The administration has announced that “alternative facts” rather than actual facts are now an element of American governing and policy.
This is both stunning and unsurprising. We have regularly witnessed alternative fact making as an essential part of the character and campaign of this person. And alternative facts (aka lies and factual errors) have been with us as governments and people since the beginning of everything. This doesn’t make it a good idea of how to manage our government or our lives—it’s a terrible idea—but there it is.
The four Bodhisattva vows, recited daily by many Buddhists (but probably not by many people in the administration) include this:
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end and transform them.
The point of this goes well beyond believing in false facts or making up facts. The English term “delusion” used comes from the Sanskrit word klesha (fannao in Chinese, bonnō in Japanese).
Kleshas are explained many ways, of which delusions or desires are just shorthand. Chogyam Trungpa summarizes these as properties that dull the mind and are the basis for all unwholesome actions, with the three main kleshas being passion, aggression, and ignorance.
That seems like a good way of thinking about alternative facts, whether as a bizarre official American principle or as a principle of our lives. Ignorance and the other delusions are properties of dull minds and the basis for unwholesome actions.
We will have to deal with delusive thinking, dull minds and ignorance in the days ahead. These are, as the vow reminds us, inexhaustible. Our practice should be to try to end and transform them, not just in others who happen to be in positions of power, but in ourselves.