I’ve been asked many times in the last couple of days how Buddhists (should, could, and do) respond to political and social traumas. I’d like to respond while this issue is fresh because I think the answer will be different a month from now.
Buddhists tend to get the difference between pain (ouch) and suffering (I don’t want to feel ouch). Another distinction comes to mind here – that between pain and injury. When we drop something on our toe the pain can be bright and intense, but we’re usually pretty comfortable knowing that three minutes later it will be a dull throb that we soon forget. When we really get hurt, there’s a slower, darker, nauseating sensation that pours through us, independent of the pain. This week many people are in shock, feeling like they lost a body part. That shock is powerful and it serves a purpose, protecting us from further injury.
For the next week or so, we are well served by heeding that warning. Don’t turn from the stark reality of this time. That sense of shock tells us to take care – to not add injury to injury, to find the space we need in order to let our defenses back down and be intimate with this situation. That nausea is powerful medicine if we’re willing to put down the distractions of prediction and interpretation and let this experience in. We see through the blinders that confuse us in more trivial times. There’s a possibility of freedom – it’s easier to watch our conditioned responses, and not just play them out. Searching for meaning, for solutions can happen later, after we’ve lived this moment thoroughly.
I am careful about using a spiritual voice to respond to or influence the political sphere because it can be such a divisive realm, and I want Dharma Rain to be a resource to anybody who might need it. I have my opinions but keep them discreet. Trump as president-elect is something that I am willing to make an exception for. A lot of suffering has been stimulated by the torrent of exclusionary and violent speech that he has displayed in the last six months. The Buddha said that he only taught suffering and the resolution of suffering. As a Buddhist I feel the need to respond to this suffering. As someone who values equity and liberty I feel like I need to protest for and reach out to the many populations that have been threatened and belittled.
Buddhists have a lot to offer. We train in nurturing a self-aware approach to life. This regular, pragmatic approach reliably brings a measure of respect, composure, authenticity, humility and perspective into our lives. As we recover from the shock, we connect with our deeper intention. The expansive energy of the Bodhisattva Vow lives within us and we hold, to some degree, that commitment to transformative practice.