In ACTIVISM by Pema DragpaLeave a Comment

I actually hate politics. Especially electoral politics. I’ve lived and served at a Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Center for 12 years, and plan on staying here my entire life. So why am I speaking out much-more-than-usual during this presidential election? Many people probably think it’s very un-Buddhist of me.

For me, too much is at stake this presidential election to not get involved. Allowing monied interests to continue running our government is just too dangerous and has ruined our Democracy. I think most Democrats and Republicans agree with this. We’re tired of politics-as-usual that isn’t mainly about actually helping people. Many people are very angry about this, and the possibility of American Fascism is looming. At the very least, this election has caused me to spend time deeply reflecting on my own life choices and beliefs, and a deep question has been continually weighing on my mind: Why don’t more loving, intelligent people work harder to eliminate Big Money’s negative influence on almost every sphere of human activity?

Here are some possible reasons I came up with:

  • I’m too busy trying to make ends meet.
  • I’m overloaded with other concerns.
  • It’s too frustrating.
  • Politics is too divisive.
  • I don’t want to offend my family, friends, coworkers, or jeopardize my job.
  • Discussing politics is too toxic and unproductive.
  • I feel disempowered.
  • I’m too young and optimistic.
  • I’m too old and pessimistic.
  • It’s not going to make a difference anyway.
  • It’s too complicated to change.
  • I don’t trust the political system.
  • I enjoy how things already are, enough.
  • I’m willing to settle for less.
  • I don’t care.
  • Politicians don’t care about me.
  • I’ve never been listened to.
  • I’m unable to listen.
  • I haven’t yet found my voice.
  • My voice has been silenced.
  • I’m told by my religious leader / authority / celebrity / parents / spouse to stay in line … or else.
  • I’ve seen my loved ones seriously harmed by resisting authority.
  • I’ve been personally burned before.
  • I over-believe in campaign promises.
  • I forget previously broken campaign promises.
  • I give in to the lesser of two evils, again and again and again.
  • I easily look the other way when people sneakily take both sides of an argument.
  • I believe the ends justify the means.
  • I believe in a gradualist response to the current crises we face.
  • I’m tired of all the hyperbole, one-liners, and sound bites.
  • The situation is presented in terms that are self-defeating rather than inspiring.
  • There are definitely not enough women in politics, or in any positions of power, as a matter of fact.
  • I don’t want to rock the boat.
  • I’m in the top 1% and like the boat just the way it is.
  • I’m getting paid to not rock the boat, the bribe was just too good to pass up.
  • We’re not all in the same boat. I don’t think of us as one human family.
  • I’m scared of losing privilege.
  • I’m not thinking much about future generations.
  • I’m not thinking much about non-human species, too anthropocentric.
  • I only care about my family, my friends, my people, my country …
  • I’m scared of creating a bigger problem.
  • I’m scared of creating something new, different, or uncertain.
  • There’s no inspiring, trustworthy leader to follow.
  • I don’t think any candidate is Integral enough, and Integral leaders like Ken Wilber seems too New Agey or questionable.
  • I want someone else to do it for me.
  • I’m too lazy.
  • I think everyone else is too lazy.
  • I’m not confident enough to be my own leader.
  • There’s not enough community support.
  • I don’t like the people involved.
  • I don’t believe enough people will come together.
  • I don’t know that in US history, greater civil rights always came from mass movements, and were never freely given.
  • I lack a historical perspective.
  • I’m too Eurocentric, and don’t include enough diversity of approaches towards self, other, nature, and culture.
  • I’m too American, and think we’re the best at everything.
  • I’m not informed of other cultures’ policies, including social democracies.
  • I strongly believe that my own view is 100% right. I know the TRUTH.
  • I’m unwilling to step into someone else’s shoes.
  • I lack information since I’m uninterested.
  • I lack information since I have no leisure time.
  • I over-simplify the problem, so there is no problem.
  • I under-simplify the problem, so there’s no solution.
  • I think it’s too hypocritical to fight the system while relying on the system. But what other option is there now for large scale, long-term structural change?
  • I’m focusing on other political or social priorities. I disagree about the root cause being Big Money.
  • I prefer other strategies. Yet I’m still not sure how corrupt politicians will actually fight corruption.
  • I prefer authoritarian leadership.
  • I’m unconcerned with fact checking.
  • I prefer cheerleading or sideline-coaching without risking anything.
  • I’m against more government regulation or intervention in my private life.
  • I believe that extreme right wing Republicans and Tea Partiers are unstoppable, though many are up for re-election soon.
  • I only believe in mainstream media.
  • I want to return to the good old days.
  • Ignorance is bliss.
  • I think, that’s just how politics is.
  • Cooperation is too messy and slow.
  • I believe the New World Order continues to be very successful.
  • I have manufactured consent.
  • I disagree with alternatives to neoliberal economics.
  • I’m unaware of alternatives to neoliberal economics.
  • I’m scared of the historical horrors of Communism and rightly so.
  • I’m scared of the historical horrors of Fascism and rightly so.
  • I believe too much in all the experts.
  • I believe too little in all the experts.
  • I have to see it to believe it.
  • I’m waiting for all the evidence to be weighed.
  • I’m scared to admit that I don’t know everything.
  • I’m too anxious.
  • I’m too depressed.
  • I’m too smartphone-obsessed.
  • I’m more worried about what’s trending than structural transformation.
  • I’m unaccustomed to and uncomfortable with direct, personal contact.
  • I have a lack of concentration and follow-through.
  • It’s easy for me to begin things, but I rarely finish them.
  • I believe that people are inherently bad or flawed.
  • I believe in Hobbes: The life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
  • I believe that nothing happens after death, so I’m just going to enjoy it while I can.
  • I believe in some version of an always-almost-apocalypse, so collapse is actually good.
  • I actually want chaos to happen for the sheer fun of it.
  • I actually want chaos to happen so we can have a fresh start.
  • I already think the natural world is doomed (severe climate disruption) and am focused on a post-human future.
  • I have a purely transcendental approach: the Earth is fundamentally flawed (food, money, sex, power), and am waiting for later rewards.
  • I contribute through prayer since change comes from within. Yet are we also called to, Change the World from the Inside Out, and not just Change the Inside.
  • I’m spiritual bypassing, using spiritual techniques and ideas to avoid dealing with the difficulties of life.
  • I’m afraid or overwhelmed by the negative emotions politics bring up.
  • I’m too easily swayed by my emotions.
  • I’m stuck too deeply in concepts.
  • I want to avoid confrontation.
  • I think, My meditation is not yet stable enough …
  • I mistakenly believe that meditating on absolute truth is enough, no need to worry much about relative truth.
  • I think that samsara is fundamentally unfixable, so why try to fix it?
  • I believe that it’s all just a dream, we only have to wake up. But what about creating a better dream?
  • I have too much compassion without wisdom: I’m overwhelmed by extreme sensitivity and take it all too seriously.
  • I have too much wisdom without enough compassion, distant, dried up insensitivity.
  • I don’t adequately discern between positive attachment and negative attachment, good habits vs. bad habits.
  • I have a one-sided belief in the degenerate age, forgetting that the Buddha’s Vajrayana teachings clearly say this is the best time for spiritual awakening.
  • I believe in idiot compassion: saints are ineffective push-overs rather than transformative revolutionaries.
  • My view of the world, others, myself, & our interactions is too materialistic, I don’t see the imminent divine.
  • I think globally and act locally, keeping my transformative social action on the down low.
  • I’m an actualized bodhisattva or buddha, and have such exceptional wisdom and compassion that I actually see that certain key factors are not yet in place, so I use my energies in other ways. This is definitely not me.
  • I’m an actualized bodhisattva or buddha, and have such exceptional wisdom and compassion that I actually realize that non-action now is better in the long term. (This is definitely not me either.)
  • Transformation is difficult, and like everything else, it’s complicated and simple.

