Zen Peacemakers Response to the US Elections

UNITED STATES. The recent election in the United States has had a deep impact, not just on Americans but on many around the world. It has stoked shock, fear, upset, and anger in many, and relief, hope, and gladness in others. The big differences in how we feel reflect the diversity of people, their karmas, values and vision. That difference is no problem; honoring those differences while seeking common ground and taking action is the challenge facing us now.

This is the best time to invoke the Three Tenets and bring forth the mind of not-knowing, bearing witness, and a response grounded in these Tenets. Rather than knowing what to fear and expect, which sows fires of confusion, outrage and victimhood, let’s cultivate not-knowing, letting go of preconceptions and certainties. Please use whatever practice grounds you in this space, be it meditation, mindfulness, ceremony, or prayer. Bear witness to what arises, both outside and inside, and then honor the response that naturally comes forth from this present moment.

This is the best of times to practice these Three Tenets, grounding our perceptions and actions in our experience of the wholeness of life rather than in fear and bias. May we serve this Whole with strength, patience, humor, and determination.

Roshi Bernie Glassman, Spiritual Director

Roshi Eve Marko

Sensei Grant Couch, Chairman

Sensei Chris Panos, President

Rami Efal, Executive Director


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Zen Peacemakers Response to the US Elections

6 Responses

  1. When we accept what is and let go of trying to control the world, trying to make it in our own image, we needn’t, and shouldn’t, endorse a kind of quietism or acquiescence in the face of our or another’s pain. In this context especially it is helpful to remember the different senses of acceptance, as Donald Rothberg so well articulates:

    …if we use a term like acceptance to point to an aspect of equanimity, it seems important to distinguish two connotations of acceptance. On the one hand, acceptance implies recognition: “I accept [that is, I don’t deny] that we have an organizational problem.” On the other hand, acceptance can suggest a resignation to the fact or even moral approval: “I accept that there is racism; this is the way that it is and has to be.” Acceptance in the former sense can lead directly to an intention to make changes, whereas the latter connotation of acceptance may block action or rationalize inaction.
    —From The Engaged Spirtiual Life: A Buddhist Approach to Transforming Ourselves and the World, p180.

    The blocking of action and the rationalization of inaction are real dangers when we try to practice letting go of control. As Gary Snyder (and others, I’m sure) has pointed out:

    Institutional Buddhism has been conspicuously ready to accept or ignore the inequalities and tyrannies of whatever political system it found itself under. This can be death to Buddhism, because it is death to any meaningful function of compassion. Wisdom without compassion feels no pain.
    —From “Buddhism and the Coming Revolution” in Earth House Hold, p90.

    Again, learning to relinquish control, learning to relinquish our place at the center of the world, does not mean acquiescing to tyranny or worse. A similar issue comes up in Christianity and the idea that when something bad happens, it is God’s will, and thus must be accepted. And in that context, we find a wonderful response in the Serenity Prayer (whose origins go way back and whose heart can be found in other traditions). A version of it is:

    God grant me the serenity to accept
    what cannot be changed
    the courage to change what can,
    and the wisdom to know the difference.

    And it is indeed wisdom, hard won only through experience and reflection, that we can come to know the difference. For there is no formula for knowing when and how to let go—at least not that I know of.

  2. I’d really like to know what is meant by “victimhood” here: “Rather than knowing what to fear and expect, which sows fires of confusion, outrage and victimhood, let’s cultivate not-knowing, letting go of preconceptions and certainties.” This seems to be walking a dangerous line. Certainly it is true that if we think that we will be the subject, the victim, of bigotry and oppression, then we will potentially feel victimized even when we are not. However, to so flatfootedly tell People of Color, people in the LGBTQ community, for example, to practice “not-knowing” in a context in which they hear more and more about overt and open acts of bigotry, racism, etc., i.e., in a context in which they know that those like them are under threat, is terribly problematic. Further, even in the absence of any such overt attacks on people in their communities, racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ sentiments, etc., are systemic and institutionalized to the point that they do not require conscious attitudes, beliefs, actions to exist. Racism, etc., is not merely “in the head.” So to tell, without any nuance, people who are victims by their existence in this culture to practice “not-knowing” is to do a terrible disservice to the complexities of these issues and to their daily lived experiences. Yes. We must be humble and open, willing to listen and cooperate, but that cannot be allowed to lead to acquiescence and quietism which Buddhist rhetoric all too easily falls into.

  3. Sadly, we DO know what to expect from the incoming administration. Trump has already appointed a climate change denier to shape his environmental policy–for example. There is a reason why “many” are afraid. Fear is a reasonable, even dharmic, reaction to what is transpiring with the election of this demagogue.

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