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November 10, 2016


A Post-Election Statement from the Abbatial Leadership

“Even if the sun rises in the west
the Bodhisattva has only one way.”
– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

suzukiroshisr0047-450There was a wonderful moment near the conclusion of one of the Presidential debates. When, after countless harsh criticisms and accusations, the candidates were asked to say something complimentary about each other. They paused, the world of political rivalry stopped spinning, and then they both expressed words of praise for their fellow presidential candidate. Then politics whirled back into action, bitter and acrimonious.

Today our country feels divided into red and blue, success and failure, and we wait with hope or dread for what will unfold. Yet, in the midst of division, we can pause and realize the undivided US and let it instruct us on how to move forward together. How often powerful moments are a mix of opportunity and danger.

May this election and all that it might bring be an opportunity for each of us to rediscover our all-inclusive vow of practice that isn’t swayed by the winds of change. May our perspective and actions not be defined by the fearful dictates of animosity and division.

May all beings be free from suffering and realize the liberation of awakening.

Eijun Linda Cutts, SFZC Central Abbess,
Rinso Ed Sattizahn, City Center Abbot,
Furyu Nancy Schroeder, Green Gulch Farm ZC Abbess,
and Ryushin Paul Haller, Urban Dharma Teacher

Photo: Detail from photo of Suzuki Roshi at Tassajara in 1967. Photographer unknown.

The leadership offers this poem by William Stafford.

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider —
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

30 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anthony Head
    Nov 10 2016

    Truthfully, I am disappointed in Zen Center’s response. It fails to address the reason and the response for the country’s division. There is evil in the world … evil that threatens the well being of some (because of color or gender or belief) and therefore while recognizing our Bodhisattva duty to love and live for the benefit of all beings, we should be forthright about how that duty calls us to right action and speech and thought in direct response to such evil. The view from the street is different from the view from the zafu … but both are Buddha.

  2. Satsiri Khalsa
    Nov 10 2016

    thank you yes stepping back to silence to hear the wisdom is important here
    non action is a form of action
    it is knowing when and how to move before doing so
    love and peace in a turbulent world will help to heal it
    siri k

  3. Emerson Gale
    Nov 10 2016

    Thanks so much for sharing this!

  4. Allee Blatner
    Nov 10 2016

    Deep bow of appreciation for the comfort and guidance at this time.

  5. Wendy S. King
    Nov 10 2016

    “Straight runs the Way
    Not one, not two
    Taking as form the form of no-form,
    Taking as thought the thought of no-thought
    … singing and dancing, all is the voice of Truth.
    This very place the Lotus Paradise
    This very body the Buddha.”

  6. Jeffrey Schneider
    Nov 11 2016

    I appreciate this statement with its message of conciliation and the desire for cooperation and healing. However, having read statements from other religious (and secular) organizations that make clear their support for the rights and well-being of threatened communities (immigrants, people of color, the poor, Muslims, etc.), I hoped for a stronger statement from the SF Zen Center leadership. To uphold the standard of basic human dignity is not a partisan declaration, but one fully in keeping with Buddhist principles. I believe that SF Zen Center should be leading in this way.

    • Kathy Haimson
      Nov 11 2016

      I agree with you Jeffery! And there is a time to mourn and a time to be angry. We just don’t get stuck.

  7. George Melville
    Nov 11 2016

    Thank you.

  8. Christian Piñón
    Nov 11 2016

    I agree with Jeffrey.

  9. Christine Kunz
    Nov 11 2016

    The last two lines say it all for me.
    Thank you, I am grateful for your statement.

  10. Matt Parkhouse, RN
    Nov 11 2016

    How does that wisdom go? “In the world but not of the world …”

  11. Gregory Tippett
    Nov 11 2016

    Thanks to the SFZC leadership for offering this statement. I am in full agreement with its spirit of love and care, in particular this sentence: “May our perspective and actions not be defined by the fearful dictates of animosity and division.” Starting with our own minds and hearts, work must be done to transform the hatred so many Americans feel across political lines.

