Trump is an Arsonist

People who whip crowds into an angry frenzy and then bask in the mob violence that ensues are arsonists.  Like arsonists who start physical fires, they crave the rush that comes from sparking such a large destructive force.  This insight isn’t original to me, I owe it to Jane Roberts from way back in the 60s.  Its truth has really hit home watching Trump, that venal, nasty puppet of the Kremlin toy with his sad, angry following.

Trump doesn’t care if our democracy is a casualty of his addiction.  How future generations will view his actions is of little concern to him.  Does a junkie ever care about anything beyond his next fix?  Trump’s craving for power, status, and praise makes him quite delusional and hard hearted.  He is clearly unconcerned with the suffering he causes and the damage he inflicts on the country to which he owes his good fortune.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

Since this isn’t strictly a Buddhist post, I thought it needed a little KJV righteous Matthew.  Buddhists have hell too you know.  Several of them in fact.  Hard heartedness and encouraging violence are good ways to spend some time there.

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Being at Peace With Morons Part 2 – The Deep Magic

The previous post dealt with the suffering that buffoons in the white house are likely to cause others.  Today I want to talk about a more subtle kind of pain — the pain we feel within ourselves just because crude, immoral, and frankly embarrassing people are the official leaders of our very own country.

This pain is an excellent learning opportunity because it’s caused by our ignorance of the three marks of existence.  When we don’t recognize the three marks, we feel a particular kind of pain, or dukkha, that western Buddhists usually refer to as suffering.  Suffering in Buddhist terms is pain that we cause ourselves because we don’t understand the true nature of things. When we do manage to recognize the three marks, it has a profound effect on our ability to navigate through this world lightly, unburdened by it’s cruel absurdity.

The three marks of existence are a deep and fundamental part of Buddhism, and not for the faint of heart.  Taking this teaching seriously can pull the rug out from under your feet, so a calm, stable mind and a reasonably stable life situation are helpful prerequisites.

Also, this is not just an intellectual teaching.  We are supposed to remember and reflect on the three marks of existence every day, and apply them to whatever situation we’re in.  Only through effort and practice can this teaching become real for us.

Some say that the Buddhist path is just one insult after another.  This teaching is why that is so.

The three marks are:

Impermanence (Anicca)

The world is constantly shifting and changing, morphing from one thing to the next, but we don’t see it that way.  We don’t see the world in all it’s shimmering particulars, instead we create a cartoon cutout version of the world consisting of permanent characters and storybook situations.  There’s our Great Nation and there’s Those Dangerous Idiots.  This can be a useful abstraction, but it’s not the truth.

There is no constant thing that is our nation, there are just millions of people trying their best to make do and make their lives work on a particular patch of the planet.  Nations are illusions.  People are neither idiots nor are they wise, they are just people with all sorts of gifts and flaws, ourselves included, ending up in various situations they are more or less unequipped to deal with.  Idiots are illusions.

The ceaseless churning of the world makes us unsteady and afraid,  causing us to act out of greed, fear, and delusion and to make the same sorts of mistakes over and over.  Trump isn’t the first foolish leader swept to power by people’s confused rage, and sadly, he won’t be the last.  How many millions of Trumps have there been?  This is what Buddhists call samsara, our eternal and aimless wandering through an ever-changing world.

Whatever may be happening to you and whatever you may be feeling, something similar has already happened to an uncountable number of people over endless ages and is happening right now to people all over the world.  Your situation is not unique, it’s just the way the world is.  Take heart in this.  You are not alone.

This isn’t the only way to look at history and at ourselves, but it is a critical technique for releasing ourselves from the grip of our illusions.  Everything that exists, every person, place, thing, thought, and emotion, is impermanent.

Unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha)

Our mind is very tricky.  It’s always telling us that the thing that will solve our problems is out there, perhaps just around the next corner.  If we find it and hold on to it, some fundamental restlessness that we feel within ourselves will be quenched, and we’ll be at peace.  This intuition that we all feel is profoundly untrue.  Nothing in this world, nothing, can bring us lasting peace.  Replacing bad leaders with good leaders will provide only a momentary respite before the mind creates a new mirage and a new sense of incompleteness to drive us onward.

Evolutionarily speaking this restlessness has been very useful, or perhaps very destructive depending on your particular teleology, but either way, it’s painful.  Dukkha, unsatisfactoriness, stress, the unending problem of being a fragile living thing, is frankly exhausting.  When we don’t recognize this incompleteness built into the very fabric of our situation, we suffer.

Nothing in this world, no person, no place, no object, no idea, no plan, no technique, no feeling, nothing — nothing is going to permanently solve our problems.  All things are impermanent and ultimately unsatisfactory.  The more we cling to the latest answer, the more we suffer when it fails us.

