Personal Voices: Is Bush the Anti-Buddha?
When George W. Bush mouths the word "compassion" chills dart up my spine. Anyone paying attention can easily see how the actions of the Bush regime reflect a distinct lack of empathy and understanding. This is an administration bent on blatant paybacks to friends and contributors at everyone else's expense. Its single truth: What is good for extractive profits is good for the country. Trees and caribou don't contribute cash so Bush's environmental policy opens majestic old growth forests for commercial logging and protected wilderness areas for domestic oil exploration. His foreign policy confuses justice with punishment, disagreement with treachery, and cultural differences with evil. He willingly risks escalating and perpetuating a continuous cycle of global violence.
Bush's regime is a disgraceful manifestation of the nefarious crony capitalism that the Presidents Roosevelt -- Theodore and Franklin -- used their administrations to combat. His vows of "No Child Left Behind," and his recent but forgotten AIDS initiative in Africa tell all, as does his underfunded plan to expand AmeriCorps and his promises to clean up carbon monoxide poisoning while increasing the pollution rights of the corporations that fund him. He cuts taxes, then drives the Federal Government from surplus to its greatest debt in history, robbing future citizens to pay the bill. Taking and sending for Bush is not about tonglen (giving and receiving) but monetary and political favors.
Compassion, according to Bush, is allowing utility plants to upgrade their infrastructure without the pollution abatements previously required by law when, according to the National Academy of Sciences, 50,000 American children are born every year with brains damaged by prenatal exposure to methyl mercury compounds from fossil-fuel and industrial air pollution. And adding insult to injury, Bush and his minions spend their holidays shooting innocent creatures -- bird, fox and deer hunting not for supper but for sport.
Thai Buddhist professor Sulak Sivaraksa likens Bush to Hitler and Stalin, arguing that his declaration of an 'Axis of Evil,' Hitler's 'Final Solution,' and Stalin's pogrom of peasants were actually similar attempts "to perfect the world by destroying its [perceived] impurities." Bush has withdrawn the U.S. from nearly all cooperative efforts for the planet like international treaties for nuclear disarmament, and initiatives like the Kyoto Accord to abate climate instability. Even if Bush does not win reelection, or otherwise get elected, the damage he has done will live on in the form of zealots in judicial robes that will set misguided legal precedents for hundreds of years. His is the zealotry and the extremism that Shakyamuni Buddha spent his life defining as the cause of suffering.
How does a student of the Dharma deal with the rising temptation to wish ill will on the perpetrators of such shocking and detestable undertakings? To the specter of four more years of Bush, what is an appropriate Buddhist response?
While it's important to recognize the full scope of the damage generated by this President and his cronies, and understandable to feel bitter, the Dharma clearly counsels us against hating our enemies. As Buddhists, we can assume that Bush-hating doesn't help anyone. Buddhist philosophy is centered on non-duality, the unity of all things, so we must concede that we ourselves are not separate from the corruption and unprincipled behavior of those who represent us. It is in fact an old political axiom that people get the government they deserve.
As Thich Nhat Hanh might say, the Bush Regime is made up of non-Bush elements, and there are Bush-like behaviors in every family, and in every mind. Hated by the Viet Cong for being CIA and by the CIA for being Viet Cong, Nhat Hanh is famously loved for his plea that we transform anger through meditation and heal it by putting our loving kindness into practical action. Martin Luther King Jr. taught that true nonviolence means "you not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him." "If we could read the secret history of our enemies," Longfellow reminded us, "we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."
Bush deserves our appreciation because he gives us a need to practice and thus to progress along the path. The Dalai Lama often speaks of the Chinese with gratitude, saying they have given him the "unavoidable opportunity" to practice compassion and cultivate forgiveness and understanding. Zen-Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast and Joan Halifax Roshi teach radical gratefulness, which posits that in every difficult or painful circumstance there is an opportunity for gratitude. Adversity can show us how well we have mastered our minds, how far along the path we have progressed.