    In this spirit of our Bodhisattva vow to care for all beings, I feel I must say, more is needed. A tremendous number of Americans feel threatened by the violent rhetoric and stated intentions of our president-elect. To be in alignment with our vow, we must explicitly make their protection a top priority. It is true that we do not know what will happen next. But, when fire threatened Tassajara, we did not fail to make preparations. Let us not neglect preparations for the fire that may yet come.

    With deep respect for the challenges of leadership, and for our leaders’ steadfast effort to express our values, I ask the Abbatial Council and the community as a whole to consider the following quote from holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Eli Wiesel:

    “… how naive we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent when and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented … Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that must — at that moment — become the center of the universe … Yes, I have faith. Faith in God and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all.”

    Thank you for your time, thought, and practice. I ask that we schedule a time for dialogue as a community about how to create an appropriate response to our national situation.

    The full text of the Wiesel’s speech is here:

  12. Di Prince
    Nov 11 2016

    Be interested to find out if there are any records of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi thoughts or statements in response to the rise of Japanese fascism prior to World War II. Is there anything to be learnt from this?

  13. Nov 12 2016

    A caring place to share any and all feelings in this difficult time. Thank you.

  14. Fiona McGregor
    Nov 12 2016

    After The Election
    I found the post-election statements of SFZC leadership to be quite disappointing and inadequate. Below you will find another post-election statement from the One Dharma Sangha, Santa Barbara, California, that people might find of relevance and use.
    Fiona McGregor, San Francisco, Ca.

    After the election

    In this time of turmoil, even shock about the election results, which left so many of us with a great sense of unease, I remember the Dalai Lama saying at a talk in Dharamsala last month, “there are countries where anger, selfishness, and greed are seen as positive values as they promise you to get ahead, to be materially successful.” If such values now have a dominant place in our culture, what is our role to play?
    The aftermath of such a shift in culture could lead us to isolate ourselves, to build a wall around ourselves or to give up. We humans are afraid of change, afraid that the known comes to an end, that we may not have enough, or that we are not worthy of being loved and taken care of after all. And it may have been fear and mistrust that brought so many to choose this way in the first place. So, how can we cultivate a fearless heart?
    Meditation helps us to connect and heal. With self-compassion, we can connect to ourselves, and with loving awareness, we can connect to the greater field of being as well as to our world and its beauty. With an open and connected heart, we can follow our longing to join with others through love and service, which frees us from the prison of isolation, self-preoccupation, and loneliness.
    The Dalai Lama says in last week’s NY Times article, “what unites us in friendship and collaboration in something simple: a shared belief in compassion, in human dignity, in the intrinsic usefulness of every person to contribute positively for a better and more meaningful world. The problems we face cut across conventional categories; so must our dialogue, and our friendships.”
    A feeling of compassion and care connects us to ourselves as well as others. Recently I listened to a wonderful talk by Social Scientist Noam Chomsky about the value of solidarity. He speaks about something here that is similar to compassion. He says, “It is solidarity, which guides us to pay for all children in our country to go to school, even when they are not our own children, and to make sure that all sick people are treated properly, even when we don’t know them, and to care for all old people, even when they are not our mothers.” Concern for the common good, and caring for the weaker links in society is natural when we have a sense of solidarity, of caring. Yet, this natural solidarity has in recent years become undermined, which has raised the basic level of anxiety and alienation in our communities.
    What now? The Dalai Lama has the following recommendation, when he says:
    “What can we do to help? The first answer is not systematic. It is personal. Everyone has something valuable to share. We should start each day by consciously asking ourselves, “What can I do today to appreciate the gifts that others offer me?” We need to make sure that global brotherhood and oneness with others are not just abstract ideas that we profess, but personal commitments that we mindfully put into practice. Each of us has the responsibility to make this a habit.”
    Last night, lying awake, I thought: this is a call for activism, to become more mindful, alive, compassionate, connected. We need those countless grass-roots safe spaces that are sprouting up, and we need increasingly more of them. And we need to cultivate and strengthen our ability to care wisely. Our practice will give us community and tools so we can be available to our world with a wise and open heart. Mindfulness will allow us to be fearlessly present with what is, wisdom developed through our practice will give us the clarity to know when and how to act. Compassion will give us the capacity to include others into our care and kind action will change our world.
    I remember historian Howard Zinn’s words: “What matters are the countless small deeds of unknown people, who lay the basis for the significant events that enter history.”
    Noam Chomsky added to that: “They are the ones who did it in the past, and who have to do it in the future.”
    That is us, who need to became increasingly awake, alive and connected for our world.
    The main points of the talks in Dharamsala in October were, “How can we respond to the suffering in the world?” “Difficult emotions as the big cause of this suffering, how can we understand and work with them?” “The importance of understanding and experiencing interdependence/or emptiness of separate self,” and finally “The role of compassion in helping us to face and work through the obstacles we are encountering, so we can gradually wake up and become increasingly free.” Together we will experience mindfulness, compassion, and deep connection meditations.

