds. That being said policy A,B,and C are incompatible with Buddhism and we should oppose the POTUS with respect to these policies with reverence for the office of the President and with sensitivity to the diversity of viewpoints.

  12. Dear Jiryu~I find your words brave and wise, as when you say: ” I don’t think we need to lack love or even dialogue to hold people to account. “I demand that you stop hitting my friend” is not an uncompassionate or condescending thing to say. “I’m so sorry for you that you are hitting my friend – I really want to understand where you are coming from” – I don’t think that can happen in the middle of the hitting.”
    Throughout your post and here, you shine a bright light on the crucial difference between “believing” and “acting” that many people of goodwill seem to miss. It may appear exaggerated or a “false equivalence” to some, but I was born into a family directly affected by the Holocaust and grew up hearing detailed accounts of the catastrophic “Munich Pact” in which British P.M. Neville Chamberlain’s (now-infamous) appeasement of Hitler became the immediate trigger to WWII. Yet, Mr. Chamberlain sincerely “believed” his “concessions” would avert war, not cause it. With Trump, we have not only his extremely harmful “beliefs” but freight-car loads of evidence of his actions that, in my view, call on us to say, non-reactively but firmly, “I demand that you stop!”
    Deep thanks and bows to you, Jiryu.

    • EarthElder, what exactly do you demand that Trump stop? He has taken no action yet, since he is not yet President. Now is the PERFECT time to stop and reflect and then create dialogue.

      I can understand from your heritage why you would be sensitive to a new Hitler. But by comparing every Republican candidate since at least Reagan to Hitler, the left has too often and loudly used this dog whistle and the dog has gone deaf.

      Where are these “freight-car loads of evidence of his actions”? Trump has already either gone back or scaled back on most of the campaign rhetoric that got him elected. He is not the new Hitler. But when the new Hitler does appear, we won’t pay any attention.

      I hope that American Buddhists can find the Middle Way that we seem to have discarded. I hope we can find the equanimity that our Zen ancestors talked so much about. Acting from emotion does not do anyone any good.

      • “Liberal” and “conservative” labels are counterproductive. It is hard to overlook Trump’s decisive and racist rhetoric that he leveraged to get elected and which, looking at the folks he’s putting in his cabinet, he intends to follow up on. “Actions” are what count, but it doesn’t look good. I was gratified that most of the more sincere and intelligent conservatives, like George Will, rejected Trump early on.

  13. Pingback: Not Harming and Doing Good (in the Long Now) | Sangha News - San Francisco Zen Center

  14. From my cousin Ted:

    Minister’s Journal: Sandy Klaus is Comin’ to Town!
    Several year’s ago, I stopped by the University Technology Center in Dinkytown to pick up some books from our downstairs archive. I passed two good old boys who were tinkering with some furniture. One of them looked at my long white hair and red Sami Hat and said, “Is that Sandy Klaus?” My first reaction was to replay the many encounters I’d had with guys like these who did not like my long hair. But then I looked again and saw no malice in these guys. Maybe a few beers for breakfast, but no malice. The guy who asked the question had a twinkle in his eye, so I decided to go with his suggestion, and not fight against it.
    I straightened up and said: “I’m makin’ a list and checkin’ it twice, I’m gonna find out who’s naught and nice. And son, I’m worried about you. If you don’t mend your ways mighty fast, there might be a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking and instead of that 12 pack you’ve been hopin’ for”. They laughed, I laughed and we continued along these lines, eventually sharing our Christmas wish­lists. When we said good­bye we added “Merry Christmas”.
    In the next 4 years, I expect to have many encounters with people who appear to be different than I am, come from another part of the country, or have a different accent. Some of them might have even voted the wrong way or say that I did. My hope is that humor will prevail and, in its own peculiar way, remind of us that beneath our surface differences, we have much in common. Not all wishes are fulfilled. Not all dreams come true. But we can share a moment of fun together and do no harm. Merry Christmas!

