Some Buddhist Wisdom When It’s Needed Most

A little over two years ago the path my own life had taken crossed with that of Buddhism. Since that serendipitous encounter, I’ve tried to incorporate the teaching and practices of the Buddhist tradition, especially meditation, good morality, and the application of the Buddha’s  wisdom, in an effort to change my actions and personal perspective. It’s been a very transformative experience, but by no means have I found it to be an evasion of the suffering and difficulties more or less prevalent in everyone’s life. On the contrary, Buddhism has shown me that its path requires us to confront our own suffering as well as all the tribulations of this world, and that we do it head-on.

So it was with much interest that I came across this interview with a Buddhist monk in the online magazine, Vox. Brother Phap Dung is a Vietnamese American and a disciple of one of the most well known Buddhist writers of our age, Thich Nhat Hanh. He was interviewed in light of the news that a minority of Americans had elected Donald Trump as President. The interview as a whole is a worthwhile read, but I was especially struck by Phap Dung’s response to Trump himself:

Trump is not an alien who came from another planet. We produced Trump, so we are co-responsible. Our culture, our society, made him. We love to pick somebody and make them the object. But it’s deeper than that. We have to see him inside of us.

We’re shocked because we found out there’s a member of our family that we’ve been ignoring. It’s time to listen and really look at our family.

We are afraid to engage, but you can dialogue and debate. It requires a lot of practice to sit there and listen, and not judge so you can understand.

You cannot end discrimination by calling the other names. All the people who voted for him are not bigots and racists and women haters. We are all judgmental, sometimes even a bit racist.

What’s in my heart is that people find the patience and clarity to listen before they start to blame and criticize.

What I like so much about this excerpt is Brother Phap Dung’s invocation of “dialogue and debate” and the need for all of us “to sit there and listen.”

Among other things, this insight shows us how religion and spirituality can have a place in the public sphere, especially whenever such belief confirms the most important of the public sphere’s ideals.

The words also call on us to realize that Donald Trump is a product of our own society and that, in a way, he is indeed “inside of us.” Such a perspective may strike many liberals as anathema, but if we believe–in keeping with much of the environmentalism embraced by the left–that in a sense all things on this planet are interconnected, we must acknowledge that the forces responsible for the rise of Donald Trump reside in us as well.

It therefore follows that if we seek to resist the worst of Trumpism, we must first look inside ourselves and be attuned to our own ability to wrong others. To do so will only enrich our own efforts within the public sphere.

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