A Single Voice can Change the World

Toward the end of his life and career, Lenny Bruce, perhaps the most influential comedian of the 20th century, had been busted for obscenity so many times that dealing with the court cases became a full time job. It became an obsession. It was all Lenny could think about or talk about. It took over his act. During his performances, he’d go into long rants about his court battles. He’d read aloud from the trial transcripts. Watch the Lenny Bruce Performance Film and you’ll see. He was no longer “Dirty” Lenny and he wasn’t funny. He had become unhinged, unfit to be a comedian.

I had never watched a Trump rally until the other night. Just saw sound bites. I was curious, so I tuned in. Trump took the stage in Phoenix and began his long rant about his battles, his foes, his feuds. At one point, he read aloud from a transcript of his Charlottesville remarks. It was astounding. Unbelievable. It reminded me of Lenny. Trump is unhinged and unfit to be President.

During the 16 minute reading of his Charlottesville statements, Trump was interrupted by a protester, who was immediately led out of the arena by security.

“Don’t bother,” Trump said, as the crowd booed. “It’s just a single voice. And not a very powerful voice.”

Actually, a single voice can be very powerful. Just one voice can change the world. You probably already know this, but if you’ve forgotten, today I will remind you.

Galileo was just one voice. He said that the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun. He was tried by the Inquisition, forced to repudiate his view, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. In the beginning, Gandhi’s was but a single voice, and not a very powerful one physically, and yet that voice led his country to freedom through a non-violent revolution that still stands as a focal point for inspiration for all people. Rosa Parks was just one voice, and when she said “No” and refused to move to the back of the bus, she changed the world. Lenny Bruce was a single voice; his obscenity-laden performances were protests against a repressive society that censored free speech.

And Malala Yousafzai is a single voice. A human rights activist and an advocate for education for women,  the Taliban tried to silence her, murder her, but she survived. Her single voice inspires the world.

51 years ago, June 1966, during the height of apartheid, Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech in South Africa to the National Union of South African Students on the occasion of Cape Town University’s “Day of Reaffirmation of Academic and Human Freedom”.  Many have considered it Kennedy’s greatest speech:

“Each time man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

– Robert F. Kennedy

There is always a ripple when one person with courage stands up and raises a single voice in protest.

A voice that is always angry, that creates division, that is insincere, belittles others, spreads bigotry and hate, may seem powerful in the short run. However, history shows us that such voices are eventually silenced. Truth and justice are undefeated in the long run.

The power of a single voice is encouraging, emboldening. When we unite to make our voices heard, the resulting chorus becomes a potent and unbeatable force for change.

A single voice can inspire the world. A single voice can change the world.

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Phil Ochs had a rather smooth and engaging voice, yet there was a edge to it, provided by his sometimes stinging words.  He was a songwriter, a protest singer, an outlaw like Lenny, a revolutionary like Gandhi, a voice for peace like Malala Yousafzai.  His is a largely forgotten voice today, but listen to his songs and you’ll hear a voice that resonates with likable temerity and timeless truth.  An unsung singer, a single voice…

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“Without an enemy you cannot practice tolerance”

A few weeks after 9/11, The Onion (“America’s Finest New Source”) ran this headline:  “A Shattered Nation Longs to Care about Stupid Bullshit Again.”  It wasn’t fake news but satire, humor, and there was probably some truth to it.  The Onion could use that headline again now and it would be at least partly true.

The election in November and the inauguration in January has left many of us really bummed out.  We have a new term for it:  Post Election Stress Disorder.  PESD.  Evidently, it hits people on both sides.  The American Psychological Association’s recent survey, “Stress in America,” shows that 49 percent of Americans remain concerned about the election, 66 percent are concerned about the future of the nation, and 57 percent were worried about the current political climate.  The election is still stressing people out, while the inauguration is still creeping them out.

