State of the Union

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In the past, many years ago, once in a while I would give a talk called The State of the Union. And one day someone said, I came here for the Dharma, I didn't come here for politics. So that kind of inhibited me a little bit because I really, although politics is part of everything, I wasn't talking so much about politics as about danger. And I think that it really behooves us to not be silent about what we perceive as the wrecking ball of the country, having free reign. to destroy our democracy and the world.


So today, I want to talk a little about that. This is a real crisis that's been going on for a year and a half. And we watch it, and our inability to do anything about it is very frustrating. So we all sit here in a kind of relief from this frustration. So somebody asked, what is the Buddhist attitude? toward dealing with this situation. So that's a good question. I was going to talk about something else until I got the question. So how does a Buddhist deal with this kind of situation?


I think that each person deals with it individually. If we want to look at it as a Buddhist solution, there's the historical view, and then there's the imminent view. Historical view is, this is inevitable. From a historical point of view, it is inevitable. unavoidable from a practical point of view is here it is and we have to do something regardless of how it's going to end up. We cannot be attached to our effort to do something to stop it.


It's like a steamroller and every day it becomes more and more, you see more and more atrocities in our country, like kidnapping children. Can you imagine that? Kidnapping children and collecting the ransom. because children are not going to be freed without some kind of consequences or ransom. It's not money ransom. It's some other kind of ransom that will appear. It hasn't been stated yet, but it will appear. This is a ruthless government. Totally. First I want to say, is there anybody here that objects to this? I mean, that objects to me talking about this? Thank you. So, in the history of the world, this is just normal.


Show me a civilization that's still going in a way that is not cut off at the knees. that are from the ancient world. Some are, but the British Empire is gone. The empire that ruled the world. Now the American empire that's going to rule the world is on its upswing. That's the point. I mean, you can see it. If you can't see it, you need to look more clearly. I mean, it was obvious from the beginning, but now it's taking form and shape, controlling the world, dominating the world in order to make the president more wealthy. That's all he cares about, power and money.


But it's the way our American present-day civilization has created this situation. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It's been going on for a long time. And you can see it. I remember when we talk about the practical aspect, in the past, Berkeley Zen Center actually has done a lot of protesting. The Iran-Contra situation, we used to write letters. After morning Zazen, we went in the community room and wrote letters to our senators and representatives. And during some of the other difficulties, we surrounded the Lawrence Livermore lab and holding hands and sitting.


So we've done stuff. It's not like we have ignored all these crises. It's hard to know what to do in this particular situation. Not easy. You know, rallies. That's good. And then, you know, you get, I do, maybe you do, these petitions on the internet to sign, and I just sign them all, you know. I don't know what good that does, but it gives you a release, gives you an outlet to do something. It makes you feel like you have some outlet to do something. But it's very crucial, very critical. All the power is on one side. All the power is on one side. The liberal people are marginalized, and there's no way.


Knocking on the door doesn't help. Knocking on the door is just, you know, you get blown away. But vote. That's the only way. Even that may not be the way. Anyway, I kind of want to open that up a little bit to, you know, hear what you want to express or question or discuss. Peter? Well, yes, Buddhist response, you could say several things.


Maintaining composure. Maintaining your composure is the most important part. You know, we have reaction and response. Reaction is your immediate emotional and mental connection with that which you hate, and then you become connected to it. Response is to step back and find a way, the best way to deal with what it is that you want to relate to. response is to respond and avoid reacting. Because as soon as you react, you lose your, it's easy to lose your discernment.


And the emotional side becomes more prominent than the Discerning side, in which you can, reaction is a kind of blinding, because it cuts through everything and it feels good for the moment, but it also causes more problems. So, when you step back and respond, you avoid, can avoid being caught by your own reactions. And you can actually, it's possible to actually make a difference. So composure and settledness, that's our practice, isn't it?


to be able to sit with composure and settledness in the eye of the storm. That's what does it is. Otherwise, you know, what are we doing? So that's basic response, to not be turned over by the wind. bend with the grass and come back up, instead of making a big statement and getting cut down. I feel that's the basic approach. Otherwise, we go crazy. It's easy to just go crazy. You mentioned outlets, and it seems like outlets connect to response. or something like that. Everybody does it individually, you said also, but what would you do?


I mean, you wrote letters once. What would you recommend we do, or how do we connect with our responses? Well, it depends on, you know, every situation calls for its own response, depending on what's available. Today at noon, there's a rally downtown. So that's the immediate, easy, it's at noon, at the old White House, the old City Hall. Yeah, so that's easy. Boy, this is an engaging, gripping conversation. And I appreciate that, the deep thinking I'm diving into here. Come back to what should we do, and it's individual.


