Monthly Archives: November 2014

Post-Election Blues

1.   So the elections are over and the dust has settled, and there is not much to say–not anything positive at any rate. There will be pain. To be sure. But I am not so confident that we would be “pain free” if the Dems had won. Only seems that way because we have this traditional expectation that the Dems are for the “little guy” and “for” the environment, etc. But if you examine the real record you will see that this is more of an image than a reality. Those of us who are Leftists or Left-leaning or “Liberal” naturally turn toward the Dems because the other side is so obviously a disaster, but the Dems keep disappointing us over and over again and in the end it turns out that the Dems have been pulling this country rightward over the last few decades.   They simply provide an “anesthetic” to the pain by providing some crumbs for the poor and the middleclass. The actual situation is of course more complex than this, but really the country has now only a Right Wing politics and a Right-of-Center politics. A few points:

2.  You may be wondering what does a spiritual/religious blog have to do with politics. Well, a whole lot if you understand spirituality and religion truly. Yes, politics can be just as much a distraction and diversion as wealth and sex and anything else, but when you see how public policy can affect the poor, “your neighbor,” or the environment, “God’s creation,” then you see that deep spiritual realization entails a vision that means making certain choices and politics is one of them. Politics, when viewed through an authentic religious optic, is simply another opportunity for us to express our deeply religious nature, our intrinsic orientation to a transcendent reality. But, alas, politics in its usual manifestation is more a manifestation of our delusions, obsessions and our deep inner incoherence.

 3.  A bit of history. From FDR to McGovern in 1972, the Dems were a reasonable home for Progressives and Leftists. Ok, there were some bad moments–starting the Vietnam war and in 1968, but then Robert Kennedy was killed and that was the beginning of the end for a real progressive vision for this country. In any case, we could realistically hope for some progressive politics to emerge from the Dem Platform …until…beginning with the Carter years and the “Reagan Revolution” and culminating in the Clinton years, the Dems gradually drifted toward a kind of mythic center. The “Reagan Revolution” so traumatized the Dems that they still haven’t recovered. They were shocked that one of the key elements of their base, blue-collar labor, voted massively for Reagan. Incidentally, most of these people were lower-middle class Catholics, and that illustrates the failure of the Church to teach Catholic Social Teaching, to make it really the “bread and butter” of its social message. Instead the Church totally focused on abortion and sex so much that people lost track that there was a lot more here that needed attention. With Clinton, the Dems were thoroughly locked in on that mythic center so that they began to sound like they stood for nothing. Even worse, they allied themselves with large business interests in the hope of raising money. Here is Robert Reich giving us a bit of post-election analysis of what went wrong in light of that history:


4.  I ripped this off a progressive blog: a call to arms for progressives on Truthdig by Alan Minsky:


“The moderate, pro-corporate, Democratic Leadership Council wing that has dominated the Democratic Party since 1992 is reeling, unable to compete with a well-funded and reactionary GOP. Without a charismatic frontman or -woman, this Democratic Party cannot mobilize its middle- and working-class base for the simple reason that it doesn’t represent their interests. Only leftist progressives stand for the welfare of average Americans, and they have to stand up, make this distinction and stake their claim before all focus turns to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. 

Second: The country and the world are a mess. The economy, the justice system, the environment, education, immigration and foreign policy are all out of whack. Obama, Hillary and the centrist Democrats aren’t going to set these right; as for the GOP, God forbid. If leftist progressives really believe that their program for America is the best possible program, which they do, the state of the world demands that they get to it right away.”

5.  If you read the Democratic Platform, it actually reads reasonably well–a lot of good things there. But the sad fact is that it’s mostly window dressing, political advertising, and we all know what that’s worth! Also, and this seems like a specialty of the Obama Administration , with one hand they offer you one good thing and then with the other hand they pull something awful on you. Latest example: the Administration came out for net neutrality, which is very good, but little noticed is the fact that they are pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which a number of progressive analysts are calling really, really bad. Here is a link that explains that:

6.  The connection of the American Left with the Democratic Party went out the window during the Clinton years, as already noted. But what replaced that historically important alliance is the Democratic Party’s new partner: WALL STREET!! So what was the Republicans’ traditional “backyard” is now also where you will see many Democrat connections. Ralph Nader was right(he was blasted for saying this years ago): there is no REAL difference between these two parties. We have a mirage of choices. Here are two links that illustrates the Dem coziness with Wall Street:


The Dems are no longer the “helping hand” that helps the Joad Family in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath—especially see the movie version of the story.

