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: