A Meditation on Zen, Politics & the Vagaries of Love

A Meditation on Zen, Politics & the Vagaries of Love July 9, 2013

Yesterday on my Facebook page I posted a link to a campaign calling for the boycott of a movie based upon the work of a Science Fiction novelist with a history of expressing extreme anti-gay views. I figure he has a right to his opinions, and I have a right not to patronize his products and to suggest to others they might consider similar actions. As I see it, it generates a rather interesting conversation around choices and consequences.

This morning my posting received a comment from someone who lamented how a boycott is a form of beating others into submission. Something I gather he doesn’t approve of. He concluded with an old canard about how the so-called tolerant can be so intolerant – of those who are intolerant. Seeing an irony in this, I suppose, but a rather weak one, I suggest. As the alternative is surrendering the world to the intolerant at the cost of some kind of pure tolerance. Small loss, at least to my mind or heart…

But the part that I particularly took exception to was the line “Is this what Zen has become – a political movement…?” Now, this particular writer has in the past expressed rather strong right libertarian views. I’ve been sufficiently off put that I’ve considered dropping him from my “friends” list. But, I’ve not as my Facebook friends seem a bit too heavily weighted toward the left end of the contemporary political spectrum, and I’ve felt I kind of need an occasional contrary view.

But, in recent times he seems to have decided to eschew a political stance in favor of non-choosing and appeals to love.

I thought at first to put scare quotes around love. It is unclear, as so often is the case, when people use that word love, what they actually mean by it. But, I use the word a lot, too. So, I thought, perhaps, maybe, a little unraveling of the term and of what use it might be for those of us who identify as Zen Buddhists might prove helpful.


I ran across an old etymological dictionary some years ago. It opined that the word love comes ultimately from the hypothetical Indo-European word “lub,” which means desire.

For Buddhists, without a doubt, desire is a problematic term.

For many Buddhists, certainly with the most conventional reading of the four noble truths, the track of human hurt comes from desire.


One option, obviously, is to withdraw. And this appears to be what is being advocated by my friend (Let’s stipulate that Facebook friend is a freighted term, but I don’t want to keep adding scare quotes every time I use the word, doing so adds in possible meanings I don’t want, either…)

Withdrawal is a common choice among Buddhists over the years. In practice what this usually means is if you don’t care you won’t be hurt.

I recall reading in a history of contemporary Korean Buddhism about people who become monks and enter a monastery, who when they hear relatives are coming to the monastery hoping to visit their loved-one, flee to another monastery in the linked system across the peninsula. If they disengage, if they don’t care, well…

Even if it leaves a lot of other people hurt…

I suggest this is a misunderstanding of the Buddha way, certainly as we understand it within Zen.

And I think my friend’s call to love is, if perhaps not fully thought through, a legitimate intuition of something important. Indeed, what I find out of the great way of not knowing, the true heart of not choosing…

I think as we turn to the so-called Fox koan, the second case of the Wumenguan, we get a sense of what might be a more healthful and helpful understanding of what’s what and how we as individuals and communities might act in this world where every choice or non-choice has consequences.

For those who forget, the koan has two basic parts, the first turns on whether a person of the way, someone who has true insight is bound by the laws of cause and effect, or not. The person who said not is cast into five hundred lives as a fox spirit. Now, the second part turns on the question what if the person of the way artfully engages every question? Well, it turns out that’s five hundred lives as a fox, too.

Silence is powerful. Some might say golden. No choice. No self. No other.

Form is emptiness.

And, as another teacher tells us, sometimes you have to speak.

Emptiness is form.

Sometimes you have to act.

And here’s where we come to love.

Love is in some ways all about desire, the root problem. We care. We are engaged. We are involved.

And, there is no escaping consequences of actions. Or, thoughts. Or, feelings…

But, do we simply follow our appetites and prejudices? Setting up hurt following hurt?

Or, do we open our hearts as widely as possible? Providing us with a moral compass that makes our actions more about healing than hurting.

Here’s part of what that might look like.

Can you see yourself as uniquely rising in this world? If not, your path isn’t complete.

Can you see yourself in another? If not, your path isn’t complete.

Both and neither are part of the greater way. Do you understand this?

If not, well, our disciplines of quiet and introspection into the vagaries of relationship, of love, of who we, you and I are, it seems, become very, very close to absolutely necessary.

We need to stop and notice. Stop and see.

And, part of that seeing is that we’re not isolated, we are not disconnected, we are in fact completely intertwined.

That opens the gate, opens the heart.

And here we find love.

Not some syrupy bit of sentimentality. But, a powerful and very dangerous thing.

It rises as naturally as our breathing.

It births worlds. It sustains them. It tears them apart.

Love is the world in action.

And with that knowing, with that seeing of us, you and me, and the world within the great dynamic, then our actions are like the bodhisattva reaching a hand behind her head in sleep and adjusting the pillow.

And, so a question for those of us deeply, deeply offended at a writer’s call for the judicial murder of people who love those of the same sex.

Can one boycott like that?

And, a question for those who don’t want to pile opinions upon opinions. How do you see you’re not involved?

And for both:

Knowing the writer is part of us? Is us?

And, that, whatever we do or refrain from doing, new things will emerge?

Consequences follow…

Five hundred lives as a fox.

Knowing how ’till the end of the earth, which given our collective actions may be closer than I personally would like, whatever we do or refrain from doing there will be consequences,

Five hundred lives as a fox.

What will you do with this one, glorious, terrible, beautiful, sad, life?

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