  15. If SFZC were to publish a statement like the one that Jiryu Mark recommends here, it could put SFZC on the fast track to losing its tax exempt status. An article on How Your Nonprofit Could Lose Its Tax Exemption explains:

    “501(c)(3) organizations cannot endorse or oppose any candidate for public office at the local, state or federal levels. This includes contributions to a political campaign and even public statements for or against a candidate. This prohibition is ‘absolute’, meaning that any violation can cause the IRS to strip the 501(c)(3) of its tax-exempt status. A 501(c)(3) may invite a political candidate to speak at an event IF no fundraising occurs, IF an equal opportunity to speak is extended to other candidates seeking the same office, and IF the organization does not indicate support for or opposition to any candidate. If you think you see a 501(c) (3) nonprofit engaging in advocacy for an issue or candidate, it is likely to be a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which has a different set of operating rules.”

    SFZC’s donation forms state: “San Francisco Zen Center is a 501(c)(3) religious charity (Federal tax ID #94-3143976).” So what Jiryu Mark has written here would clearly violate IRS rules and jeopardize SFZC’s tax exemption. Perhaps Jiryu Mark should consider putting his anti-Trump energy into a political organization instead.

      • I concur, Setsu! The Spirit Rock Statement is muscular, outward, and beckons leaders to lead with leadership and all who would join them to engage leading of, for, with and by Dharma. The (lame) SFZC Statement is mostly about learning to cope with turbulence outside their walls and inviting passivity. Vastly different energies! Of the two, only the Spirit Rock Statement embodies the energy of Gautama’s paripetic life as an inspirational transformer. Of the two only the SFZC Statement implies that the Buddha’s last words entail the perfection of huddling. In other words, SFZC asks “Asylum?”. Spirit Rock asks, “Bootcamp”?

      • Spirit Rock’s is a great and powerful statement. It’s interesting the no naming names thing – I know what you mean and see how on one level that avoids alienation, but it ends up sort of amounting to dog whistles anyway so I’m not positive that gets around the problem. Everyone knows who we are talking about when we say “bridges not walls” – avoiding the name is maybe good for the IRS piece and for some surface non-agitation of people, but I wonder in the end if more clarity and transparency is better… I don’t know.

    • Nathan, thanks for your very interesting comment. I appreciate your angle and concern but I definitely agree with Setsu here. I’m curious what any lawyers here have to say, but for one Mr. Trump isn’t a candidate anymore (at issue has been the “post-election” position), and for two, the notion that religious congregations are required by law to be apolitical flies totally in the face of the political reality of the last few decades at least – hard to imagine Trump winning without scores of Envangelical pastors pounding their pulpits on it, much less when we think back to Bush (what would Dubya have been without the Christian churches that rallied behind him?). (Or on the left you can point to Quakers and others – long history of political positions and activism seamless with religious values and observance.) Maybe there’s some semantic adjustments they use to fly under the radar of the IRS, but their total and unabashed partisanship is completely clear to anyone. So in the idea of Buddhist congregations being “apolitical” for Buddhistic, or here legal, reasons, it’s hard for it to not just sound like ceding the ground totally to the Christian Right, who have zero qualms in this regard. They’ve used their congregations precisely for the “political organizing” you’re suggesting I might want to engage in, and their congregations are as far as I can tell the basic unit of their political organization. I’m afraid that taking the high ground just leaves them the whole actual earth.

