I recently strongly disagreed with a priest at one of America’s biggest Zen centers who said, “Mr. Trump and his supporters are not manifesting an intention to be other than racist, ecocidal homophobes.” He said their Zen center should issue a statement saying the center, “unequivocally rejects the hateful worldview of President-Elect Donald Trump, and vows together to actively oppose its implementation. All are welcome to join us in this.”
They can run their center any way they like. The Angel City Zen Center (ACZC) welcomes Trump supporters or anyone else. If they can conduct themselves politely while they’re in our shared space, absolutely anyone who holds any political view at all will be welcome as long as I am there. We do not require Trump supporters to repent their vote. Or Hillary, Jill, Gary, or anyone else’s supporters for that matter.
Emily Eslami, one of our regulars at ACZC runs our mailing list. She composed a statement that appears on all of our mailings that goes, “Everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, documented status and political affiliation, is welcome to sit at Angel City Zen Center. The only walls here are the ones we stare at.”
Someone asked if I’d allow an avowed Nazi or Ku Klux Klan member to sit with us. Absolutely I would. As long as that person could conduct themselves properly in the shared space, they would be welcome. We mostly just sit in silence, looking at the walls. During zazen, I wouldn’t know if the people around me were Nazis, or Klansmen, or members of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, or black, or white, or multi-tentacled aliens from planet Regizvon.
After the sitting we have a group discussion. If someone tried to espouse Nazi ideas during that discussion they would encounter a lot of resistance, from me for one. Though I do have to confess that I would be quite interested in finding out why someone with such views would choose to sit with us.
I am not at all a fan of Donald Trump. I voted against Trump because what little I knew of his proposals sounded ridiculous. A wall on our southern border would be a national embarrassment. Establishing a Muslim registry is a terrifying plan and would not help curb the spread of Islamic terrorism anyhow. I went without health insurance for years because I could not afford it until the Affordable Health Care Act passed, so I do not want to see it repealed. I’m concerned Trump’s administration could overturn what little progress we’ve made in controlling our country’s contributions to global climate change. Worse than that, Trump is prone to public tantrums and seems to have real problems with impulse control. I don’t want someone like that in charge of the nuclear codes. You’ve heard all this stuff a million times before from other people, so I’ll stop there, though I could go on.
But, since Trump’s election, I have made a concerted — and often painful — effort to try to understand those who support him. They are not all hateful white supremacists who want to kill Muslims and lesbians in order to make America a Christian nation again. Many of them are deeply concerned that politics as usual has been slowly destroying the United States for decades. They saw Hillary Clinton as the continuation of a system gone terribly wrong and Donald Trump as the only candidate with a chance of winning who represented fundamental change. The same way I saw Hillary Clinton as the only candidate with a chance of winning against Donald Trump, even though I had serious doubts about much of what she represented.
If I were to issue a statement saying that Angel City Zen Center “unequivocally rejects the hateful worldview of President-Elect Donald Trump” those who voted for Trump would not feel welcome at our center. That would be a shame.
I also don’t see any compelling reason to single out Mr. Trump by name when it’s already obvious to anyone who knows anything at all about Buddhism that Buddhists reject “hateful worldviews” of all kinds, and have done so for 2500 years. I’ve personally spoken out against racism, sexism, violence, and stupidity in general in my books and blogs for over a decade. Anyone who shows up at our center expecting to find support for their hateful worldview has not done their homework on Buddhism or me. They’d be deeply disappointed and I would not expect them to come again.
But what really bugs me about the statement that monk proposed is the smugness of it. To me it seems to say, “I am right and unless you agree with me, you are wrong.”
I am not that certain of my own views. I’ll admit it’s difficult for me to see how I could be wrong about Mr. Trump, but, given the fact that I’ve been wrong about so many other things, I must accept the possibility that I am mistaken. Plus, to be honest, even though I thought Hillary Clinton would have been better than Trump, I didn’t think she’d be that much better.
I think those Trump supporters who want to see a fundamental change in the system are right. Fundamental change is inevitable and necessary. I just disagree with the direction Trump seems to want to take things.
In Japan I learned that the way to argue with someone you disagree with is to find something you agree with that person about — no matter how small it is — and then work from there. This is how I’d like to work with Trump’s supporters. And I can’t do that if I reject them outright.
A lot of folks argue that now is the time we must stand with our brothers and sisters who are minorities and resist oppression. I agree. It’s always that time. I just disagree that we can accomplish that by creating new categories of human beings, and then marginalizing and excluding those people instead. If we truly believe in diversity and inclusiveness, then we can’t be half-assed about it. We can’t insist on diversity in terms of things like race, gender, and sexual orientation while discouraging diversity in terms of opinion, politics, and even worldview.
If we reject those we define as having “hateful worldviews” then where will those people go for fellowship? Won’t they end up only associating with those who share their “hateful worldview”? I don’t see how excluding someone for their voting record helps anything. That sounds like the kind of thinking that got us into the mess we’re in.
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Every Monday at 7:30pm there’s zazen at Angel City Zen Center (NEW TIME, NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!
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These on-going events happen every week even if I am away from Los Angeles. Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info
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