I’ve been a little praised and much reviled for a blog post I wrote a week after the election, and I’ve appreciated both (though the former is considerably easier to swallow than the latter). The piece has become a foil for some Zen people and communities – a contrast they can use to emphasize how they (unlike that hater Jiryu!) are welcoming to all, of all political beliefs. (And also to those who want to show that their Buddhism has no room for politics, which are inherently divisive and deluded.)
Some of those reactions are here, and here, and here. Even San Francisco Zen Center has taken the opportunity to reassert that people all of all political stripes are welcome, writing in a recent mailing:
2016 has been marked by political divisiveness and uncertainty. We would like to remind you that all are welcome at San Francisco Zen Center. We do not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, immigration status, religion, disability, or political beliefs. We, at San Francisco ZenCenter, are resolved to act based on the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts to work for the benefit of all beings and to care for the planet and its inhabitants.
I’ve plugged away here and there defending my old post, but I’m not so interested anymore – I’m not sure I even agree with myself. (I’ve said so elsewhere when pressed, but of course once writing is out there you’re held to it no matter how you move on from it. That’s why it’s best to never publish anything.) It’s clear to me now that the piece was too raw and too angry. There’s a much better tone that can be struck, like Hondo’s. Or like Spirit Rock’s, or even, more strongly but without the mean edge of my own post, Brooklyn Zen Center.
Rereading my post, I see that it did in fact reach for some nuance, but that my nuance was lost in my outrage, so people understandably read right by it. The most jarring part of my post – which is what people are mostly reacting to – is my statement that supporting Trump is a racist, homophobic, ecocidal act. In that supporting Trump has consequences for race relations, people’s sexual expression, and the planet, the statement doesn’t seem controversial, but putting it so bluntly was clearly not skilfull. It was so loud on the page that people blew by everything else. I don’t blame them – it’s hard for me to listen too when I’m being shouted at. My larger point there was the suggestion that people supporting Trump and his plans (think: wall, think: registry, think: Paris agreement) don’t really seem to be so interested in interdependence, or in living a Bodhisattva life based on interdependence, and that insofar as that’s true we don’t need to “bend over backwards” to make them feel welcome. My point was that of course anyone is welcome at San Francisco Zen Center, but we aren’t going to moderate our teaching of interdependence, or on the active precepts (speak honestly, support life, etc.), in order to keep everyone feeling comfortable. You can come to Zen Center with the idea, for example, that the earth is God’s gift to humans for us to extract resources from – that’s fine. And when you arrive, along with a whole bunch of teachings and practices, you will likely hear some teachings about our understanding of interdependence, including that the earth nourishes us and that our practice is as best as we can to nourish the earth and all beings. Etc.
In my post I had a foil too – I was pushing back against some of the more wishy-washy-lovey post-election statements that were coming from the Buddhist community. I heard and appreciated the backlash some of those toothless statements were getting – “are you standing with the people Trump has targeted, or not?!” “you can’t be neutral on a moving train!” – and I thought I’d jump in with something more toothy to get the ball rolling. I am not San Francisco Zen Center, and I did not at all think or expect that San Francisco Zen Center was going to adopt my statement. If I were truly in the position to write the San Francisco Zen Center statement, and not just speaking as one voice in a conversation, of course I wouldn’t have written what I suggested (and I said as much in the post). I wanted to encourage and even push a more fierce conversation about how we will or will not stand as Bodhisattvas. About how we will or will not use the power of our practice and institutions to enact Bodhisattva values in this place and time.
And whatever I said or didn’t say, whatever hatred or clarity you want to hold me to or let me free of, what’s important to me now isn’t “Trump supporters” or even “Trump.” What’s important to me now is how we will stand up for people and planet who are – or seem at least, and I will be delighted to be proven wrong! – threatened by the incoming administration and the nationalism it is fanning. Bodhisattva practice is not (just) about sitting in your room with warm feelings in your heart, and Bodhisattva communities can and should of course stand up when the time is right and clear.
So my question, my challenge now isn’t to figure out the right statement (anyway, clearly I failed at that), it’s to figure out the right action. That’s the next thing to fail at.
Is it time yet to stand up? What’s happening in your neighborhood, in your city, in your county, in your state? And what can you and your congregation do to help?
Will you as a Bodhisattva and a Bodhisattva community resist the plans for a wall, for a registry, for a return to climate apathy? Is it really “too early” to see if that’s needed? Will we really “wait and see,” or is there a Bodhisattvic response already to what’s right here now?