Monthly Archives: November 2016

Response to the Election: Buddhist & Christian

The Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar has done us a great service. They asked various Zen Buddhist teachers to write some kind of response/advice for people who have experienced post-election trauma in terms of fear, shock, anxiety, and especially feelings of hatred and anger. Here is the link to all that:

Most of the stuff is good basic stuff and helpful to a greater or lesser degree. Some of it borders on the platitudinous or is too vague to be helpful. And some is seriously inadequate: “Be kind to yourself” is not a “bullseye,” nor does it even hit the target. After having said all this, I look around at various Catholic publications, especially the National Catholic Reporter, and I see nothing like this at all. You would think they would round up a bunch of Catholic progressives, lay and religious, and ask them to voice some advice on where we go from here. So far I have not seen anything. I guess it’s just business as usual with us Catholics.

Returning to the Lion’s Roar collection, what bothers me most of all about it is one missing word in the collection, a very important word: RESISTANCE.   Wisdom about hope and healing is good and important, but ultimately that is an inadequate response. In fact I don’t believe you can have authentic hope or real healing until you are engaged in resistance. Indeed, the best way to deal with that post-election trauma is to commit oneself to resistance. Our mentors in such times as these should be, of course, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, among others. Next, the questions arise: resistance to what? Resistance how?

Resistance to what? That’s not hard to see. Our environment is under serious threat; many of our fellow human beings are under threat in various ways; the very social fabric of a decent life is under dire threat. We have to meet each of these threats with the proper medicine. The country is divided in an alarming way, and there is a large segment that seems blind to the dangers we are facing. In their blindness they can cause even more damage and hurt. In so many ways this did not begin on election day but has been an ongoing story for very long. It’s just that election day has brought a new urgency to the situation. And by the way, even if Clinton had won the election the call for resistance would still have been necessary but not so clearly obvious at first. There would have been relief at first, celebration, and then the real appointments and policies would have unfolded and if you were a keen observer of the scene you would have noticed some disturbing signs. These “centrist Democrats” have a way of hiding their damage. Consider this example from the Obama Administration. A very little known, very little covered in the media move by this Administration was the signing into law Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act. This overturns the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act which prohibited the military from acting as a domestic police force. So now this permits the military to carry out what are called “extraordinary renditions” of U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers. Centrist Democrats say they are against rounding up of immigrants and putting Moslems in internment camps (like the Japanese, American citizens, who were interned during World War II), but this Obama move simply prepares the ground for such actions.



Resistance how? Ah, this is the truly tough one! Our fellow neighbors, our fellow citizens, our fellow human beings are the agents of these threats. What we cannot and must not do in our resistance is to demonize these people. This is what the Lion’s Roar contributors seriously missed–the key question in all this is how to engage in resistance without demonizing the other? To advise “love” is just too vague and doesn’t deal with the real situation of the real evil that people can and will do. As Dostoevsky’s Father Zosima admonished (and this was one of Dorothy Day’s favorite quotes), real love is a harsh and hard reality that will take its toll on you….not just a nice feeling you have for others…which will evaporate like a mist once you are “slapped down.”  The temptation and lure of scorn, derision, rejection and even hatred for that “other,” then, is very real–and found quite a lot in political progressive discourse these days– and can hide under the banner of “resisting evil,” but that is not the way of real spiritual maturity. But let’s be clear about this: in this regard we are all “beginners,” “learners,” “mere toddlers learning how to walk.” This is very deep stuff and let no one think he/she has a handle on it–but we can support and encourage each other on this path. “Stronger Together,” as someone recently said!! Let’s look at this a bit more in detail.

The obligation to resistance is truly there, but the concrete shape it takes in a given life will of course vary quite a bit. A contemplative monk will not normally engage in the same day-to-day activities as one whose real calling is to be a social activist. There may be times and circumstances where the difference between the two will be indistinguishable, but here we are simply talking about a whole life path. For a contemplative monk there are two dangers that must be avoided, two pitfalls that must be navigated around. One is the idea that the monk must drop his contemplative way of life and proceed to the barricades of protest. It makes no sense for the monk to lose the very essence of what he/she is about, abandoning that silence and solitude that marks their life and which in fact is the deepest ground of all resistance to real evil; there is no sense in the monk tossing aside his/hers very real and very precious contribution to the Church and to all of humanity in that very solitude and silence. No need to go into that here; we can discuss this at another time. I must say that in my own experience of monastic life I don’t think this was ever a real danger with the majority of monastic people. Very few monks were ever tempted this way; the majority of people who left monastic life since the ‘60s left mostly because they discovered that was not their real path.

Now the other danger is the very real one and the more serious one: to think that in monastic life you are “above” all that stuff, that you are “immune” to its dangers, that only the “inner life” matters, etc. It is an interesting dualism that was at one time prevalent and still is present among Catholic monastics: “the world,” and “monastic life.” In a context of a society that is difficult to come to terms with, where life is lived in a complex and problematic way and ambiguous to the nth degree, where people seem to have so many mixed motivations, etc., etc., the lure to withdraw into a purely interior world or at best deal only with the people in your own life, well, that is a problem that is truly there. And you can see a bit of this in the Buddhist contributors also.

For contemplative monastics Merton issued many warnings about a false contemplative stance where the monks claimed an “innocence” from all that stuff. Here is one pertinent quote:

“The contemplative life is not, and cannot be, a mere withdrawal, a pure negation, a turning of one’s back on the world with its sufferings, its crises, its confusions and its errors. First of all, the attempt itself would be illusory. No person can withdraw completely from the society of his fellow men; and the monastic community is deeply implicated, for better or for worse, in the economic, political, and social structures of the contemporary world. To forget or to ignore this does not absolve the monk from responsibility for participation in events in which his very silence and ‘not knowing’ may constitute a form of complicity. The mere fact of ‘ignoring’ what goes on can become a political decision. Too often it has happened that contemplative communities in Europe, whose individual members were absorbed in otherworldly recollection, have officially and publicly given support to totalitarian movements. In such cases it can ultimately be said that the monk in his liturgy, in his study or in his contemplation is actually participating in things he congratulates himself on having renounced…. The monastic flight from the world into the desert is not a mere refusal to know anything about the world, but a total rejection of all standards of judgment which imply attachment to a history of delusion, egoism and sin. Not of course a vain denial that the monk too is a sinner (this would be an even worse delusion), but a definitive refusal to participate in those activities which have no other fruit than to prolong the reign of untruth, greed, cruelty and arrogance in the world of men…. The adversary is not time, not history, but the evil will and the accumulated inheritance of past untruth and past sin. This evil the monk must see. He must even denounce it, if others fail to do so. What is the meaning of this ‘denunciation’? Is it to be regarded as a political act in the sense of an expressed determination to influence politics? Perhaps indirectly so. I speak not only as a monk but also as a responsible citizen of a very powerful nation. However, it is not my intention to imply that a state which is, and should be, secular, has to be guided by the perspectives of an eschatological Church. But I do intend to say at what point I and Christians who think as I do become morally obligated to dissent.”


At this point we are still at this dilemma: how does a contemplative (and so many others also, who may be obligated by family responsibilities, for example) practice resistance? No easy answers here. Mostly you have to look into your own heart and your own circumstances and be very attentive to what you can and should do or say. Resistance can begin with a lot of little things; and most of all resistance has to become a state of mind. Example: years ago we all wondered how ever would the gruesome Soviet empire get taken down? Very little known at first, there were Russians who were beginning to practice a refusal to cooperate with the State, artists and poets at first, then many others. This grew into a tidal wave by the 1970s, and these people even got their own name: refusniks! They refused to support the brutal State in whatever way they could. By the early 1980s this State was crumbling. Ignorant American media attributed this to the Reagan “hard line,” but it was decades of inner sacrifice and courage and determination by millions to derail the machinery of oppression by simply refusing to cooperate with it.