Over the weekend, Huffington Post ran an article titled “A Zen Master’s Advice on Coping with Trump,” the Zen master being Thich Nhat Hanh.  The piece includes some quotes from Thay’s new book, At Home in the World.  The HP also asked a nun and a monk from Plum Village in France for some guidance on how to survive in Trumpland.

Brother Phap Dung stated,

“We have the wrong perception that we are separate from the other. So in a way Trump is a product of a certain way of being in this world so it is very easy to have him as a scapegoat. But if we look closely, we have elements of Trump in us and it is helpful to have time to reflect on that.”

The article also quoted James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist and founder of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, who wrote in The Guardian,

“Trump’s grand and vulgar self-absorption is inviting all of us to examine our own selfishness. His ignorance calls us to attend to our own blind spots.  The fears that he stokes and the isolation he promotes goad us to be braver, more generous.”

The Trump Presidency is almost unbearable to me.  It is an outrage and a national embarrassment.  My fear of and loathing for the man is wide, and deep.  But deeper still is a place within where I know that Phap Dung and James Gordon are right:  Trump is a reflection of ourselves.

The enemy always is.

In 2011, following the death of Osama bin Laden, I wrote:

“As a way of developing abundant compassion, prayers for a monster can be powerful. When we practice loving-kindness meditation, one of the four types of persons we develop compassion toward is a “hostile” person.  Someone with whom we are at odds, have difficulties about, who provokes our anger…” 

Trump is certainly in that category.  I added that “sometimes practicing compassion should be a real challenge.”  Part of the challenge is looking inside and seeing the reflection of our enemy within.  It is going to be difficult for me to summon up warm thoughts of loving-kindness for the monster in the White House.  It is much easier to despise him.  But that is not the Bodhisattva Way.

Compassion does not mean we stop our resistance, or that we cease calling the enemy out for his frequent lies, or stop mocking his alternative reality.  The way I look at it, resistance is compassion, too.  We resist for the sake of ourselves and others.

There is no doubt in my mind the nation, and the world, would be better off if Agent Orange had never run for president, let alone gotten himself elected.  But the enemy is here, and for us, his presence is not a reason for despair; it is an opportunity, a cause for compassion, a test of our capacity for tolerance.

“For a practitioner of love and compassion, an enemy is one of the most important teachers.  Without an enemy you cannot practice tolerance, and without tolerance you cannon build a sound basis of compassion.  So in order to practice compassion, you should have an enemy.

When you face your enemy who is going to hurt you, that is the real time to practice tolerance. Therefore, an enemy is the cause of the practice of tolerance; tolerance is the effect or result of an enemy.  So those are cause and effect.  As is said, ‘Once something has the relationship of arising from that thing, one cannot consider that thing from which it arises as a harmer; rather it assists the production of the effect’.”

Shantideva, A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life*

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As quoted in How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life by Dalai Lama XIV

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Women Don’t Shoot

Friday night I watched “Michael Moore in Trumpland.”  The title is a bit deceptive.  It has very little to do with Trump, and a lot to do with feminism.  It’s funny, educational, moving, and it is a spirited discussion of the struggles of Hillary Clinton, through which, it touches upon the struggle of all women and extols their power.

trumplandMichael Moore’s film is a record of a one-man show he performed in October at the Murphy Theatre in Wilmington, Ohio.  Over the course of sixty minutes, Moore spends a considerable amount of time going over the attacks, the abuse Hillary Clinton has endured over the years, most all of it, of course, coming from men.  I remember how she was humiliated for heading the Task Force on National Health Care Reform in the 1990s.  But I had forgotten how nasty it was, and perhaps dulled to how nasty it has been ever since.

In 1994, at a rally in support of the health care campaign, as the First Lady spoke, protestors held up signs that read “Heil Hillary” and nearly booed her down.  For the first time, the Secret Service was successful in persuading Hillary Clinton to wear a bulletproof vest.

It is obvious that Michael Moore likes Hillary, he admires her because she has character, that is, good character, one thing many voters doubted.  She took all the abuse heaped on her, never complained (at least not in pubic) and kept moving forward.

