Mindful Politics: A Buddhist Guide To Making the World
a Better Place by Melvin McLeod
For those who are willing to consider Eastern Religious thought in their discussions, I found this
book to be helpful. Just like the Jewish scholar, Paul Rogat Loeb in Soul of a Citizen who speaks
to us about political activism, Melvin McLeod in this book provides a spiritual context from
which to view how to create the change we want to see in this world. There are various forces
at work in the world. Whatever spiritual path we follow we can realize these three qualities –
mindfulness, compassion and wisdom – these do not belong to any one religion but are
qualities in our own hearts and minds. Mindfulness is the quality of the mind that keeps us in
touch and aware of the world around us. It is the
quality that keeps us in touch with reality in the
humblest of ways such as brushing our teeth or
having a cup of tea. It is the connection to the
people around us so that we are not just simply
rushing by them in the busyness of our lives. I
had always perceived Buddhists as fairly non
political persons but I learned that is not always
I found this four point platform for political office delightful:
1) May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness
2) May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering
3) May they not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering
4) May they dwell in the great equanimity free of passion, aggression and ignorance.
In mindfulness meditation we start with the
simple observation and feeling of each breath.
Breathing in and breathing out. We need to each
remember the sage advice of Mark Twain “Some
of the worst things in my life never happened.”
Slowly and calmly we train our minds, coming
back again and again to the concentration on
breathing in and out. Such a simple act can serve
to concentrate our awareness on ourselves, who
we are, what we want to be and where we want
to go with our lives. Compassion comes on both a personal level and also on the global level
of cultures and civilizations interacting with one another.
When Thich Nhat Hanh addressed members of the US Congress he reminded them that
mindfulness, deep listening, and loving speech can restore communication remove wrong
perceptions that are the foundation of all violence and hatred.
Whistleblowers struggle with the loss of hope. Why should I try to do anything if it won’t work?
If there is no hope? Devoid of hope they plunge into depression. Hope never enters the room
without fear at its side. What if we are truly powerless? I have given up trying to save the
world, I gave it up to discover what I am supposed to be – how I myself can best help. This left
me free to know how to retreat when necessary and I hope to act rightly – in the right time –
with the right action – with the right mindset. Thomas Merton a Christian mystic said
“Outcomes don’t matter people do.”
Thomas Merton advised a friend “Do not depend on hope of results …. You may have to face
the fact that your work will apparently be worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not
perhaps results in the opposite of what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start to
move and more not to concentrate on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of
the work itself….. you gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for
specific people…. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”
In the fifth chapter of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, he discusses the power-in-motion, where
water, otherwise soft and harmless, can be amassed into a
rushing force capable of tossing huge rocks about, next as a
shape such as a steep mountain, evoking the power of troops
taking the higher ground in a mountain ravine, and finally as an
accumulation, the drawing back of a crossbow with the power
released at the pulling of the trigger.
“One who uses shih sets people to battle as if rolling trees and
As for the nature of trees and rocks-
When still, they are at rest.
When agitated, they move.
When square they stop.
When round, they go.
Thus the shih of one skilled at setting people to battle is like rolling round rocks from a mountain
one thousand jen high.” Sun Tzu
Shih does not rely on changing the world but
instead on knowing how things are and how
they work together, and on the right timing.
Appreciating the nature of shih and
employing it well will help us when we are
faced with the need to apply force to move
forward and when we want to attain our goal
without engaging in a costly battle. We must
as whistleblowers enlarge our perspective,
take a bigger view of the situation either in time or space. In this concept of Shih intelligence is
not accomplished through the standard command and control with its sense of entitled
authority and series of cascading events, but instead a concept of public intelligence brought
from the consensus of the people – an intelligence grounded throughout the entire system and
thus attainment of one’s goal is done by disturbing the system rather than directing it. While
using this concept of shih to accomplish one’s objectives, one must loosen one’s grip on the
smaller objectives, while at the same time opening up to the larger world view. Thus our goal is
not to control but to influence. Skillful action comes from knowing, seeing, and catching the
moment. Using this concept of shih can be the gateway on a deeper more personal level to
magic in our ordinary day to day lives.
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