What I think about when I am thinking 

‘All things are Buddhadharma’ (Genjo Koan)

There are interconnected strains of thought running through my head, from the personal to the political, via the spiritual, and I am aware not only of the usual constraints of articulation, but also the current difficulties in typing on a touch screen, which slows me down detrimentally to my thinking process (just trying to italicise the two words and parentheses above after I had typed them made my blood boil). At the same time, I am aware how much this practice discourages the notions of expounding opinions with any idea that they matter – which is only more valid given the limited readership of these posts – while it is also true that as teachers we are expected to come up with formulations to put people’s minds at a greater ease. There are many draft posts behind the scenes at WordPress which remind me of how seldom I end up pursuing those strains of thought all the way to publication.

So a part of my thinking is informed by the deep sinking feeling I had in my stomach when I went to bed, relatively early, last Tuesday night, which only grew heavier when I awoke, very early, on Wednesday morning, to see the finalised results. It reminded me intimately of the feeling I had in the summer when the Brexit voted passed. In that case, I was aware, as I wrote to various friends at the time, and have been repeating more recently, of just how many years it would take all the ramifications to unfold and play out, and that was before it was clear how little British politicians knew what was on their plate. Here, there is recourse – not for me personally as I am not yet a voting citizen – of mid-terms in two years, and another election in four. 

I remember also that I arrived just a few months before the 2000 election, and the similar feeling of disquiet I had at that time. Conversely, back in England in 1997, most of my friends and people of our generation were swept up in a sense of triumphant victory when Tony Blair finally won after eighteen years of Thatcherism and its aftermath. In the long run, both of these things turned out differently to our expectations, and both of them have brought us more or less directly to this time and these results. Who knows how we might look back on 2016 in fifteen or twenty years. I hope the planet survives that long, though I have a pessimistic sense of people’s venality in the short term over any concerted long term planning. This article makes the point in typically British style: ‘The level we are at as a member of the public, we haven’t got a clue what is really going on. For all we know, it will be far better having Trump as president. Obviously he is a bit of a fruitcake, a volatile, personality-distorted man but many great leaders have been many many sandwiches short of a picnic. It’s more of a case of the other way round – find me a leader who wasn’t a few sandwiches short of a picnic.’

As bodhisattvas, we trust that this practice benefits beings. Through zazen, hopefully, wisdom and compassion are cultivated. With wisdom we can discern where actions and words are skillful, beneficial and leading towards enlightenment, and where they tend in the opposite direction. This is a point I have been making at various times during the year to people who have asked for help around the election and the discourse it provoked. Our compassion is not to close off to those whose behaviour we find reprehensible, but we still need to call it out when it happens. This is a request I can hear in the wind from various Buddhist teachers I respect deeply, and I will work to do my part in the months and years ahead.

I will approach this from a slightly  different perspective in tomorrow’s post. In the meantime, here are some words that have moved me in the past week: from Sara Benincasa, Chris Lebron, and Bernie Sanders.

‘And yet, in attachment, blossoms fall, and in aversion, weeds spread.’  (Genjo Koan)

2 thoughts on “What I think about when I am thinking 

  1. How do we practice in the midst of greed, hate, and delusion?
    This has always been an important question – and remains so now.

    I, personally, have never been a particularly “optimistic” person: my sense is that human nature has changed very little in thousands of years.
    And so sometimes I don’t like the thoughts bouncing around in my head.
    My opinions, and thoughts about the past, and thoughts about the future – they are just thoughts. How do I practice with this?

    A Buddhist teacher that I respect gave a talk not long ago – probably an “Earth Day” talk – in which he asked: “What if it is too late?”
    Do we think there should be a happy ending? ( more thoughts )

    We do have the option to practice – the option to practice wholeheartedly, in this now.

    Actually, we have many, many gifts. We have the Triple Treasure – and I for one have never more valued Sangha: pondering, cultivating, reaching out to Sangha – being Sangha.
    It has never been easy for me to be social, nor to ask for help.
    But now is a good time to cultivate Sangha.

    A chill morning air dances with the grey of dawn – a new day arises.


    1. Thank you for your wonderful words, Sabaku. I would say that practising with greed, hate and delusion means not thinking that we are separate from them. Sangha is an important resource, even for the introverts among us, and I hope you are finding support from the sangha right now.


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