About halfway through the performance, Moore looks into the camera and says,

hillary-clinton-019bMy hope, my optimism for this . . .  Hillary, if you’re watching this right now (I have a feeling that someone is going to slip you a tape of this), I just want to tell you something, I know you’ve been waiting . . . but you’re not alone, a whole  bunch of the rest of us have been waiting for that one glorious moment when the other gender, the majority gender, has a chance to run this world, have some real power and kick some righteous ass.”

We men have been in charge far too long, and as a result, our world is out of balance.  We need to adjust the axis in favor of gender equality.

Now, it’s amazing how certain things fall in place . . . Just Friday morning I was reading these words by Barbara E. Reed: “The Tao Te Ching uses feminine imagery and traditional views of female roles to counter destructive male behavior.” *

Tao is a complex principle.  Tao means “road or “path”.  Philosophically, it is the “Way”, and for now, let us just say that it is about the way of living.  The classic Chinese text, Tao Te Ching, can be translated as “The Way and its Virtue.”

According to one scholar, the origins of the Tao Te Ching were “ideas from anonymous people (not intellectuals) of the 6th – 4th centuries BCE, probably including local elders (“lao-tsu”), possibly including women . . .” He mentions also that the early layers of the teachings emphasized “natural simplicity, harmony, ‘feminine’ behaviors”.  **

I am intrigued by the notion that women may have influenced the formation of these teachings.  The doctrine of Taoism has always showed a preference for feminine “behaviors”, and at times, it seems the Tao Te Ching is saying that the feminine is the purest form of life.

In ancient China, women were largely illiterate and subjugated.  Yet, there were periods in China’s history when Buddhist and Taoists movements welcomed women as both practitioners and leaders, and there were teachings (“Inner Alchemy”) specifically for women.

One modern woman, Ursula K. Le Guin, an American author known for her works in the genres of fantasy and science fiction, published a translation of the Tao Te Ching in 1998.  In an interview some years later, she said,

Lao Tzu feminized mysteries in a different way from anybody else.  These are not “feminine mysteries,” but he makes mystery itself a woman.  This is profound, this goes deep.  And the most mystical passages in the book are the most feminine.  This is something women need, I think, and long for, often without knowing it.  That’s undoubtedly one reason why all my life I’ve found the Tao de Ching so refreshing and empowering.”

This is something that everyone needs, and that everyone has.  Feminine energy (yin) is not separate from masculine energy (yang).  The feminine and the masculine give rise to each other; they are interdependent and universal.  Water and the earth symbolize feminine energy.  The feminine is soft, yielding, receptive, fluid, creative, intuitive, transformative, and nurturing.

The masculine is associated with activity, creativity, hardness, logic, and control.

tai-ji-symbol3As we seen in the tai ji symbol, yin and yang are enfolded within one another.  Every person has yin and yang energies.  For instance, I’d say Hillary Clinton has some significant yang energy, while her former opponent has too much.

In chapter 42, the Tao Te Ching says, “All things carry yin and embrace yang. They achieve harmony by balancing these energies.”  The best way of living is living in harmony with nature and each other, and the more we can harmonize the feminine and masculine within ourselves, the more effectively we can check compulsive and extreme behavior, the more we can counteract negative forces within the mind and even the body.

Gentleness is another quality of feminine energy, and in the film, Michael Moore points out that women are mostly non-violent.

“Women generally don’t shoot you,” he says.  “Unless you deserve it.”

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* Barbara E. Reed, “Taoism”, Women in World Religions, Ed. Arvind Sharma,  SUNY Press, 1987 162

** Russell Kirkland, Taoism: The Enduring Tradition, Psychology Press, 2004

Hillary Clinton photo: Wellesley College Archives

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The Wisdom of Anger

A wise person does not neglect the way of propriety.  Democracy means freedom and equality, and mutual respect.  Authoritarians and demagogues use people as a tool.  The American way was always supposed to be about appreciating people as an end in themselves . . .

