Thursday, March 23, 2017


The spectacle of Republicans in the House of Representatives falling all over themselves--and each other!--in their determination to "repeal and replace" Obamacare would be comical if it were not so disheartening. Right-wingers, on the one hand, are protesting that the American Health Care Act does not go far enough in depriving our citizens of health care coverage, while those on the not-so-far-right are wringing their hands, not because of the bill's lack of human compassion, but rather for fear that it will cost them their voters' support.

Do no harm. It's the core principle not only of the dharma, but also of the Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm." It's a good principle, and one that the designers and supporters of the American Health Care Act seek to violate with impunity. They do so at the goading of a president who insistently promised to provide better care for every American, and at lower cost. That promise echoes hollow now, as do so many of his others, as Congress debates this heartless and contrarian measure, which by objective analysis threatens to deprive countless Americans of their coverage and cost others a great deal more than they are paying under the current system--even as it perversely benefits the very wealthy.

As for many, the bill has personal implications for me. In my immediate family we have not one, but two cases of relatively young men recently diagnosed with different forms of cancer. Of the two, one is covered, I believe, by his employer's plan; I have no idea how that plan might be impacted by this change in the law, but even if not directly, there will surely be ripples of side-effects that will bring about unpredictable changes in his coverage. For the other young man, the situation is dire: he is heavily dependent on the Affordable Care Act, and stands to lose his coverage if it passes. In addition to the pain and uncertainty of his medical condition, this cloud of potential financial ruin already adds to his suffering. God knows what a future under the sorely misnamed American Health Care Act holds for him.

Aside from doing no harm, the dharma requires from us the exercise of compassion for our fellow living beings. It posits that any harm that we do, any lack of compassion on our part, will show up to our detriment at some future point in our lives. I look to the president and I look to the United States Congress and, with all the goodwill I can muster, I see no compassion in their words or their actions. I see only the outcome of great harm for vast numbers of their fellow citizens.

So what is an aspiring Buddhist to do? For myself, the best thing I've been given to "do" is to write. I feel it my obligation to use such talent as I have in the struggle for humanity, justice, and freedom from anxiety and need. I remember my father, an Anglican priest, being bitterly criticized for using his pulpit for political ends. He was unable, in good conscience, to remain silent wherever he saw injustice and inhumanity. Like father, like son. "The Buddha Diaries" is to me what my father's pulpit was to him. It's not about happy talk. It's not about some spiritual doctrine disconnected from reality. It's about speaking the truth.

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