What now?

In my last post, I argued that candidate Donald Trump was unfit to be president of the United States for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which were his manifest shortcomings in two of the most essential Buddhist virtues – the practice of skillful speech, and the cultivation of the three interrelated habits of generosity, compassion, and wisdom. I supported my argument with examples of how this candidate has demonstrated throughout the entirety of his public career the very opposites of these virtues – wildly unskillful speech, and shockingly unabashed displays of greed, hatred, and delusion.

I posed two rhetorical questions, which I fervently hoped we would never find it necessary to answer:

What would be the effect on our country, and on the world, of having such unskillful speech spouting from the mouth of the United States president for the next four years? And, consider what the effect would be to have all that greed, hatred, and delusion as the guiding forces on the person occupying the Oval Office for the next four years.

Well, the candidate is now the president. Those of us who viewed his candidacy with such trepidation are already glimpsing the shadowy outlines of an emergent demagogic administration that is the antithesis of everything that has historically – forgive the phrase – “made America great”, in the truest sense of that word.

And so, what now?  Those of us who are so very alarmed by the ascendancy of this paragon of greed, hatred, and delusion to the most powerful governmental office on the planet – what do we do now?

This question has preoccupied me every day since the election, and I’m still wrestling with its enormity.  I’ll be returning to this topic in future posts.

But in the meantime, here are the two firm guidelines upon which I’m basing my inquiry, as I continue to seek a meaningful course of action for myself:

  1. Be more continuously mindful. One of my teachers, in a recent dharma talk, said that now more than ever we all need to be “strong practitioners”. I could not agree more. It is only by keeping a consistent focus on the turbulent internal feelings arising in reaction to the extraordinary external events of recent days that we can hope to …
  2. Become more effectively engaged. Already we are witnessing an unprecedented wave of public demonstrations of disapproval for the misogynist and xenophobic tenor of much of the discourse being put forth by the new president and his nascent administration. More than ever, now is a time to temper our understandable passions – be they fear, anger, anxiety, outrage – with the wisdom to see things as they are, and to act in response to the situation rather than in reaction to our feelings.

In closing, and in support of these two proposed guidelines, let me offer these inspiring words from Buddhist scholar and teacher Andrew Olendzki, taken from his introduction to his book Unlimiting Mind:

As we come to better understand consciousness, we cannot help but become better people in the process. And it may even be that we can realistically aspire to extinguishing the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion that are ravaging the world we inhabit. This is the work that will decide whether we are entering the worst of times or the best of times.


About Tom Cummings

I've been a political liberal for the past fifty years, and a committed secular Buddhist for the last ten. As I move forward with my personal practice of Buddhism, and as I take note of the increasingly tribalistic "us-against-them" tenor of political discourse in countries across the globe (most notably here in my own United States), I appreciate more and more how much these two worthy traditions - liberalism and Buddhism - share in common. My intention in writing this blog is to provide a forum for the exploration of these overlapping values, and how their confluence might relate to current issues affecting American citizens and the global community. Two convictions underlie the posts that will appear here: (1) Buddhism's invitation for us to embrace generosity, compassion, and wisdom offers a clear path for resolving our national and global problems effectively and humanely; and (2) liberalism, by virtue of the high value it places on the social good, is the natural home for a politically engaged and pragmatically meaningful Buddhism.
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9 Responses to What now?

  1. smilecalm says:

    thanks for this insightful commentary, Tom!
    breathing in and out calmly helps.
    there are practical ways to engage
    and participate from home, such as
    calling or writing those in power:



    • erikleo says:

      If you go onto the Byron Katie website there is a marvelous video with BK responding to a woman who say’s “Trump frightens me.” She uses her Inquiry method to deconstruct the belief.