Trying to gather my thoughts about this election has been difficult.  I was so angry.  I still am.  Problem is, Buddhists are not supposed to get angry.  We have this notion that we always have to avoid any display of emotion, that there is never justification for anger, and our words must always be kind and healing.

I don’t believe that every moment has to be a kumbaya moment.  Now and again, there is justification for anger and rather than be afraid of the anger, or be ashamed for feeling anger, we can use it.

If you are a Mahayanist, then you realize that Buddha taught a certain use for the energy of anger . . . the bodhisattva, like the peacock who can use poison to be beautiful, can use the heat, the fire of anger . . .”

So says Robert Thurman in a video “The Wisdom of Anger” (see below).  Japanese Buddhists have a term for what he is talking about:  hendoku iyaku – change poison into medicine.

The purpose of the Buddha’s teaching is to transform negative aspects of the mind.  I suspect that many Buddhists practice suppression rather than transformation.  There are situations when negativity has to come out in order to be an object for transformation.  Furthermore, we should keep in mind that there are two truths and they are not separate, except when they are.  Conventionally speaking then, anger directed toward injustice or the infliction of harm can be positive.

T’ien-t’ai founder Chih-i was one of the first Buddhist teachers to explain how good and evil are non-dual.  Ng Yu Kwan* tells us that Chih-i taught “good and evil do not make terms with each other, but are constantly in a struggle.  Good must overturn evil in order to prevail, and good can prevail only by the overturning of evil.  It follows that overturning evil is a necessary and sufficient condition for the prevalence of good.  But the overturning of evil does not imply extirpation of evil.”

Why not?  Because ultimately, good and evil are non-dual.  They are “different states of the same thing under different conditions.”  The keyword here is ultimately.  This is the view from ultimate truth and it is important for us to remember that even though the ultimate and conventional are mutually inclusive, there are times in the conventional world when it is necessary to use conventional means.

The fact is that in the Mahayana Buddhist way of expressing non-duality, things are dual sometimes.  There are situations when it truly is a matter of good vs. evil, us vs. them.

This post-election period is one of those times.  It is not wrong to identify the President-elect with evil, for what he represents – hate, misogyny, racism – are identified as evil states of mind.  We do not have to support the President-elect or unite behind him.  To do so would be like saying hate speech is acceptable, that using hate speech to win an election is something we can tolerate.  It’s isn’t.  Not in the America I was taught to believe in.  Freedom of speech and accountability for your words are not mutually exclusive.

Understanding inter-dependency (dependent origination) means taking responsibility for being infinitely connected to each other, so we want to avoid creating animosity with people whose views are different from ours and do out best to follow the ways of propriety and mutual respect.  Yet, we should not become enablers of their delusions, sold to them by demagogues and hate-mongers.

If we’re angry, we need not be ashamed of it or feel that it must be suppressed.  We can take the anger, temper it with wisdom, and then speak out, raise an objection.  Our country is in a fog.  Our protests can be the sunlight that burns off the fog.

 

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* NG Yu Kwan, T’ien-t’ai Buddhism and Early Madhyamika, University of Hawaii Press, 1993, 171

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Without Falsehood: Divining the Election with I Ching

Most people think of the I Ching as a method of fortune telling.  It’s known as The Oracle.  I don’t believe in divination, fortune telling, soothsaying – but I’ve found that if you use the I Ching as a philosophical text, as a book of wisdom, instead of divinations you discover illustrations or models of different ways of life, signposts to different directions.

I Ching consists of 64 gua or hexagrams, each one a combination of six broken or unbroken lines.  The text is made up of commentaries by Confucius and others on the Judgments, or decision, and the image (symbol) formed by the lines.