  16. Thank you, Jiryu, for wading into these waters. We’ve got to, I think. Our Buddhist practice can be a wonderful support to intellectual inquiry and civic life. We can lift veils of ignorance and then live our life in a way that liberates every thought, every appearance. And it fuels a patient and curious engagement with those appearances, and I see again and again that my body-mind isn’t separate from suffering beings- it’s just this buddha awareness that is so free and directly and mysteriously nourishing- like some strange little alien enters the room of my body-mind and begins blessing things and studying them: same old stuff in the room, but something else is happening now- a good-humored investigation. Also, a compassionate one. The heart blooms with practice. I would say it is more than just the intention, in the sense of “the road to hell paved with good intentions”- it’s an intention imbued with understanding (I think you know this in your practice): … I really do see that everyone is a bodhisattva, in the sense of having a potential and a drive to awaken for the benefit of all beings. We can and should offer these teachings to all beings. It really is hard to know what to do, because I, too, also feel called to explore strong resistance to the forces of hate that are appearing. But it’s my old karma that wants to, not necessarily the buddha awareness. So how do those two- what’s arising and what’s aware- intermingle and offer support? I don’t rightly know. But I know we’ve got to practice-realize. And I know we needn’t be afraid of mistakes. May places of practice flourish and welcome all those who wish to be free, and may those who are free or on the path to freedom honor their sense of love, their intellect, and their capacity to make a difference. I think we can do this if we don’t get too bogged down. I agree with the official statement that times of great challenge bring our great opportunity as well. May we enjoy some beautiful opportunities!

    • I think an apolitical stance can help to offer teachings to people who hold views rooted in ignorance or hate- I know this from personal experience. However, I also feel that there is beautiful work to be done in the realm of practice-based political change making. There’s room for both ways…
      Right now, I am excited to work on creating a sangha that is at times on deep retreat and at other times engaging in active political work of various kinds- mostly in the realm of resistance. I think this actually emulates the historical buddha’s way, in a modern context, to some degree. I think practice and engagement support one another so well. I think a strong stance takes a lot of skill and luck to be effective, but it seems worth working towards. There’s so much corruption, and a positive vision is possible- and I believe strongly we can get there if we practice peace as we walk. I think all these can work together in each of our hearts- or many of our hearts- and build a power of wisdom and compassion in community that effects mass societal change. It’s happened in history, a few times- with Tibet, to a great degree, for example

  17. The problem I see with the statement is that it is Trump-centric. It misses the forest for the trees. The problems which your statement attempts to address are much deeper than a particular candidate or politician. Would you have written a statement of similar temperament if Clinton had ascended to the presidency? If not, there is a lot you could stand to learn about America’s role in the world. Capitalism and imperialism, which are part and parcel of the American political economy, are, in my opinion, what is inconsistent with our Bodhisattva vows. They are a societal manifestation of greed, hate, and delusion. The views of a particular politician are simply a symptom of these deeper aspects of the American political system.

  18. For whatever it’s worth, if SFZC ever adopts this as official policy, I will never set foot in one of their centers again. Not that anyone would notice my absence anyhow. But I could not, in good conscience, support an organization with a policy like this in any way.

      • The question of politics and religion was raised today on NBC’s Meet the Press Easter edition. Two Christian clergy and a rabbi agreed that there is a difference between partisan politics and a politics which is an expression of ones religious values. This urge to force ones partisan views into other peoples and institutions expressions of their religious values is aggressive and narrow minded. Let’s try to understand that broad mind need not be partisan.
        thanks, Frank

  19. I am not sure if I have standing to comment, but I will anyway. I agree with you that the statement of the abbatial leadership seems too detached and that a clearer call for resistance would have been appropriate. I also agree with others that you may overshot the mark a bit with your statement. I think part of the difficulty comes from the fact that you have taken on a tricky and possibly unnecessary task: drafting an official position of SFZC on the election. The statement of the abbesses and abbots was not exactly that. Obviously it is an official statement in that it is coming from the leadership and was posted on the website, but it is the words of specific people at a particular time, not an official position that the institution as a whole is going to live by going forward. I am not sure that SFZC (or any other religious institution really) needs anything that official. What seems more important (and here I am really speaking out of turn) is to make space for, encourage, and foster ethically engaged action by members of the community. What strikes me as most discouraging about the leadership’s statement is it doesn’t really do that. I would be curious to know what has been going on for the last couple of months, whether that space has opened up. Love, Aron

  20. Pingback: Jiryu Hates People!  Don’t Be Like Jiryu! | No Zen in the West

  21. Pingback: Jiryu Hates People!  Don’t Be Like Jiryu! | No Zen in the West

  22. Pingback: Was the Buddha “Engaged”?: The Work of Spirituality, a Buddha, and God Wrestler - Mindful Judaism

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