Monday, September 8, 2008

Angry? Why Not?

Okay, I make a point of accepting a challenge when it comes along. A comment on my past entry has me wondering whether I'm in fact as "frustrated" as the writer says, and whether I'm too "caught up in the tumultuous world." Am I a part of what the current occupant of the White House described, in his absurdly short address to the Republican convention last week, as "the angry left"? You bet I am. It seems to me the only rational response to what he and his administration have wrought, these past (nearly!) eight years. I'm mad about pretty much everything to do with politics. I'm mad, particularly, that the American voting public seems willing to be led about by its me-first nose, allowing the spinmasters to twist every evidence of corruption, incompetence and failure to their advantage.

I'm mad, this morning, in the knowledge that blame the Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac debacle and the attendant bailout will be cast on "government" and "Washington"--not for the truly reprehensible laissez-faire deregulation that for too many years catered to corporate and homeowner greed alike, but for bringing the bill to the door of the almighty "taxpayer." So who gets blamed? Not the free-marekteers, who have obscenely profited, but those who believe that government has a responsible role in exercising due vigilance over the economy.

I'm mad, this morning, about the "bounce" for the McCain campaign as a result of his selection of a person as unqualified to be president as anyone who has ever stood the proverbial heartbeat from that office. I'm mad that the "family values" gang are now ecstatic about the kind of unmarried teenage pregnancy that has previously aroused their ire and condemnation, despite their fanatical opposition to the kind of education that could help prevent it. I'm mad that this governor of Alaska has commanded so much media attention, as fodder for the consuming public's childish need for novelty and excitement, while the important issues that confront this nation go ignored.

And while I'm at it, I'm mad about the senseless war in Iraq and the deceptions that led up to it; I'm mad about the sheer incompetence of its conduct. I'm mad about the seven-year neglect of every other pressing issue in the Middle East including, especially, of course, the simmering conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians that is at the heart of it all--along with the demand for oil. I'm mad about the disgracing of America in the eyes of the world, and about the public shredding of its constitution. I'm mad about the coddling of the rich and the neglect of the poor. I'm mad about the denial of scientific evidence and the shameful delay in addressing the issue of global climate change. I'm mad that vast numbers of citizens in this richest nation in the history of the planet lack adequate access to health care. I'm mad that cour children's education lags so far behind that of children in other developed countries, and that we are so busy attending to our own needs and defending our own rights that we lack the will to make the improvements that are needed.

So, yes. I'm angry. It seems to me the only sane and reasonable response to what is happening in this country. And yes, I confess to being "caught up in this tumultuous world." I was gifted by my parents with a social conscience that will not allow me to walk away from what I see to be madness, injustice, abuse of power and economic exploitation. As for being one of a "frustrated bunch of Buddhists"... well, call it frustration if you will. And yet I have said repeatedly that while I learn immeasurably from the teachings of the Buddha and the meditation practice they inspire, I am not (yet?) able to call myself "a Buddhist."

So far as I understand them, the teachings here would not have me deny the anger that I feel. They would ask me to conscientiously explore the source of that anger, and the ways in which it might be relieved. They would not have me ignore the suffering of the world around me, nor my own. Skillfully practiced, though, they would help me to establish the kind of equanimity that might in some measure alleviate the suffering of myself and others. They would urge the kind of goodwill and compassion that is much needed in the world--and in our country--at this time. We would all be getting on very much better if we could remove our own prejudice from the equation and listen with mindful attention to the views of others. I recognize that I myself am not very good at doing that, but at least I'm aware of the need to try.

That said, to reduce Buddhism to the catch-phrase "all is dust" is to seriously misunderstand the wisdom that it teaches. Perhaps, as I understand it, the alternative construction, "there is dust, and then..." might be a little closer to the mark.


thailandchani said...

Another major Buddhist tenet is to alleviate suffering wherever we find it. When the suffering seems to be not only endless - but perpetuated by a single group who keeps getting the support of the oppressed through deception and social engineering, I think the anger is righteous anger.


Cardozo said...

My recent thoughts on anger:

Demonstrations of anger can - if artfully used - change minds. If unskillfully used, however, anger can polarize any situation.

The principle factor is the larger context. Anger in the larger context of love and trust may be beneficial. Anger in the larger context of hatred and mistrust must be polarizing.

There is visceral hatred between partisan progressives and partisan conservatives. Until that hatred is replaced by respect and trust, anger will spark defensiveness rather than openness to a changed perspective.

That's why Obama is such an amazing candidate - he truly wants to restore respect for the reach the point at which our anger will finally be heard.

carly said...

Excuse me. I said you guys were frustrated, not angry. I also note your anger is further evidence your teachings are not serving you well.

I've often heard that the metaphysics of Buddhism are not much, if any, concern to American Buddhists. If basic principles of a philosophy are not important to it, what is the point?

There is a trend to Buddhism even in Asia toward resistence and even militancy. This seems contrary to tenets of the philosophy. Channeling of anger is a practice in most religions and many philosophies, but I doubt if anger, per se, can change anything. 'Anger used artfully or skillfully' is a pretty manipulative concept.

If anything makes Buddhism unique, seems it would be the elimination of anger, transcendence.

Obama, respect for the opposition, is a rather taoist concept. Or as Lao Tsu would say, inner peace via harmonic polarity, clarity, and 'non-action'.

But, I agree that anger is natural, that we should feel it and allow it as another opportunity for enrichment. But that's not very Buddhist.

But, my point is, something about the applications here, which seem thus borrowed, do not instill inner peace and freedom from delusion. Sorry. Perhaps, we should all have a good laugh.

