I will learn to cherish all beings of bad nature
And those pressed by strong sins and sufferings
As if I had found a precious
Treasure very difficult to find.
I regret that I don't know how to attribute the quotation, which I think I have come across before in various readings, but it struck a particular chord in the context of what I have been writing about politics in the past few days. To "cherish" the Tea Party-ers and the right wing zealots "as if I had found a precious treasure very difficult to find" seems to me a Buddhist challenge that is beyond my capabilities! I do, though, see not only the wisdom but the eventual practicality of this approach. Thanissaro Bhikkhu argues plausibly that wishing such people well is in the best interests of the rest of us: if they were to find the kind of true happiness of which the Buddha speaks, the world would be a very much better place. He's referring, of course, to the kind of happiness that takes nothing from the happiness of others, existing in a place beyond greed, anger and delusion.
I came across the quotation once again as I was reading a "Manga biography" of the Dalai Lama which was sent to me as a review copy by its publisher, Penguin Books. The author is the Japanese manga artist Testu Saiwai, and the book is called The 14th Dalai Lama. Manga is a story-telling technique using comic book pictures and words--a genre I must admit I have little acquaintance with. And I have to say that the medium tends to trivialize its subject. By its nature, it tends to favor the Kapow! Grrrrrr! and Stomp, Stomp! kind of action, and it is ill-suited to explore the religious and spiritual aspects of the Dalai Lama's life. The main focus of Saiwai's story is understandably on the history of the Chinese infiltration and eventual invasion of Tibet and the Dalai Lama's flight to his sanctuary in India.
I wish I could have liked the book more. Its intention is surely a good one: to make this inspiring story of a peace-loving world leader accessible to vast numbers of readers for whom the genre is a familiar and comfortable one. And the Dalai Lama's central message of compassion and mutual tolerance in pursuit of happiness for all humankind is forcefully conveyed. It's just that it seems to strike a minor key amongst the enthusiastic Kapows! and Blams! The medium tends also to simplify gestures, and to reduce facial expressions to fanatical grimaces and foolish grins in which all subtlety is lost. I dread to think what might happen to the life of the Buddha in such hands.
But I was glad to be reminded of that quotation. Those eager to jump on what they see as the doormat quality of Buddhism will seize on it as evidence that Buddhists are milquetoast capitulators to the evil of which human beings are capable. Personally, I see strength where others might see weakness. What these lines suggest, to my way of thinking, is that those with whom we disagree, those whom we consider misguided or even evil, offer us the gift of a mirror from which we can learn some truth about our own nature. The practice of "metta"--sending out compassion to all, even those for whom we may wish to feel the least compassion--is one that makes us more fully human, and which has the power to heal differences rather than foment discord and anger.
The Middle Path is as appropriate and necessary, I believe, in our political as in our personal lives.