Not-Self (Anatta)

The impermanence and unsatisfactoriness of the world come together in the third mark of existence, which has no reasonable English word for it so we call it no-self or not-self.

The impermanence of the world extends all the way into our deepest nature.  We too, are constantly shifting and changing.  Our innermost self is not a thing, it is a process.  Each of us is a ceaseless activity, not a static being.  There is no “me” in there, just constant change.

Our nature is not to accept this of course.  We are on an endless quest to find something that is permanent, something that we can rely on to always be there, to always be true.  We have this intuition that there is some thought, some thing, some philosophy, some situation, some part of ourselves that is really us, that is rock-bottom reality.  It is that constant effort to build a solid world for ourselves, a story that we can believe in, that causes us to create such suffering for ourselves.  We want to be good citizens in a well run country and derive a permanent sense of satisfaction from being such a thing.  It’s a beautiful story and a compelling idea but it isn’t reliable, it isn’t permanent, and it will never provide the peace that we seek from it.

We can’t live in the stories we tell ourselves.  They are not real.  This is both a solution and a problem.  If all the conclusions we draw about the world are just stories, and stories aren’t real, then we don’t have to believe them.  We don’t have to identify with them and suffer when they turn out not to be quite true.  But, without stories we don’t have anything to hang on to.  How do we live like this?  We are free but unmoored.

Our True Home

Metta.  Karuna.  Mudita.  Upekkha.  Goodwill, compassion, joy, and equanimity.  These become our abode, our framework, our center of gravity.  The clear mind and tender heart that we develop in our mindfulness and samadhi practice become our home address.  Instead of desperately trying to force the world to work the way we imagine it should, we do what we can and rest in the knowledge that our kindness and wisdom, as modest as they may  be, are already providing the only meaningful protection there is in this world.

We hold ourselves and all people in tender compassion,  forgiving the ignorance that drives the world and it’s foolishness.

Our everyday mind (the aggregates), the everyday world, and all their exasperating particulars become our field work, a place that we visit to help those still suffering from their stories.  It’s still important to strive to make things better, but not because we’ll somehow permanently fix anything in the world.  We work in the world to relieve the suffering of other beings and help them to see the truth of things for themselves.

As we learn to live without clinging, what is truly real becomes clearer to us.  We begin to hear the call of what lies beyond this realm of impermanent, conditioned existence.  For Buddhists that is the purpose of everything we’ve been through, to hear that call.

The suffering that we all feel matters.  Learning to release ourselves from that suffering and helping others to do so matters.  All the stories we create around that are just noise.  The Trump administration is just noise.

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Being at Peace with Morons

As I reflect on the conspiracy nuts, racists, imbeciles, and out-of-touch elitists that Trump is inflicting on our republic, I’m caught in an old dilemma. How do you both care about the state of your country and yet not be constantly distraught?

This is a key element of Buddhist practice. People often hear Buddhist teachings on equanimity and take it to mean that Buddhists should be indifferent to the suffering of others. This is completely incorrect. Indifference is called the near enemy of  equanimity, it is an imposter.  Buddhists are instead taught to be compassionate and work for the well-being of all people.  A Buddhist can and should be indifferent to worldly things like wealth or status, but not to living beings.

On the other hand, it’s easy to think that being compassionate means that we mustn’t be happy or peaceful in the face of suffering, that we should instead feel that same suffering ourselves.  This is also completely incorrect.  Being distraught doesn’t help anyone, including yourself.  It just adds to the suffering of those around you.  In practical terms, when your world is falling apart who do you want beside you?  Do you want someone also weakened and distracted by emotional distress,  or do you want someone who can remain calm, kind, and balanced — someone who has the steadiness and strength to help you?

There is no easy way to do this, but there is a way.  You must practice cultivating goodwill (metta),  compassion, joy, and equanimity within yourself every day.  You must practice being generous and kind, being ethical, and purifying the mind.  There is no shortcut.

It is quite possible to care about the world and to work toward the betterment of the world without being crushed by the world.  It is possible to both care for others and to be peaceful and full of joy.  It’s not just possible, it is our sacred task.

If you’re interested, here is a guided metta meditation by Sharon Salzberg:

Here’s something I wrote about loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, the four immeasurables:

No Metta, No Progress


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Who Deserves a Good Life?

People throughout history have had the habit of only counting some people as people.  I owe this observation to something Robert Anton Wilson wrote decades ago.  There are the people who you are willing to help and defend and then there is everyone else.  These others are in a different category of people to you, they’re not as valuable as “your people”.  Your people might include your close or extended family, your neighborhood, town, “race”, ethnic group, economic class, or country.  It might include everyone in the world.