Another example–this time of what could have been/should have been: Standing Rock. We all know what is going on there. Native Americans planting the seed of what might become a major movement. It made me wonder….why did not all the Trappist monasteries at least issue a statement in support of these people. That might have jolted the Catholic population. Even more interesting and potent would have been if all the monastic groups would have sent a delegation of several dozen monks to join the Native American protestors on the front lines. Gosh, these monks go to all kinds of nice conferences and gatherings–doesn’t seem to bother their “contemplation” to do that, so why not to Standing Rock. It would have been noticed, believe me! Come to think of it, it probably would have been even better if they had networked with Buddhists, Sufis and others, all these together would be present at the side of these Native Americans. And I think they were badly needed. Recently I read that a lot of whites have come who are treating this like a Burning Man gathering, hanging out and smoking pot, and not participating in a disciplined way in the protest. This is troubling to the Native American leadership as it adds to their concerns. This is an extremely important point: nonviolent protest has to be disciplined, focused, not just a “happening.” Monks would have been a good presence.


By the way, here is a link to a nice video presentation of Chris Hedges doing a report on Standing Rock:


Let’s turn now to that toxic mixture of anger/hatred and political realities. A real lot of that lately. A number of commentators, some are white leftist or Democratic pundits, but more are commentators who are people of color and are fed up with white voters. One good example of this is a piece by Sonali Kolhatkar with the title, “I’m Done Trying to Empathize With Poor White Trump Voters.” Here is the link:

Sonali’s position is well-stated, powerful, and convincing. I am white, but I felt something of that anger the day after the election. However, it must be pointed out also that the communities of color either did not show up at the polls in the same numbers as they did for Obama or even worse, more people of color voted this time for Trump than they did for Romney or McCain in previous elections. Granted this is not a large number but it does indicate something else is going on. But most importantly, no matter what the facts be, the feelings and attitude expressed in this article will not help us to advance to a real form of resistance for the long term—and a long term will probably be needed. We do need to better understand those who think so differently from us, and when we confront them, and confront them we absolutely must, our state of mind and heart must be in peace and truth, humility and freedom, courage and seeking understanding. A bit of that is apparent in another piece, this time by Chris Hedges, “We Are All Deplorables.” Hedges is a very tough critic of our society, one of the toughest out there, and he doesn’t hesitate to paint a picture that is very dark and scary. Coming from a religious background, having studied theology at Harvard Divinity School, he sometimes sounds like one of the Old Testament prophets. Tough language indeed. However, here he is trying to understand who we are and where we are and why,….why did so many vote for Trump. Like I said, I think this step is badly needed if we are going to have a real resistance and a real encounter with our brothers and sisters who think differently. Here is a long quote from that article:

“My relatives in Maine are deplorables. I cannot write on their behalf. I can write in their defense. They live in towns and villages that have been ravaged by deindustrialization. The bank in Mechanic Falls, where my grandparents lived, is boarded up, along with nearly every downtown store. The paper mill closed decades ago. There is a strip club in the center of the town. The jobs, at least the good ones, are gone. Many of my relatives and their neighbors work up to 70 hours a week at three minimum-wage jobs, without benefits, to make perhaps $35,000 a year. Or they have no jobs. They cannot afford adequate health coverage under the scam of Obamacare. Alcoholism is rampant in the region. Heroin addiction is an epidemic. Labs producing the street drug methamphetamine make up a cottage industry. Suicide is common. Domestic abuse and sexual assault destroy families. Despair and rage among the population have fueled an inchoate racism, homophobia and Islamophobia and feed the latent and ever present poison of white supremacy. They also nourish the magical thinking peddled by the con artists in the Christian right, the state lotteries that fleece the poor, and an entertainment industry that night after night shows visions of an America and a lifestyle on television screens—“The Apprentice” typified this—that foster unattainable dreams of wealth and celebrity.

Those who are cast aside as human refuse often have a psychological need for illusions and scapegoats. They desperately seek the promise of divine intervention. They unplug from a reality that is too hard to bear. They see in others, especially those who are different, the obstacles to their advancement and success. We must recognize and understand the profound despair that leads to these reactions. To understand these reactions is not to condone them.

The suffering of the white underclass is real. Its members struggle with humiliation and a crippling loss of self-worth and dignity. The last thing they need, or deserve, is politically correct thought police telling them what to say and think and condemning them as mutations of human beings.”


Hedges continues:

“Those cast aside by the neoliberal order have an economic identity that both the liberal class and the right wing are unwilling to acknowledge. This economic identity is one the white underclass shares with other discarded people, including the undocumented workers and the people of color demonized by the carnival barkers on cable news shows. This is an economic reality the power elites invest great energy in masking.

The self-righteousness of the liberal class, which revels in imagined tolerance and enlightenment while condemning the white underclass as irredeemable, widens the divide between white low-wage workers and urban elites. Liberals have no right to pass judgment on these so-called deplorables without acknowledging their pain. They must listen to their stories, which the corporate media shut out. They must offer solutions that provide the possibility of economic stability and self-respect.

Martin Luther King Jr. understood the downward spiral of hating those who hate you. “In a real sense all life is inter-related,” he wrote in “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. …”

We cannot battle the racism, bigotry and hate crimes that will be stoked by the Donald Trump presidency without first battling for economic justice. This is not a gap between the tolerant and the intolerant. It is a gap between most of the American population and our oligarchic and corporate elites, which Trump epitomizes. It is a gap that is understood only in the light of the demand for economic justice. And when we start to speak in the language of justice first, and the language of inclusiveness second, we will begin to blunt the protofascism being embraced by many Trump supporters.

I spent two years writing a book on the Christian right called “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” I spent many months with dispossessed white workers in states such as Missouri, Kansas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and California. I carried into the book project all the prejudices that come with being raised in the liberal church—a disdain for a magic Jesus who answers your prayers and makes you rich, a repugnance at the rejection of rationality and science and at the literal interpretation of the Bible, a horror of the sacralization of the American empire, and a revulsion against the racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and blind intolerance that often afflict those who retreat into a binary world of good and evil.

Those enthralled by such thinking are Christian heretics—Jesus did not come to make us rich and powerful and bless America’s empire—and potential fascists. They have fused the iconography and symbols of the American state with the iconography and symbols of the Christian religion. They believe they can create a “Christian” America. The American flag is given the same sacred value as the Christian cross. The Pledge of Allegiance has the religious power of the Lord’s Prayer. That a sleazy developer and con artist was chosen as their vehicle—81 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump—for achieving this goal is startling, to say the least. But this is not a reality-based movement. Most of those who profit from this culture of despair, many wrapped in the halo of the ministry, are, like Trump, slick, amoral trolls.”


Hedges looks toward the future, and it doesn’t look very bright, in fact rather dark. Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, and Mother Nature may have the final word on this human experiment on Planet Earth. I think he is basically right, and if you think that all this gets resolved when we kick Trump out of office in 4 years (if then!), I think you still haven’t grasped how really bad off we are. Resistance is the only authentic way of being human in this situation, no matter what the future holds. We all have a vocation to be “refusniks” now. Monks were the original refusniks. It remains to be seen if today’s monks will have the vision to see what their “resistance” is all about. Beautiful liturgy with beautiful chant will not be enough.

