Dear Zen West ~ Empty Field Sangha, Friends and Supporters,
It is an understatement to say many of us are deeply troubled by this recent election marked by divisive threats to vulnerable communities and our natural world already in crisis. There are times in our practice when we are seriously tested – times when answers and a clear path require us to dig deep and be patient. This election presents one of those times. While the suffering from racism, sexism, and xenophobia is nothing new in our culture, that this hatred and violence is being role modeled in the speech, intention and actions of our nation’s highest representative is a loud bell. This bell rings out for us to develop our capacity for clarity and a response from our deepest seat of practice.
Heartfelt conversations have unfolded over the last two weeks, many tender, some difficult. We are becoming intimately aware of how painfully divided we are as a country and how hard it is to meet and talk with each other across this divide. While many in the country are celebrating this election with cheer, others are experiencing overwhelm, anxiety and isolation. Opinions in the media have been answering the question, “How did we get to this point?” and “What will happen next?” But the real question from the perspective of practice may be this: “How will I be changed?” What will authentically emerge from our practice to meet these times? It is from this place that we have some choice, a choice that requires us to not turn away from suffering around us.
As people of practice, our first task is always to begin with our own inner landscape – to recognize, embrace, and bring perspective to our very human protective reactivity. To rely on zazen and the precepts, return to center, and remain open. But becoming centered is only half of practice – the other half is finding the function of this unconditioned mind in the world. From our commitment to alleviate suffering, a path of action reveals itself, not from righteousness or fear or cultural pressure to act, but instead from interconnectedness, energy and clarity.
How do we practice from a place of interconnectedness in such a divided world? Sometimes we are called to take a stand, as individuals and as a community. As Buddhists we are confused about what it means to take a stand, thinking practice means to “be OK” with things as they are or to have no reaction. This misunderstanding cuts off the wise use of fear that, with insight, transforms into tender concern and awareness of our common vulnerability, and the wise use of anger, that with insight, becomes vital energy that helps us overcome incapacitating fear, to take risks, and act in a way that serves.
News of an upsurge in hate crimes over the past two weeks have been disturbing – middle school children chanting “Build a Wall” or a Mexican American told to “Go back home. Make America great again.” Campaign threats to women, to people of color, immigrants, and our natural world cannot be dismissed. Without wishing to alienate anyone who sees in the president-elect a better future, it is impossible to ignore the karmic suffering resulting from the campaign’s rhetoric of contempt and disregard, promoting violence in already strained relationships in our families and communities.
To take a stand means to take a risk, to allow our hearts to be impacted by what we see, and without promise of outcome, or approval from others, or personal reward, to choose one path of action over another. Taking a stand means to show up in body, speech, and mind, and commit to act in difficult situations for the sake of all beings. Taking a stand means to be willing to get it wrong, to see where we are complicit in the problem, and make corrections. I want to share the wise words from fellow teachers at the Brooklyn Zen Center in their recent post after the election: “We must be careful never to use the Buddhadharma as a means for turning away from the violence of the world and our place in it. The Buddhadharma is not a sedative to get us through painful times, but a powerful teaching that frees and bolsters us to carry out our intention to work diligently for the liberation of all beings.”
We must consider that for many of us who have societal privilege because of the color of our skin, or religious affiliation, that this moment of alarm will pass all too quickly and the usual personal concerns reassert themselves. Rather than adjust to a new norm, we are called to confront and respond to hate crimes against those at risk. We are called to protect the earth upon which all life depends. This commitment calls for building bridges with our brothers and sisters who hold different opinions, and taking responsibility for our own blindness and bias that has also contributed to this moment in time.
The time to begin this commitment is now. To have the shadow side of our society in plain view is extremely clarifying. Each of us is endowed with a gift to bring forward to meet these times for these are the exact conditions that bring forth the most powerful and inspiring vows. I ask that we join together in this mutual commitment to support one another’s authentic response and as a sangha to reach out to those at risk and stand up to hatred and violence with compassion and wisdom.
With palms together in refuge,
Seido Martin, Zen West ~ Empty Field Guiding Dharma Teacher
Along with the ZW~EF Guiding Council: