unbalanced rocks

Halfway between moral and immoral = nowhere

In There’s Nothing Virtuous About Finding Common Ground, Tayari Jones asks “When we revisit our shameful past, ask yourself, Where was the middle? Rather than chattel slavery, perhaps we could agree on a nice program of indentured servitude? “

Or maybe we can “compromise” on abortion and just let rich people get them? Yeah, NO.

As a Buddhist I must tell you that the “middle” is rarely the place of balance.

I strive to see the Buddha nature (good potential) in every human. Even the cretin in the White House. In fact, it’s not hard for me to see how much he is suffering from his own delusions and fears. But that doesn’t mean I have to see things his way. Understanding his motivations can be useful, but there’s nothing I can do to make people like him listen to me without severely compromising my own values.

Which brings me to the point of this work, making the world a better place. One of the reasons that most Democrats have been unable to win is that for the past 25 years they have been trying to sell themselves as friendlier Republicans. To win long-term they need a compelling vision that energizes voters and emphasizes progressive values (a la Lakoff‘s Don’t Think of an Elephant). Instead they’ve been letting consultants lead them by the nose to eke out marginal victories based on big money tactics. They occasionally win the battle for votes but they lose the war for hearts and minds. The Overton Window shifts ever rightward and now we are debating whether trans people have rights and whether migrant children should be treated like human beings.

Which brings me back to the strategic futility (as well as moral failure) of trying to compromise with people who want to annihilate us. I’m not saying to write them off. They are people too, and frankly they need help to come back to a place of love and humanity. But validating their hateful and counterfactual ideas won’t do that.

(I edited this post to add some thoughts that I wrote in response to en e-mail discussion of Jones’s article.)

Black clad demonstrators with "NO HATE" signs

Can you be Buddhist and antifa at the same time?

Haven’t processed all of this yet, but this is a great exploration of antifa from a Buddhist perspective. Please read if like me you are troubled by both violence and nazis.

Buddhists and the Bloc: An Open Thread On Antifa

On perceptions:

I also want to think about this on a “Buddhist” level. What do we expect Buddhists to look like at these demonstrations? Based on mainstream images, we might expect thin, glowy, non-disabled, ‘wise-seeming’ adherents, typically white, occasionally Black. (Thanks, racist erasure.) We might expect them to be sitting in meditation, legs crossed, face uncovered and untroubled. There is nothing wrong with any of these forms, but it’s a problem when our expectations calcify around them. This problem is not new. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche identified it in his classic book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. If we’re not careful, we can slide into stereotypes and assumptions about how awakening behaves. What it wears. How it sounds. And that’s where ego creeps in, just when we think we’re being all awakened and marvelous.

On violence as a tactic:

…My commitments to transforming oppression lead me to seek relationship and solidarity with those actively opposing white supremacy.

That means I’m going to encounter plenty of people I disagree with. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that some people in Antifa, and some who use black bloc tactics, aren’t animated by rage and a desire for destruction. Even vengeance. But this scares me less, even on a moral level, than those who would pretend that the world’s seemingly endless stream of searing injustice doesn’t warrant our rage.

I am unarmed. I will remain unarmed. Buddhist Peace Fellowship will never promote attacking an enemy. But in my mind, this is a profoundly privileged position, almost an accident of luck, and a calling for which I am grateful — not a trophy of righteousness with which to bludgeon others who choose to engage in self defense.

Taking heed from spiritual-political revolutionary and writer adrienne maree brown, let’s be honest about whose bodies are at stake, and act accordingly. Violence surrounds us every day, all the time, inescapable. How do we bring about radical transformation (which necessitates destroying many current systems of greed, hatred, and delusion), while remaining as true as possible to a life of awakening and compassion?

Read more and join the conversation at The Buddhist Peace Fellowship website.