I will let Hedges have the last word:

“There will be rebels. They will live in the shadows. They will be the renegade painters, sculptors, poets, writers, journalists, musicians, actors, dancers, organizers, activists, mystics, intellectuals and other outcasts who are willing to accept personal sacrifice. They will not surrender their integrity, creativity, independence and finally their souls. They will speak the truth. The state will have little tolerance of them. They will be poor. The wider society will be conditioned by mass propaganda to write them off as parasites or traitors. They will keep alive what is left of dignity and freedom. Perhaps one day they will rise up and triumph. But one does not live in poverty and on the margins of society because of the certainty of success. One lives like that because to collaborate with radical evil is to betray all that is good and beautiful. It is to become a captive. It is to give up the moral autonomy that makes us human. The rebels will be our hope.”       Amen!











The Many Problems of Zen Buddhism

Let me say at the outset that I am not just “picking” on Zen or Buddhism in general, and that I am quite acutely aware and lament all the incredible failings of Christianity and in particular of my own community of Catholicism. But just as we learn and benefit from our encounter with all the profound and beautiful elements of this tradition (and all the others), so we might learn something important by considering their problems and their history. Here I am going to take a brief look at two different categories of problems: intellectual and moral.

Let’s consider the intellectual first. It is also, paradoxically, the easier one to deal with. I already alluded to this problem in my reflection on Merton’s critics. There I mentioned this odd essay by John Keenan that appears in a collection of essays on Merton and Buddhism: “The Limits of Thomas Merton’s Understanding of Buddhism.” Keenan is a former professor of religion at Middlebury College, but he has bigger “scholarly guns” standing behind him and to whom he refers: Robert Scharf, Roger Corless, and the looming figure of Bernard Faure, the noted cultural historian of Buddhism at Princeton (who by the way seems to have a real disdain for Merton’s understanding of Zen).  

So, as I mentioned in the earlier posting, Keenan tells us that Merton got his Zen from Suzuki and that kind of Zen was seriously truncated. In many ways he is absolutely right. Suzuki brought over to the West a very narrow form of Rinzai Zen and furthermore he presented it as the only authentic Zen. But Suzuki also was very knowledgeable and deep and very impressive in his presence–in other words someone like Merton felt he was meeting a true representative of the Zen tradition. And he was! But according to Keenan and these other folks there is some kind of fatal flaw in Suzuki’s Zen because it is only a small part of the picture. The criticism is that if you approach Zen through their lens, Suzuki’s and Merton’s, you will not really know Zen. Wrong, absolutely wrong! Let me illustrate with an analogous example. Suppose you knew nothing about Christianity but you went to Mt. Athos and met the great spiritual fathers, Paisios and Silouan. They would illumine you on their kind of Christianity, and it might seem like the only “real thing”; they might even urge you to become Orthodox. You would get no idea of the richness of the Western mystical tradition of Christianity. But I wouldn’t blame them at all; they were truly deep and truly “deeply realized,” to put it in those terms. Through them you could enter the depths of what it means to be a Christian in the deepest sense and the Christian mystical tradition. And that is the most important thing. But it’s the not the whole picture, and that’s ok. And all their disciples would doubtless say that I am deluded for saying that, and that’s ok also!!

So I believe that those who were influenced by Suzuki got a window into the depths of Zen even if that was not the “whole picture” in some superficial way. Yes, there was the Soto school, there were Pure Land Buddhists, and so many other minor schools, all of which played an important role in conveying Zen and Buddhism, and at various times in history it was one school or another that did a better job of that than the others–corruption was a constant problem. In modern times there also arose a school that tried to combine Rinzai and Soto traditions, and so on. Whichever way you go, the important thing is getting to Zen. And now comes the other problematic point. Suzuki and the Rinzai tradition make a big point that what Zen is all about is this “awakening,” which is then a total transformation in one’s self understanding, in one’s being, and in one’s vision of all reality. So the very meaning and definition of what Zen is becomes a bone of contention. Suzuki and his followers believe that without this awakening there is NO Zen. According to these folks this awakening is “wordless,” beyond all concepts and descriptions, and mostly transmitted from one person to another, certainly not “learned” from books. Well, this kind of talk does not appeal to many professional religion scholars that inhabit our various academic departments of religion. They have an inherent bias toward texts and social structures, and anything that claims to go “beyond” that is held suspect. Since their job is precisely to analyze these texts, you can appreciate their position; but that doesn’t mean they have the “real” understanding of Zen as opposed to some monk. In fact, the very meaning of Zen may be quite different between these two positions. To borrow and adapt a quip from Upton Sinclair: you can’t expect a man to see something when his paycheck depends on his not seeing it.

Let’s summarize the complaints of this group of scholars: 1. that the core of Zen is this enlightenment experience, whether gradual or sudden; 2. that this awakening is wordless and beyond all conceptualizations; 3. that even if Zen’s natural home is in “Zen Buddhism,” the Zen experience can be found universally outside all structures; 4. that Zen Buddhism, like all religious traditions, is cluttered with a lot of texts, traditions, rituals, etc. that may or may not help in this “awakening.” They pretty much reject all these.

This last point is especially irksome to this group of scholars because to them it seems that Zen is merely the sum total of various kinds of practices and things: in other words, the flavor of religion known as Zen Buddhism. In fact, this is one of the ways they attack the Merton approach to Zen (and even Taoism) because Merton tends to push all that aside to get at the heart of Zen. Let’s back up a bit: what a number of these scholars practice has been in vogue for the last few decades: deconstruction. This began with a French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, spread from philosophy to literary departments (where it pretty much destroyed the enjoyment of literature in the old sense) and then to cultural studies, like with Bernard Faure. The method approaches a text and/or cultural structures and history showing the inconsistencies and contradictions, like claiming that Zen is “wordless” in hundreds of writings, like claiming that Zen is beyond all ritual, yet practicing strict ritualism, etc., etc. What someone like Faure seems to claim is that even some of the ancient Zen Masters are presenting a kind of Zen ideology where they create a Zen history that is partly fiction and partly misleading by leaving out all kinds of stuff. What gets lost in all their clutter of “facts” and “data” is the heart of Zen.  

Merton seems to have anticipated all this brouhaha almost 50 years ago. Here is a long quote from his key essay “The Study of Zen.” In a remarkable way he lays out the issues involved:

“’There is nothing,’ says Levi-Strauss, ‘which can be conceived of or understood short of the basic demands of its structure.’ He is talking about primitive kinship systems, and of the key role played in them by maternal uncles. And I must admit from the outset that uncles have nothing to do with Zen; nor am I about to prove that they have. But the statement is universal. ‘There is nothing which can be understood short of the basic demands of its structure.’ This raises a curious question: I wonder if Zen could somehow be fitted into the patterns of a structuralist anthropology? And if so, can it be ‘understood?’ And at once one sees that the question can probably be answered by ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

“In so far as Zen is part of a social and religious complex, in so far as it seems to be related to other elements of a cultural system–‘yes.’ In so far as Zen is Zen Buddhism, ‘yes.’ But in that case what fits into the system is Buddhism rather than Zen. [my interjection: Faure really hates this kind of statement] The more Zen is considered as Buddhist the more it can be grasped as an expression of man’s cultural and religious impulse. In that case Zen can be seen as having a special kind of structure with basic demands that are structural demands and therefore open to scientific investigation–and the more it can be seen to have a definite character to be grasped and ‘understood.’

