Our Practice Now

When I was a kid, in Uruguay and Argentina under the dictatorships, I learned some things. I don’t mean learned in an abstract or intellectual way—I was too young for that—but in a visceral, embodied way. Something about violence and terror, something about silence. Hard to put into words.

Partly because of this, I think, I’ve never believed that it couldn’t happen here. Of course it could happen here. It can happen anywhere. It does happen anywhere.

(We can describe the “it” a lot of different ways: fascism, authoritarianism, bigotry. I don’t really care what we call it.)

So last year, when Donald Trump began his campaign for President, I recognized something. My body recognized something. Little twinges, little movements. I could smell it. My body knew.

Jiryu caused a little bit of a commotion in my tiny corner of the Internet recently with his last couple of blog posts suggesting that SFZC take a public stance against Donald Trump. I think it’s a complicated question, of course. The bodhisattva vow, our radical beautiful bodhisattva vow, is vast, and I appreciate deeply the way that our vow can never leave out Donald Trump or his supporters, can never fall into easy or self-congratulatory assurances that we know what’s right or can see the whole picture.

But a bodhisattva responds to the cries of the world. Has to respond.

So that’s a tension. That’s the koan that Jiryu laid out, and called for us not to wiggle out of.

I think his statement is clear, and I just have a couple of thoughts to add. One is that part of how fascism comes to power—one of the ingredients—is always that people can’t believe it’s happening. It takes too long for people to grasp the scale, the magnitude. There’s a kind of inertia and a trust in the institutions of the culture.

I believe that our practice can help us to see through this inertia. Our training is partly training in responsiveness, in turning on a dime to meet things as they truly are. I think that’s valuable in this context: part of what I hear in the pushback against Jiryu’s posts is the idea that they somehow go too far, are too alarmist. It’s good to be cautious about being alarmist. But there are also times that an actual alarm is sounding. I think an actual alarm is sounding.

(Along these lines, a friend wrote on facebook the other day, “I’m only alive because my grandparents in Europe were alarmists.” That’s worth chewing over for a minute.)

I’m also thinking about fearlessness. The perfection of generosity includes the gift of fearlessness, and I’m curious to explore what Dharma fearlessness looks like in the context of a Trump presidency. It’s partly the courage to take a stand, of course, to put bodies in the streets, to make phone calls, to organize, etc. But in a more subtle way, I think it’s the willingness to be wrong, to misspeak. Maybe Jiryu’s suggestions about SFZC are wrong. I don’t know. How could I know? Bodhidharma didn’t even know his own name.

But just because I don’t know doesn’t mean I don’t have to act. I have to act, or our talk about bodhisattva practice is just a game. And I don’t think it’s a game.

One more thought. Part of resistance to fascism has always been human connection and human vulnerability. Fascists and authoritarians only see others through lenses of domination and fear, never connection. And they worship invulnerability. So when we reach out to each other in mutual human vulnerability, we do something they can’t, and that opens up another world. You know how Woody Guthrie’s guitar had “This Machine Kills Fascists” written on it? I thought of that the other day while I was watching Patti Smith sing, and make a mistake, and feel embarrassed, and stumble, and apologize, and start over, and keep singing. That’s our way forward. May our practice be always this fearless and humble:


16 thoughts on “Our Practice Now

    • Interesting. I voted against Romney, but I never compared him to Hitler, and I agree with you that that’s a silly comparison. I don’t think comparing Trump to Hitler or Mussolini is nearly as silly; I think it’s instructive.

      • Hitler was considered a savior to his people at the time. Most of the people I know that voted for Trump (I did not by the way) don’t think of him as any kind of savior. The majority despised Clinton as the standard bearer for dirty politicians and wanted change. Not a savior.

        Trump is not Hitler. I don’t think it is instructive at all to make the comparison. Because, like I said, eventually there WILL be another Hitler but because of all the crying wolf and dog whistles, nobody will listen.

        I’m probably coming off as angry, but I am not. I’m actually very concerned.

    • I’m not going to live in a fascist America, period. I’ve already seen enough, by way of Trump’s hate speech and cabinet appointments, to exercise my constitutional right to peacefully protest his inauguration. Let’s cross our fingers that you are right about him, but I won’t hold my breath. And let’s do keep this conversation going. It is a good one to have. Bows to all.

      • What hate speech? Please be specific because I am sure I can refute any specific examples that you give.