Update: Since the writing of these blogs, the Dems have elected a new head of the DCCC, and it’s not the awful choice from Wall Street. So one can be glad for that. But it was not the best progressive choice. Steve Israel, the former head of the DCCC still has a leadership position with the Dems and the new guy, Ben Ray Lujan, a congressman from New Mexico, remains to be tested. The Sierra Club approves of him, but these days that doesn’t mean much–they are only a shadow of what they used to be also.


7.  There are two items that Democrats generally support that seem very progressive: abortion rights and legalization of pot. Here also, however, appearances are deceiving. I already have written about this abortion thing in that it’s a “no-win” argument for either side of the issue as long as it is framed within a “rights” debate. Whose rights prevail? The child’s? Of course the pro-abortion crowd won’t use that word, “child,” but rather the more amorphous and non-human term, “fetus.” But that doesn’t get away from the fact that there is a kind of killing. It’s not like cutting out a cancer tumor! The anti-abortion folk, on the other hand, hardly have any regard for the mother or the situation that she finds herself in. The only way to see this argument through is to situate it within a profound vision of sex and not just this “pleasure machine” that our society seems to see, that it’s not something just for individual “use” to enhance one’s life but that it is a sacred and transcendent reality, a sacrament of the Divine, a manifestation of Ultimate Reality, and there is this intrinsic connection with the creation of another human being.  When we as a culture see sexuality differently we will know how to address the abortion issue because in fact it would fade into a minor problem. Right now there are too many “unwanted babies” being created by people acting out their sexuality in various superficial ways and society does not want to claim the resultant babies who are seen as an accidental product–nor does society insure the care of the mother and the child, etc. So what is the mother to do…..? In any case a truly progressive view would move along this line, but you can count on this not happening!!

Now with the legalization of pot there is another kind of problem. Here again the way we view this problem makes it a no-win situation. If we are “against” pot, then corporate America makes money on the expansion of the policing of America (snooping, gear, and especially the expansion of prisons–a real big money maker that few people notice–it is just like that other rat-hole, the military-industrial complex, into which so much money pours). Not to mention the money made by drug dealers. If we are “for” the legalization of pot, then corporate America will make a good load of money on its sales-in a sense the drug dealers will be working for legit American corporations–rumors abound about a number of US companies owning a ton of land ready to go into pot agriculture once it becomes “normal.” But much more importantly corporate America thrives on having a drugged out American citizenry–so more drugs=better conditions for corporate America. Our citizenry is already not only dumbed-down and manipulated through the media but it is also drugged by mass entertainment, big-time spectacle sports, mindless intoxication in games, sex, celebrities, consumption, and, oh yes, alcohol, pills, meth, coke, heroin, MDMA, etc. Corporate America needs this up to a certain point in order to keep us in this passive numb “cloud of political and social unknowing.” Of course it can’t afford to let it all go so it is for certain controls, to make it look like we are “ok”–just a little problem here or there. In any case, you see that it really isn’t a “progressive” issue, the legalization of pot–in fact here also I can’t see any way forward as long as we are locked into this kind of choice. You really have to think outside the box in order to see a better way of addressing the problem.


8. Ok, to end this sad story, I will refer to a very impassioned commentary by another progressive commentator.    He’s writing from a small town in New Hampshire where there was a good turnout for the election. He points to his neighbors as “model citizens.” Ok, I see his point, but as he himself indicates the national Democrat party seems to stand for nothing so why really bother to vote for them, but locally there may be some decent candidates worth voting for. As much as I like his passion and line of thought, I think he misses one radical solution: delegitimize the system by massive non-voting. Doesn’t seem possible; seems scary in a way; but it may be the only way of having a real but peaceful revolution. I think we are far from that point–people will have to feel more pain, more disillusionment, etc., and I wonder if we are even past the possibility of independent thought–thought that isn’t the manipulated product of pop culture. The folks at Ad Busters seem to believe in this possibility. By the way, take the first step this holiday season and don’t shop, don’t consume, eat simply, enjoy the natural beauty of life. Do not cooperate with the system in any way up to the point of breaking any laws. We are not yet ready for that kind of resistance, but the day may not be far off. Meanwhile, here is the link:

And on this sad note I want to head off to the mountains with my friend, Han-shan:

“The layered bloom of hills and streams

Kingfisher shades beneath rose-colored clouds

Mountain mist soaks my cotton bandana

Dew penetrates my palm-bark coat

On my feet are traveling shoes

My hand holds an old vine staff

Again I gaze beyond the dusty world

What more could I want in that land of dreams”

