Monday, March 23, 2009

Dogen also related the following story:

When the wife of former President Bill Clinton was Secretary of State, she once attended a special party. She took a seat near the Vice President. George Bush was also there and was making a disturbance.

The Vice President told Hillary to restrain him.

She replied, “Give your order to Obama. He is the President.”

The Vice-President said, “But, you are right here.”

Hillary replied, “It is not my position to restrain him.”

These were admirable words. She was able to administer her office because of such an attitude. Students of the Way today should have the same attitude. You should not scold others if you are not in the position to do so.

(updated and very loosely translated from Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Book 1, Chapter 8)

I apologize for the unskillful change in cast, but the original version of the story involved shoguns and samurai and various obscure Japanese clans of the Kamakura Period. When the historical footnotes become longer than the actual story, it's time for an update.

The point of this story is not that the social or political order must be upheld, but simply that you should not scold others if it is inappropriate. Dogen had concluded the previous chapter with the words, "You should not point out others’ faults or speak ill of them. You must be very, very careful. When you see someone’s faults and think they are wrong and wish to instruct them with compassion, you must find a skillful means to avoid arousing their anger, and do so as if you were talking about something else."

In my updated story, Hillary knew that by attempting to restrain an unruly George Bush, she would be crossing certain party lines and gender roles. There was also the issue of the rival Clinton and the Bush political dynasties. She knew that the best way to restrain an ex-President was to have the current President intervene, and she disobeyed the chain-of-command by telling the Vice President to give an order to the President. She mindfully used a skillful means to deal with the situation, and for this Dogen praises her.

We must be very careful correcting the faults of others.

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