Facebook friends are posting expressions of anger and despair over Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal. Even those who are not disillusioned, and most aren’t, they expected this, even they sound pessimistic, cynical. Some posts are full of hate for a society epitomized by the way this trial was conducted and by this verdict.
Jesus told us ” love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44) The Buddha went even further and told us to radiate love and kindness towards thugs as they cut our limbs off. (MN 21)
It’s hard to aspire to practice the teachings of the Buddha in times like these. It’s not as straightforward as how to love those who take guns to shoot people protesting injustice. It’s just that. It’s wanting justice in this world when the Buddha also taught that wanting things is the source of pain and suffering.
Unfortunately, there is a long history of and widespread current practice of taking this teaching to mean passively accepting whatever is going on in this world. Too many people use Buddhism, and other religions for that matter, to escape the evils of this world, to insulate themselves from disturbing situations, thoughts, and images. That’s not why I practice the teachings of the Buddha.
One way I became attracted to Buddhist practice was learning about the bodhisattva Guanyin, the enlightened being who hears the cries of the world, who returns to hell to rescue the souls suffering there, and who will not rest until all beings achieve ease and peace.
There is an important subtext in that description of Guanyin: “hears the cries of the world.” Even before lovingkindness, compassion, and enlightenment, the Buddha said he taught one thing: dukkha, “the cries of the world,” Again, this teaching tends to get misconstrued by Buddhists and by those who characterize Buddhism as negative and pessimistic. Rather, the Buddha is just saying that we need to start by seeing things as they really are, not through rose-colored glasses. That’s the first of the Four Noble Truths, which I put this way:
1. shit happens
2. get over it
3. i.e., get over yourself
4. now move on
I have a collection of handy sayings that I pull out at times like this. This morning on Facebook I posted: “Upset about the verdict? Remember Joe Hill’s last words. ‘Don’t mourn. Organize.'” To me, Joe Hill’s words tell us how to practice these truths. Don’t mourn. Organize.
I have blogged about two other sayings that guide me in these times, telling us to hear the cries of the world.
- Peter Ustinov. “After all, in order not to be a fool, an optimist must know what a sad place the world can be. It is only the pessimist who finds this out anew every day.”
- Antonio Gramsci. Pessimism of the intellect. Optimism of the will.
In the same vein and directly relevant to the Rittenhouse trial is the reaction of an older African-American mother to the 2016 election. “You know where we live.”
As her daughter told Neil Drumming, a producer for the This American Life podcast:
So, half the country now, literally half the country, I don’t know who the fuck is sitting next to me, closed mouth smiling about this [BLEEP]. You know what I mean? … Yeah. I feel like I’m not under siege, but yeah, I just don’t feel safe. Whereas maybe before, I had forgotten. That’s what happens. You forget. And then this [BLEEP] happens. And you’re like, oh yeah. We know where we live, like my mother says. Like, that’s basically what she was saying, like, oh, you forgot.