                                     Trans. By Red Pine

Some Notes Concerning the Interreligious Encounter


  1. In May of 2010 the Dalai Lama gave a series of teachings in New York City. The audience consisted of Buddhist monks, Tibetan and others, and lay people, mostly Westerners who are interested to a certain extent in what Buddhism is all about. There were three days of teachings, and then there was a public talk by the Dalai Lama that was more general and intended for the wider public, not just Buddhists. The whole event was recorded and is available as a DVD packet of 4 separate dvds, one for each day of teaching and the public talk. I recommend it highly. I have watched it now twice and it still holds all kinds of insights, even if you are not “becoming Buddhist.” If you want to understand what Buddhism is really about, and in particular the Tibetan version of it, this is worth the time and effort—the talks are long, at least two hours long on each DVD. For contemplative Christians I think it is especially valuable in helping them get a sense for what the Buddhists are bringing to the table of the interreligious encounter, their depth, their wisdom, their contemplative experience. You probably can get this DVD from a library.


  1. One of the striking and fascinating things about the Dalai Lama’s presentation of Buddhism is how “scholastic” it can be (Merton’s term when he met the Dalai Lama back in in 1968). The Dalai Lama’s school of Tibetan Buddhism, Gelugpa, emphasizes study, learning, and philosophical issues, and this really shows. He is very systematic, very thorough, and shows a true mastery of very complex texts. In this presentation, however, he makes the point that what he is pointing to undergirds all of Buddhism in all of its various schools.


  1. Another striking and fascinating aspect of his presentation is the careful and precise use of terms. Those of us who are not Buddhists have to be very careful about what meaning we attribute to certain Buddhist language–it may not be at all what they mean. This happened a lot in early Western writings on Buddhism, especially by Christian scholars. Also there are a significant number of Westerners who take on some aspects of Buddhism, pick up some terminology from books, and generally get it wrong. That’s why the Dalai Lama emphasizes serious study to compliment meditation. As an example: a term like “emptiness” or “no-self” has a very definite technical meaning in Buddhism that is not accurately reflected in a kind of “pop spirituality” that abounds today.


  1. I certainly can’t say that I always understood what the Dalai Lama was saying. At several points I wish I could have asked him several questions. One dreams of how incredible it would have been if Nagarjuna (an Indian who was one of the greatest Buddhist practitioners and philosophers) had been able to dialogue with Thomas Aquinas. They would have needed some excellent translators!! I don’t think it is enough appreciated how difficult it is to get a grasp of what another religious culture’s language is getting at. One can too easily assume that one understands because it “sounds similar” to something one is familiar with. And this holds for Buddhist views of Christianity–I could tell from what the Dalai Lama said that in certain ways he was familiar with the essence of Christianity but in other ways he was taking some very superficial views as representative of what we hold.


  1. This brings us to a very important notion. For Tibetan Buddhism, and I think for the Buddhist world in general, statements, notions and claims are said to be stated on one of two levels: the conventional level or the ultimate level. There is “what is real” on the conventional level, and there is “what is real” on the ultimate level. There is the notion of “self” on the conventional level, and there is the notion of “self” on the ultimate level. Or something like that. In any case, you see the possible difficulties in trying to grasp a Buddhist teaching. In fact you could say there is Buddhism on the conventional level and there is Buddhism on the ultimate level. When we confuse these levels we obfuscate the encounter. Now what is most interesting to me is that this kind of division actually can be applied to the other great religious traditions. Consider my own Christianity. There is the conventional Christianity of the average pious Christian and there is the “ultimate Christianity” of the mystics. Now this seems to be saying that there are the “regular folk” and then there are the “elite folk,” which in fact would be unacceptable in any Christian context. But it is an actual fact that the piety of the average Christian is on that conventional level: belonging to a parish, going to Mass frequently, saying the rosary, doing some novena, praying to Saint So-and-So for a favor, trying to be a good person,etc., and then on top of all this trying to succeed in a secular world of secular activities. God is somewhere “out there” or even if “in here” God is still this Other who is another entity, simply the “bigger and better entity,” and little ole’ me here, in precarious existence but “solid” trying to manipulate the world as best as I can. The words and world of the mystics seems, then, far away for this person–most people are befuddled by the language of Eckhart, for example, and so they take refuge in “authoritative teachings.” It is actually the Church itself which seems to keep people at a “child’s level” in their faith–I don’t say they do this deliberately but that is the actual effect of what they do. So instead of openly and universally teaching forcefully and vigorously that every human being is called to be a “mystic”–in this immediate and incomprehensible communion as a being “one with God,” the Church seems to spend a lot more energy and at a larger decibel level on focusing on morality and church laws and all kinds of feasts and saints and so on. It is actually the Church itself which has raised mysticism to an elite level, seemingly for the very few, like “special forces” in the military, whereas it should be on an everyday level for everyone, but with “ultimate realization.” Rahner was right: every Christian must be a mystic….   In this way he was pointing at an “ultimate level” of Christianity.


