The Times They are a Changing

By Mike Zinke, Bodhisattva Teacher

Times were much simpler when I was young. People were either a Republican or they were a Democrat. Occasionally you might find someone claiming to be an Independent but everyone just kind of figured an Independent was someone who hadn’t decided who to vote for yet. I remember my dad was a Republican and my mother was a Democrat. That’s about all I knew really as politics wasn’t discussed a lot in the house. My parents just accepted that they disagreed on who should run the country. For most of my adult life I was fairly ambivalent about politics. A friend talked me into helping hand out flyers for Jimmy Carter once but other than that I didn’t get too involved and didn’t give it much thought. Well, there was one time when the Mayor of the town where I grew up (population 2,000) paid my friend and me to sneak around at night and put his bumper stickers on cars. I think we got a nickel for each car we tacked his name on. Hey, times were tough and I was about 12 at the time.

I remember people could actually talk about the issues without causing arguments or fights to break out. People just accepted that others might have differing opinions. Now we are experiencing the most divided times I can remember. Somehow we have gone from that simpler time to a ridiculously complex time where people don’t talk with you about their political beliefs, they talk to you about them – they are not expecting a response from you. If you were to disagree, the probable outcome would likely be an argument and hurt feelings.

I’m not sure of how we got to this point but it seems like everyone is angry at everybody for no apparent reason. Some contributing factors may include the highs and lows we all experienced in the past several months with the political news, terror scares, shootings in Milwaukee, rising crime, the economy, etc. We try to process all this information but after a while it’s like your mind says “enough already” and wants to stop but the urge to know what’s going on still remains. Zen Master Dae Kwang says our minds are like a calculator, storing data, storing data, storing data on and on until we finally hit the Clear button by taking time out to sit and clear our minds. We know through all of our meditation practice that when thoughts enter our mind we look at them, realize where they came from and then let them go but it seems like the data being sent from various sources has increased its speed from 16 Mbps to 50 Mbps and continues to increase so much that the Clear button is being worn out.

Compounding the issues with the data onslaught are the new terms ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’. So with all the data flooding the airwaves we now don’t know what is real and what isn’t. We try to sort it out, we try to discuss things with others but we find that difficult as well because everyone holds onto their own opinions very strongly and engaging in a normal discussion isn’t likely. My wife, Kathy, and I also have found it odd that many people now simply assume that you hold the same view on today’s issues as they do and freely, often too freely, espouse for their causes without knowing, or asking about, your views. On several occasions we have both had experiences with people, some of whom we didn’t even know, simply start telling us their opinions on everything from gun control, Obamacare, religion, immigration, politics, and a host of other subjects while making the assumption we held the same opinions, for or against those issues, as them.

So, how do we deal with everything that is going on in today’s world? How do we deal with people that feel the need to pour out their feelings on different subjects while assuming that we have the same feelings? How do we discern alternative facts from facts and fake news from real news? How do we calm others when the stress of current issues causes them to suffer?

I think our Zen practice can help us cope with today’s issues in several ways. Of course we all know one basic teaching of Zen is that all things are impermanent and will eventually change and/or go away. When we spend a lot of our waking hours worrying about the issues we disagree with and wanting them to change then we, of course, cause our own suffering by having desire for things to change immediately and allowing those concerns to overrule our daily activities. When others engulf us with their opinions and assume that we share the same opinions instead of trying to convince them to see our viewpoints we should simply smile and acknowledge their statements knowing that to disagree would be fruitless and would lead to an argument. Later you can use subtlety in your actions to support a correct view and weave around the disagreement and probable argument. Somewhere in the past years of Zen practice a knowledgeable teacher told me that everyone is right and everyone is wrong. We must understand that others have differing opinions and we must accept that their opinions belong to them. We don’t preach to people about our beliefs or try to persuade them to convert to our beliefs. Instead, we show our beliefs through our actions.

When we practice Zen we work on showing compassion for other people. When we show compassion for others we are setting examples that will eventually be adopted by others for them to also show compassion through their actions and so forth – like a domino effect. All actions are dependent upon other actions (dependent origination – this exists because of that and that exists because of this) good actions help foster other good actions and that is our goal in this practice.

We know what has happened in the past is already over and can’t be changed, we know that we have no control over the future so we must look at the present moment with our practice. How do we help others? How do we cope with all the issues in today’s environment? There are many ways including protests, petitions, etc., but most importantly we must continue with our Zen practice – more now than ever.