Facing the Election with Buddhist Practices of Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity

The days are mercifully winding down toward November 8th, the day our nation picks the next president. And while much rancor has come from the campaign, some calling it the most divisive period in America in at least 100 years, there is peace on the horizon.

But that peace doesn’t come in simply waiting out the next 48 hours. It comes from within. Odd as it may sound, this is a brilliant time to develop loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity – the Buddha’s four “Divine Abodes.”

Too often, meditation (indeed any kind of personal cultivation) is confused with inaction in the world. Far from it. Meditation is work, and it brings one’s actions in the world into sharp focus. It brings relationships into focus. It brings our own mental attitudes into focus. And not simply for the joy of focus: but so that we can bring about the change we want in the world.

The four divine abodes can be understood in terms of attitudes that a parent might have for a child.

  • When the child is young, the response is an unquestioning flow of loving-kindness, seeing the child as an extension of oneself.
  • As the child grows there are many pains and sorrows calling forth a parent’s compassion.
  • In the teens, more or less, the child begins to have victories of their own, for which the parent can look on with sympathetic joy.
  • As an adult, the son or daughter will make choices all on their own that must be met with equanimity.

As voters we head into the coming days hoping to achieve some state of equanimity with the political world we have co-shaped. We are not completely separate from it, but we also will have little to do – besides vote!

This election cycle has reached its maturity. If we have been attentive participants in the democracy we have already supported a candidate or candidates who embodied our own visions of loving-kindness; we have watched on with compassion toward that candidate’s highs and lows, and we have felt sympathetic joy as the candidate moved forward in the political process. Have no doubt, we shape the process as much as a parent does a child, and the resulting candidates are a reflection of our national character and choices.

According to our final poll (still ongoing), readers here are of quite the leftist bent. When asked who they’d vote for with Bernie Sanders included as a hypothetical Green Party candidate, here at least, he’d win it – pretty handily.

november poll Sanders 3-way Nov 6

So readers may not be terribly pleased with the choices ahead of them. A few are even writing in Bernie Sanders when he’s not on the ballot. And many others are turning to Jill Stein or Gary Johnson.

november poll 4-way Nov 6

When it comes to your actual vote though, please don’t.

Vote for Hillary.

I understand the grievances former Sanders supporters have against Clinton. I even noted my respect for the #BernieOrBust message back in April. As signs of enthusiasm, principle, and high standards for our politicians, that was fine. There are many faults to her, just as there are to our current president.

But there is no comparison between Clinton and Trump. Trump is uniquely unqualified. And no, this isn’t an asset, even though watching Republicans in Congress over the last 8 years might lead us to think it is.

Trump is uniquely dishonest, uniquely ill-tempered, uniquely misogynistic, uniquely Islamophobic, uniquely racist, uniquely anti-Semitic, uniquely nationalistic and authoritarian.

Whereas a Republican like John McCain or Mitt Romney could govern our nation without the likelihood of chaos and international embarrassment, the prospects of a Trump Presidency afford us zero such assurances. This is no time to “see what the other side can do” or even for a protest vote. If you live in a deep blue or deep red state and want to vote your conscience (provided that conscience doesn’t point you toward Trump – if so, please explain yourself in the comments), I can’t really fault you. But, for everyone in every swing state and every state even maybe might tilt one way or the other:

Vote for Hillary.

And on November 9th, do not disengage.

Either way things go, the nation lives on and we are called to continue our work. If we are lost in an exalted state of joy in Clinton’s victory, we will be blind to the suffering of those who feel disenfranchised by “politics as usual.” We will be blind to those very often white and male voices of anger. We cannot simply ignore them and act surprised when the next Donald Trump comes to prominence in four or eight years. If we are lost in despair in the case of a Trump victory, we also cannot act in the grassroots and local efforts that will be needed to ensure a survivable four years ahead.

If you are a leftist wishing for a strong Socialist, Green, or Progressive Democratic candidate in four or eight years, Wednesday is the day to start doing something about it on the ground. Wednesday is also a good day to remind Clinton of her progressive campaign promises.

Our post election loving-kindness can start now. Listen to those angry voices. True loving-kindness excludes none, even opposing political candidates. The KKK, the racists, the womanizers, the war-mongers, the ultra-wealthy, and the tax dodgers, all are individuals wishing to be happy. They are members of our community, sometimes our family, and certainly our nation. We need to hear them, to break down the barriers between them and us.

 The world suffers. But most men have their eyes and ears closed. They do not see the unbroken stream of tears flowing through life; they do not hear the cry of distress continually pervading the world. Their own little grief or joy bars their sight, deafens their ears. Bound by selfishness, their hearts turn stiff and narrow. – On Compassion, Ven Nyanaponika

Let us not be stiff and narrow on election day or the day after. Win or lose, think of others. Think even of those who are happy but act with deluded minds, creating their own future suffering.

We can vow now to have genuine sympathetic joy for whoever wins. This may be difficult, but nobody honest ever said meditation was easy. This is a cultivation. We may also have sympathetic joy for the one defeated. He or she gets to go home to rest. The campaign trail is no doubt exhausting and we have all seen the way the presidency ages people. Much work has been put in by people on both sides and all deserve our sympathetic joy for their efforts. This doesn’t mean we agree with any lies or harmful acts, any backroom deals or immoral collusion, any kinds of immorality committed by the candidates or their teams.

And, as I noted, we can watch on with equanimity, celebrating – certainly – if our side wins, but also having the wisdom to know that what the future brings is uncertain and that the work isn’t over.

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