Gratitude and mindfulness

So thankful to have a mindfulness practice and to receive this insightful and badly-needed Buddhist perspective from a senior disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh. A Buddhist monk explains mindfulness for times of conflict: “Compassion is not sitting in your room; it’s actually very active and engaging”

Also appreciating the wise tweets of Buddhist teacher and author Ethan Nichtern right now. Among all the fake Buddhist ideas, the idea of maintaining “neutrality” is the most damaging now. It’s about being truthful, not neutral.

Why do we need mindfulness at school?

I wrote a thing to help out my child’s after school program and thought it would make a good blog entry as well. Also posted at MomsRising.org. Enjoy.

Both adults and children can benefit from mindfulness training, especially in the sometimes-challenging public school environment. Mindfulness is simply the practice of training our brain to be aware of our feelings, our bodies, and our environment in the present moment. Although it is an ancient and sometimes-spiritual practice, it is increasingly being used in everyday settings such as corporate businesses and fitness centers and… schools!

Mindfulness can help both teachers and students to reduce stress and anxiety, strengthen attention and focus, support social and emotional growth, and better resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise. According to Dr. Kirk Strosahl and Dr. Patricia Robinson, “research indicates that brain training involving mindfulness practices can strengthen areas of the brain responsible for attention, emotional control, and problem solving… There is even emerging evidence that mindfulness-based brain training produces permanent structural changes in the brain.”

I am thrilled that the students and staff at my child’s after school program will be participating in a mindfulness training this year, and I hope it will just be the beginning of bringing a more mindful approach to education for all of our kids.

Here are a few articles I found for those who are interested in learning more:

Great information and links to resources for educators:

In-depth article on When Mindfulness Meets the Classroom:

Why Children Need Mindfulness as Much as Adults Do:

Being a Buddhist on Veteran’s Day

I’ve had several interesting conversations on Twitter and Facebook today about my discomfort with the way we celebrate Veteran’s Day here in the United States. This is exacerbated by the fact that the UNC men’s basketball team is playing their thrilling season opener against Michigan State tonight on an aircraft carrier in honor of Veteran’s Day. I’ve been looking forward to this game for months, and yet so much of the hoopla around it is wrapped in a flag and holding a gun. This really comes home when I think about how it will feel to watch this with Izzy. It’s the first time we’ll really be watching basketball together as a family, something I have anticipated since he was born just days before UNC won the national championship in 2009.

Coach Roy Williams said about this game “To me, it’s a way of honoring our military. That’s what it boils down to.” I’m left wondering if I’m still allowed to enjoy the game even though I’m pacifist. I’m not opposed to their service, but I don’t really want to honor it any more than I do teachers, civil rights activists, peace corps members, doctors without borders, and so many others that also make sacrifices to benefit the global community.

Here are some excerpts of the conversation on Facebook (Twitter has been, well, less productive):

Ruby: Trying to balance my excitement about watching UNC basketball tonight with my revulsion at the showbiz celebration of government-trained killers in the “Carrier Classic.”

Let’s just play some good basketball and try to ignore the camo-themed uniforms.
5 hours ago

D: Let’s not blame the soldiers for the decisions of their leaders.
5 hours ago

G: Thank you for this Ruby. I think it’s kind of a neat place to play a basketball game, but the military tie-in disgusts me as well, and I wasn’t sure if it was just my anti-Tar Heel bias kicking in.
5 hours ago

Ruby: D, the leaders are due a lot of blame, but anyone holding a gun has to be responsible for what comes out of it. I appreciate that many military members are trying to protect and serve the country, but there are ways to do that without violence and I don’t see national holidays and showbiz beatification of those peace corps or Americorps members, civil rights activists, teachers, community leaders, etc.*
5 hours ago

D: I can appreciate your point of view. But I also know that many young men and women coming out of high school have limited opportunities for supporting themselves and their families, and the military training, benefits and salaries can be quite an incentive for folks for whom college and other types of advanced training are out of reach for economic or academic reasons. I also believe there are just (WWII, and to a more limited degree, Afghanistan) and unjust (Iraq) wars, and that the blame for the latter rests with our elected leaders (and ourselves for supporting them) much more so than the mostly underprivileged soldiers we send off to die in them.
5 hours ago

