Buddhist practice is a koan, wrapped in a riddle that's been buried in a place where "X" marks the spot. And dealing with difficult questions is an important part of the training.
For example, one of the questions that I wrestled with through all of 2017 was this, "How do I practice loving-kindness in the face of political turmoil?"
When the presidential results came in, and Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States, I did what I thought I was supposed to do as an activist. I took to the streets.
That's not a bad thing in and of itself. After all, civil disobedience is at the heart of a strong democracy. But the way I protested was not in keeping with Buddhist teachings.
I shouted slogans that were unkind. I had thoughts towards people that were unloving. And I allowed the poison of anger to fester in my heart because I thought it was for the "greater good".
This was foolishness. Terrible things have been done through out history for the "greater good", and I'm ashamed that I walked down that path. Clearly, I need to meditate more. However, something else is also required.
At the Buddhist temple near my house, we take part in certain Pure Land practices in addition to Zen. One of them is an atonement ceremony in which we confess our negative karma thereby purifying it.
This is my confession. It's not enough, but it's all I have to give.
I confess that I'm a flawed human being who still has much to learn about the Dharma. I confess that our country is being burned by the fires of fear and hatred, and that I poured fuel on that fire. I confess that I said and did things that brought suffering to others... and I thought they deserved that suffering.
It was wrong, and I'm sorry.
I'm not confessing in the hopes of receiving forgiveness. The world doesn't owe me that. But I have a debt to pay. I need to cleanse the negative karma that I created through my actions. Perhaps this article can be a start.
Either way, when I think back to my original question regarding politics and loving-kindness, I'm reminded of Zen Master Dogen, and his meeting with a cook. The cook was 70 years old, and working feverishly to prepare food for his temple under a scorching sun. As the story goes, the clay tiles under his feet were hot enough to burn flesh.
Dogen asked why he insisted on working under the hot sun. And the old cook replied, "If I don't do it now, then when will I do it?"
Is there anything else to say? If we can't be kind to each other now, when will we do it? If we can't find love in our hearts in this moment, when it's needed more than ever, will we ever find it?
The time to practice is always now. A burning sun, a tweeting president, these things don't free me from my obligation to save all sentient beings from suffering.
I must walk like a Buddha; even when the path is hard.
With this in mind, I want you to know that if you're reading this, I love you. My love is unconditional and unequivocal. It does not hinge on your political affiliation or even on how you feel towards me. You can hate me if you want, but I'll still love you all the same.
Because I'm realizing now that loving-kindness isn't contingent on who you are, or what you've done. Rather, it's based on what you are. And you my friend, are a sentient being who's Buddha-nature is identical to my own.