June 9, 2016

Trump the Bodhisattva?


“I have some rather unorthodox musings about the Trump phenomenon that have been put up today. You may not agree with what I say but I think it is important to ask yourself how to respond compassionately to what’s unfolding in before our eyes. Perhaps the first step is to realize the truth of the old adage that what we dislike in others in what we dislike about ourselves.” ~ the Author.

Yes, I know, it sounds truly crazy to say, but Trump is opening up a huge potential for increasing self-understanding and healing, for which we should be supremely grateful. 

“In the story of the great Indian Buddhist master Naropa, his teacher, Tilopa appeared to him in the form of a maggot-ridden dog. Feeling disgust, Naropa tried to jump over the poor creature and run away. Immediately the dog changed into Tilopa, who said, ‘If you have aversion for sentient beings, how do you ever expect to awaken from samsaric mind. Anything that awakens our compassion or wisdom serves as a bodhisattva.'”  ~ Pema Chödrön, No Time to Lose

If that last sentence is true, then Donald Trump is a bodhisattva.

He’s magnifying all the intolerance, hatred, and anger we have lurking within all of us, supporters and opponents alike.

When asked what they like about him, Trump supporters often respond with, “He says things out loud that we’re thinking internally.” In that sense, he’s serving as an amplifier of a large percentage of the American population’s sentiments. We should be grateful to him for making it visible, for allowing us to see what was hidden away on the inside, for showing us just how deep-seated prejudice, hatred, bigotry, and xenophobia are.

Many of you college educated, liberal people reading this out there might be thinking, okay sure, it’s kind of obvious that Trump is tapping into something primal that’s brewing in a lot of people. But why should I be grateful to Trump?

You only need to look at Vox, Salon, Alternet, Slate, or any of the other liberal media sites, and you’ll find dozens of critical articles. For the left, manufacturing Trump critiques have become a sort of cottage industry. What many of those who critique Trump fail to see is that their “camp” has become a virtual mirror of a Trump rally with all the same fervent hatred ofthe other side.” 

This endless ego game of categorizing Us versus Them: Trump is bringing this polarization out in all of us. He’s doing it in terms of white America vs. everyone else. And by introducing this division, he then lures those who think they are beyond these divisions into making another division: Trump vs. non Trump. Each side is dug deep in their trenches of disdain, supremely convinced that the other side is wrong.

If we are truly serious about the virtue of tolerance, then we must extend that tolerance to those who are intolerant.

We must take to heart all the teachings to love our enemies. And the way we do that is through compassion.

What Donald Trump represents is wounded humanity. We may not always perceive this when he offends us, but he is a person in tremendous suffering (it’s precisely the fact that we are offended that is keeping us from touching this truth).

He’s a case study in ego run amok. He’s taken it to the extreme, but it’s something we all have within us. He’s living out what the fascist dictator in all of us wants to do: impose its will on the world by force, squashing anything and everyone who happens to stand in its way.

It’s hard to admit, but there’s a little Trump in all of us—the shouting down of enemies, the rushing to judgment with no grounding in facts, the denial of blatantly obvious truths. Lies, duplicity, equivocations, gas-lighting. Take a look in the mirror and honestly tell me that you’re free from all that. I sure as hell know that I’m not.

This is why he’s a bodhisattva. It took someone as bombastic as him to mirror back to me my own shortcomings, to make me realize how I’m being held in the very same ego prison behind the bars of self-righteousness and pride.

We all have defense mechanisms against feeling the pain of our wounds. Instead of owning up to my limited human perspective and how it constantly spins a web of self-justifications, it’s much easier to lash out and grasp for something you can be sure of (for example, “Trump is terrible!”). This gives us a sense of security and power: exactly what Trump purports to offer his supporters.

It’s much easier to pig out on the all-you-can-Trump-buffet than it is to honestly look inside and touch the vulnerability that all of us have just in being alive. But it’s only by recognizing and honestly facing our wounds that we can stop acting them out.

Even if he is a great bodhisattva who has come to show us to ourselves, this does not mean that we should be idle and simply acquiesce. No, the bodhisattvic nature in all of us is being called to oppose his plans to inflict even greater pain and suffering on the world.

But if our reaction is coming from anger and self-righteousness, then we have only succeeded in perpetuating the cycle that he lured us into. As Ram Dass wrote in Be Here Now, “In order to protest effectively, we must love the person we’re protesting against as much as we love ourselves.” This starts by being honest with ourselves and all of our inconsistencies, which leads us to realize that “we” are more like “them” than we’d like to admit.

The mangy dog is a wonderful teacher in disguise, and we jump over him at our own peril.

We’ve all got some work to do. If it takes Donald Trump to make the shadows visible, so be it. That’s what bodhisattvas do.


Author: Daniel Goldsmith

Image: donkeyhotey/flickr

Editor: Pippa Sorley

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