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Buddhist Teachers Respond to Donald Trump’s Presidential Win

After Donald Trump’s stunning upset, the Buddhist Magazine ‘Lion’s Roar’ reached out to a number of Buddhist teachers for their responses. Norman Fischer, Roshi Joan Halifax, Ethan Nichtern, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Noah Levine, and more provide some beautifully wise commentary and words of wisdom on the event.
Norman Fischer, Everyday Zen Foundation
I usually don’t completely believe what I think, so when Trump won the election I was, like everyone else, surprised, but not that surprised. Bodhisattvas are committed to their practice, which means to sit, to get up, and to sweep the garden — the whole world, close in and far away — every day, no matter what. They have always done this, they always will. Good times, bad times, they keep on going just the same. Bodhisattvas play the long game. They have confidence in the power of goodness over time. And they know that dark times bring out the heroic in us.
For those older among us who hold liberal and progressive political views, lets not forget we survived Nixon, Reagan, and Bush. It wasn’t pleasant but we survived. We will survive Trump. This is not to say that the policies of those presidents weren’t bad, and that they did not make any lasting impact. They were and they did.Still, we survived. We will survive Trump. As of today, we don’t really know what will happen under Trump because nothing he has said so far means much. He seems not to have much commitment to his own words.
It’s OK to freak out, grieve, and vent for a while. Then we can get back to work, as always, for the good.
We have been fortunate to have had eight years with a decent, intelligent, thoughtful and caring human being in the White House. This is more we would have expected. Lets not forget that the same people who elected Obama elected Trump.
It’s OK to freak out, grieve, and vent for a while. Holds each others’ hands. Then we can get back to work, as always, for the good.
Think of what the Dalai Lama has gone through in his lifetime. He maintains daily practice, he maintains kindness for everyone, though he has lost his country and his culture at the hands of a brutal regime. Yet he doesn’t hate the Chinese and finds redeeming features in them. He maintains his sense of humor. He has turned his tragedy into a teaching for the world.
Lets do the same.
Roshi Pat Enkyo O’hara, Village Zendo
We are all reeling from the election news. For most of us, it is unexpected and frightening. Naturally, we ask ourselves what teaching can support us and empower us at this time.
Perhaps we have not been listening to the cries of the world with ears of wisdom and determination.
And I realize how vital it is for all of us to listen to all the sounds of this unhappy nation. What suffering has led to the anger and hatred that has arisen?  And, why are so many of us surprised at this outpouring?  Perhaps we have not been listening to the cries of the world with ears of wisdom and determination.
This we must do, listen carefully, and while listening, we must move with determination to organize, to mobilize, and to find new ways to create change in civil rights, climate change, media ethics, and to inform and enlighten all the people, so that we can in fact relieve suffering and care for this planet, these peoples, all of us.
Noah Levine, Against The Stream
Here in the United States of Samsara ignorance is the status quo. The Buddha’s teachings guide us to go “against the stream” to develop wisdom and compassion through our own direct actions. As the path encourages, “Even amongst those who hate, we live with love in our hearts. Even amongst those who are blinded by greed and confusion, we practice generosity, kindness and clear seeing.”
Meditate and Destroy!
Ethan Nichtern, Shambhala Meditation Center Of New York
When I was a child in New York City, I used to imagine that I lived in an island off the coast of America which was neither part of the continent nor the country. In the middle of the night last night, that childhood fantasy came back to me, but it was only wishful thinking. In fact, the source of all this disruption hails from the same city, which is a great reminder that we are all connected. I am a citizen of the mainland United States and I remain a very proud and patriotic one.
Right now my mindfulness practice is dedicated to my many friends who are expressing such unbearable hurt and fear at the hatred and abuse which this current version of America has directed at them. My many friends who are women, People of Color, members of the LGBT community, immigrants, and non-Christians are all rightfully expressing their fear and traumas right now, and I want to especially be there for them.
Soon, perhaps, I will try to make contact with those I know who voted for this outcome and do my best to listen to their fears and desires as well. I have no idea how that will go but I will do my best.
It is OK to grieve the fact that we have taken a massive emotional and spiritual step backwards.
I also feel at least some optimism that this outcome sharpens and clarifies where humanity stands in the 21st-century.  All of us must come together with empathy and connection if we are going to survive this era.
Tomorrow I will try to follow the lead of those whose vision I trust to see how I can help move our world forward with compassion. But today, it is OK to grieve the fact that we have taken a massive emotional and spiritual step backwards. Please remember, the point of meditation is not to suppress your feelings. It is to make friends with yourself. On days like this, meditation is simply a way to remember a glimmer of your own basic goodness. Please remember it is OK to feel exactly what you feel.