“When Zen is studied in this way, it is seen in the context of Chinese and Japanese history. [Merton is practically prophesying the work of Faure and others.] It is seen as a product of the meeting of speculative Indian Buddhism with practical Chinese Taoism and even Confucianism. It is seen in the light of the culture of the Tang dynasty, and the teachings of various ‘houses.’ It is related to other cultural movements. It is studied in its passage into Japan and its integration into Japanese civilization. And then a great deal of things about Zen come to seem important, even essential. The Zendo or meditation hall. The Zazen sitting. The study of the koan. The costume. The lotus seat. The bows. The visits to the Roshi and the Roshi’s technique for determining whether one has attained Kensho or Satori, and helping one to do this.

“Zen, seen in this light, can then be set up against other religious structures–for instance that of Catholicism, with its sacraments, its liturgy, its mental prayer…its devotions, its laws, its theology, its Bible, its cathedrals and convents; its priesthood and its hierarchical organization; its Councils and Encyclicals.

“One can imagine both of them and conclude that they have a few things in common. They share certain cultural and religious features. They are ‘religions.’ One is an Asian religion; the other is a Western, Judeo-Christian religion. One offers man a metaphysical enlightenment, the other a theological salvation. Both can be seen as oddities, pleasant survivals of a past which is no more, but which one can nevertheless appreciate just as one appreciates Noh plays, the sculpture of Chartres or the music of Monteverdi. One can further refine one’s investigations and imagine (quite wrongly) that because Zen is simple and austere, it has a great deal in common with Cistercian monasticism, which is also austere–or once was. They do share a certain taste for simplicity, and it is possible that the builders of twelfth-century Cistercian churches in Burgundy and Provence were illumined by a kind of instinctive Zen vision in their work, which does have the luminous poverty and solitude that Zen calls Wabi.

“Nevertheless, studied as structures, as systems, and as religions, Zen and Catholicism don’t mix any better than oil and water. One can assume that from one side and the other, from the Zendo and from the university, monastery or curia, persons might convene for polite and informed discussion. But their differences would remain inviolate…. All this is true as long as Zen is considered specifically as Zen Buddhism, as a school or sect of Buddhism, as forming part of the religious system which we call ‘the Buddhist religion.’

“When we look a little closer however, we find very serious and responsible practitioners of Zen first denying that it is ‘a religion,’ then denying that it is a sect or school, and finally denying that it is confined to Buddhism and its ‘structure.’ For instance, one of the great Japanese Zen Masters, Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen, said categorically: ‘Anybody who would regard Zen as a school or sect of Buddhism and call it Zen-shu, Zen school, is a devil.’

“To define Zen in terms of a religious system or structure is in fact to destroy it–or rather to miss it completely, for what cannot be ‘constructed’ cannot be destroyed either. Zen is not something which is grasped by being set within distinct limits or given a characteristic outline or easily recognizable features so that, when we see these distinct and particular forms, we say: ‘There it is!’ Zen is not understood by being set apart in its own category, separated from everything else: ‘It is this and not that.’…. We see from this that Zen is outside all particular structures and distinct forms, and that it is neither opposed to them nor not-opposed to them. It neither denies them nor affirms them, loves them nor hates them, rejects them nor desires them. Zen is consciousness unstructured by particular form or particular system, a trans-cultural, trans-religious, trans-formed consciousness. It is therefore in a sense ‘void.’ But it can shine through this or that system, religious or irreligious, just as light can shine through glass that is blue, or green, or red, or yellow. If Zen has any preference it is for glass that is plain, has no color, and is ‘just glass.’

“In other words to regard Zen merely and exclusively as Zen Buddhism is to falsify it and, no doubt, to betray the fact that one has no understanding of it whatever. Yet this does not mean that there cannot be ‘Zen Buddhists,’ but these surely will realize (precisely because they are Zen-people) the difference between their Buddhism and their Zen–even while admitting that for them their Zen is in fact the purest expression of Buddhism. But, of course, the reason for that is that Buddhism itself…points beyond any theological or philosophical ‘ism.’ It demands not to be a system (while at the same time, like other religions, presenting a peculiar temptation to systematizers). The real drive of Buddhism is toward an enlightenment which is precisely a breakthrough into what is beyond system, beyond cultural and social structures, and beyond religious rite and belief (even when it accepts many kinds of systematic superstructures–Tibetan, Burmese, Japanese, etc.).”


So much for this long quote. It is important because this view is now under serious attack by a number of scholars. I would also add that what Merton said above connects very well with Abhishiktananda’s contentions late in his life about the “namarupa” of both Christianity and Hinduism, how one had to go deeper than these to get to the heart of that religion. But whatever the scholars argue and debate and propose and write their innumerable papers about, the “true person of no status,” the Zen-person, will walk unseen and unknown, not measured by any metric or any methodology.


Now we turn to the much more difficult subject of moral problems. Zen Buddhism(and the other schools of Buddhism, like the Tibetans), like most religious traditions has had its share of problematic behavior on the part of its top practitioners, the Zen Masters. In the modern era and especially as Zen came to the West and the U.S., it is astonishing how recurring the moral failings have been: sexual predation and exploitation, alcoholism, and financial chicanery…all these and more abound in ALL the various lineages and schools of Zen. It has been a shock to a lot of American students of Zen. Some have left; some took refuge in a Zen kind of state of denial–“Zen is beyond morality, etc.” –forgetting that the Buddha himself laid down some pretty strict rules for his monks and disciples. Many other Zen students sobered up about their religious infatuation with Zen and had to face a much more realistic approach to their pursuit of enlightenment. A number of westerners now question the kind of unexamined master-disciple relationship that a lot of religious traditions hold up. I have discussed some of the problems here in postings long time ago, and do not intend to go over this dreary ground again. However, there is this interesting and puzzling point: why is it that so many who are considered “enlightened” or at least “advanced” students of Zen are so vulnerable to so many moral lapses that not only harmed themselves but caused significant harm to many others?” To push this further: it seems that one has a critical choice here: either their “enlightenment” is a pretend, a play-acting, or at best nowhere near the depth their students think they see in them, perhaps one could say “project” on them; or is it the more intriguing possibility that enlightenment itself and Zen consciousness is “not enough.” I mean you would think that since Zen makes such a big thing about awareness and vision and all that, that a master of Zen, a teacher of Zen would not be exploiting his own students for his own pleasure or succumbing to the chaos of inner drives that lead to self-destruction. You would think that Zen consciousness would keep you from all that…. So which is it? I have no idea. But the dilemma can get even more twisted….

A Zen practitioner and teacher by the name of Brian Victoria has written a scathing book about the collaboration of many Japanese Zen Masters with Japanese militarism leading up to World War II. He implicates almost all of the top Zen Masters (including D. T. Suzuki) who became the lineage bearers for all the current Western Zen teachers. Victoria shows how all the Zen lineages are tainted with this sordid history which the Japanese especially do not want to admit to. The needless wars and the war crimes of the Japanese military were never ever condemned by any of the Zen Masters; nor after the war was there any expression of real regret or sorrow for what they were involved in—how often these Zen Masters were cheer leaders for the Japanese military.