I have to look at things that are working, and what I want to support. If I only look at Well, any of those terms works. I become that, you know, when you say, you're acrimonious, so the balance of that, say, this is really tremendous, but I'm also looking at 400 fellow sister activists going to the Hill July 17th to lobby for some really important life-saving programs, and I keep getting encouraged by that, and to see that Congress, because of the support of activists, has saved some of the nutrition programs, SNAP, the food stamps,


has increased our global foreign aid in certain accounts, like tuberculosis treatment and global health and education. I mean, these are very hot. The children mortality, the birth mortality. There's just some really good things happening out there. And Congress does listen to us. They are at the key for this, whether it'll get through It's like there are actions we can take that do make a difference that aren't just no, no, no. Yes. So that's encouraging. That's very encouraging. And it's because people do something. Because people do something. Yes. And the thing you talk about in our practice in coming from the Bodhisattva's human is persistent effort.


It's not about, and I think people really relate to the marches, and that's important, but where's your persistent effort as a citizen? You pay taxes, where do you want the money to go? Keep looking for that. is that everybody's busy. Everybody's kind of in their environmental work or whatever, right? And it's really hard to step out of that. That's one of the big problems, right? I agree, yes. Where you are, what can you do without changing or without giving up your career? Charlie.


money to Emily's List, who are now supporting 3,000 separate women candidates in various their work and by favoritism of their work because it was sexist, but that is totally wrong. And beside the point, women over and over again demonstrated a greater capacity for care and concern of those


favored amongst us. They also are less likely to be money grubbers in office. So my vote and my money is with the women. Well, thank you. Ed? Yeah. In the past, group of Berkeley Dents students have put together various campaigns called Elections Machines. And we're going to be doing that again this year in two or three districts in California. And if you're interested in getting involved in that, come see me. Isn't there a book?


Yes, we put out a book, a guide book on how to set up your own elections machine. If you want to do that, that would be fine. Or you can come with us. We'll be out there for at least two weeks before election time. So the book is for sale at the bookstore. You can take a look at it after this talk. This wasn't a set up. Yeah, I came to practice not long after the presidential election.


And I think there's a reason. But I think it's not a coincidence. I think I was angry and I felt really helpless. I wasn't seeking to build action from. I already had those out in my life. But I was looking for a way to deal with my anger and sense of helplessness. And for me, this practice has been very helpful in that regard. And so it's really exciting to hear us all talk about the things we can actually get together and go out and do. But when I look around, I see a lot of anger and a lot of helplessness that also needs taking care of. And I see this as a practice that can really help with that. Again, I'm pretty new to this.


I don't really know how Buddhists think about proselytization. But I'm curious to hear your thoughts about how we can invite people to this practice as a way for them to help survive. they're experiencing. If not, stop that harm. Just be okay. Right. Well, we are not a proselytizing outfit, but we welcome people who want to be here. So I appreciate your, you know, what I originally was going to talk about was my, how I came to practice In the short version, some people say, well, people come to practice because of their suffering, or they come to practice because they want to straighten their head out, or for various reasons.


I myself didn't come to practice for any of those reasons. I just came because Somebody brought me, and I really always wanted to do meditation. That's the reason. I just always wanted to do meditation, and I've always felt that that's the reason for being here. But the secondary perks are, you know, when I found the well, walking through the desert and I found the oasis called Zen Center. I said, this is where I hang up my traveling bag. And so everything that comes out of that is wonderful and secondary to the fact that I found my home, the place where I could go deeper than any other practice I know of. So that's what we invite people to do, is to come and find the oasis, find the place where you can feel the depths of your own being.


And then everything else that comes out of that is a result of that. But I appreciate your feeling for, you know, being open to people to do this practice. How do we make that implication? How do we do that? Well, that's what we've been trying to think about for a long time. We've actually been thinking about how to do that without being proselytizing. side to the prisons, San Quentin, a library in the city that has a lot of homeless people, and actually do city groups to introduce people to at least meditation practice, with an idea that they may not be ready


and bring them something that allows them to function better and be able to develop a kind of a practice in other settings. And it's very dramatic what happens. Yeah. Yeah. Laurie? Yeah. And so if you're feeling angry and powerless, this has been shown to be a way to get rid of that.


And we're not saying any more than that, but contributing to that. We have a waving in the back. You know, I feel very un-Buddhist. Un-what? Un-Buddhist, but I can't help but think that there's something evil going on. Talking about the Wrecking Ball. And I'm reminded that, I don't really know the specifics, but in the Tantric, Tibetan tradition, demons are Well, you know, in that vein, it's certainly demonic, what's going on.


