Dear Sangha and Friends,
Having taken some space to listen to our sangha and surrounding communities, we now feel it is time to respond to recent events. Though the reasons for last week’s election results are certainly complex, there is one thing that in our estimation is clear and distressing – nearly half of its participants either willingly ignored or cast a vote in support of months of hateful rhetoric. We do not believe it wise or in support of ending suffering to ignore this.
While the violence that may seem surprising to some in this election has a long history, while the rhetoric of this campaign is a symptom and not an isolatable cause of the behaviors that women, people of color, LGBTQ communities, immigrants, Muslims, Jews and others have experienced long before the last eighteen months, we do not believe this election is any sort of business as usual. Misogynist, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, homophobic and racial violence were defended and sometimes explicitly called for throughout this campaign. The outcome of this election risks affirming that violence while adding to it the authority of the State.
We are already familiar with some of the results of this firing up of hate – increased harassment of women and girls is being reported; teenagers are showing up to school swearing white power shirts and chanting “build a wall”; mosques and Muslims have been attacked; and images associating the President-elect’s name with the Nazi iron cross are being scrubbed off of walls. We are grateful that the President-elect has mentioned he would like an end to this violence and pray his current words outweigh past ones in their effect. We also urge that a much stronger response is required as it is not so easy to put hatred back in a box. Some who have voted for Trump have also been attacked as well. Our Buddhist communities must publicly name and stand up to this hatred and violence that is not in alignment with our values of love, compassion and wisdom.
As reported hate crimes have increased dramatically since the election, we must also acknowledge and care for the fear now being felt by so many who have already suffered immense historical oppression in our country. Some of us have met with immigrant communities who are now deeply fearful of deportation and the breaking up of their families. People of color in our community have reported feeling an increased anxiety and fear for their safety. Openly tearful Muslim friends fear for themselves, their children and communities. Friends in the LGBTQ community are expressing fear of being or getting married, of losing rights regarding their children, of open violence. Women are outraged over the seeming acceptance of sexual predatory behavior and fear that rights and safety will be rolled back decades. Some have claimed these fears are excessive responses. We suggest feeling into the historical experiences that might justify them in light of recent rhetoric. As Buddhists, we must commit to putting ourselves in spaces of hearing and receiving this suffering as a way of informing a compassionate response.To simply call out violence is not enough. We also feel it is our duty to expose and end the willful propagation of greed, hatred and delusion that increases suffering and puts the vulnerable, the victims of ongoing oppression, and our entire society at greater risk. What is happening now is not about a single election or a single candidate. It is a wake up call for any of us who have been privileged enough to ignore the historical and structural violence of our nation.
Through one of wisdom’s lenses we know our deep interconnectedness and unconquerable dignity rooted in Buddha nature. Through the other we discern a suffering, dualistic world that sets oppressor against oppressed in systems of domination. To forget the former will set us intractably against each other forever. To use the former as a reason to ignore the latter allows violence and oppression to thrive. We must be careful never to use the Buddhadharma as a means for turning away from the violence of the world and our place in it. The Buddhadharma is not a sedative to get us through painful times, but a powerful teaching that frees and bolsters us to carry out our intention to work diligently for the liberation of all beings.
None of this is to say that those who either willingly ignored or cast a vote in support of months of hateful rhetoric are not also suffering, or that this suffering should be ignored. However, we can never accept or affirm hatred, individual or societal, as an appropriate response to suffering. We must remain diligent in our vow to commit no evil, which requires us to interrogate and shed tendencies toward hatred in ourselves and our society. Rather than being a reason for increased hostility, we pray this turns out to be a true moment of clarity when we can deepen our exploration into our complicity in these ongoing expressions of hatred and violence with a deep intention to interrupt and uproot their causes. We also must inquire into the role of sangha at this time. Sangha must not only be a shared commitment to do the spiritual work of removing all hindrances to the natural lovingness of our being, but we must stand up together as an unshakable mirror to all things that confuse, berate, humiliate and impede that love. As Dr. King said, “Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.” We believe it is time in our nation for the Buddhist sangha to insist on being a part of that corrective course.
May our coming actions honor the Buddha, dharma and sangha, our ancestors, our Mother Earth and the inherent dignity of all beings.
Teah Strozer, Guiding Dharma Teacher
Greg Snyder, President and Senior Dharma Teacher
Laura O’Loughlin, Lay Dharma Teacher
Danielle Saint Louis, Executive Director