To be fair, Victoria has his critics also: some claim that he quotes these people out of context, and they don’t sound so bad when you recognize the times they lived in. I don’t buy this because all these folks were contemporaries of Gandhi, and it’s obvious that he was able to see through this muck. The problem is, as I think Victoria shows, the wedding of Zen Buddhism with Japanese culture and then one step further, with Japanese national identity. D. T. Suzuki showed a bit of that in his writings. And this is the kind of problem that we see all over the globe….when national identity and religious identity become merged. Radical Hinduism in India, Eastern Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe–consider how Christian Serbs turned to slaughter the Serbian Moslems a few decades ago. Also, there’s Jews and the State of Israel; and we have plenty of problems with Christians here in the U.S. waving the flag, the gun, and the Bible.

But let’s return to the real crux of the thing: the dilemma we face leads to a real questioning of the meaning and scope of “enlightenment.” Unless of course we choose to hold that all these figures were “faking” enlightenment or something like that. Maybe some of them were precisely doing that, but not the majority. More likely we need to face the puzzle of how an “enlightened being” could be seduced by nationalism, could be overcome by lust, could destroy himself with alcoholism, or be enticed by greed. And to expand this puzzle even more, consider the Christian thing about “saintliness” or “holiness.” A dear acquaintance of mine, Donald Nichol, a British historian and student of religion, once wrote this marvelous little book on holiness. Donald valued holiness to the nth degree; the “holy person,” was beyond questioning. As much as I liked that book, I always thought that he overvalued this thing of “holiness.” Sounds like a strange thing to say, especially coming from a monastic perspective, but truly there is something more at stake here, and it is not too far-fetched to say that holiness is not enough. Consider some people who have been declared by the Church to be saints, yet whose lives contain egregious mistakes and distortions of vision. Like St. Bernard, the great Cistercian figure, one of the giants of the medieval Church — he called for the slaughter of Moslems that occupied the Holy Land. He was a cheerleader for the Crusaders. The very opposite of Francis of Assissi. Now I won’t question the “St.” in St. Bernard, but I do question the nature and scope of that which we call “holiness.” Or consider more modern examples: Pope John Paul II who was recently declared a saint. He was instrumental in trying to cover up the priest pedophile scandals that were emerging into the light during his pontificate. Or take the example of Mother Teresa, also recently canonized. She took money from one of the nastiest banksters in America, Charles Keating, and for 10 years or so she had as spiritual director a Jesuit who was convicted in a court of law of having sexually abused a large number of underage boys. It does seem that holiness does not exclude blindness of a serious kind. Unless, again, one wants to doubt the very presence of this “holiness.” Truly a puzzle!  

So returning again to our Zen friends, so whether it be enlightenment or holiness or whatever other lofty goal our religious tradition sets up for us, we also need to attend to that which real and true wherever and whatever that be. As the Upanishad says: “Lead me from the unreal to the Real.” And as that old platitude says, no one has a handle or a monopoly on truth. And that goes for the “holy person” and the “enlightened person” also. Perhaps that saying holds for them even more! A bumper sticker I saw says it all: Question All Authority! Yes! Even the authority of holiness or enlightenment. And a truly holy/enlightened person would say Amen to that!!







Post-Election Blues

What can you say? So many of us are stunned in disbelief. We actually should have seen this coming. All the tell-tale signs were there, unless you were, like me, naively just looking at all those stupid polls that showed Hillary ahead. Actually the national polls were right and she was more popular but not by much and not in some key areas. Also, there was this naïve belief that someone like Trump, someone “this bad,” could not possibly be elected. I had my fears; I did not like Hillary at all; I thought she was really bad, but simply the “lesser bad” of the two choices by a large margin. When I saw the results and went to bed election night, I felt fear, nausea, depression. The next day it was disgust and a real anger that I would have to say “President Trump” for the next four years at least. Deep angry thoughts roamed my mind: Make Earth great again; abolish the human race! After that, simple worry and anxiety that the Republicans control all of Congress and have free rein to do all kinds of bad things. Makes you want to pack for Canada. But sobriety sets in sooner or later, and you realize that this is just one more lousy election among so many others. I agree with those voices that say give Trump a chance to show what he will REALLY do, not just the bluster and rhetoric of the campaign. The first 100 days of his presidency will be very interesting and a sure sign of where he will go. As some have pointed out, the weight of the actual responsibility of being President might sober him up and who knows he might actually do SOME good. Like he’s said, he is not beholden to all the money interest on Wall Street and in Washington, and he is more free to act than the traditional politicians, Democrat or Republican. On the other hand, he has some really nasty people in his camp and it may be just as Chris Hedges says that this is the birth or emergence of American Fascism. We shall see.

Let me throw out a few random reflections:

*Trump did not so much win the election as Hillary actually lost it. She truly waged a very bad campaign with lots of mistakes.

*It looks at this point that Hillary actually won the popular vote by hundreds of thousands or more(votes still being counted). In fact, before it’s all over-they are now counting all the absentee ballots in California, Washington and New York, all states that gave Hillary a large majority but it doesn’t affect the key swing states–her majority may well be several million. Astounding! This is the 6th time in American history that a candidate won the popular vote but lost the election. Some, like Michael Moore, are saying that delegitimizes Trump’s Presidency. Not really. The game is what the game is. You can’t change the rules after the game simply because you lost. Some are calling for an end to the electoral college system (by the way, Trump just said that he favors a change from the electoral college to a popular vote system. He said that he always thought that, and just because he benefitted from the electoral vote system, he won’t change his mind but support the pop vote system.)  Whatever be the merits of that it would require a constitutional amendment, and that ain’t gonna happen. Besides, the popular vote approach has its own “dark side.” Another thing, the people gave control of both the Senate and the House to Republicans, lots of state governorships, and a whole bunch of state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. It’s very obvious that the country is divided in a very dysfunctional kind of way and that tinkering with the electoral system won’t solve anything.

*Beware of simple explanations for Hillary’s loss. Don’t buy this thing you’ll hear from Dems that racists and anti-woman people got Trump elected. Yeah, there certainly were those types supporting Trump (the KKK endorsed him and yes his rhetoric has opened the door to a lot of racists acting out their sickness), but guess what, a lot of basic, decent people voted for Trump also and mostly AGAINST Hillary. I am not going to call them names, but I am angry, very angry at their stupidity, blindness, narrowness of mind, etc. Consider the woman thing: amazingly enough over 40% of college-educated women voted for Trump, and among non-college educated women, over 60% voted for Trump. So what happened with all these women? The Clinton campaign was counting on a huge woman support that really didn’t materialize. A lot of women found Hillary disagreeable, untrustworthy and simply the “same old stuff” (my feelings exactly), but it amazed me that they did not see the real danger in Trump.

*Speaking of bad numbers, consider this: about 29% of Hispanics voted for Trump. Now that includes Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and a few others, so there’s quite a mixture there; but it’s amazing that almost a third of these folks voted for Trump considering how he talked about Latin Americans. Some Latino leaders are contesting these numbers, but we shall see later. One problem was that the Latino turnout, while larger than in past years, was still not really all that large. But the numbers here are all in dispute.

*Voter turnout: miserable. Not many people realize this but we had a 20 year low on total voter turnout. Neither candidate really excited people. Consider this: over 126 million people voted. Sounds good, but that’s only 55% of eligible voters. (In some states the turnout was robust, but not across the country.) So Hillary and Trump each got only a bit more than 27% of eligible voters. So this is who elected Trump, only a bit over 27%. Even with the extra popular vote that is now coming in for Hillary in those 3 states, it still amounts to a miserable turnout considering the crucial nature of this election. A “small” group of people might send us to hell. Is this any way of deciding who runs the country?