For a lark, the other afternoon I thought I would divine the election.  Usually, when I “consult” I Ching all I do is simply pick up a translation and read whatever is on the page I opened.  Occasionally, I used to meditate on a thought and then throw the sticks or coins.  It’s rarely a formal question that I have in my mind, but for this exercise, the question was “Who will win the 2016 Presidential election and what will it mean for the future of the United States?”  I tossed 3 coins six times and the lines corresponded to this hexagram:

wu-wang2Wu WangWithout Falsehood

Above:  Heaven, the creative, active

Below:  Thunder, movement, perilousness

Alfred Huang translates Wu Wang as Without Falsehood and says that it “literally means untruthful.”  John Blofeld translates it as Integrity, Richard John Lynn (translating Wang Bi’s interpretation) as No Errancy, and John Cleary (in The Buddhist I Ching) as No Error.

Huang writes, “This gua displays the wisdom of holding to the truth – that is, no matter how situations change, truthfulness never changes.  The ancient Chinese did not have a personal God; they submitted to the will of Heaven and resigned themselves to their fate.  They believed that to live and act in harmony with the will of Heaven was the nature and duty of humanity.”

The way of Heaven means the way of nature, and ideally, to be in harmony with the way of nature.

Falsehood seems an apt hexagram for this election.  We are sure that all politicians lie and according to Politico, this year voters must choose between a presidential candidate who lies every three minutes and 15 seconds, or one who lies every 12 minutes.

Yet, Wu Wang represents more than truthfulness.  Another definition is “a person’s prestige.”

The Judgment:  Without Falsehood.  Sublimely prosperous and smooth.  Favorable to be steadfast and upright.  If one’s intention is not truthful, there is trouble.  Unfavorable to go anywhere.

The Image:  Under the sky, thunder rolls; from it all things are accompanied by truthfulness and receive their integrity.  The ancient rulers, in accordance with this, nurtured myriad beings.

Here is Chih-hsu Ou-I’s interpretation (The Buddhist I Ching):

Judgment:  Freedom from error is very successful, beneficial for the upright.  Denial of what is correct is mistaken, so it will not be beneficial to go anywhere.

Commentary:  In politics, a government that restores well-being accords with the way of heaven and if free from error.  In Buddhism, a teaching that restores the true way is the same as the orthodox teachings and is free from error.  In contemplating mind, on returning to original essence, truth is found and confusion is ended, so one is free from error.  All of these are very successful, and beneficial for the upright.

But whether in worldly affairs or transcendental affairs, helping oneself and helping others, it is necessary to look deep into oneself to be sure one’s mind is free from aberration and one’s words and deeds are not mistaken.  If inwardly one denies what is correct, outwardly one will make mistakes; then one should certainly not go anywhere or do anything in this way.

One way to look at it is from the conventional or relative view, which seems to me rather pessimistic, that no matter who is elected President, the country is going to be in trouble.  The notion that it is not beneficial to go anywhere would seem to indicate that the country is not going to move forward, there will be more gridlock and almost certainly, more division.  That is, as long as our leaders remain with falsehood and out of harmony with nature.

There is another aspect of this view to consider and it relates to Lincoln’s words that the American government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.”  If we want better politicians, we need to be better citizens.  Too many of us are kind of lazy especially when it comes to learning about the issues.

i_ching_coins2 “To look deep into oneself” is ultimately about truth as a personal experience.  This kind of truth does not necessarily have to do with conformity with facts.  Maybe we could call it self-truth, or integrity, becoming men and women of principle, cultivating an ethical way of life.  It is, to some extent, what we mean when we talk about finding our true nature or original essence.  It is not separate from the realm of truth, but intersects with all truth.

John Blofeld’s interpretation of the commentary on Wu Wang (Integrity):

Those who do what is right win great success . . . Those opposed to righteousness will suffer and have nowhere favorable to go; for, without integrity, what remains for them?

The I Ching is known in English as “The Book of Changes” and because we can change, those without integrity can chose to develop it, and those with integrity can discover how it is beneficial to find harmony with one’s own truth and be without falsehood.

Read more posts about the I Ching here.

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