In loving kindness and solidarity with the human race, Ethan
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Still Breathing Zen Meditation Center
Today, after the 2016 elections in the U.S., we are living out the example of what happens when what goes unacknowledged surfaces and it feels like a new reality but you know in your heart it is not. To suffer based on expectations is to live haunted and hunted. But we are fortunate. There could be no other answer to our meditation and prayers in dissolving hatred than to be placed front and center with it and be exposed. When a shift in a system has occurred, especially one that causes fear and discomfort, it allows for something strikingly different to appear, furthering our evolution as people. We can only know where we are going when we get there.
Now is the time we have been practicing for.
Many of us have been practicing Buddha’s teachings or walking a spiritual journey forever and preparing for every moment of our existence. We are ready and have been waiting for this time. Our rage, pain, and anger are to be exposed if only for us to transform and mature with it. In Buddhist practice we say congratulations because now is the time we have been practicing for. No more just practicing the dance. We must now dance. And this is not a dress rehearsal.
Roshi Joan Halifax, Abbot, Upaya Zen Center
Standing at the edge of this election, it’s clear we have our work cut out for us. It is the work of love and wisdom in the face of the terrible suffering of war, environmental issues, racism, gender violence, and economic injustice. We have to work together to shift the tide toward what will benefit our children, the natural world, the future. Part of this means that we have to change the mind, move out of harsh negativity, eroding futility and fear, and build toward the good and the wise. We also have to work to shift the mood of the country and of the world through compassionate education, deep practice, and service to others.
Let’s reach through differences, listen deeply, and “give no fear.”
So please, stop and look deeply, and let’s work together in not building a contentious future, but a generative one. And let’s not pretend we know, but be open and learn; let’s bear witness to what is happening in our country, in our world, and take wise, compassionate, and courageous responsibility. Let’s reach through differences, listen deeply, and “give no fear.”
Here are the four great vows of the Bodhisattvas in community:
Creations are numberless, we vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, we vow to transform them.
Reality is Boundless, we vow to perceive it.
The awakened way is unsurpassable, we vow to embody it.
…. do not squander life!
Rev Andy Hoover, Blue Mountain Lotus Society Sangha
Those of us who came out on the losing end of the election are going through a wide range of emotions and maybe even physical reactions. The world’s spiritual practices talk a lot about compassion for others, but in our practice, we emphasize the additional importance of compassion for yourself. If you have the privilege of flexibility at work, take a day off. If you don’t, make time for yourself. Maybe you’re off on Friday for the holiday. The weather in Harrisburg at least is supposed to be nice on Friday and over the weekend. Go to a mountain, a lake, a river, a park, an art museum, or anywhere that you can be in open space. Take a road trip. Take time to slow down and care for yourself.
We are lucky that impermanence is built into our system of government.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about is the reality of impermanence. There is nothing in this world- nothing- that lasts forever. We are lucky that impermanence is built into our system of government. The value of recognizing the reality of impermanence is that a) we cherish the people and circumstances that bring us joy and b) we know that hard times pass.
We also give ourselves a great deal of anxiety and cause suffering for ourselves by fixating on predictions of the future. I’m not naive here. Donald Trump said clearly for over a year the kind of things he wants to do, and we have to prepare and work against that eventuality. Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” I agree with her. It is also true that the future literally does not exist at this minute that I’m typing this and that you’re reading it.
That’s the easy part. The last thought I want to throw out there is something for which, frankly, there is no easy answer. The winner of the presidential election built his campaign on division. In our practice, we use the word separation. If our practice could be summarized in one sentence, it is this: We awaken to the oneness of all beings and act on it. That’s what drives me in the work that I do.
Our President-Elect built his support by being very clear that, far from oneness, his worldview is one of separation. And a lot of our fellow Americans agree. It is trite to say, “They are suffering beings, like all of us.” It’s true. But it’s trite.
On this question or koan, I put my civil liberties hat back on. I take solace in knowing that more than 50 million Americans embraced the message of moving forward together, seeing the importance of equality and fairness. More people voted for that message than voted for Trump’s message of fear and division.
If the Trump crowd thinks they can hurt all of the people they’ve said they want to hurt — they better be prepared for resistance.
So when you try to explain this to your kids and other loved ones, please please please emphasize to them that we’re going to keep working for that vision of oneness. Make sure they know that millions of Americans are with them. I want my LGBTQ friends, my immigrant friends, my black friends, my Latino friends, my Muslim friends, my female friends, and everyone who feels vulnerable right now to know that we are in this together and we will struggle together and we- all of us- will not let this country go backwards. And if the Trump crowd thinks they can do that- that they can hurt all of the people they’ve said they want to hurt- they better be prepared for resistance.
Last thing: If you feel like you need guidance and help through what is, essentially, a mourning process, do not hesitate to contact us at Blue Mountain Lotus Society. Our teachers provide spiritual counseling in a non-religious setting. We’ve worked with people of all faiths and no faith. If you need help, ask for it.