*Bernie. Ah, Bernie….. There’s actually a poll out now that demonstrates that Bernie would have handily beaten Trump. Frankly I doubt that; especially after all those polls that showed Hillary leading!! Screw the polls!   But it still makes you wonder….. Certainly the Sanders people are going to have to be a key element in any recovery of the Dem Party. It didn’t help Hillary at all when it came out that some key Dem supporters and bigwigs were conniving to derail Bernie during the primaries.

*Trump breaks big precedent in not revealing his tax returns. Really bad and suspicious.   But Hillary never revealed what she said in those speeches to the Wall Street crowd for those fat paychecks. What was there to hide? This lack of transparency kind of defanged her attacks on Trump.

*We are not alone. When you look around the world, rightwing movements are emerging in a lot of places: Europe, Latin America, and Asia. I mean look at India, the guy these people elected may be just as bad as Trump, with the addition that he supports fanatical radical Hindus.

*Ah, my dear, blind conservative Catholics who voted for Trump in big numbers. What can you say? For the sake of one major issue, abortion, they were willing to really hurt the country and millions of people. But the kicker is that I bet they will not even get much on the abortion issue. These folks have been voting for an end to abortion since Reagan, and what they get is deregulation of banks and Wall Street. This electoral group can be described as: Dumb and Dumber…

*This election was in many ways a repudiation of the Obama era. Obama’s approval rating was reported as being high, but considering the inaccuracy of the polls you really wonder about that. In any case, Hillary tied herself to the Obama legacy, like Obamacare with premiums spiking in October, and almost half the electorate said “No.” Also, if you look at the voting with a microscope you see this fact: in key counties in Wisconsin and Michigan, which Obama had carried, now turned to Trump.

*In a political campaign there are two key elements: the “ground game,” and the message. The ground game consists of having organized troops getting the vote out, having a structured way of getting in touch with the voters. Hillary had a much better ground game than Trump; she had a very experienced organization of electioneering people almost everywhere. However, she really lost it on the message part, which kind of poured sand into the machinery of her organization. And the message part was bad on several counts. For example, Obama had won for promising “change.” I remember this was really big back in 2008 and I believed him. He was implying he was not talking just about some tinkering change but something radical. He was going to Washington to bring “hope” and “change.” Remember that it was the time of economic crisis brought about by the big banks and financial entities, the Dems controlled both houses of Congress, and yet once he was President, Obama did nothing to nail the banksters who had caused this. And this is just one example. Well, Hillary tied herself to this legacy. And she almost made it an election pledge that she was only going to “adjust” certain things, like Obamacare, like bank regulations, etc. Trump sounded like he wanted to throw a brick thru the Washington establishment window, and this resonated with a lot of people.

*Listen to this quote from a Muslim woman, Asra Q Nomani, who voted for Trump–this appeared as an op-ed in the Washington Post:

“This is is my confession — and explanation: I — a 51-year-old, a Muslim, an immigrant woman “of color” — am one of those silent voters for Donald Trump. And I’m not a “bigot,” “racist,” “chauvinist” or “white supremacist,” as Trump voters are being called, nor part of some “whitelash.”

In the winter of 2008, as a lifelong liberal and proud daughter of West Virginia, a state born on the correct side of history on slavery, I moved to historically conservative Virginia only because the state had helped elect Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States.

But, then, for much of this past year, I have kept my electoral preference secret: I was leaning toward Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Tuesday evening, just minutes before the polls closed at Forestville Elementary School in mostly Democratic Fairfax County, I slipped between the cardboard partitions in the polling booth, a pen balanced carefully between my fingers, to mark my ballot for president, coloring in the circle beside the names of Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence.

Supporters of President-elect Donald Trump rejoiced across the nation on Election Night as their candidate defied the polls. (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

After Hillary Clinton called Trump to concede, making him America’s president-elect, a friend on Twitter wrote a message of apology to the world, saying there are millions of Americans who don’t share Trump’s “hatred/division/ignorance.” She ended: “Ashamed of millions that do.”

That would presumably include me — but it doesn’t, and that is where the dismissal of voter concerns about Clinton led to her defeat. I most certainly reject the trifecta of “hatred/division/ignorance.” I support the Democratic Party’s position on abortion, same-sex marriage and climate change.

But I am a single mother who can’t afford health insurance under Obamacare. The president’s mortgage-loan modification program, “HOPE NOW,” didn’t help me. Tuesday, I drove into Virginia from my hometown of Morgantown, W.Va., where I see rural America and ordinary Americans, like me, still struggling to make ends meet, after eight years of the Obama administration.

Finally, as a liberal Muslim who has experienced, first-hand, Islamic extremism in this world, I have been opposed to the decision by President Obama and the Democratic Party to tap dance around the “Islam” in Islamic State. Of course, Trump’s rhetoric has been far more than indelicate and folks can have policy differences with his recommendations, but, to me, it has been exaggerated and demonized by the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, their media channels, such as Al Jazeera, and their proxies in the West, in a convenient distraction from the issue that most worries me as a human being on this earth: extremist Islam of the kind that has spilled blood from the hallways of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai to the dance floor of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

In mid-June, after the tragic shooting at Pulse, Trump tweeted out a message, delivered in his typical subtle style: “Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism? If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!”

Around then, on CNN’s “New Day,” Democratic candidate Clinton seemed to do the Obama dance, saying, “From my perspective, it matters what we do more than what we say. And it mattered we got bin Laden, not what name we called him. I have clearly said we — whether you call it radical jihadism or radical Islamism, I’m happy to say either. I think they mean the same thing.”

By mid-October, it was one Aug. 17, 2014, email from the WikiLeaks treasure trove of Clinton emails that poisoned the well for me. In it, Clinton told aide John Podesta: “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL,” the politically correct name for the Islamic State, “and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

The revelations of multimillion-dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation from Qatar and Saudi Arabia killed my support for Clinton. Yes, I want equal pay. No, I reject Trump’s “locker room” banter, the idea of a “wall” between the United States and Mexico and a plan to “ban” Muslims. But I trust the United States and don’t buy the political hyperbole — agenda-driven identity politics of its own — that demonized Trump and his supporters.

I gently tried to express my thoughts on Twitter but the “Pantsuit revolution” was like a steamroller to any nuanced discourse. If you supported Trump, you had to be a redneck.

Days before the election, a journalist from India emailed me, asking: What are your thoughts being a Muslim in “Trump’s America”?

I wrote that as a child of India, arriving in the United States at the age of 4 in the summer of 1969, I have absolutely no fears about being a Muslim in a “Trump America.” The checks and balances in America and our rich history of social justice and civil rights will never allow the fear-mongering that has been attached to candidate Trump’s rhetoric to come to fruition.

What worried me the most were my concerns about the influence of theocratic Muslim dictatorships, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in a Hillary Clinton America. These dictatorships are no shining examples of progressive society with their failure to offer fundamental human rights and pathways to citizenship to immigrants from India, refugees from Syria and the entire class of de facto slaves that live in those dictatorships.”

End of piece. Ok, she sounds like a decent person, a nice person, a good person, and I think she is right about so many things, and all this shows just a bit how Hillary failed to reach people like her. But I am afraid being “good” and “nice” and even “right” just won’t cut it; you need to see things clearly, and people like her do not see the danger in Trump, the really serious danger. And the same goes for all those Catholics and Christians who voted for Trump. By the way, I am amazed how much damage is done by “good” people all around, from good popes, good presidents, good common people, etc. It simply is not enough to be “good.”