        I appreciate your sentiment, but I’m not sure the conversation is worth keeping going. The anti-Trump people are so far into this that they could never admit they were wrong even if Trump deserves to be on Mt. Rushmore in 8 years. Most people can’t keep an open mind and due to cognitive dissonance, won’t be able to see any good he does anyway.

        Now, he very likely may be a bad President. But we’ve had plenty of those and have survived every one.

      • Tysondav, I get the impression that your main objective here is to shush us. if all you want to do is refute any argument or any example of the racist, sexist, and xenophobic remarks that this candidate has dished out during his campaign, or explain away why he would not denounce his endorsement by the KKK, then I don’t think further conversation is constructive. I think the main point of the original conversation is whether or not Buddhists can or should be political or apolitical. If there is harm, we have a responsibility to speak up.

      • Tysondav, I get the impression that your real objective here is to just shush people. If all you want to do is refute my example of the racist, sexist, or xenophobic remarks this particular candidate dished out during his campaign, or explain away his refusal to denounce an endorsement by the KKK, then I’m not sure further conversation is constructive. The original question was whether or not we can or should speak up about our political views in the context of dharma practice. If we think there is harm, we have a responsibility to speak up, even if we are wrong, or even if we have to give up our samadhi.

      • I’m sure that me wanting to shush you is part of it. But really, I’m more concerned about the hypocrisy (in general, not you specifically). Nobody was questioning Obama when he was bombing civilians in the Middle East. But they sure criticized Bush. If you are against things than it shouldn’t matter if the person in office is a D or an R. But in most Zen circles, the D gets a pass and the R is Hitler. So, either don’t be hypocritical, or shush.

        Why do you hardly ever hear Buddhists discussing abortion? I think it’s because you can’t be a true card-carrying liberal and be pro-life. But it is extremely difficult to justify abortion as a Buddhist. So Buddhists just ignore that subject all together. But on most other issues the American Left has co-opted American Buddhism. It really isn’t easy being a (moderate) conservative Buddhist in America. Ultimately I don’t want to be a moderate republican Buddhist. I want to be a modern republican and a Buddhist.

      • Tysondav, you raise some good points, and I appreciate your honesty. People were questioning Obama when he was bombing the Middle East, though not nearly loudly enough. It is very difficult to be both pro choice and a Buddhist, and this does seem contradictory. Blanche Hartman did talk about this recently in a Lion’s Roar round up (as I understand it she was not supportive of abortion). Please know, though, that koan practice and contradictions aside, San Francisco has a certain culture and a certain set of values that many of us feel we need to reaffirm, not only in the streets, but in our churches as well. Just because the Western Zen thing started here doesn’t mean it can’t evolve. Nor does it mean that anyone has to agree with liberal ideology at all. Your practice in the dharma helps us clarify our intentions. I have to sign off for the week now. A deep bow to you for this important conversation.

  1. Great.
    I truly go for Patti Smith and her courage to show herself vulnerable.
    I experienced situations, though, when a shouted “NO” has been adequate or taking a side.
    NOT for all times. BUT is this situation. Because we have to be fully human and perform our relatedness, and if one is clearly attacked by another, in a tram, I protect the victim. If I don’ t interfere, I am a bystander, Bystanding means: I agree to the situation as it is. Gassho: Wonderful discussion.

  2. Thanks, Hondo, for this clear and compassionate post. It hits exactly the tone that’s been eluding me (as you know if you’ve been reading my screeds). Here’s the stronger strength of vulnerability. And with it the readiness for anything – don’t expect the worst, but don’t use “equanimity” or “fearlessness” to hit snooze on the alarm. America isn’t exceptional. Bombs can fall here too, and of course authoritarianism can take root and thrive.

  3. To take a stand against the facism of Donald Trump is not to try to exclude Donald Trump from our bodhisattva vow. Ignoring him would be doing that. We in the west don’t seem to understand the intimacy with the opponent that the east has delved deeply into for eons. We cannot make Donald Trump disappear by pretending that he cannot do harm. He can, and he will if we allow him to proceed on his destructive path he has outlined without opposition. We should not let our vow confuse our thinking. A bodhisattva is a wisdom warrior (some go to an ancient meaning of the word sattva.) I share the same physical response to Donald Trump and have from the beginning of his campaign. I have learned to pay attention to this, not ignore it and use the Buddhadharma to support the delusion that such events that have happened throughout human history cannot happen here.

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

  5. Pingback: The Dharma of Fearlessness, Resisting with Love, and Using the Church: No Zen Reflections on MLK Day | No Zen in the West

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