The Bodhisattva Path in the Trump Era

A talk given at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (November 22, 2016)
Transcribed by Jeffrey Fuller and edited by David Loy

It’s been two weeks today since the election, and many of us are still in a state of shock —traumatized, disheartened if not depressed, anxious, angry, fearful and somewhat confused, wondering what’s going to come next —  and wondering if there might be some silver lining to what’s happening. My response today has two parts. First I’d like to identify a very real silver lining, or at least the possibility of a silver lining, depending on how we respond to the situation. And then I’d like to say a bit about what I think is the most important contribution of Buddhist teachings to this situation, which can help us understand and respond to it.

Let’s begin with a Zen story that’s been circulating on the Internet. A student asks the master, “When times of great difficulty visit us, how should we meet them?” And the answer is, “Welcome.” This path that we’re on is not about avoiding difficulties. That doesn’t mean passively accepting those difficulties when they present themselves, but it does mean engaging with them, not trying to avoid them. Another story is also quite relevant here: the student asks the master, “What is the constant activity of all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas?” In other words, what is it that awakened people are doing all the time — what is special about the way they live in the world moment by moment?” And the answer from the master is, “Responding appropriately.” In one way that seems very simple, but in another way it’s not, because in order to know how to respond appropriately, we have to understand the situation that we are in.

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