      • smilecalm says:

        thanks for the reference, erikleo. yes, fear can be defused. fear can also be useful if it instructs on preventing or mitigating what is being feared, yes? 🙂


      • Tom Cummings says:

        Thanks, Erik! I’m not personally familiar with Byron Katie’s “work”, though I’ve heard references to it from time to time over the years. I watched the first five minutes of the video, and had to stop at that point. It was all but unbearable to me how Katie was completely, and almost dangerously, missing the mark. The distinction she makes between the client’s internal fear that Trump might build concentration camps and the external fact he hasn’t done so yet (asserting that the concentration camp is an imaginative story the client has made up, as if she is the deluded one, not Trump!) is, in my opinion, mistaken and misguided.

        Anyone who has listened to Trump’s words and observed his behaviors during the campaign, and now during the first two weeks of his presidency, knows that he is absolutely capable of every one of the actions the client is afraid of. Those of us who voted against him are very afraid, and rightfully so, of what he may do with the powers of his office. And, as that client rightly (in my view) claims, what he is capable of includes not just establishing concentration camps, but poisoning the environment, suspending the constitution, canceling the next presidential election, putting troops in the streets of major cities (as he has already threatened to do in Chicago), launching a nuclear attack. This list could go on, but is it not awful enough already?

        Her client – and the rest of us – need to be assured that our fears are justified, not lectured that we are making them up out of our imaginations. We need to be encouraged to take action, not to assume blame.

        As smilecalm says in his comment, fear that focuses us on effective mitigating or preventative action can be quite useful. And never has such action been more necessary.

        I realize that I may be doing Katie an injustice by not having watched the full 37 minutes of the video. I will try to find the time to do so in the next few days. And if I stand corrected after doing so, I will add an additional comment here to that effect.

        In the meantime, thanks for prompting such an invigorating exchange of ideas!



        • erikleo says:

          To do justice to Byron Katie I don’t think she completely dismisses external realities such as Trump. I think there is great value in getting people to question their beliefs. As a Buddhist you must surely agree that what we are (our our degree of peace of mind) comes from our thoughts. I take your point that she focusess exclusively on the mind; but that is her ‘method.’ I suppose people like Eckhart Tolle are more expllicit in saying that the world is crazy, people like your president are ‘unconscious’. I’d be interested in your thoughts if you watch more of the video Tom!


          • Tom Cummings says:

            So sorry for the length of time elapsed in responding to your thoughtful follow-up comments, Erik. I completely agree with you as to the value of getting people to question their beliefs, and with your observation that who we are is very much a product of what we think – indeed, that’s a fundamental principle of Buddhist philosophy. But, what I saw in the Byron Katie video – and I did watch more of it, another 10 minutes beyond the first five where I stopped on my initial viewing, and then the final 10 minutes or so – was not people learning to question their beliefs, but people being subtly (and perniciously, I fear) being encouraged to change their beliefs in order to win Katie’s approval. The most egregious example of this, in my opinion, was the gentleman asserting that “Donald Trump will build liberation camps” – instead of concentration camps. Such a ludicrous statement would be laughable were it not so pathetic, and so obviously sycophantic. And near the end of the recording, when that courageous African-American woman stood up and took the white women of America to task for their support of Trump, and Katie’s reply was to admonish her that in fact those white women had “won” since they achieved their goal of getting Trump elected, I only wished that I could have been there standing by her side to assure her that she was the true winner in that room – quite possibly the only person of courage and integrity in attendance. There may be well some sound Buddhist, and perhaps Gurdieffian, principles underlying Katie’s methodology, but all I saw in this video was an egotistical charlatan playing a room full of hopeful acolytes solely for her own psychological and pecuniary self-aggrandizement.

            And once again, thank you for the intellectual work-out! Rarely have I been so mentally and emotionally engaged in an exchange of comments as I have on this occasion.



    • Tom Cummings says:

      Thanks so much for your kind comment, and thanks especially for the link to The 65 website. Hopefully we will have the success with this kind of collective energy and action that eluded us so painfully in the election result.



  2. Pingback: What Now? (part 2) | Engaged Mindfulness

  3. Pingback: A Farewell, and an Invitation | Engaged Mindfulness

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