Now for a quote from one of my favorites, Michael Moore. Amazingly enough he wrote this about 2 months before the election. Boy, does he nail it! Perfect bullseye!

Moore: “Friends:

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I gave it to you straight last summer when I told you that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president. And now I have even more awful, depressing news for you: Donald J. Trump is going to win in November. This wretched, ignorant, dangerous part-time clown and full time sociopath is going to be our next president. President Trump. Go ahead and say the words, ‘cause you’ll be saying them for the next four years: “PRESIDENT TRUMP.”

Never in my life have I wanted to be proven wrong more than I do right now.

I can see what you’re doing right now. You’re shaking your head wildly – “No, Mike, this won’t happen!” Unfortunately, you are living in a bubble that comes with an adjoining echo chamber where you and your friends are convinced the American people are not going to elect an idiot for president. You alternate between being appalled at him and laughing at him because of his latest crazy comment or his embarrassingly narcissistic stance on everything because everything is about him. And then you listen to Hillary and you behold our very first female president, someone the world respects, someone who is whip-smart and cares about kids, who will continue the Obama legacy because that is what the American people clearly want! Yes! Four more years of this!

You need to exit that bubble right now. You need to stop living in denial and face the truth which you know deep down is very, very real. Trying to soothe yourself with the facts – “77% of the electorate are women, people of color, young adults under 35 and Trump cant win a majority of any of them!” – or logic – “people aren’t going to vote for a buffoon or against their own best interests!” – is your brain’s way of trying to protect you from trauma. Like when you hear a loud noise on the street and you think, “oh, a tire just blew out,” or, “wow, who’s playing with firecrackers?” because you don’t want to think you just heard someone being shot with a gun. It’s the same reason why all the initial news and eyewitness reports on 9/11 said “a small plane accidentally flew into the World Trade Center.” We want to – we need to – hope for the best because, frankly, life is already a shit show and it’s hard enough struggling to get by from paycheck to paycheck. We can’t handle much more bad news. So our mental state goes to default when something scary is actually, truly happening. The first people plowed down by the truck in Nice spent their final moments on earth waving at the driver whom they thought had simply lost control of his truck, trying to tell him that he jumped the curb: “Watch out!,” they shouted. “There are people on the sidewalk!”

Well, folks, this isn’t an accident. It is happening. And if you believe Hillary Clinton is going to beat Trump with facts and smarts and logic, then you obviously missed the past year of 56 primaries and caucuses where 16 Republican candidates tried that and every kitchen sink they could throw at Trump and nothing could stop his juggernaut. As of today, as things stand now, I believe this is going to happen – and in order to deal with it, I need you first to acknowledge it, and then maybe, just maybe, we can find a way out of the mess we’re in.

Don’t get me wrong. I have great hope for the country I live in. Things are better. The left has won the cultural wars. Gays and lesbians can get married. A majority of Americans now take the liberal position on just about every polling question posed to them: Equal pay for women – check. Abortion should be legal – check. Stronger environmental laws – check. More gun control – check. Legalize marijuana – check. A huge shift has taken place – just ask the socialist who won 22 states this year. And there is no doubt in my mind that if people could vote from their couch at home on their X-box or PlayStation, Hillary would win in a landslide.

But that is not how it works in America. People have to leave the house and get in line to vote. And if they live in poor, Black or Hispanic neighborhoods, they not only have a longer line to wait in, everything is being done to literally stop them from casting a ballot. So in most elections it’s hard to get even 50% to turn out to vote. And therein lies the problem for November – who is going to have the most motivated, most inspired voters show up to vote? You know the answer to this question. Who’s the candidate with the most rabid supporters? Whose crazed fans are going to be up at 5 AM on Election Day, kicking ass all day long, all the way until the last polling place has closed, making sure every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Bob and Joe and Billy Bob and Billy Joe and Billy Bob Joe) has cast his ballot?  That’s right. That’s the high level of danger we’re in. And don’t fool yourself — no amount of compelling Hillary TV ads, or outfacting him in the debates or Libertarians siphoning votes away from Trump is going to stop his mojo.

Here are the 5 reasons Trump is going to win:

  1. Midwest Math, or Welcome to Our Rust Belt Brexit.  I believe Trump is going to focus much of his attention on the four blue states in the rustbelt of the upper Great Lakes – Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Four traditionally Democratic states – but each of them have elected a Republican governor since 2010 (only Pennsylvania has now finally elected a Democrat). In the Michigan primary in March, more Michiganders came out to vote for the Republicans (1.32 million) that the Democrats (1.19 million). Trump is ahead of Hillary in the latest polls in Pennsylvania and tied with her in Ohio. Tied? How can the race be this close after everything Trump has said and done? Well maybe it’s because he’s said (correctly) that the Clintons’ support of NAFTA helped to destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest. Trump is going to hammer Clinton on this and her support of TPP and other trade policies that have royally screwed the people of these four states. When Trump stood in the shadow of a Ford Motor factory during the Michigan primary, he threatened the corporation that if they did indeed go ahead with their planned closure of that factory and move it to Mexico, he would slap a 35% tariff on any Mexican-built cars shipped back to the United States. It was sweet, sweet music to the ears of the working class of Michigan, and when he tossed in his threat to Apple that he would force them to stop making their iPhones in China and build them here in America, well, hearts swooned and Trump walked away with a big victory that should have gone to the governor next-door, John Kasich.

From Green Bay to Pittsburgh, this, my friends, is the middle of England – broken, depressed, struggling, the smokestacks strewn across the countryside with the carcass of what we use to call the Middle Class. Angry, embittered working (and nonworking) people who were lied to by the trickle-down of Reagan and abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to rub one out with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who’ll write them nice big check before leaving the room. What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here. Elmer Gantry shows up looking like Boris Johnson and just says whatever shit he can make up to convince the masses that this is their chance! To stick to ALL of them, all who wrecked their American Dream! And now The Outsider, Donald Trump, has arrived to clean house! You don’t have to agree with him! You don’t even have to like him! He is your personal Molotov cocktail to throw right into the center of the bastards who did this to you! SEND A MESSAGE! TRUMP IS YOUR MESSENGER!

And this is where the math comes in. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost by 64 electoral votes. Add up the electoral votes cast by Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It’s 64. All Trump needs to do to win is to carry, as he’s expected to do, the swath of traditional red states from Idaho to Georgia (states that’ll never vote for Hillary Clinton), and then he just needs these four rust belt states. He doesn’t need Florida. He doesn’t need Colorado or Virginia. Just Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And that will put him over the top. This is how it will happen in November.

  1. The Last Stand of the Angry White Man. Our male-dominated, 240-year run of the USA is coming to an end. A woman is about to take over! How did this happen?! On our watch! There were warning signs, but we ignored them. Nixon, the gender traitor, imposing Title IX on us, the rule that said girls in school should get an equal chance at playing sports. Then they let them fly commercial jets. Before we knew it, Beyoncé stormed on the field at this year’s Super Bowl (our game!) with an army of Black Women, fists raised, declaring that our domination was hereby terminated! Oh, the humanity!