Asked how those in the dharma should respond to times like these, and how they should live their lives in a world where evil runs like an open sewer, the great Tibetan master Thrangu Rinpoche said "You must counter the negative energy with as much positive thought and action as you can possibly muster. You must unceasingly sustain Bodhisattva action." It is the Buddha's teaching to make of ourselves an example, a light, a beacon. What a practice opportunity has been thrust upon us!
This opens the possibility that the consequence of our long suffering in the realm of the Bush regime will be a complacent body politic that wakes up. The bold and unrepentant corroding of the core principles of justice, fairness and personal liberty that made this nation great, could make people feel an urgent need for a U-turn. The Bush years could be the threshold to another great society, an era of great compassion in which elected officials become representatives of the people again and restore the environment, reinvigorate social programs, and bring fairness and integrity back to government.
Meanwhile, Bush's approval ratings are still high for many Americans. Thwarted in their samsaric longings and impotent in their daily grind, they admire the macho cowboy image and identify with the "regular guy" quality of their leader. As the California election of Arnold Schwarzenegger has again shown us, people have difficulty separating virtual reality from real life, entertainment from existence. The mind is easily clouded by confusion, ignorance and projection.
The consistent unskillfulness of the Bush government makes it tempting to confuse evil and ignorance. Buddhism observes that people are not inherently evil -- even if their behavior has that appearance. "Like a blind man in a room full of deaf people." is how Ex-U.S. Treasury secretary Paul O'Neil describes a surprisingly disengaged Bush during cabinet meetings. The Bush sangha, i.e., Cheney, Rumsfeld etc., have taken refuge in an old and outdated vision of the world, one hopelessly Cartesian, self-referential, and completely lacking awareness of interconnection, cause and effect, and certainly the true meaning of compassion.
Just after 9/11, anxious to do what he could to prevent all out war, the Dalai Lama broke with a long tradition of not commenting on the internal affairs of other nations and wrote to Bush. "It may seem presumptuous on my part," said His Holiness, "but I personally believe we need to think seriously whether a violent action is the right thing to do and in the greater interest of the nation and people in the long run." His Holiness stressed to Bush how "violence will only increase the cycle of violence." He suggested the American President deal with the root causes of such senseless violence: hatred and anger. Bush didn't get it. "The Bush administration simply doesn't trust smart people," says Harvard lawyer Alan Dershowitz. "It's anti-intellectual by nature, and it doesn't even want to hear their advice."
Given the countless Iraqis and over 4,000 Americans killed or injured -- not in self-defense but in cold blood, and given the enablement of pollution, the trees and animals hurried into extinction, can we even begin to calculate the negative karma Bush & Co. are mounting? But if Buddha could forgive and even ordain Angulimala, whom the sutras say viciously killed thousands of innocent people with his own hands, then can George W. Bush be beyond our forgiveness and compassion? And didn't the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa practice black magic and kill people before he turned his mind so magnificently to the dharma?
George W. Bush is unfortunately no Angulimala or Milarepa who were able to overcome, to awaken to the unskillfulness of their actions and repent the loss of life they caused. In fact, Bush may be the closest we can come to an anti-Buddha: a global poster-boy for profound ignorance. We can use him in our visualizations. We can breath in his confusion and breath out to him our clarity. We can also get out on the campaign trail for candidates who more closely represent that first precept: Do no harm. Sit and breathe contemplating this and see if you feel called to volunteer on voter-registration drives.
Mindful that the real source of American power does not come from its superior war machine but from its constitution, its leadership in the global community, its democracy and its history of respect for human rights, George Bush has seriously weakened America. For this he deserves no praise, only reproach. But my practice has helped me prevent any grim imaginings in his regard. When I'm stricken with unskillful thoughts about the President, I immediately focus on the words of the Buddha: "Hatred can never put an end to hatred, love alone can. This is the unalterable law."
Now my visualizations are of bearing witness to a panoply of devas and gods, the Boddhisatva Avalokitesvara, and countless rows of Buddha's and Bodhisattvas throughout space and time sitting in the clouds and celebrating Bush's retirement from the Oval Office and his safe return to Crawford, Texas.
Then I close with two healing mantras in rapid succession: "May all beings be happy and free from suffering -- even Bush" "May all beings be happy -- and freed from Bush."