Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Prayer For Barack Obama

It looks like things aren't going so well in the Middle East. Over 200 dead and over 400 wounded as Israel bombards Hamas strongholds in Gaza. A leader of Hamas has called for Palestinian retribution in the form of a new intifada against Israel, including a return to suicide missions.

Israel claims that the bombardment is in retaliation for Hamas strikes against Israel, and while you can't blame a nation for defending itself, this isn't likely to improve the situation in the region. Islamic extremists will see in this as a call to defend their Muslim brothers, leading to more war, leading to more retaliation, leading to more counter-measures, leading to more suffering

It seems that in the months between the election and Obama's taking office, the world has been doing all it can to make his new job as difficult as possible. The global economy gets worse and worse, the significant sums of taxpayer money spent on revitalization packages seems to have been ineffective if not ill-used, Pakistan and India are as close as ever to nuclear war, and now this.

As much as ever, these times call for an enlightened leader. The Chinese Daoist text Kanshi states "The sea does not refuse water; therefore it is able to realize its greatness. Mountains do not reject the earth; therefore they are able to realize great height. Enlightened leaders do not despise people; therefore they are able to peacefully govern a large nation."

Dogen pointed out that although enlightened leaders do not despise people, there is still reward and punishment. But even in reward and punishment, there is no hatred. An enlightened ruler uses reward and punishment as a loving parent applies kindness and discipline to children.

An enlightened leader should act to benefit equally both those who are hostile and those who are friendly. Dogen noted, "Kind speech is the foundation for overcoming those who are angry and hostile, as well as for promoting harmony among others. When we hear kind speech that is spoken directly to us, it brightens our countenance and delights our heart. When we hear of kind speech having been spoken about us in our absence, this makes a deep impression on our heart and our spirit." So in this explosive situation, the ancestors tell us that enlightened leadership will act not to have one side triumph over the other, but to clearly see the situation without prejudice and to act for the benefit of all sides (the "win-win" situation), and further, that kind words are an important and useful tool in this effort.

And what can we do? Dogen points out that just as the sea receives its greatness from the rivers which empty into it, so too can the water in the rivers realize greatness by becoming one with the sea. By extension, an enlightened leader receives greatness from leading the many, friend and foe alike, and the many can come to realize greatness by being good citizens of the great nation. And how can we overcome our own strong opinions and prejudices and be good citizens of the great nation, accepting the guidance of an enlightened leader? By letting go of body and mind through the practice of zazen.

So my prayer for Barack Obama and for his ability to resolve the many crises that will be facing him in the first few months of his Administration, is my quiet shikantaza. As Soyu Matzuoka, the founder of my Order, said, it's the most that we can do.

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