(For the record, race isn’t an actual thing.)

So, your people are the people who deserve a good life and that are worth your time, trouble, and sacrifice.  Everyone outside of that group is more or less fending for themselves.

For Buddhists who consider the first precept to mean not harming any sentient creature, “people” may extend beyond humans to include every breathing animal, any creature capable of suffering.

I put myself in that last category.  How can I possibly care about all sentient beings as if they were people?  The answer is, practice practice practice.  Metta practice, that is.

It is not possible for me to help every sentient creature in any significant way, but I can carry that intent.  I can do what I can when the opportunity arises.  I’ll vote for peace, economic justice, and the environment.  I’ll contribute to charities.  I can directly help my local community and people that I know.  Buddhist practice doesn’t require us to be superhuman — it requires us to be human.

Metta practice is what allows me to love and cherish our friend Donald Trump, to want him to be happy and fulfilled, even as I publicly identify him as a rotten person and an enemy of our republic.  The two statements are not incompatible at all.  Loving someone with metta doesn’t mean you have to like them, agree with them, or respect them.  Like, agreement, and respect are worldly judgments, they related to our human personality and how we deal with the practical world.  Unconditional loving-kindness and goodwill, metta, is a spiritual commitment.  It transcends all categories and conditions.

You knew Trump would eventually make his way back in here somewhere, didn’t you?

If Trump were being attacked by hyenas and I had a stick, my commitment to his well-being would require me to try to try and drive them away.  If there was anything left of either of us, my commitment to the well-being of everyone else would then require me to lecture him loudly and at length on why his words and actions are — deplorable, let’s say.

The Metta Sutta lays this out pretty clearly — I’ll quote a bit for you:

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded…

I care for Trump as a mother would care for her cruel and bullying child.  It’s a tough love, sometimes.

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Are Decent People Weak?

People who treat others with kindness and respect, who put the well-being of others ahead of their own, are sometimes patronized as much as respected.   Their virtues are thought of as only appropriate for school rooms and Sunday church.  Once you’re out on the playground so to speak, away from the watchful eye of the teacher or minister, the law of the jungle is thought to reassert itself.  In the realms of business and bare-knuckle politics the only rules are the ones set by the strong.  It’s as though ethics and a humble attitude are a consolation for children and those too weak and simple to make the cut.

Our instinctual primate behavior, described as the eight worldly winds in the Dharma, are seen as the final arbiter of our worth – status, success, domination, and gratification.

In other words, peace, love, and understanding are for chumps.

Decent people are weak.

This is exactly backwards.

Decent people are strong.  Decent people are disciplined.  Decent people must constantly push against the immorality of the world and guard against the more unsavory aspects of their own animal nature.

The worldly have only one priority, themselves, and one standard of truth, their own delusional mind.  Their little life and its struggles are all that exist for them.

For the decent, every person is a priority and truth must be constantly sorted out from the chaos around them.  They live in a much larger and more complex world — the world of noble ideals and eternal standards of conduct that they try their best to meet every day of their lives.  This is hard work, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

But, there are compensations.  The worldly are half-blind, seeing only their material existence.  They are half-numb, feeling only animal pleasures, transient and fleeting.  When they succeed, they only have a moment’s peace before their appetites drag them toward the next mirage their mind has generated.  When they fail, they have nothing to fall back on but their pain and confusion.

Decent people, good people, live in the light of eternity.  They are brothers and sisters with all who have gone before, keeping the lamp of civilization lit.  Good people help the next generation learn to tame themselves and see a higher way.  They are willing to forfeit their own privileges to make a stronger community for everyone.  They help those who are still stumbling because of difficult circumstances throw off their shackles of ignorance and join the true circle of humanity.

Is there any other work worth doing?  Is their any other life worth living?  How sad it is to be caged by one’s appetites, to never feel the pull of a higher calling, to always live in the garbage of one’s unruly passions.

Once you are freed and you realize what it really means to be human, you can’t imagine going back to your old life, despite the new burdens you have taken on.

Even though we don’t fully understand the mystery of our lives, we feel the pull of the infinite — and we answer as best we can.

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Buddhist POV – Is Trump a Good Leader?

In the Pali Canon, there is a list (of course) of the ten qualities that a good ruler should exemplify.

Trump fails every point.  He is uncharitable, immoral, self-centered, a spouter of obvious and pathetic falsehoods, ridiculously arrogant, painfully undisciplined, as provocable as a tired toddler, vengeful and denigrating to the weak, lacking even a shred of either patience or forbearance, bigoted in every way, and without a modicum of respect or decency toward anyone who disagrees with him.  What a sad little man he is.

Read it and grieve for our republic.

Continue reading

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