Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
[Editor: My friend, Pablo Das, has been active in the resistance to the Trump Regime, especially in the fight to save the Affordable Care Act. Here as some of his thoughts on the practice of activism as a Buddhist.]
A challenge to my fellow Buddhists:
Today, with this healthcare victory, we see what compassion coupled with action looks like. Large coalitions of people saw the CBO report which estimated that 24 million people would lose healthcare and said “no”. For me joining campaigns to defend healthcare was an obvious extension of metta (may you be “healthy”) and Karuna practice. It is an embodiment of the eightfold path: speech, action and participation in the marketplace as embodiments of “wise” intentions (kindness and compassion). For me now, this IS the path.
I write to urge those of you who haven’t found a campaign or a cause to plug into to use this victory as an energizing moment to pick one thing and plug in.
Some thoughts about plugging in: Here’s what has been helpful to me.
1. Orient to and root yourself in what is good, beautiful and fulfilling about your life. Go to the beach, make dinner for friends, dance… good music, art and good Sex etc…
Orienting to the positive and pleasant is how I build resilience and capacity. Don’t give ALL of yourself to the struggle.
2. LEAD: if you’re like me, you care passionately about way more issues than you could possibly effectively advocate for. More seasoned advocates often say to find one (or two at most) issues to be a leader on. These are the things that you’re most passionate about (the passion will sustain you) and (in my opinion) that which is closest to your direct experience. I have found that when I sit in my congressional representatives office, or have conversations on a phone bank, I’m a much more effective advocate when I speak about something that touches my life deeply.
3. FOLLOW: after you choose your 1 or 2 issues to lead on, find ways to “show up” for other campaigns you aren’t working directly on. Go to their fundraisers, educational programs and demonstrations. Follow them on social media and join their email lists to stay informed.
4. Let your own sense of capacity be your guide and say “no” when you don’t have enough fuel left in your tank. Then go back to #1 on this list.
5. Find ways to regulate your media intake. I now get my news from a print edition of a national newspaper which I read once a day. A weekly conservative newspaper which I read openheartedly to try to understand the “other” side and pinpoint any misperceptions I may have on the issues. I also listen to a hand full of highly curated podcasts. What I DO NOT do is sit in front of my computer and obsess about every breaking sensationalized news story. Non reactivity is the name of the game with news. It’s ok to read it the next day or a week later in a well considered curated format.
6. Reject spiritual bypassing and the privileged Buddhist platitudes that often dominates the Buddhist world in times of national stress. Yes, we get it, You don’t have to hate to say “no”. But taking a principled active stand against militarization, mass incarceration and in support of trans safety, voting rights or climate action etc. doesn’t constitute “hatred”. It’s wise compassionate action!
This is only the beginning of the resistance. It’s not too late to plug in, if you have the capacity.
If we want to be as effective as we can be in our work, we need to be nourished by what is beautiful, by the best things this life has to offer.
Such things as the beauty of that child, and your smile, and so much more, feed us. They sustain our souls and make them healthy and robust.
Especially in these times, we need the strength that can come from art, from our extraordinary natural world, from friendship, and the inspiring work of our allies.
When they talk about ‘the ten-thousand joys, and the ten-thousand sorrows’ in Buddhism, practically speaking, the ten-thousand joys have to come first, or we may not get to the rest of it.
Joy is the food of the bodhisattvas. Nourish yourselves well.