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Lions Roar : July 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2009 67 In Times of Trouble By NOrMAN FISCHer from a talk following the 9/11 attacks I do not doubt that something needs to be done in response to these terrorist events. exactly what needs to be done I do not know—as a religious person it is not my job to figure this out. I do not know what I would do if I had the responsibility. But if the actions taken come out of a wrong understanding of the situation, out of a blindness to the social and spiritual forces that have given rise to it, then those actions will be twisted and ineffective. I have seen this so many times in my lifetime: violence inspiring violence that gives rise to more violence. Wars that end temporarily, only to produce new wars. The people who hijacked those airplanes and murdered so many people were themselves people. They did what they did because of their damaged hearts and twisted minds. But their hearts became damaged and their minds twisted for a reason. There isn’t any separate evil out there that I can find, blame for all this, and root out of the human family. There’s just one world, one human race. The evil that happens happens for a reason.... There are times when life becomes so stark, so absolutely real in and of itself, that there is no thought of meditation practice—just bearing witness to what is is enough, and more than enough. But here I do not mean meditation practice itself. I mean the preciousness of it, all the interesting refinements and developments of the practice that can get so artistic sometimes. It’s all of that which reality often blows out of the water. But meditation practice itself—the simple practice of being quiet, the practice of listening to ourselves, to the cries of the world, listening deeply with an accurate ear, allowing, opening to what we hear—that practice is more relevant in times like these than ever. There are, in a crisis, a million ways to help and we all should help in whatever way we can. But beyond help, and in addition to it, we need to bear witness to what is happening. To take it in, imagine it, feel it, grieve over it, accept it, not accept it, understand it, fail to understand it, and comfort each other in that. To do that we need to sit, we need the expansiveness of our sitting, as well as of our chanting and our prayers. It seems absolutely essential. —JANUAry, 2002 The Meaning of Barack Obama By CHArleS r. JOHNSON Perhaps it would be best to describe the Obama phenomenon as being, from a Buddhist perspective, not so much revolutionary as potentially evolutionary. But if so, then one problem Obama faces are people who do not want to evolve beyond the ancient stupidity and error of epidermalizing the world, who are attached to the idea of a racial (or geographic) identity as a way of avoiding the experience of their true nature as interconnectedness or emptiness. (Or, if you prefer existentialist thought to the buddhadharma, Sartre’s famous “existence precedes essence” may substitute for the idea of our true nature as interconnectedness.) In other words, the meaning of our lives is never pre-given: whatever meaning we find is based on our deeds, actions, and, as Martin luther King, Jr., once said, “the content of our character.” The Illinois senator, who repeatedly rejects obsolete ways of thinking and talking about race, predictably finds himself walking a cultural tightrope, always performing with balance, remarkable grace, and civility when attacked by those with a tribal mentality (white, black, and otherwise) who feel most threatened by the monumental sea change his presence in American politics represents. If his campaign fails, it may well be for the reason Charles M. Blow identified in an op-ed piece in the New York Times: the inability of American voters to “let go” of the illusion of race. If he wins, we may have the possibility of a bit of liberation and relief from centuries of racial masks and dissembling. For Obama understands that a black presidential hopeful can only become the leader of the most powerful nation in human history if he rises above the racially provincial and parochial; if his humanity, empathy, and compassion are strongly felt to be genuine by his “fellow citizens of the world.” That is one enduring IllUSTrATIONByAlANGOrdON