They call him James Ure said...

Just as maybe some of us get a little too angry with politics so do many other Buddhists not pay attention enough to what is going on around them politically. I guess the trick is to find the middle-ground as in all situations.

John Torcello said...


The anger you describe on so many fronts is something I too feel/felt; in my case, as despair...Others who did not understand me judged it as anger or melancholy; but, it was not.

I decided after wallowing in it for some time, lashing out, moaning, complaining, etc., I was finding this way of living not productive; it did not make me happy; I needed some sort of counter-weight opponent to this feeling.

I do not by any means claim to have found the 'cure'; and yes, I oftentimes still allow those feelings of despair to arise again; but, I'm better at seeing it coming and sensing it now...and then, dealing with it; lessening its effect. It happens less and less now...I take that as a good sign.

I found, for me, creative activities (writing prose, writing music, playing music, listening to music, reading others' ideas, talking with others, etc.) were a good way to alleviate these bad feelings for me.

I haven't stopped there; more and more I'm reaching out, listening and offering help in ways that I never imagined myself doing; like making fundraiser phone calls for the LA Regional FoodBank and actively joining on to the Obama campaign. For me, these things work to alleviate the feelings you describe.

Please, I mean no disrespect...your background and experience are far richer than my own; and, I'm thankful and respectful to you for making things like this blog available to us.

I just sense your 'frustration' as it was put by 'carly'...this 'anger' as described by something that adds a touch more suffering in your life than you'd like to have in it...

Anger was explained to me once as one of two things; those things that we want and can't have; and those things we get and don't want...

For those things we can do something about...we should do it, applying proper values, of course; for those things we're not yet prepared to deal with in our lives; we should just let go...

Hope this helps a little...


TaraDharma said...

Carly said, "But, I agree that anger is natural, that we should feel it and allow it as another opportunity for enrichment. But that's not very Buddhist."

Oh, on the contrary! As a Buddhist I do use any and all emotions as another opportunity for enrichment, enlightenment, and growth.

One would have to be living in the deep forest right now not to rightly feel anger about the state of politics, both in our country and the world. Express it!

carly said...

"Oh, on the contrary! As a Buddhist I do use any and all emotions as another opportunity for enrichment, enlightenment, and growth."

Any statement raised, automatically gives rise to a statement in complete opposition.
taoist teaching

Perhaps Buddhism as it is being practiced includes anger as part of a mix, but I have never seen anything in the canon which says so. It's related cousin, blame, is also not in the Buddhist credo...that I know of. Enrichment and growth seem likewise not really part of the goal of true Buddhist enlightenment. Bi-products, maybe.

We can argue the various individual mixing of Buddhist ideas with other ideas, but my point was, again, if frustration and anger are bursting forth, channelled, or whatever, the practitioner is not yet benefitting from "enlightenment" as I have learned of it.

Dhargey Khandro said...

There is very obviously a difference in opinion (in this comment section.) I feel, perhaps, it should be stated Buddhism was meant to be a PHILOSOPHY and not a RELIGION. There is a huge difference. It is when people get too caught up in "what buddism is" that I realize just how far it has come as a religion. I call myself a Buddhist, not because I follow every single little thing it offers me, but because I follow its philosophical teachings in my everyday life. Did you ever think of what non-attachment really means?

Having said this: Peter, I read your blogs all the time, and it is rare to see you angry or fed up. In this case, I think you have every right to be. Our country just gets worse and worse with time. It's hard to not feel some sort of negativity over it.

Cardozo said...

Carly -

I would like to point out that your last comment lacks the arrogance, and disdain for others' opinions, that your comments often come with.

And as a result your very solid point (you usually make solid points) comes across as much more palatable.

I say...keep it up!

carly said...

I can see by your photo you are a nice, smiling, young man, who spreads goodwill and is benevolent of heart. But sometimes along with that often goes naiveté, or even gullibility in some people.

Whereas, I am a mean, old curmudgeon HERETIC who doesn't show his sense of humor on certain issues, such as anything that seems phony or misguided.

The Book of Changes often advises me to do as you say. However, in another metaphysical discipline, I have a strong Mars influence which accounts for your observation.

It's appropriate that you would choose Buddhism and I chose the Book of Changes and Lao Tzu, (and some Zen forms of Buddhist philos). But, I am ever mindful, that in Asia they are mixed together. At least we are both at the heart of things.

In a couple months I will report back with pictures from Thailand. I entreat you to see my pics inside a Japanese Buddhist Monastery on Mount Koya, Koyasan:

keep smiling

re: "Did you ever think of what non-attachment really means?"
I don't believe in that philosophy. I equate it with standstill and detachment, both regressive tendencies. It is one prime point that makes Buddhism only an impossible dream for many, most Americans. Instead, I believe in movement through through "non-action" and suffering as a means of enrichment.

PeterAtLarge said...

Chani, righteous, yes. I'm wondering, though, how helpful it is... A tough question.

Et al... thanks for this wealth of responses. The bottom line for me is not whether or not we experience anger: we do, it's not good or bad, it's simply human. If anything, for me, Buddhism is useful in teaching me more about my humanity. No, the bottom line is how skillfully we deal with the anger we experience. We can turn it to our advantage, or we can surrender to it and let it out in inappropriate and dangerous ways. It's a martial art, in that sense. I harm only myself if I allow the anger I feel in this political season to fester and turn sour. My health suffers, my mind obsesses. In fessing up to it, as I've done here, I hope to make it my friend rather than my enemy.

Again, my thanks for caring enough to join forces (or cross swords?)