    One Dharma Sangha, Santa Barbara, California


  15. Jim Hare
    Nov 13 2016

    I’m focusing on the upcoming MLK, Jr. Birthday marches that are planned all over the country each year. I’m hoping for a big peaceful turnout this year, on the 16th of January, just a few days before the inaugural. This will be an opportunity for peace-loving, other-accepting people to express their principles and demonstrate solidarity with everyone who could potentially be harmed by Trump’s policies.

  16. Hilary Parsons
    Nov 13 2016

    I was stunned and broken hearted by the outcome of the election. For me, the abbatial letter was helpful and, as I sat with it for while, profound. I came back home to that dazzlingly beautiful Zen teaching of radical inclusion. No inclusion or exclusion. Just every being and every thing included. I’m sure in practice that we all have had moments of tasting this radical inclusion. What a great touchstone during these difficult days. Frequently, since the election, I find my mind in the fog of fear, everything contracted, unwholesome thoughts “leaking” from my unconscious during meditation. Well, I guess I can’t claim to be so different from those Red state folks, I just seem to want to exclude a different set of people. I appreciate being encouraged to face the present “danger and opportunity” with an inclusive courageous heart and clear vision, not of what I fear is happening, but of what is actually happening. Hopefully I will then find ways to be truly helpful. I send my love to the entire Sangha during this time. Hang in there and keep the faith.
    Hilary Parsons

  17. Kate
    Nov 14 2016

    We need you to stand up and speak out against racist fascism. This is not about “red” and “blue.” It seems to me the American Buddhist community has failed. The entire enterprise has become an experiment in narcissism disguised as altruism. There is a radicalization of young people to white supremacy happening at this moment, supported by a newly elected president who has endorsed white supremacy not just with his policies but also his cabinet appointments, and the results of it are playing out on the bodies and minds of our marginalized friends, family and neighbors right now, and will no doubt get much, much worse in the coming months. What are we going to do about it? Spend a few more hours in sesshin helping ourselves?

  18. Kim Stafford
    Nov 14 2016

    Seeking the good in one’s “opponent” begins the search for common ground. In this spirit, I found myself composing this poem the day after the election:

    The Path to Peace:
    Champion the Enemy’s Need

    Ask about your enemy’s wounds and scars.
    Seek their hidden cause of trouble.
    Feed your enemy’s children.
    Learn their word for home.
    Repair their well.
    Learn their sorrow’s history.
    Trace their lineage of the good.
    Ask them for a song.
    Make tea. Break bread.

    • Choro Carla Antonaccio
      Nov 16 2016

      Thank you for your poem.

  19. Andrew Hageman
    Nov 14 2016

    Thanks SFZC. May we not get stuck in this or that. May we learn to accept what comes our way and allow it to show us something of our nature. While the election results were surprising in some ways, it was not so surprising in others. Suffering is part of the human condition. An election will not change that. Part of our suffering is our forgetfulness. This situation is not new. We’ve been here before. The cycle continues. May we commit more fully to our path and work towards helping others be free from hatred, greed, and gaining ideas. Gassho.

