13 July 2018

An e mail to a Trumpist friend

 I wrote this to an old friend who's become a Trumpist (wealthy, smart guy). Anyway, I'm trying to explain myself by going back to basics. This may sound sanctimonious, but, seriously, I mean it when I say I fail at this every day, every minute. But I still believe these things are important. 

I get it that you don't really care for polemics and tomes, but since we seem to have reopened a dialog, I want to make something clear. If you don't care to read all this, perhaps you'll circle back around to it and read it another time. I'll try to be clear and as brief as I can.  

My progressive politics are, at root, based on spiritual beliefs. Not religion, but spiritual beliefs that I honed and clarified through an approximately ten year long study of Buddha Dharma. The Buddha taught (Kadama Sutra): " Do not believe in anything simply because you heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept and live up to it."


​So, on that basis, I reject all authority when it comes to traditional teachings. But what I did absorb, accept on the basis of my own thought and experience, and continue to believe and profess, in its most basic form, includes the following: 


  1. Avoid the taking of life. This is at its most basic level a proscription against murder, but in deeper terms it means a reverence for all life, and the avoiding of unnecessary destruction of life of any kind, and a prescription to love the Earth and living things, and to protect them.

  1. Avoid the taking of that which is not given. This has deeper levels too… unnecessary ownership of resources others need is seen as causing harm.
  2. Avoid falsity of word and deed, and use of words to cause harm. Again, this contains deeper levels. Not only not to lie, but not to use language to manipulate, or to gossip about people to their detriment; or to conduct oneself so as to cause deception or to take advantage. This is a prescription for basic honesty, and minding of one's own business.
  3. Avoid sexual conduct which causes harm. Room for interpretation here, but the main thing is to recognize that sex and sexual behavior are dangerous if great care is not given to ensure that others are not hurt by your actions.
  4. Avoid intoxicants, which cloud the mind and cause heedlessness. On its face, this is simple; but it can also apply to avoiding toxic thought and foods, as they work in the same way as drugs and alcohol to poison the mind and heart.
THE LIMITLESS QUALITIES, or sublime conditions. These are the essence of Buddhist thought: they pervade everything, and are the essential condition, or quality, of bodhicitta, the heart of enlightenment, which I think of as no more or less than the essential goodness that resides at the core of all people. These qualities are innate but they can also be corrupted, but they can just as well be cultivated: 
Metta (Pali; Sanskrit, Maitri): caring, lovingkindness. Toward all you meet or reflect upon, your heart feels caring and lovingkindness. 
Karuna: compassion. This is the sympathetic pain upon encountering the suffering of others (or of oneself; karuna begins with oneself).  This quality enables us to develop empathy and to take action to benefit others. 
Mudita: sympathetic joy, the happiness of seeing happiness in others. This also enables us to develop the inner wherewithal to make sure our actions benefit others.
Uppekha (Upeksa): equanimity; the ability to accept others, as they are; and reality, as it is. Tricky sometimes, for it involves the phenomenon of karma, which is nothing more than "actions have consequences" (including failures to act). You are not responsible, and cannot possibly be responsible, for the existence of suffering of others or the condition of the world. You do what you can (right effort, right mindfulness, the other sublime conditions), but you don't allow them to overwhelm and destroy you. Another way to think of this is "letting go."  Equanimity is also the transformation of the deluded mind that sees others as either attractive, unattractive, or indifferent, and learns to cherish all living beings without exception or distinction.  

SO, given that these are the essential spiritual beliefs that I have come to revere and try to live by, I truly believe that we are here on this Earth primarily to benefit others, to see all living beings as worthy of love, and to craft everything we do and say to improve the lives of all living beings, and in particular all people. We all, constantly, fail at this, miserably, myself very much included. But if we do not at least TRY to live our lives in accordance with something very like this, we are truly missing the point of existence and our life is a tragedy. 

And for me, that includes politics. We need to try to make our actions moral. And politics is nothing more or less than collective action. And it must be as moral as we can make it. It must include the intention to benefit others. To include others. If I could have strongly influenced domestic and international affairs at various points in my life, I would have opted for doing everything possible to bring peace and prosperity to every country. To encourage stewardship, but to encourage development and sharing. I believe that unfettered market capitalism is immoral, because it does not have these things as a goal, even as a long term goal. Market systems are not immoral, but only if they are controlled and directed to an appropriate extent, in good faith, and with rightful intention, to ensure fairness and inter-operation with policy goals that seek to make life better for every single human being on the Earth, and to ensure the long term sustainability of life and diversity of life on this planet. These are tall, tall orders, but we fail to be moral beings if we do not strive to achieve them.

​So all my thinking, political and philosophical, is governed by these ideas. 

​I don't know if that helps at all to see things from my perspective, but there it is and for now I'll leave it at that. ​

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