M: Okay people. Please keep in mind who your friends are on Facebook and that what you write could strike a very sensitive chord. This subject matter is different from vaccinations and choice and occupy wall street. If you haven’t had a family member serving in the military you have no idea what you’re talking about.
4 hours ago

G: M, I understand. But I find it sorta patronizing when people tell me that because I don’t have X I can’t say Y. I appreciate the sacrifices that veterans have and continue to make, but I think we’re able to comment on whether or not we think it’s appropriate to be linking militarization with college sports without causing too much harm to society.
3 hours ago

M: G, my husband lost his right arm in Iraq and was two steps away from losing his life. His politics are generally middle to liberal, he is a well-educated thoughtful human being, and his reasons for joining the military are complex and rational. And he did carry a gun in another country and he got blown up. What you learn when you are exposed to the military culture is that his story is not uncommon. Many of the Marines I’ve met are the most loyal, generous, thoughtful, and trustworthy people I know. Often their reasons for joining the military run parallel to my reasons for becoming a doctor. As always there is something to be said for acceptance and open-mindedness. And further best be careful what you say about the military around the wife of a wounded veteran because she will lose her shit.
2 hours ago

W: A soldier’s duty, his or her discipline, is to follow orders and ship out when sent. Soldiers do not make policy, they take an oath to defend the Constitution. When policy makers circumvent the Constitution, well, we see the results. Our friend Dubya has destroyed countless lives and will never stand trial for war crimes. Support the troops. Oppose the war.

“Leadership gains authority and respect when the voiceless poor are treated fairly.” – Proverbs 29:14 (The Message)

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” – Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
about an hour ago

G: M I appreciate your husband’s service and sacrifice.
about an hour ago

J: I’m a Vietnam-era vet who agrees with Ruby.
57 minutes ago

M2: The more one reads and learns about the history of wars, the more apparent it is that soldiers are pawns in a dirty game of power & wealth accrual. I personally support each troop on a personal level, but to parrot that I Supprt the Troops is to acquiesce to propaganda.
52 minutes ago

Ruby: M, thanks so much for writing and not just being quietly mad at me. 🙂 You know I care about you and Jon. And I have had other friends and even family in the military.

I didn’t like Jon’s choice to join the Marines in the first place, but I don’t think any less of him for disagreeing with me. I don’t think he’s wrong for wanting to help other people through military service. What I have a problem with every day, but especially today, is when the appreciation of that service is done in a way that approches hero worship, excludes recognition of the pain of war, and also fails to recognize the wide range of ways that a person can sacrifice and serve their community.

I think the origin of Veteran’s Day is Armistice Day, which was a day celebrating the END of violence while appreciating those who served and especially those who were lost in war. I like that idea better than the big Hollywood Veteran’s Day – as we are seeing played out on the USS Carl Vinsson tonight, for example.

As a Buddhist, I just don’t believe in solving problems through violence, although I can usually make room for self defense (great article exploring this: www.susanpiver.com/wordpress/2011/05/02/osama-bin-laden-is-dead-one-buddhists-response/). So I am not going to get to a place of feeling “rah rah” about our troops, even though I understand that they are trying to help and are making decisions that make sense to them in their own contexts.

I respect most military service members, but I do sometimes wonder if the feeling is mutual.
12 minutes ago

* Except maybe the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fundamental Truth at the DNC

I guess I was too busy being cynical last night to notice the Buddhist influence in John Edwards’ speech.

Like all of us, I have learned a lot of lessons in my life. Two of the most important are that first, there will always be heartache and struggle–you can’t make it go away. But the other is that people of good and strong will can make a difference. One lesson is a sad lesson and the other’s inspiring.


The Four Noble Truths (the foundation of Buddhism):

  1. Life means suffering.
  2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
  3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
  4. The path to the cessation of suffering.