  20. 1. to destroy every way, how nation could object, revolt or even influence politics

    2. to increase everyone’s dependence on presidency, de facto destroy separation of powers

    3. to use federal resources for endless self-elections

    This Russian dictatorship model, that I evidence, was already exported to Kiev at January 16, 2014. See “Anti-protest laws in Ukraine” in Wikipedia.

    That time they failed, but only because in Ukraine nation wasn’t silent. People were brave to meet the war for their freedom. At least one Buddhist priest, an Abbot of the first Ukrainian monastery Sheychen-ling, who helped me to meet Soto Zen monks in 2004, gave his life on that war for their freedom.

    If nobody stops those three shifts and democracy dies in United States as it did in Russia, can we practice Zen? Yes, it is possible.

    You still can continue with zazen, as we do in Moscow now. It is possible to save people, if they find you and able to stick with you. But one thing is clear. Remaining in silence and ignoring changes means you already took the side. Nobody else would wash those dirty dishes, they just stay as they are.

  21. Nancy Ingwersen
    Nov 15 2016

    If I am truly in front of myself, and connected with my body, I must admit that “I do not know.” This being given, all I can offer are my efforts to continue to search for presence and truth, which even in regard to the present shocked situation, are not yet known. And pray for the welfare of all beings, excluding none, not even the ones I am afraid may exclude me.

  22. Nov 15 2016

    Thank you so much those who have replied to this. I think of this whole thread together as the true statement of SFZC.
    My own thoughts are here:

  23. Ellie
    Nov 16 2016

    Even the tears of the sun could not light up what the people had done …….. and earth went dark.

  24. Seisen
    Nov 17 2016

    How about reaffirming the “San Francisco values” of radical inclusion of all beings regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation or physical ability? How about links to dharma en espanol, the queer dharma group, and an update on our efforts to make City Center more accessible to people with disabilities? These are the values of our community regardless of political leanings. As a community we welcome you.

  25. Judy Fox
    Nov 19 2016

    I appreciate the desire for unity and to be neutral politically. However, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, violence and cruelty are evil inarguably. Even if you did not wish to ascribe these to a single side of the election, a statement or restatement of principles and commitment was warranted and sorely needed – in my opinion. I am disappointed.

  26. Sid Frischer
    Nov 23 2016

    As an American living abroad in Thailand, I have followed this presidential election drama from afar and perhaps my birds eye view
    Will bring some clarity to some at the zen center. I always ask when in doubt about a situation, what would the Buddha say.
    And though I don’t know exactly what he’d say, I’m sure he would recognize the suffering and ignorance and would say in calm words to follow the Path of love and compassion and no-self, of practice in the way of Buddha Nature. Samsara is the world we live, as it was in the Buddha’s day. It hasn’t changed. It is the condition of this world for humans. So not to be so attached To this drama is perhaps the best way forward, and…to be part of the healing of America and the world through your individual actions. But the values of no fear was Buddha’s legacy too. This is his wisdom too.
    We are all connected, the division of American or the world is the same as the division within you. Which part wins will depend on which part you nurture. See this life from afar, in the distance of your love, compassion, interbeing, and awareness!

  27. Emily D
    Jan 30 2017

    I think this statement from SFZC took a great deal of strength and careful thought. We do not allow religion in schools yet I see many who want to see American Buddhism do all but join a political party and shun the other half of the country! Straight ahead runs the way. Not left or right. I don’t see Christians saying you must belong to one party or the other. Perhaps I should rethink this “exclusive click” that falsely claims to embrace all known as Buddhism? I’m exaggerating on purpose here to hold up a mirror for a moment in hopes that you will see it is wrong to suggest Buddhists in America be registered democrats! That is in essence where you are going with this.


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