It’s time for healing, the kind of healing that comes from a change in consciousness. In popular language, it’s a shift from ME to WE; from a myopic, isolating focus on self to an orientation that’s grounded in connection, community, and shared humanity. In Buddhist language, it’s a deepening of our lived experience of the awakened heart—Bodhichitta.
Our path is the Bodhisattva Path of awakening through serving others, bringing to life the two balancing wings of wisdom and compassion. The wing of compassion is sometimes referred to as skillful means, and in the wake of a divisive and wounding presidential election, many of us feel the call to be in the world in a new way. As practitioners we know this way is a natural responsiveness, born of a deep and abiding wisdom—the fruit of our practice.
Showing up for ourselves and for all beings in ways we’ve yet to conceive, is now our shared agenda—the calling of this time and place in our history. It’s a universal mandate to remember and to return, again and again, to the homeland of Big Mind and Heart. It’s the trust and the knowing that we must find our way back to each other and to the place of states united—united by shared values, by respect, and by the awakening understanding of our compassionate and interdependent nature.
“All suffering comes from the wish for your own happiness,
Perfect Buddhas are born from the thought to help others.”
—Ngolchu Thogme Rinpoche,
The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva
The heart of the Buddha’s teachings, Pratitya Samutpada, tells us we cannot ignore the well-being or the suffering of “those other people.” In fact, we are bound to one another, profoundly interconnected. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. When one of us awakens, the Buddha taught, the whole world wakes up.
To dismiss the suffering of others, to turn away, is to dismiss one’s own suffering, to abandon oneself. Mother Teresa expressed this beautifully when she said, “If we don’t have peace, it’s because we’ve forgotten we belong to each other.”
“This being, that becomes; from the arising of this, that arises;
this not being, that does not become;from the ceasing of this, that ceases.”
The United States is experiencing a collective turbulence of heart and mind. Our ability to heal requires that we come together with our fear and our vulnerability exposed, but not blindly exposed as the offspring of dualistic conditioning, the unconscious expressions of aggression and divisiveness. Rather, our task is to expose our vulnerability with awareness and intention, through the courage we find when we open our hearts to our own suffering and the suffering of our neighbors. As practitioners, we know the courage to look with unwavering honesty requires safety. We build this safety within ourselves by meeting our own suffering with kindness and care. We build this safety in our communities in exactly the same way.
Stepping out of our conditioning
With the unpredictable nature of our post-election situation laid bare, our instincts are to scramble for protection, for safety, for refuge. It is precisely in these experiences of upheaval and dissolution that our practice offers us a choice. Either we react as our conditioning bids and enter into the endless scramble for control and security, or we let unreliability and uncertainty touch and open us. We can invite upheaval to escort us to our cushion where the process of digesting and penetrating our experience does the work of freeing our minds and hearts.
"It is not possible to control all external events. But, if I simply control my mind,
What need is there to control other things?"
The call of sangha
Sangha, in its essence, means community. In our tradition it’s one of the three refuges. As I reflect on this election season, the refuge of sangha comes alive in new ways. It arises as a call to wake up and to see that our awakening is all of our awakening.
This call of sangha is asking us to make friends with the “other side” by challenging ourselves to drop conditioned and fixed ideas about who “we” are and who “they” are. It’s asking us to step into humility, to recognize complexity and the fullness of common humanity. It is asking us to suspend judgment and reach out to each other with a kind and discerning curiosity, appreciating that none of us are just one way. To be human is to be fully under the influence of this world!
In our current political environment curiosity could be conveyed through a genuine interest in coming to know a voter on the “other” side. For example, as a Hillary Clinton supporter it might sound like this: “If you voted for Donald Trump, I want to know you because, the pain of not knowing you, of literally ‘unfriending’ you is my own pain of disconnection, of separation from wakefulness, from remembering the nature of all beings.” For all of us, this suffering is the heartache of rejecting, of not being able to know and welcome all the parts of ourselves. It’s the grief born of unawareness, of avidya, primordial ignorance.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
The post-election call of sangha is a vow to do our best to listen with respect and tolerance, to actively seek and discover our shared values. It’s a pledge to build on our common ground, not on our differences. It’s the call to offer respect, and to show a willingness to compromise, even when it seems impossible. At the most basic level the call of sangha is a commitment to be in community with altruism and goodwill. It’s our animated, energetic intention to live in awareness and to come to know intimately the mechanics of the suffering and happiness we share. Sangha is present every time we choose love over fear. It’s the foundation of an examined life, a vow to do no harm.
The practice of fierce compassion
When we see harm, aggression, and expressions of hatred, the call of sangha is none other than embodied fierce compassion. Armed with the weapons of love, mindfulness, and discernment, and with the necessary strength and skillful means, we denounce the acts of oppression when we see them without denouncing the oppressor.
We disarm our hearts to feel our own suffering as we witness hate crimes, racism, misogyny, divisiveness, and disregard for the gifts and the limits of our natural world. Remembering that these “crimes against wisdom” are the expressions of deep confusion and fear, we step in fiercely to do what we can to interrupt aggression and delusion. But responding with our Bodhisattva vows, we don’t banish the aggressors themselves from the realm of our love and care. At all costs our practice is not to lose our Bodhichitta, not to direct anger towards the people we don’t agree with. If the poisons of greed, anger, and delusion are the cause of our suffering, then in this world of infinite relationship, suffering ceases when the poisons cease.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison
and expecting the other person to die.”
I’m reminded of a teaching beloved Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hahn gave about sangha and the coming of the next Buddha, Buddha Maitreya, the Buddha of Love.
"I think it must be true that the future Buddha is somewhere, very ready to manifest to us. We have to prepare the ground for his or her appearance. I have the impression that maybe this time the Buddha will appear not as a person but as sangha, as community. We have to be very open in order to be able to recognize the new Buddha and, whose name is love.” —Thich Nhat Hahn
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of sangha as “Beloved Community.”
“Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight with fire’ method which you suggest is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, love—which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies—is the solution to the race problem. —Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957
The great masters of the Buddhist tradition teach us that the “enemies” we must attend to first are our own afflicted, contracted, chaotic states of mind. They are our armored hearts caught in confusion and misapprehension of the way things are. As we bravely face these conflicted states within ourselves, we serve the whole world. We support our collective awakening, our shared peace and prosperity, the vision of Martin Luther King’s beloved community. When we meet our own turbulence and stress with goodwill, we are preparing the ground for meeting all beings with goodwill.
"If outer foes are destroyed while not subduing the enemy of one’s own
hatred, enemies will only increase. Therefore, subduing one’s own mind with
the army of love and compassion is the bodhisattvas’ practice."
--Ngolchu Thogme Rinpoche,
The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva
It’s time to meet in the field beyond and answer the call, together
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.”
May we step together into the field of not knowing, the field of perfect wisdom that has “gone, gone, gone, beyond” the enemies of right and wrong.
May the hearts that break today expand the courage needed for tomorrow, planting firmly for the benefit of all the stake of fierce compassionate wisdom!
May we not turn away from harmdoers or compromise our goodness as we destroy the mind of fear and ignorance. Cultivating the wealth of love and wakefulness, may we establish for all beings the ground of refuge and protection.
May the unwanted circumstances of this life not cause our Bodhichitta to decline.
May we find the resting place we long for in the ease of the open heart that loves without conditions.
May our shared struggles give birth to the Buddha of Beloved Community, and never fail to offer to the world a land whose states shine forth—the promise of liberty in perfect union.
Buddhist teacher and spiritual director at Dharma Refuge.
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