Though the old peasants may not un-furrow their brows,
Our hope is to establish a solid foundation for the nation.
Bright ministers, valiant generals ~ where are they now?
The pure wind of ten thousand miles, I alone know.
~ Blue Cliff Record, Case 61, Hsueh Tou’s poem
In recent months some people I work with have shared great distress that the political world is careening toward a new culture of extreme polarization. That is not a hard argument to support, with plenty of evidence coming not just from America, but Poland, France, Germany and elsewhere.
In the long tradition of Zen, the above poem suggests we have been here before. The ancestor above asks, ‘Where are the bright ministers and valiant generals now?’
The robustness of our practice, perhaps, comes not from crafting a better tax policy ~ as important as that may be. Maybe it is in realizing that blue states and red, debates and ingrates, dangerous claims and ‘braggadocious’ gestures ~ are themselves part of the grand parade of the vast and boundless Way. Before thinking good or evil, where are all the ministers and generals now?
Some time ago, when I was practicing Zen in Japan, my teacher, who I supposed was mainstream conservative, said during a talk, ‘The only way we will ever truly have world peace is for Ronald Regan and Leonid Brezhnev to practice Zen together’, and he offered his zendo as a venue. Fortunately, I suppressed a snort and instead filed the line away in the ‘interesting comment bin’. Not until coming across the above koan recently did I really appreciate the point he was making.
He was not just inviting two politicians, but all ministers and generals, and all beings, including you and I, to realize that only we can personally know the pure wind that blows for ten thousand miles. And that prompts me to ask: Donald and Hillary, will you not come sit with us so that the nation may establish a solid foundation? We have extra cushions and some good green tea; I’ll bring cookies.