James Ishmael Ford, Boundless Way Zen
I rather feel like I’ve awakened on the day after the apocalypse. As a member of the progressive community I am shocked and profoundly saddened by Trump’s campaign, which unapologetically appealed to fear of, if not outright hatred of pretty much all others. He casually insulted anyone not precisely like him, and frankly seemed to be little more than an incarnation of America’s Id. And, whatever I think of him and that campaign, while he in fact does not seem to have won a majority of America’s voters over, he did win the Electoral College and with that the election.
So, what now? I find a couple of emotions rising within my heart. One is to flee. I understand Canada’s immigration website crashed due to the number of visits to it last night. Of course that also represents all the privilege I bring along with being white and male and middle class. And beyond those immediate facts, I am cautioned by the Buddha’s “last temptation,” to take the peace and equanimity he found and to retire from the world. While he was a renunciant, he did not retire away from the world, but rather brought his monastic practice into the larger community, and continued to live and teach among people living in the world. The deeper point to this is that we are in fact made up of the world and there is no escape.
The other emotion racing over my heart has been to place blame, mostly on others, but also on myself. What would have been a better, or more skillful, simply put, more successful strategy? Who is responsible for this mess? And what shortcomings are at fault? These are in fact important things to consider, particularly those relevant to our own individual hearts, but to take a necessary step and make it what we’re about would be just one more mistake on a long list of mistakes. In this world we have to make decisions and some large percentage of them will be wrong. I’m ever mindful of our popular Western adaptation of something Eihei Dogen said, “one continuous mistake.”
So, what to do? What to do?
For me I find a couple of things are critical. One is to not forget my practice. Taking time and returning to the pillow is critical. For all sorts of reasons, but most of all to help me recall the fundamental matters of presence and intimacy.
The bottom line is recalling there is no separation.
Another is to recall all the suffering of the world. For me this starts with those who are terrorized by the event, the immigrant, the person of color, the GBLT person, women, everyone who seems themselves the target of Mr Trump’s campaign of purity. But, also, to recall the hurt and fear that led so many people to support him. To simply dismiss their emotions by cavalier broad struck condemnations, while it feels good, and I do like doing that, ultimately does no good. The Buddha was right in the great play of cause and effect we are all of us caught up in layer upon layer of grasping after things in flux.
For me the bottom line is recalling there is no separation. We have to act. There is no alternative. But, what will that action look like? More hate? More blame and condemnations? Or, can we genuinely recall there is in the last analysis no goal, but only the path? I think, feel, believe, if we can recall that last thing, we are all of us in this together, we are all of us, at the end, one; well, then ways through will appear.
We met the enemy and he is us. We met the friend and he is us. That is the secret that will win the ultimate victory.
Doug Phillips, Empty Sky Sangha
Like many of you I went to bed last night with a sense of foreboding, but supported by the clear denial that a Trump presidency was simply not possible. Having tea early this morning I checked the NY Times and the reality hit; followed by the nausea-fed fear, loathing, and the roiling thought storm that fed them.
As I began to label the thoughts and return to the strong bodily sensations I was struck by how easily we are pulled from the immediacy of this life in this moment by thoughts of a future that none of us can predict; how easily we abandon our practice of being fully here now for a misery producing fantasy. It clearly takes great courage and intention to fully embody our actual life when the ground we thought was solid begins to shake, rattle and roll. And yet this is what we are called to as a life of practice and where the Buddha pointed as the only time and place we will every have the opportunity to be awake and free. Strong stuff.
I came across the following koan presented in a talk last night by John Tarrant, which you can access at the Pacific Zen Institute site, under the video section:
The Governor asked a teacher:  I have read in the scripture the following and I do not know what it means. “A boat driven by unfavorable winds drifts towards the land of the demons.”  Please explain it to me.
The teacher responded: What kind of ninny asks such a stupid question!
The Governor visibly stiffened and turn red with rage.
The teacher said:  A boat driven by unfavorable winds drifts towards the land of the demons. The Governor’s demeanor suddenly changed as he got some understanding.
Please let us vow not to be driven toward the demon lands by these strong, disconcerting, and unfavorable winds. Let us vow to commit ourselves to this practice of self-knowing in relationship with whatever mirror we are facing. Let us take that clarity and kindness into this divided, frightened, and frightening world knowing that our practice of awakening, if true, excludes nothing nor anyone.
Wendy Egyoku Nakao, Zen Center Of Los Angeles
Some words to my sangha:
dear stewards,
this is a time when you must know what you stand for.
this is a time to let go and allow zazen to steady and sustain you.
this is a time when you vow to listen, listen deeply to the cries of the world and shed your own tears.
this is a time to not just hear echoes of your own ideas but learn from someone who is not like you.
this is a time when the bubbles are bursting and determination is raised.
this is a time to be fierce in the dharma values of unity, inclusion, respect for diversity, and doing beneficial acts for all.
actually, zen center’s vision says it all: let us create an enlightened world free of suffering in which all beings live in harmony, everyone has enough, deep wisdom is realized, and compassion flows unhindered.
whether you are grieving or rejoicing this morning, please offer up your own sentiment to each other.
Courtesy of Live Learn Evolve
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