Buddhist Dilemma: Is Inner Peace Possible in the Era of Donald Trump?

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The Golden Spires of Shwedagon Pagoda

Americans are frightened. People are scared. They read about things like this in books, but never dreamed that they would have to live through it: the American Civil War, the French Revolution, the Boxer Rebellion, The War of Spanish succession, Genghis Khan, the Persian Wars, Adolf Hitler, the Aryan invasion, Rape of Nanking, 100 years War, Josef Stalin, the American Genocide, the Mexican War, Chaco War, World War I, Opium Wars, Crimean War, Vietnam, wars of the world and genocides in general…

But the American civil war was not really a civil war, as many historians have pointed out, but rather a War between the states, with many unwilling participants on each side of arbitrary lines. What is happening now is the true civil war, an internal conflict not only within societies, but within people’s own minds, as to what is right and what is fair, what is appropriate, and whether there will be violence, whether there will be casualties, and whether there will even be any affordable healthcare to mitigate the circumstances…

He’s living in your head and his hands are on the steering wheel…”

…probably says it best, as Fox news correspondent Tucker Carlson put it, and with no apparent regrets. And that describes president Donald Trump’s personal style well, personally invasive, short on facts and long on conspiracy theory, playing off the fears of the populace, and not their hopes, and offering them a re-hash of the past, but no vision of the future…

Of course many people love the larger-than-life style of Trump-like ‘big men’ that pretty much rule with impunity around the world, from Duterte to Erdogan to Putin to Xi Jinping at the top executive levels of government, to thousands of self-styled ‘big shots’ at the village levels, generally performing necessary functions, yet often making life miserable for everybody but themselves…

But it works. There’s no denying that. These ‘big men’ suck all the oxygen out of the room, until you have no air left to breathe, except what they allow you. Let’s call it ‘chaos theory’: they stir the pot—constantly—until you finally come to the conclusion that they are the only stable point of reference left to turn to. This is a time-worn tactic, that many people know and play well. This is the last step short of outright aggression…

And this is pure Trump, and his brand of bully pulpit, emphasis on the ‘bully’. How should we deal with this invasion of our own most intimate private spaces—consciousness—which by all rights should be sacred and inviolate? I myself am reduced to writing about him here, simply because I can’t concentrate on anything else enough to write about it—and this is the real tragedy…

We have a world to save, both planet and species, and instead of concentrating on that, we’re preoccupied with guarding ourselves against the bully on the beach, who insists on kicking sand in our faces, when what we really need to be doing is ensuring that the next generation will have access to this same beach, and in good condition and circumstances, and without bullies…

Save the world or save myself?

This is the original Buddhist conundrum in a nutshell, for me at least, Theravada (Hinayana) vs. Mahayana, small wheel versus big, internal vs. external: do I save myself or do I save the world? Not that it is so easy, of course, but at least it is well-defined, so provides a point of departure and a convenient destination, Theravada famous for its minute examination of every intimate thought breath and feeling, while Mahayana goes more into abstract metaphysics and broad strokes over empty canvasses, blank slates and blank stares…

And more than a few of us, Western newbies especially, are conveniently undecided, about our final selection of Buddhist ‘schools’, we without historical antecedents and familiar terrain, trying to navigate foreign territory with a machete and a flashlight, not always sure about the subtle nuances of doctrine and dogma, just sure that anything is better than strong-arm politics of despots and dictators, whether elected or not…

And Buddhism usually answers the question, anyway, all by itself, by simple recourse to the storied middle path, between excess and lack, eternalism and nihilism, more than a sweet spot somewhere near the middle, but also a logical syllogism that not only allows for X and/or Y in the equation, but both X and Y, or neither X nor Y, and this is fundamental to our list of options, and the role of zero as center, multiplier, and divider, all of the above, or none of the above…

Bottom line: I would never kick someone out of my temple, or meditation retreat, simply because he or she was or is a Trump supporter, as long as they’re quiet about it, as long as there are reasons why, but not racism, and as long as they don’t disturb the peace of others, something that Trump himself doesn’t seem to understand…

So, if I were a good Buddhist, then I suppose I could just make my peace with Donald Trump in my own mind, then go about my business as if everything is okay. But it’s not. So I want it both ways. I want inner peace AND a new President, the sooner the better. And to any and all of you who expect something better of me than to rehash the litany of pros and cons vis a vis President Trump, then I am truly sorry, and I apologize…

I’ve been infected with the disease, and it’s been for some time now, but I’m doing the best I can, I feel. I’m calling in doctors. I’m calling in friends, all trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. It’s like a virus. It’s like a bug. Call it the DT’s, delirium tremens, the year-after effect. I think I feel better now; in fact, I know I do, aaahhh, thank you for listening….

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