Thursday, January 3, 2008

What to Do About Politics?

I still regard myself as a novice when it comes to many aspects of the Buddhist teachings. Having now a ten-year daily meditation practice, and having read quite widely in the literature, I do not yet think of myself as a "student" in the the sense that a true student immerses himself or herself deeply and without reservation in the teachings. I am frankly an amateur of Buddhism. I love the practice and I am persuaded of the wisdom that the Buddha taught, but am not ready to turn my life over to the religious aspects of Buddhism. And I do NOT claim authority or complete understanding of the teachings.

That said, I remain in something of a quandary when it comes to politics. The teachings, in my admittedly limited understanding, advocate equanimity, non-attachment and goodwill toward others--even those with whom I disagree most fundamentally. On the other hand, with every fiber of my being, I believe in justice, fairness, mutual tolerance, and the inherent equality of all human beings. I understand that there are differences between us, and honor those differences; but I cannot support the privilege of the very few against the well-being of the many. And when I look around our country and the world in its current state, I see little on the geopolitical front but injustice, unfairness, intolerance, and inequality.

Call me naive, but I want to see a better world, and do what I can to contribute to that betterment. I want to live my life in such a way that it reflects the values I believe in. The practical, realist--Buddhist?--part of me recognizes that there are limits to my capacity to bring about the changes I believe in, and that the best I can do is to make changes in my own life. By becoming, simply, a better person myself, I trust that I am contributing to the wider cause. It's the theory of the butterfly wing and the tempest: even the tiniest action in one part of the universe causes a reaction throughout. It's what Thich Nhat Hahn, I believe, calls "interbeing."

That thinking, certainly, has its appeal. I have little trouble going along with it. And yet... and yet... There is this other part of me that gets sucked in, that gets mad as hell, that demands action at the social and political level. That wants to fight back against the powers of exploitation and oppression. This is the part that is glued to the television, to the news from throughout the globe about disease and famine, armed conflict, and vastly expanding, shifting populations. It's the part that worries about climate change, about the future of our species. It's the part that is outraged by the shameless actions of our current administration, about its resource war and its favoring of the wealthy, about its violation of basic human rights both here and abroad, about its turning a blind eye to torture, its secretiveness and its dishonesty. It's the part that demands a fair break for the underprivileged in this country, a decent education for every citizen, equal opportunity in employment, and a workable national health care plan with access and benefits for all.

I guess the ideal (Buddhist?) solution is to be political without attachment to the outcome. To act with integrity to my beliefs even as I forthrightly acknowledge the limits of my power to effect change--which would result, hopefully, in the desired equanimity. This is easier said than done, of course. The sense of powerlessness in the face of the world's problems and the inadequacy of our political system is not confined to this one voter. It's shared by a great number of us, people of good will and good conscience who want to do the best they can for their country and their fellow beings. For some, I know, that sense of powerlessness leads to apathy--a very different thing from equanimity.

Another, different solution is simply to stand back and refuse involvement. This is not one that I myself can feel comfortable with, so the inner struggle will certainly not come to a foreseeable conclusion. It's simply one of those perplexities I have to learn to live with. I would be interested to know if others share this particular anguish, and what they do about it...


thailandchani said...

Well, as you know, I don't get involved in politics.. not US politics nor Thai politics. I believe the only power I have is to incorporate certain principles into my life and live them as fully and authentically as possible.

I've concluded that getting mad at politicians, US or Thai, is kind of like getting mad at a dog for barking.

Governments exist for one purpose only.. and that is to increase their power over others.

I do believe it's possible to live a good life regardless of them because I always get to control my own actions and my own thoughts.


PeterAtLarge said...

Yes, Chani. I do know that you've chosen that path, and I do honor it.

Paul said...

I agree with you about the state this country's in and why. And I do find myself fuming at times over what the current administration has done. This goes for past andimistrations, too. I found the tactics Nixon, et al-Raegan-Bush-Bush-Rove-Chenney-et al appalling.

I can't say I share your anguish, though, because - I don't know why - I just don't get worked up over what 's happing politically in this country or the world.

I was 21 when Nixon ordered the mining of Haiphong Harbor. That night, a friend came pounding at my door. He was frothing with anger. I'd never seen him like that before. I was stunned by his bulging eyes and red face. I didn't know what to say. "Don't you care?" he shouted when I didn't engage. He stomped away and I never saw him again.

No, it's not that I don't care. I'm just not the activist kind. So it may seem to others that I'm apathetic, or worse, in support of the real evil doers. I'm neither.

I'm glad there are those who will pursue political and social activism. They (you) help maintain the necessary balance.

Anonymous said...

I try to avoid the TV news. Most of it is babble or puffery. I read the LA TIMES every day, but feel free to skim or skip the worst. It helps me not to wallow in anger or despair.