So, last night, I watched the election results and in particular I watched my favorite candidate, a certain senator from Vermont, lose. I was furious. I really hoped my candidate would have done better, but when they lost, I got really mad. I wanted to tear up my voter’s card, vote third-party, or do something else spiteful.
Then I slept on it, and realized that I was being childish. It’s a democratic process, and just because you like a certain candidate doesn’t mean everyone else is expected to. There are 322,000,000 million people in this country with different backgrounds and lifestyles, so you can’t expect them all to agree with you, or even like the same candidate that you do. That would be silly and naive.
Further, I remembered a quote I saw recently from Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen:
“To escape from the world means that one’s mind is not concerned with the opinions of the world.”
Politics¹ is a tricky thing because there is a lot of ego in it. Everyone believes their own set of values and ideas are pristine, and others are somehow wrong on inferior. So, it’s easy to get caught up in politics, and take things personal when you are wrong or when things don’t go your way. But it’s all just ego. If politics swing a certain way, well that’s the way it goes. Sooner or later, they’ll probably swing the other way too as conditions dictate.
The key here isn’t to neglect one’s civic duty, it’s about not getting caught up in your ego and personal beliefs, and holding unrealistic expectations.
In a famous sutra from the Pali Canon, the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta, the Buddha reminds the wanderer Vacchagotta that he holds no positions:
Vacchagotta: “Does Master Gotama have any position at all?”
The Buddha: “A ‘position,’ Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata [Buddha] has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: ‘Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception…such are fabrications…such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.’ Because of this, I say, a Tathagata — with the ending, fading away, cessation, renunciation, & relinquishment of all construings, all excogitations, all I-making & mine-making & obsessions with conceit — is, through lack of clinging/sustenance, released.”
In other words, things arise and fade all the time, and it’s important to have a clear perspective. Otherwise, you will get carried away and suffer a lot of unnecessary grief. A mountain won’t move no matter what direction the wind blows or how fiercely it blows.
P.S. Another example of the Buddha’s straightforward approach is in the Simsapa Sutta and the verse at the end of the Diamond Sutra:
All conditioned phenomena
Are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow
Like the dew, or like lightning
You should discern them like this
(trans. Thich Nhat Hanh)
¹ Religion too.