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Lions Roar : January 2003
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2003 7 I’m fifty-one, and the world has never felt so dangerous. One starts to understand what people felt in former times when calamity seemed to be gathering on the horizon. Now we too experi- ence a dark foreboding, fear for our children’s future, and helplessness in the face of our lead- ers’ recklessness. Normally I’m expected to write these editorials about the contents of the Sun or on a Buddhist theme, but fears that we may be entering a bad era dominate my thoughts. I expect you are troubled as well. It does not feel like the moment to address issues of purely personal or spiritual development. In a time like this, it is an intrinsic part of spiritual practice—an obliga- tion, really—for practitioners to consider the state of the world and try to formulate a helpful response. But I confess my overriding feeling is one of helplessness. We of the post-war Western gen- eration have felt so empowered. Maybe the influence we thought we had was always an illu- sion. But in past decades, even governments considered extreme in their time generally respected agreed-upon norms of political behavior. Now there are major actors on the world stage who are swollen by power, ambition and, too often, religion. They seek the most extreme change, feel no constraints on their actions, and are willing to take great risks. It is the greater danger that makes us feel more helpless. I make no excuses for or no defense of the West’s violent enemies. But over them we have no possibility of influence. We can only undercut their popular support by acting in the world with decency and generosity, and defend our citizens when we must. Our responsibility is for our own societies and governments. For this audience I don’t need to argue the ways in which the current U.S. administration is the most radical and bellicose in recent history, perhaps ever. It seeks to dominate the world—indeed remake it—with its unprecedented military power. It seeks to dominate domestic politics with the rhetoric of permanent warfare, so that voters are distracted from the economy and opponents cowed by charges of traitorousness. Of course, America’s enemies are pleased to cooperate with this strategy—it suits their purposes as well. Perhaps events will prove me wrong by the time this issue is in your hands. Perhaps in the congressional elections coming up as I write this voters will deliver a rebuke to the administra- tion. But every indication now is that the war strategy is working. Perhaps between the Security Council and the Iraqis themselves, a successful inspection regime will forestall the American invasion, or perhaps a sudden collapse of the Saddam regime. But even then, the larger issue is the ambition of leading figures in the administration to reshape the world using American mil- itary power. So if not Iraq now, then somewhere else later. And if Iraq now, then somewhere else again after. Until finally, in one place or the other, the easy victories end. Between a tamed electorate at home and a weak international system, where are we left, what can we do to slow the momentum? I would never counsel political passivity. We must do whatever we can electorally. Yet there is a feeling of helplessness, because primal human forces are at work on a large scale—more accurately, they are being manipulated—and such forces do not turn quickly or easily. I just flew back from San Francisco thinking about these things, thinking about this feeling of helplessness. And something unexpected, unplanned, happened. I started being nice to peo- ple (and I can be pretty grumpy). It felt natural to smile at people, to be patient, to help them with their bag. Sometimes I’m like that anyway, but in this case it felt special, like a contribu- tion I could make. To bring in positive and peaceful energy and not add more aggression to an angry world. It was little but it was all I could do. I was no longer helpless, but in the best Buddhist tradition, useless. ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN BUDDHISM CULTURE MEDITATION LIFE Melvin McLeod, Editor-in-Chief Trish Deitch Rohrer, Executive Editor Barry Campbell Boyce, Senior Editor Andrea McQuillin, Managing Editor Liza Matthews, Art Director & Associate Editor Seth Levinson, Assistant Art Director James M. Gimian, Publisher Molly De Shong, Associate Publisher, Circulation, & Assistant Editor Eric L. Ross, Associate Publisher, Advertising Jessica von Handorf, Production Coordinator Raymond Taavel, Systems Manager Carol Millett, Tammy Mills, Customer Service Kenneth Swick, Bookkeeper Samuel Bercholz, Publishing Advisor Founder Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940-1987) President Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche ADVERTISING INQUIRIES Debra Ross, Advertising Sales Toll-free: 1-866-287-6633 Steve Ritchie, Advertising Sales Toll-free: 1-866-436-3233 EDITORIAL & CENTRAL BUSINESS OFFICE 1585 Barrington Street, Suite 300, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3J 1Z8 Tel: (902) 422-8404, Fax: (902) 423-2701 E-mail: email@example.com U.S . SUBSCRIPTION OFFICE 1345 Spruce St., Boulder, CO 80302-4886 SUBSCRIBERS:To subscribeor renew, call toll-free (877) 786-1950. Visit the customer service area of our website to see your subscription status. www.shambhalasun.com/customers/subs.asp MOVING? Notifyussixweeksinadvance.Wecannot be responsible for issues which the post office does not forward. The Shambhala Sun makes its mailing list available from time to time to organizations which we believe may be of interest to our readers. Please notify our subscription department if you no longer wish to receive such mailings. www.shambhalasun.com EDITORIAL • MELVIN MCLEOD Let’s Do Something Useless