An open letter

This is a guest post. The author is a dear Dharma friend, a long-time practitioner and leader, Lloyd. His letter (below) is in response to a proposal recommending actions that Dharma communities and followers might take in response to the political turmoil in the USA post-election.

Dear Friends:

It’s clear that David’s sangha member is well intended in his suggestion, and I fully agree with the need for Insight Meditation sanghas around the country to be ready to more publicly witness our core values and take non-dual social action when it seems wise and needed.  Healing must begin, and we should certainly be a visible part of it.

However, there seem to be some assumptions imbedded in this particular suggestion that for me are a little problematic.  The first is that the sanghas are uniformly and monolithically politically progressive.  This is not necessarily the case at the Insight Meditation Community of Denver.  In addition to being at least a little bit ethnically diverse and a little more with regard to age, we are also at least somewhat politically diverse, including some libertarians and others I’m pretty sure may have voted for Mr. Trump.  My/our goal at the sangha is to make sure it’s a safe space for everyone, including those who do not necessarily regard themselves as politically progressive.

The second, related problem I have with the suggestion is that it assumes an “otherness” of those people who are unlike “us”.  As members of our sangha help those facing food emergencies, homeless vets, and others in need, I don’t know whether it’s occurred to us to wonder how those we are helping voted in the election, if they voted at all.  Chances are that a good many of them who did vote voted to blow up the system, which is what Mr. Trump promised to do.

For that reason, in our sangha we don’t dwell much on political positions or views in our talks and discussions, although we do stay keenly focused on issues of human rights, and on helping those most in need.  Personally, I think the most important form of witnessing Insight Meditation sanghas can do at this point in time is to stand up for and stand with those who are suddenly quite vulnerable in our society.  And one important way to do this is to come into alliance with other faith communities in other religious traditions.

For instance, a few months ago when there were bomb threats and some vandalism at the Colorado Muslim Society compound, faith communities joined together to form a symbolic protective cordon around their mosque, as a means of signaling that we are with them.  And the UU church where we meet and to which we contribute dana [financial gifts] periodically provided sanctuary for several months to a Mexican immigrant who’d lived in the US for years, and was about to be torn from his family and forcibly deported without adequate due process.

I don’t think we should assume that everyone who voted for Trump shares his bigoted views of ethnic and religious minority groups.  We might in fact eventually find that there is some common ground on human rights issues.

A few weeks after the Democratic National Convention, I heard an interview on NPR with Khazir Khan, the Muslim American immigrant whose Army officer son died protecting his troops in Afghanistan, and who gave such a powerful speech at the convention.  The interviewer asked him if he knew that he and his wife would be subjected to the kind of backlash they suffered after his speech, from insults by candidate Trump himself to death threats and vicious hate speech.  He said he did, and then he added this: “At the end of my life, when I stand before my Maker, I need to be able to say that when the time came, I chose to comfort the frightened heart”.

As Buddha Dharma sanghas, in my view some of the most important work we can do going forward into an uncertain and perhaps politically dangerous future is to comfort the frightened heart of the most vulnerable among us.  It is not easy work, and sometimes requires more than a little courage.  And in my experience both as a combat veteran and spiritual seeker, courage is not an absence of fear (which is fearlessness).  Courage is reposing in faith and equanimity in the presence of fear.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Compassion, General, Harmlessness, Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to An open letter

  1. Ann Boyer says:

    Humility is part of wisdom. Don’t assume that you know what others, even in your sangha, are thinking. Don’t assume that you have grasped the truth
    and can look down on others, whether those you imagine to be frightened or those you consider less spiritually enlightened. Don’t quickly act to protect *others*. Look carefully: it may well be *you* who has the frightened heart, needing the refuge of the Dharma, not to be confused with progressive social action. Take your time, unless you can see a clear and immediate threat.
    Courage often is facing one’s own assumptions. May all beings benefit.

    • lynnjkelly says:

      Thanks for your comment, Ann. I hasten to add that non-action is not always right either. An interesting article in the NY Times advised that if we see someone being harassed (for whatever reason), we can ask the person being harassed whether they are OK, if they would like help, etc. rather than confronting the harasser. Seemed useful advice to me.

      Warm wishes,

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