Although answers always depend on perspectives, and all perspectives include valuable contributions, we are generally concerned with either me (egocentric), us (ethnocentric), or all of us (worldcentric).

The more inclusive the perspective, the more perspectives it transcends and includes, honoring everything, while discerning the contextualized limitations of each partial truth. A more inclusive perspective is more true since it includes more partial truths. Of course, anyone who believes in the scientific method agrees that there is a spectrum of relative truth: 1% accurate, 50% accurate, 99% accurate. In addition to this, meditators realize that absolute truth goes beyond grasping on to any distinctions at all by recognizing the immediate openness and fullness, absolute emptiness nature and pure relative expression, of one’s own mind and all that is.

We’re amazingly complicated, beautiful beings. And in many ways, we’re so simple. I personally believe in a lot of these reasons, on and off, for better or worse. They all include valuable points, nuggets of partial truth, that make sense depending on the context. I try to be honest with myself, and depend on good friends to let me know when I’m off the mark.

Unfortunately, I actually don’t work very hard to reduce Big Money’s influence on our government. I’m actively trying to become more calm and clear, loving and compassionate, and deeply believe in education, nonviolence, peace, and mutual respect. I cherish my friendships, and am very devoted to the Buddhist path of bodhichitta for all beings.

Yet I still believe that the current system is not working for us.
What are we going to do about a corrupt government that no longer serves its people?

And if you believe our government is actually responsive to our needs:
A study published in the fall of 2014 by Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page reveals the scale of the challenge. Gilens and Page analyzed 1,799 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence on them of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups, and average citizens. Their conclusion: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically nonsignificant impact upon public policy.

About the Author
Pema Dragpa

Pema Dragpa

Lama Pema Dragpa has been a resident Dharma teacher at Padma Samye Ling (PSL) since 2004, the main monastery & retreat center of the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center founded by the Nyingma Dzogchen masters Ven. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche & Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche. Ordained as a lama by Rinpoches, Dragpa graduated with honors in philosophy & religious studies from NYU in 2002, is a senior editor of over 20 books on Buddhist philosophy & meditation, and is a certified Hospice volunteer. He regularly travels to lead PBC events on traditional & contemporary Buddhist philosophy and meditation. Here's the website of the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center.

Photo supplied by the author from Sigur Ros “Rembihnutur.”

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