I often find myself being emotionally pulled in different directions because of the political environment that exists today in the United States. Strictly speaking as a political entity, we are a nation at war, both physically and ideologically. And while it’s easy for people on either side of the issues to cite statistics — including the totals of dead soldiers, civilians and innocent victims; and the financial cost of the wars — numbers don’t seem to matter when you get to the heart of what we, as human brothers and sisters, are doing to each other around the world.
And then there’s the home front: an America divided along lines of race, religion, class and politics. The ultimate Consumers’ Paradise, where we collectively act with disregard for each other and the planet. And our leaders, it seems, do a better job at pitting us against each other than focusing us on the bigger picture: using what we have to make the world a better place – not just for our children, but for everyone.
With all of the things that are right about this country, which remains one of the greatest lands of opportunity for so many, there are times when I feel anger well up inside me, and others when my frustration at what I see and experience in the world around me literally causes pain. But I know down deep it shouldn’t – that I’m only causing myself greater suffering because of my attachment to a certain worldview. The more “aware” I’ve become, the greater a problem this attachment has become.
So I ask myself, What Would Buddha Do?
Buddha was born a politician, in essence, the son of a king. His father isolated Buddha, then known as Siddhartha Gautama, from the realities of the world, confining the prince within the palace walls and giving Siddhartha everything a young man could desire. But when the prince finally left the palace as a man and experienced sickness, old age and death, it changed him. He committed himself to changing the world.
But what if Buddha were here today? Would he be active politically? Would he engage in civil disobedience? While he would no doubt be committed to the ideals of social justice, how we he engage the world around him and its people to bring these ideals to life? I can only look to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for answers to these questions. Vajrayana Buddhists believe His Holiness is literally the Buddha of Compassion, an enlightened being who walks among us. But is he doing enough? When I read of bleak reports from Tibet, including human rights abuses and environmental destruction by the Chinese, my head fills with questions.
There is a movement among Buddhists called mindful politics, which I first learned about last year with the publication of a book by the same name. The concept leaves me confused, because with political activity, I feel, comes that same attachment I described earlier. But this book, “Mindful Politics: A Buddhist Guide to Making the World a Better Place” includes the perspectives of people I respect greatly, His Holiness chief among them, along with Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron. These are learned people who know much more about taming the Monkey Mind than I ever will. So I will look to them for some inspiration. And some hope.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll figure out what Buddha would do.