  1. I wonder if Church doctrine could be seen in this way: there is a conventional level and then there is an ultimate level to the meaning. I think the Church discourages any such interpretation–there is only that one meaning that the Church articulates once and for all. But I think we can still press that issue…. Eckhart, for example, can be seen as pushing the meaning of Christian language toward new, deeper understandings. And in our time I think Abhishiktananda was doing the same.


  1. The Dalai Lama is a truly wonderful person, a truly beautiful person, a truly good person, a manifestation of real holiness. There is not a false fiber in his being. He reminded me of one of the Desert Fathers who said, “I am the same inside as I am outside.” In other words you get what you see with him! No deceit; no sales pitch; no “persuasion” needed. Maybe it was just me, but in fact watching and listening to him I felt that’s how some of the great Desert Fathers must have looked and sounded, given of course the difference in the traditions.


  1. Given all that, however, I also feel free to disagree with some things he said, and the beauty of that person is that he makes you feel that freedom also. Anyway, somewhere in the beginning he mentions his present home in India and how India should be a model for other nations in its religious pluralism and tolerance where so many different religious traditions coexist peacefully. I can understand why he would feel that to be true, considering how India gave refuge to his Tibetan Buddhist people. But the actual history of India in modern times is not so nice. The Hindu–Moslem conflicts especially have produced some of the most awful religious violence we have ever witnessed—makes Northern Ireland pale by comparison! Certainly gives fuel to the anti-religion crowd among Western intellectuals. And Christians in India, though a very small minority, have been targeted with harsh and threatening rhetoric by the Hindu ultranationalists. These are the kind of people who killed Gandhi, and the sad fact is that they are now in charge! Just a few weeks ago there was a piece in the New York Times by Indian author, Pankaj Mishra, with the title, “Modi’s Idea of India.” Here is the link to it:{%222%22%3A%22RI%3A13%22}


The reference of course is to the new prime minister Narendra Modi and the nationalist Hindu movement he is leading. He came into power on an anti-corruption move but he brings a lot more than that to the table. In the 1990s Mr. Modi was connected to several incidents in which mosques were burned down and hundreds of Moslems were massacred. Maybe he has mellowed over time, but his rhetoric is still one of Hindu nationalism, seeking a kind of “pure Hindu India” liberated from various cultural and religious “enslavements.” Mishra underscores the misleading notions of Modi’s rhetoric:

“Mr. Modi doesn’t seem to know that India’s reputation as a “golden bird” flourished during the long centuries when it was allegedly enslaved by Muslims. A range of esteemed scholars — from Sheldon Pollock to Jonardon Ganeri — have demonstrated beyond doubt that this period before British rule witnessed some of the greatest achievements in Indian philosophy, literature, music, painting and architecture. The psychic wounds Mr. Naipaul noticed among semi-Westernized upper-caste Hindus actually date to the Indian elite’s humiliating encounter with the geopolitical and cultural dominance first of Europe and then of America.”


For Western spiritual seekers and for people like the Dalai Lama, India remains an attractive ground of religious encounter, and certainly its deep and broad religious culture can be the home for profound encounters of an interreligious nature. However, we also need to be careful and watchful. But ultimately it is only the Indian people who can decide which version of India they will have.

  1. There is turbulence and controversy in the Tibetan Buddhist world also. Recently the Dalai Lama was in New York again, giving some more teachings. Here he emphasized that you must use reason and common sense in reading sacred texts and choosing a teacher. Very good advice. Here is the link to a write-up of that teaching:


But there is a lot more to this moment than just that. There was a crowd demonstrating AGAINST the Dalai Lama. There is a concerted effort on the part of the Chinese Communists to try and discredit him and make him look bad. He is coming under more and more intense attacks, yet he shows his true nature in his peacefulness and nonviolence and in gestures of compassion for all. Robert Thurman, a Tibetan Buddhist scholar, has written about that attack and here is the link: