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Responding to the election results

Responding to the election results

Part of a series of talks and guided meditations given in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.

  • Responding to student emails regarding the results of the presidential election
  • Working with anger and disappointment surrounding the election
  • The importance of coming together to solve problems
  • The importance of taking care of our own minds

We weren’t planning on having any BBCs during the retreat, but due to the election, I think it’s important to say something. We’ve received a few emails this morning, people requesting that we say something to help them see this in a Dharma perspective. I just want to read a couple of things that the people wrote. Of course, half of the country’s rejoicing, and the other half is crying. So we have a whole variety of emotions. But one person wrote and said,

I have no doubt that you’ve received many emails this morning asking for advice on how to practice now that we have a President Trump in our world. If you could talk a bit on collective karma and the most powerful way for us to purify this. I don’t feel like every talking to anyone who voted for him ever again. If you could offer advice on how to find balance with that, too. I know everyone wants to be happy and doesn’t want to suffer, but I can’t understand how people could vote for this man fully aware of everything he has said and done, knowing clearly from his own mouth his intention to harm the freedoms and happiness of so many. I don’t want to be a part of that group in any way. I wish them well. I include them all in my dedications, while at the same time not really wanting to have anything more to do with them.

Let me address that first. When our wishes are blocked, then we feel angry, and of course the instinct is to turn and blame others. And I think a lot of us are saying how in the world did this happen? Even the newsrooms, apparently, are all stumped and going, “We had a whole different program planned for last night. What happened?” It seems like even the conservative newsrooms didn’t expect him to win. So, people are pretty shocked and surprised, and of course uncertain of what’s going to really happen in the future, about many kinds of things. What’s going to happen internationally, what’s going to happen domestically.

I was very impressed with Clinton’s concession speech, for really calling for people to come together. And Obama, too, he really called for people to come together. Last night he made a little clip that says we’ve been through a lot with this ruckus election cycle, but the sun’s still going to come up tomorrow. And he was right. And then today saying he invited Trump to come to the White House tomorrow so that they can start the process of transition, because having a peaceful transition is one of the hallmarks of American democracy, so he wants to do whatever he can to make this a peaceful transition. And saying that now we wish Trump all success in what he does.

Also, Obama was saying that we need to see the election as an intramural argument but we’re all kind of on the same side and this was just a skirmish that happened between ourselves, but now we really need to come together as Americans and go forward.

I really appreciated that perspective. It’s very much in line with what we try and do on a personal level when we have conflict with people, instead of seeing the problem in the middle and us confronting each other [from opposite sides] over this problem, to see that we’re both on the same side looking at the problem. So if we can, in America, see, yeah, we have problems in this country. And I think that we can probably agree on many of the problems. We don’t necessarily agree on the cause of the problems, but we do agree that there are certain things that need dealing with in the country. So if we could look at things in that way and see ourselves all as trying to work for the betterment of everybody here.

Whether other people think and feel that way or not, we can’t control. I was really thinking of how Obama has the qualities of an excellent leader. What he said yesterday and today, he was really showing leadership qualities. And so that’s what we’ve got to do, too, instead of just succumbing either to depression, or letting our minds become filled with hatred the same way that we feel other people’s minds are. Because if we just look at other people and “they’re bigots, they’re this, they’re that,” and blame them and criticize them, then basically our mind has become exactly like their minds, and that’s not what we want to happen to our own mind because we know that the more we cultivate anger and hatred in our own mind the worse it is for us. In this life we’re more unhappy, and we create much more negative karma, which creates the cause of suffering for future lives, it puts more obscuration on our own mindstream.

I think this person who wrote this is saying this, the shock and being stunned, and I think that underneath we know that if we have this idea that these other people, all they are, they’re just corrupt, they’re bigots, they’re this and that, then really our mind’s becoming just like they’re. We’re ascribing a few bad characteristics to people and saying, “This is who they are, this is who they always have been and always will be.” And that’s not very fair. We don’t like when people look at us and project a stereotype on us, put us in a box, and then say that’s it, that’s who you are. So in the same way, we should try and understand what’s really going on.

I was reading one comment on the internet, and it was only at the bottom that it said it was written by a rabbi. But he was saying in the thing–and it really opened my mind to something–that it’s always been emphasized the blue collar whites, the uneducated whites who are the Trump supporters, and that, just seeing them that way, is very condescending, isn’t it? “They’re the uneducated people so of course they’re going to follow somebody like him.” And what the rabbi was saying was very often people who are working in blue collar jobs feel like they’ve been left behind on the American dream because they supposedly had all the opportunity in a meritocracy, and yet they weren’t able to reap the benefits and attain the higher classes, become upper middle or higher class, and so there’s an element of shame involved in being a factory worker or a having a blue collar job. And the rabbi was saying we should really see that and see the suffering that exists within these people’s hearts, and that’s what’s fueling when Trump starts saying these are the people who have no voice, who have been left behind, because in some way they have been left behind. They’re mostly in rural areas, the educated classes, the wealthy classes are in the city and they have everything and there’s more economic inequality now than ever before. So of course, these people feel–not just left behind economically, but a sense of shame for not having “made it” in the same way that other groups have “made it.” He really suggested that the democrats really open their hearts to these people and show that they understand what’s going on in their lives, instead of demeaning them, criticizing them, “Oh these are just the uneducated people….”

When I read that I thought, you know, he’s right, and I had never really thought of it that way. But I think what he said has some truth.

This is the time, really, for us–especially as Dharma practitioners–to cultivate empathy and to cultivate compassion for the people who supported Trump despite the fear that we may feel–either for personal safety or for what’s going to happen to the country. But to really use this as an opportunity for our own spiritual practice and to generate our own good qualities.

In the thought training teachings–one section in the thought training teachings is all about transforming adversity into the path. Why is this the centerpiece of the thought training teachings? Because we always have adversity. This is samsara, so adversity is a constant. This isn’t really anything new. Adversity is just a constant. So it’s our “playground.” It’s the life that we’re living in the middle of, and so we’ve got to transform it into the path. You can either pretend it doesn’t exist or you can go somewhere else, but if we’re kind of living in the middle of this, and it’s kind of worldwide, then we have to find some way to transform it into our spiritual path. The alternative is devolving into anger and hatred ourselves. That doesn’t do anything good. Devolving into depression, cynicism, disdain, contempt. That doesn’t do any good, doesn’t make ourselves or anybody else happy. Or just greeting this as a challenge. Our life is full of challenges. Nobody ever said our life should be challenge-free. So here’s another challenge, here is how we practice, we use the Dharma tools that the Buddha has so kindly taught to us to enlarge our perspective on other living beings so that we can see they’re not just…. We can’t just assign individuals some stereotypical, insulting image and then toss them away. They’re individuals who want happiness and don’t want suffering. And had we grown up in their situation we might have voted as they did, too. We don’t know.

Whatever it is, we have to take care of our mind. If we don’t take care of our mind then we’re going to lose everything. Not only in this life but in future lives.

Then another person wrote and said,

Would it be possible for you to do a BBC talk inspiring us to use the election results as an opportunity to grow our compassion and kind actions so we don’t engage in the negativities that may be provoked in our minds.

That’s what I was just talking about.

Maybe also encouraging us to guard our minds against our destructive thoughts. I’m watching people on social media already having lots of negative thoughts about the future, but our thoughts are just that, ideas, fantasies. I think if we can focus on showing up well now we will create a better future.

For sure. I don’t join in social media, but I can only imagine people creating all sorts of horror stories about what’s going to happen now that the election happened the way it did. “This is going to happen, that’s going to happen, this, this. Whole things going to fall apart and then there’s going to be world wars….” And on and on and on. We can create quite a horror story.

In a similar way, we can create a horror story regarding our own lives when something unwanted happens. “Oh I’m losing my job, oh I’m going to be out on the streets, and then this and that, and I’ll die of the frozen winter…. ” We create a horror story.

It’s quite important not to create horror stories, because what’s the use? We don’t know what’s really going to happen. Developing the mind that is suspicious, anxious, fearful… that kind of attitude doesn’t help us at all. We really have to go forward with our kind hearts and trust people as much as we can. Be kind to people as much as we can. And, as they say, create the kind of future that we want to have, irrespective of how other people act or treat us. To go forward with our kind hearts.

That’s what practice is really all about, isn’t it? Working with what’s going on in our mind, and this is the reality of the situation we’re in.

