Recently I felt as though I had awoken from a year’s long nightmare. Unfortunately, the last five years were not a nightmare, not a dream, but a reality that cost over 400,000 lives, has decimated our economy, exacerbated our environmental challenges, emboldened, and fostered white supremacy and further intensified a polarization along partisan political and cultural lines. Many of us on one side of the division are breathing a little easier with a sense of hope on the horizon. Let us take a deep breath and move forward with resolve.
We need to be optimistic; but temper this with pragmatism. The difficulties we face in the first half or this year will be as trying as last year. We expect there to be 500,000 Covid deaths by the end of February. As I write this we see a slight diminishing of deaths in the U.S. It will be a while before we see the number of new infections and deaths reduced dramatically. We are scurrying to receive our vaccines, for those who choose them. We will still be wearing masks and social distancing into late summer or autumn – if everything goes well.
What are some of the challenges we face, what are the silver linings in these dark clouds and what should be our responses?
The Malign: The white supremacists, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, III Percenters, Oath Keepers, MAGA Trumpicans, and Q-Anon supporters will still be agitating and fantasizing. Since January 6th the seditious, insurrectionists, efforts have intensified. Around the world the culture wars of the last fifty years have reached a new peak. Barbara Perry, a professor at Ontario Tech University has been charting this rise around the world, especially in Canada and the U.S. There are United States congresspersons who are proponents of the white nationalism.
Most disheartening: there will continue to be black people killed by police. We are now and will be for quite a while, dealing with racial inequities and the consequences of over 400 years of systematic racism. Police brutality against Black, Brown, Asian and indigenous peoples is a cruel consequence of that reality
The Benevolent: President Biden repudiated white supremacy and called for racial justice in his inaugural speech, “A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.” He made reference to systemic racism in the very same speech, the very first time and American president had done so.
There has been an ‘Awakening’ of white people who have embraced the Black Lives Matter message, if not the movement itself. Many white Americans have Awakened to Ibram X. Kendi’s definition of,
RACIST: One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.
ANTIRACIST: One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.
These same Americans acknowledge that an end of racism is not something that can be accomplished by Black people alone, no matter how well organized and constructive they may be. It requires people of all colors and ethnic groups to work together to recreate a society of respect and friendship.
The Malign: Despite the change in national political leadership our environmental degradation will continue for the foreseeable future. The weather will still be erratic, firestorms rampant, polar ice melting, sea levels rising, tillable land in vulnerable areas will experience prolonged drought. The poor and dispossed will still be suffering to a greater extent than the affluent. Until we enact the profound social, economic, industrial, and behavioral changes necessary to begin to reverse the damage wrought against our mother, the earth, we will pass another tipping point.
There has been a concerted effort to address environmental catastrophe.
Our favorite restaurants will have closed and not reopened, that small shop we have always gone to when looking for a birthday or graduation present will not be there anymore. We or our family members will still be out of a job or have a less well remunerated position. The economic malaise will take three to five years to recovery – assuming assistance from the national legislature. Oh-by-the- way – the Stock market is still flourishing, demonstrating the disconnect between Main Street and Wall Street.
This paints a pretty bleak picture no doubt. The reality is that the problems are like a huge cruise ship changing course. It is a slow cumbersome process, it does not happen as quickly as we would like it to occur.
However – we will not be bombarded by maddening tweets designed to increase our blood pressure, we will see a new restaurant open that may become our new favorite, a new shop meeting our needs will open, our immigration process will become fairer, and blatant attacks on the poor, the homeless, and people of color will become less frequent, and less venomous.
Our Buddhist teachings were intended for just such times. We acknowledge the dukkha of daily life, we recognize this dukkha results from our anger, greed and delusion. Impermanence is a characteristic of the cosmos, and we must not have a dependence on an eternal self.
Our Buddhist teaching also provide us with a spirit and resilience to withstand the hard times and hold promise for better times to come. We must conduct ourselves with humility, gratitude, harmony and gratitude to all sentient beings. We must like Vimalakīrti, seek Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, by adhering to the teachings and devote ourselves to the fulfillment of our promise, not merely as better Buddhists, but as better human beings.
Love and Gassho . . . Monshin