And I think that our president has sold himself to the devil. Not literally, but actually. And so that's why he's untouchable. He can do anything he wants and there are no consequences. What do you think of that? Do anything he wants and there are absolutely no consequences, very few little consequences. He gets embarrassed all the time. He thrives on the opposition. Yeah, the man sitting in the seat with his hand up. Yeah, you. Yeah, start talking. Yes. I resonated with the last speaker. Before he spoke, I wanted to say something.


I feel there's two things. uh... I believe that it's quite abstract. That is, that an article of faith that I've had all my life is that goodness will prevail.


Well, it's not that that's wrong. It's just that it takes a long, you know, you may not experience that in your lifetime. Because, you know, this right now, the government is based on greed, ill will and delusion. The opposites of those are generosity, goodwill or love, and enlightenment. So, those two are always in opposition to each other. And right now, the demon is overwhelming, and this one is trying to do something, but it's hard. Yes. all of this, it reflects my own process around feeling of helplessness of whatever you can do.


And recently I've been back in the hospital, not as a nurse now, but as a chaplain, and I've been coming up against the same feeling of watching all these providers and all the staff and the patients all suffer a marginalization that they're part of. They're either marginalized by the amount of time they can offer a patient, that's all about, reimbursement and what you have to get done and productivity and work efficiency. So to make this short, one of the things I was talking about with Hozan is how do I sustain myself in the face of being part of a system that I hate? And this is what we're all talking about politically as well. And one of the offerings I was given was sitting in a group where I feel supported in being in that. And so what I'm wondering is, because we're talking about individual response, and people are involved in different campaigns, different prison work, different ways of responding to this, if there was an interest in this saga to have a weekly gathering where we don't come to necessarily problem solve one campaign or


we focus letter writing on another human being, but we sit in a circle and share what has been our energy that we have done something toward, and how it makes us feel, and we witness that for each other. And I would be happy to facilitate something like that as a way for us to feel like we're hearing each other. Try it out. Good idea. Bring it up. Bring it up at practice committee. Okay. Ben? I really resonated with what you said. Thank you so much. and the ones that aren't out really distressed, maybe not noticing it in themselves, which I tend to be a type of that.


And I guess I want to say two things briefly. I would just encourage us all to encourage other people we care about to care for themselves. It's so important, and to try to have and to not, it's okay that it's unfixable, and it's not your job to fix the world. I think a little time with that is helpful, and then you can try to fix what might be in front of you, or help. And then the other thing I wanted to say is, I see Trump really as a manifestation of so many things that have been building in our culture I just see these very large corporations, so much wealth in so few hands.


And all of us as consumers drive this. And I may be more frightened by where that will lead us than even this administration. So I would encourage everyone to Think about how you spend your money and try to spend it with people who are nearby. Speak to them kindly when you buy something. Just thinking the other day how many boxes are going around the planet right now with online retailers. Yeah, well, we're all caught in the cycle. We're all caught on the wheel. That's the hard part. You have to get in your car and drive off. Yeah. I'm going to say something that might make you feel uncomfortable.


While it's really important that women's organizations, whether it's Buddhist, Christian, serve people and help them deal with hardship, I think historically our society has put the onus of the suffering on the sufferer to learn to better self right away, to learn better coping. that it's causing suffering, and engaging with literally people who are evil, or, you know, whoever is, whoever, whatever force is manifesting that, I would like to, as a person of color, put them directly in a positive light. I would like to see focus on engagement with the groups that we believe are causing suffering. Yeah, that's an interesting viewpoint.


My experience is that it's the other way around, but I think two things. One is, yes, you want to eliminate the causes that make people suffer. But the other side is that each person has a responsibility to come up to the fact of suffering. And there are outside causes and inside causes, inner causes of suffering. So there's a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is what you experience as a feeling, but suffering is how you deal with that pain. Suffering or freedom is how you deal with that pain. So it's a responsibility of each person. I think that's why we're here. That's why we're born, is to address the causes, the inner causes of suffering, and how to find our freedom.


Yes, so both is true. Yes. But we should deal with the outer causes as well. Yes. Wait a minute. I want to get somebody new. The Sixth Ancestor said to attend to the demons in one's own mind. Yeah, the consequence, the consequence comes unexpectedly.


Yeah, it's not that there's no consequence. There's no apparent consequence. Yes, that's, thank you for, yes. But the consequence is going to be really big. I try to think about Trump as my best teacher. That's great, yes. Good. Okay, with that.