I remember one of my Dharma friends, years ago when I was complaining about some problem I had, he said, “What do you expect? This is samsara!” And I wanted to say, “Well I expect perfection.” But that’s rather a dumb expectation, isn’t it? It’s samsara. There are problems. Undoubtedly. Personally speaking, I feel that, looking on my life I’ve had incredible opportunities that most people on this planet have not had. So now there’s a little bit of adversity and challenge, well why not? Most of the people on this planet have faced a lot more adversity and challenge than I have. Rather than dream up all these worse case scenarios, to just take the positive that I’ve gained from having the incredible freedom in my life, and leisure to meet the Dharma and practice the Dharma, to take that with now going into the future, rather than complaining about what’s happening. We just kind of have to go forward with a good intention and a hopeful heart, and do our best. And create camaraderie, create connectivity amongst human beings whenever there’s the possibility. Because our interpretation, our attitude, is what creates the reality, and if we’re upset and cynical and depressed we will see everybody like that, the entire world becomes like that. And even people who are being kind and loving to us, we can’t see it because all we’re seeing is everything through the veil of our own cynicism and our own anger and depression, or whatever. So we have to change that veil that we’re seeing things through. Or take it away and really see the kindness that is there.

That’s one thing that I’ve learned personally. The Abbey is located in eastern Washington state. This is a Trump area. You look on the map and it’s bright red. But the people…. We know the people in town, and we mingle with them and so on, and they’re nice people. They’re nice people, aren’t they? At Albany Falls. The people at YES (Youth Emergency Services). All these people we deal with in town at the bank. It doesn’t matter what political party you’re in or who you voted for. We tried not to talk about that with any of the people that we relate to. But if we relate one on one then we’re quite fine and they’re kind people. So I think let’s keep it like that and go forward with that kind of… I want to say ‘expectation,” but not a solid expectation. But that kind of attitude on our part. And then we can see that there’s goodness and kindness in everybody, and that it’s possible to get along with all sorts of different people.

So, let’s practice.

Audience: [inaudible] … Is the people who voted for Donald Trump are really …. holding a promise there with him. He’s made a pretty profound promise to make changes … My heart has some compassion knowing that that may be a possibility. And then what happens? You put all your dreams into this one person because you’re so yearning to get what you need, and then he’s making all these promises. And you give everything to him out of faith…. Maybe not on a great foundation, but the faith’s there.

Venerable Thubten Condron (VTC): That’s the thing. When you look at what Trump has promised people, it’s impossible. You’ve had engineers and economists study the idea of building a wall along the Mexican border. They say it’s impossible. Engineering-wise, it’s impossible. And yet he’s promised that.

Or different kinds of things that he’s promised. Because he’s a reality TV star. You can say anything you want, it doesn’t really matter. It’s kind of like… What do you call them? The preachers in the south. Revivalist preachers. That’s really what his talks are like. And so you’re right, people are believing in him, and turning that over to him, and it’s going to be pretty hard for him to come through. And he’s going to for sure face some criticism. And those people are for sure going to be disappointed if they’re thinking that this one person is going to be able to control the entire US government. That’s not going to happen.

Audience: [inaudible]

VTC: It’s one thing to have…. I was thinking of that. When you’re campaigning all you see is crowds of people chanting your name, applauding, crying with joy. It’s like that every presidential campaign, for both sides. Governing is a whole different ballgame. As soon as you’re inaugurated there are no more talks to all these people who are cheering and loving you. That never happens when you start governing. Does it? What you hear when you start governing is, “You did this and we didn’t like it. Why didn’t you do that?” What you hear is criticism. So he’s in, I think, in for a big surprise. And it will be very interesting to see how, mentally, he handles this. Because signs haven’t shown that he has the ability to deal with criticism. So I suspect it will be quite difficult for him.

Maybe that’s why Obama said, “Let’s wish him well.” Obama knows–all the presidents know–what it’s like to deal with criticism. Any time you’re a leader, that’s the first qualification, the first job description is you are responsible for everything that the other people don’t like. And you’ve got to be able to take it. Otherwise, forget it. So, let’s wish him luck.

[In response to audience] The listening is very important. And what is it? 50.2% did vote for Hillary.

Audience: I can understand how that person felt, because I think what happens is if someone voted for Trump, then you think about all the things that he said, and instigated, about women, about every group, insulted and actively promoted [inaudible], and if you think, “Oh, this person who says they’re my friend, they support that, they voted for him, even though [inaudible], oh then you agree with what he said about those groups, and, well… he’s not my friend.” So I can understand where that person came from.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.