That’s a small peek into the mind of the Endangered White Male. There is a sense that the power has slipped out of their hands, that their way of doing things is no longer how things are done. This monster, the “Feminazi,”the thing that as Trump says, “bleeds through her eyes or wherever she bleeds,” has conquered us — and now, after having had to endure eight years of a black man telling us what to do, we’re supposed to just sit back and take eight years of a woman bossing us around? After that it’ll be eight years of the gays in the White House! Then the transgenders! You can see where this is going. By then animals will have been granted human rights and a fuckin’ hamster is going to be running the country. This has to stop!

  1. The Hillary Problem. Can we speak honestly, just among ourselves? And before we do, let me state, I actually like Hillary – a lot – and I think she has been given a bad rap she doesn’t deserve. But her vote for the Iraq War made me promise her that I would never vote for her again. To date, I haven’t broken that promise. For the sake of preventing a proto-fascist from becoming our commander-in-chief, I’m breaking that promise. I sadly believe Clinton will find a way to get us in some kind of military action. She’s a hawk, to the right of Obama. But Trump’s psycho finger will be on The Button, and that is that. Done and done.

Let’s face it: Our biggest problem here isn’t Trump – it’s Hillary. She is hugely unpopular — nearly 70% of all voters think she is untrustworthy and dishonest. She represents the old way of politics, not really believing in anything other than what can get you elected. That’s why she fights against gays getting married one moment, and the next she’s officiating a gay marriage. Young women are among her biggest detractors, which has to hurt considering it’s the sacrifices and the battles that Hillary and other women of her generation endured so that this younger generation would never have to be told by the Barbara Bushes of the world that they should just shut up and go bake some cookies. But the kids don’t like her, and not a day goes by that a millennial doesn’t tell me they aren’t voting for her. No Democrat, and certainly no independent, is waking up on November 8th excited to run out and vote for Hillary the way they did the day Obama became president or when Bernie was on the primary ballot. The enthusiasm just isn’t there. And because this election is going to come down to just one thing — who drags the most people out of the house and gets them to the polls — Trump right now is in the catbird seat.

  1. The Depressed Sanders Vote. Stop fretting about Bernie’s supporters not voting for Clinton – we’re voting for Clinton! The polls already show that more Sanders voters will vote for Hillary this year than the number of Hillary primary voters in ’08 who then voted for Obama. This is not the problem. The fire alarm that should be going off is that while the average Bernie backer will drag him/herself to the polls that day to somewhat reluctantly vote for Hillary, it will be what’s called a “depressed vote” – meaning the voter doesn’t bring five people to vote with her. He doesn’t volunteer 10 hours in the month leading up to the election. She never talks in an excited voice when asked why she’s voting for Hillary. A depressed voter. Because, when you’re young, you have zero tolerance for phonies and BS. Returning to the Clinton/Bush era for them is like suddenly having to pay for music, or using MySpace or carrying around one of those big-ass portable phones. They’re not going to vote for Trump; some will vote third party, but many will just stay home. Hillary Clinton is going to have to do something to give them a reason to support her  — and picking a moderate, bland-o, middle of the road old white guy as her running mate is not the kind of edgy move that tells millenials that their vote is important to Hillary. Having two women on the ticket – that was an exciting idea. But then Hillary got scared and has decided to play it safe. This is just one example of how she is killing the youth vote.
  2. The Jesse Ventura Effect. Finally, do not discount the electorate’s ability to be mischievous or underestimate how any millions fancy themselves as closet anarchists once they draw the curtain and are all alone in the voting booth. It’s one of the few places left in society where there are no security cameras, no listening devices, no spouses, no kids, no boss, no cops, there’s not even a friggin’ time limit. You can take as long as you need in there and no one can make you do anything. You can push the button and vote a straight party line, or you can write in Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. There are no rules. And because of that, and the anger that so many have toward a broken political system, millions are going to vote for Trump not because they agree with him, not because they like his bigotry or ego, but just because they can. Just because it will upset the apple cart and make mommy and daddy mad. And in the same way like when you’re standing on the edge of Niagara Falls and your mind wonders for a moment what would that feel like to go over that thing, a lot of people are going to love being in the position of puppetmaster and plunking down for Trump just to see what that might look like. Remember back in the ‘90s when the people of Minnesota elected a professional wrestler as their governor? They didn’t do this because they’re stupid or thought that Jesse Ventura was some sort of statesman or political intellectual. They did so just because they could. Minnesota is one of the smartest states in the country. It is also filled with people who have a dark sense of humor — and voting for Ventura was their version of a good practical joke on a sick political system. This is going to happen again with Trump.

Coming back to the hotel after appearing on Bill Maher’s Republican Convention special this week on HBO, a man stopped me. “Mike,” he said, “we have to vote for Trump. We HAVE to shake things up.” That was it. That was enough for him. To “shake things up.” President Trump would indeed do just that, and a good chunk of the electorate would like to sit in the bleachers and watch that reality show.”

And now we get this excerpt from Glen Greenwald:

“… Democrats have already begun flailing around trying to blame anyone and everyone they can find — everyone except themselves — for last night’s crushing defeat of their party.

You know the drearily predictable list of their scapegoats: Russia, WikiLeaks, James Comey, Jill Stein, Bernie Bros, The Media, news outlets (including, perhaps especially, The Intercept) that sinned by reporting negatively on Hillary Clinton. Anyone who thinks that what happened last night in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Michigan can be blamed on any of that is drowning in self-protective ignorance so deep that it’s impossible to express in words.

When a political party is demolished, the principal responsibility belongs to one entity: the party that got crushed. It’s the job of the party and the candidate, and nobody else, to persuade the citizenry to support them and find ways to do that. Last night, the Democrats failed, resoundingly, to do that, and any autopsy or liberal think piece or pro-Clinton pundit commentary that does not start and finish with their own behavior is one that is inherently worthless.

Put simply, Democrats knowingly chose to nominate a deeply unpopular, extremely vulnerable, scandal-plagued candidate, who — for very good reason — was widely perceived to be a protector and beneficiary of all the worst components of status quo elite corruption. It’s astonishing that those of us who tried frantically to warn Democrats that nominating Hillary Clinton was a huge and scary gamble — that all empirical evidence showed that she could lose to anyone and Bernie Sanders would be a much stronger candidate, especially in this climate — are now the ones being blamed: by the very same people who insisted on ignoring all that data and nominating her anyway.

But that’s just basic blame shifting and self-preservation. Far more significant is what this shows about the mentality of the Democratic Party. Just think about who they nominated: someone who — when she wasn’t dining with Saudi monarchs and being feted in Davos by tyrants who gave million-dollar checks — spent the last several years piggishly running around to Wall Street banks and major corporations cashing in with $250,000 fees for 45-minute secret speeches even though she had already become unimaginably rich with book advances while her husband already made tens of millions playing these same games. She did all that without the slightest apparent concern for how that would feed into all the perceptions and resentments of her and the Democratic Party as corrupt, status quo-protecting, aristocratic tools of the rich and powerful: exactly the worst possible behavior for this post-2008-economic-crisis era of globalism and destroyed industries.”


Well, enough for all that. For those of us on some sort of monastic path, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, it is important on the one hand not be blind to what is really going on in our world, but also we need to see things in a bigger picture. A lot of our monastic ancestors, whether it be Chinese hermits, Christian desert monks, etc, etc., lived in and thru some incredibly bad times and under some incredibly bad regimes. Nothing new here. We have to keep our heads low, keep up our life in whatever measure and intensity we can, and carry the pain of the world in our hearts. If we can lend a hand to someone who is fighting the good fight, so be it. The key thing is to not be overwhelmed by the darkness, nor to place our whole hope in some political process or position. I will comment on this at some future point.



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