Trump and the Diamond Sutra (I)

Worst case seems to be our case. Men of great sudden power – worldly power, outer power, power a manifestly decrepit political process has bestowed on them – are telling the media they are enemy and should just shut up. Are reinstituting torture at secret sites overseas. Are abhorring abortion abroad to placate a domestic audience though that jacks up illegal unsafe abortions in the Third World, and deaths by. Are waving threats of no-more-money at cities havening immigrants doing work few else want to and their DACA children, some my own very students. Oh if I keep listing I’ll never be done. The Constitution, frail bulwark, cries to think what comes next.

I’m not a marcher. Don’t like slogans, crowds, group thought. Guess I could suspend that, and may, for the import of opposing. Cuz this is real real bad.

Want to know what inner power is. Have started reading the Diamond Sutra again, Red Pine’s translation, thought I touched something in these lines:

After crossing his legs and adjusting his body, he turned his awareness to what was before him.

At the start of the sutra. Don’t feel qualified to comment on them, but what I hear is, the Buddha is in a body. And wholly in it. He needs to attend to it and knows it. Maybe his knee hurts, so he adjusts. He was out in the city begging for his one meal, walking barefoot, he’s an old guy by now, maybe his knee or his insole hurts. He adjusts his body. Doesn’t blame anyone for his discomfort, just does what he can to lessen it, and moves along. No arrogance.

No blame. Turns his care to what needs looking after – what was before him. Is human, not a god, not omniscient, it takes a choice and a turn to locate his mind here, in mindfulness. But he can, and because he’s love, he does.

What answer does this offer to Trump, at the apparent dawn of proto-fascism in a capital empty of competent political opposition? I think maybe none.

Nor am I helping the petitioners, demonstrators, agitators, and such, whom I admire lots and am glad for greatly but find I am not one of, much.

The only answer I know to the sickness of outer power is cultivation of inner power. I have not heard a resonant response to the ill spreading among us anywhere except in buddhadharma. Which I don’t understand, and tells me nothing specific about how to act.

And, too, I reject quietism.

Thus astray, as I dive into the Diamond Sutra, I may post a few of my misprisions here. Will share by tweet in case lonely sleepless sad POTUS eavesdrops.


NEXT DAY. This post started to turn to crap. Had I had a beer too many? (Been through a breakup, second time round with the same o so lovely heartful hurted beloved, some beers is cheery to me.) Maybe I just lost the bead.

“Group thought,” that’s out, everything I’ve heard about the Women’s Marches, they were astonishing harmonious various, true response, right action.

“I have not heard …,” that out. Soon as I said it, started hearing fierce meaningful responses all over. L. in Portland sent this from HuffPo on ethnographic blogging, its quilting of irreducibly multiple voices, as resistance to the One Voice of the State. Adam Gopnik’s annoying fondness for the sleek epigram has transmuted under a new pressure to become a majestic voice of true opposition. He wrote this in the New Yorker, from which a taste:

Whenever there is an authoritarian coup rooted in an irrational ideology, well-meaning people insist that it can’t persist because the results are going to be so obviously bad for the people who believe in it, whether it’s the theocratic revolution in Iran or the first truly autocratic Administration in America. Tragically, terribly, this is never the way it works. There is no political cost for Trump in being seen to be incompetent, impulsive, shallow, inconsistent, and contemptuous of truth and reason. Those are his politics. This is how he achieved power. His base loves craziness, incompetence, and contempt for reason because sanity, competence, and the patient accumulation of evidence are things that allow educated people to pretend that they are superior. Resentment comes before reason.

And this in the Sun, which arrived today, its dawn offering

Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America was never America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed –
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It was never America to me.)

Ironies multiply and compound. The whole poem here.

Could be said, these are buddhadharma, yo? A sutra‘s what stitches you up.

I just – I just – I don’t know how to turn acts of mind, poems and posts, to act acts. I want to knock a government down. What use, following my breath?

The unthinkable

So the unthinkable happened. Enough people could think it, and it did.

I’ve passed this day from stunned disbelief to gradually dawning horror. A fascistic strongman with weak impulse control and no moral centre or care for democratic norms is set to become the head of the most terrifyingly destructive military in history and the leader of the putatively free world.

And the checks and balances meant by the Founders to keep us from just this catastrophe are in the care of the gormless obsolescent party that let him hollow it out from the inside on his slither to victory.

Had to hold it together enough to look after my students this morning. I couldn’t tell them it’ll be okay, because I don’t know it will be okay. It might but we’ll have to be lucky.

Fears were many. One student’s Japanese-American and felt haunted by the internment camps and Trump’s talk of deportation. Another’s queer and disabled and said she felt unsafe setting foot outside her apartment – the fear of difference that’s been whipped up. Another spoke of how America seems to have said it’s fine with being a rape culture.

Didn’t go to my own fears but I share all these. That a man could crown himself in hate and be called king for it. I also, because I love especially the nonhuman world, which doesn’t get to speak at our conference tables, fear the consequences for our climate. Which are for us, too.

That world will eventually bounce back, burgeon new species, maybe absent us. Have I believed too much hype, to feel that’s what’s at stake here, our persistence at all?

What I came to this morning – it probably won’t be as bad as we fear it will.

Said, I grew up in the last two decades of the Cold War. We lived knowing someone could take a blip on a radar screen at NORAD for the front edge of a nuclear attack, press a button, and that would be it. We made it through that.

Said, it’s good not to feel powerless. What matters is to act, not the scale of the act. I’m going, I said, to write a blog post, and maybe it’ll have five readers. Maybe you’ll write a poem – that’s a political act.

Do what you need to to feel empowered. Whether that’s waving a placard or holding a friend’s hand. Add to the store of meaning in the world.

Fascism is giving your power over to another, proudly, abjectly, a strongman. The most crude process of identification imaginable and an abdication of meaning. Resisting fascism, whether in Mussolini’s Italy or Trump’s America, means creating meaning, heightening the depth of meaning the world bears.

Got more thoughts about meaning. Trump is a drain of meaning, came to me last sleepless night, and I got up to scribble it down. It’s how he uses words not caring if they’re true or no – and how he uses people with no sense of any thou there. But I’m past midnight and’ve not et yet.

For now, just to say, the meaning of small acts has loomed large for me today. A student in a headscarf who caught my glance and smiled as we passed on campus today – why? did she see how downcast I was and want to bear me up? did my downcastness make us allies in her eyes? Dunno. Small happy mystery of other as other than other.

There were more I wanted to say but if I write any longer, dinner will be breakfast. Love to you, friends. These are hard times coming.