Bob Schwartz

Sympathetically Misrepresenting anti-Semitism to Protect Trump

In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, there is universal recognition and condemnation of anti-Semitism. But there is a subtle split on the approach to this commendable sympathy and call for improvement. Some want to look at the big picture, some want to focus on the individual elements that brought us to this moment.

Among the big picture painters is the Wall Street Journal:

Americans would do well to ignore this toxic habit of political blame for murderous acts by the racist, anti-Semitic or mentally disturbed. We are all responsible for our rhetoric, and that includes Mr. Trump, as well as Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder.

But the blame artists are distracting attention from the real sickness, which in this case is anti-Semitism, a hatred that goes back millennia. That is the toxin to banish as much as possible from American life, even if it can’t be purged entirely from human souls.

There is something missing, something not quite right, something intended to misdirect the focus. As long as anti-Semitism is broadly presented as one of history’s most durable social diseases, as long as the “blame game” is dismissed as missing the point, we are not even half-way to self-awareness, let alone a solution.

Antisemitism is people. People as victims and targets, and people as perpetrators, enablers and ignorers. The Holocaust demanded that we break such a huge phenomenon down into its most significant pieces: the individuals who suffered and the individuals who, directly or indirectly—but culpably—made the horror possible.

There is nothing wrong in using this incident to bring generalized attention to anti-Semitism in America, which has persisted under the surface even as progress has been made. But treating it mostly as a pernicious social phenomenon avoids dealing with the individual responsibility for those who either actively promote or at least turn a blind eye to it.

When Trump references the “goodness” of the anti-Semitic marchers in Charlottesville (“Jews will not replace us”), when he calls himself a “nationalist” (though not that kind of a nationalist, we are assured), when he says and does a hundred things that promote hate and intolerance as the way to a Great America, of course anti-Semites, stable or crazy, are going to take it as an endorsement and seal of approval.

Anti-Semitism is people—perpetrators, fellow-travelers and enablers. All the rhetoric in the world won’t change that. And Trump is one of those people.

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“Will Pittsburgh Shooting Be A Wakeup Call For Jews Who Enable Trump?”

The Forward today includes an opinion piece, Will Pittsburgh Shooting Be A Wakeup Call For Jews Who Enable Trump by Ben Faulding, that ends like this:

Now that Jewish blood has been spilled, will the leaders recognize the threat they’ve been ignoring for so long?

Trump’s behaviors and policies continually contravert practically every core principle of Judaism. But even when white nationalists in Charlottesville directly expressed their anti-Semitism with chants like “Jews will not replace us,” important Jewish supporters and White House staff didn’t object to Trump’s equivocation of “good people on both sides.” We have a transactional president in transactional times, so if ignoring even anti-Semitism is the price you pay for support of Israel, tax benefits, etc., well, that’s the art of the deal.

The answer to whether this horror will be a wakeup call is mostly No. Jews who have cast their lot with Trump, from billionaires like Sheldon Adelson on down, either don’t know what Jewish principles actually are or have rationalized their support in relation to those principles. They aren’t asleep so they can’t wake up. They are just not very good Jews, if Jews at all.

Nationalist in Chief

“I am a nationalist.”

Oseh shalom bimromav,
hu yaaseh shalom aleinu,
v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei teiveil,
v’imru. Amen.

May the One who makes peace in the high heavens
make peace for us, for all Israel and all who inhabit the earth. Amen.

Great Doubt: Zen and the Baal Shem Tov

Doubt is a powerful and necessary tool. Wonder, mystery, unresolved and unresolvable puzzlement. Greater than doubt is Great Doubt. Great Doubt and the Great Secret.

Great Doubt:

The ancients spoke of three essential conditions for Zen practice:

First: great faith; second: great doubt; third: great determination. These are like the three legs of a tripod.

Now, what is great doubt? The type of doubt being referred to here is not intellectual doubt, such as we have when asking about the meaning of a koan. Instead, we can think of great doubt as utterly becoming one with our practice—whether we are counting the breath or practicing with the koan “Mu”—to the point that our entire body and mind are like a single mass of inquiry….

The great root of faith naturally activates this great ball of doubt. If the root of faith appears, the great ball of doubt will arise without fail. Spurred on by great doubt we continue the practice of [the koan] Mu, without seeking or expecting awakening. The quickest way to awaken when completely absorbed in Mu is to throw away all thoughts about it. Awakening has nothing to do with any kind of intellectual knowledge or discrimination.

Koun Yamada, Zen: The Authentic Gate

Great Secret:

In the Hour of Doubt

It is told:

In the city of Satanov there was a learned man, whose thinking and brooding took him deeper and deeper into the question why what is, is, and why anything is at all. One Friday he stayed in the House of Study after prayer to go on thinking, for he was snared in his thoughts and tried to untangle them and could not. The holy Baal Shem Tov felt this from afar, got into his carriage and, by dint of his miraculous power which made the road leap to meet him, he reached the House of Study in Satanov in only an instant. There sat the learned man in his predicament. The Baal Shem said to him: “You are brooding on whether God is; I am a fool and believe.” The fact that there was a human being who knew of his secret, stirred the doubter’s heart and it opened to the Great Secret.

Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim

What Some American Christians Can Learn From Mexican Catholics

Mexico has the second largest Catholic population in the world. With over 100 million Catholics, 91% of Mexicans are Catholic.

There is a migrant caravan of thousands currently heading north through Mexico. I saw a Mexican policewoman giving water to migrants. I saw Mexicans giving food and clothing to migrants.

Forget about the circumstances and politics of this particular migration. Maybe your family history does not include those who had to endure a long and arduous journey to get away from something bad or seek something better—or both. Maybe your family history does.

Forget about what we learn almost daily about the Catholic Church and hidden institutional corruption and perversion. Many in the Church still try to closely follow the teachings of Jesus and the compassion of the Holy Mother—maybe more in Mexico than anywhere.

Thirst, hunger, exposure, suffering. Christians claim to understand these through the example of a savior painfully dying on the cross yet to the end demanding love and compassion, no questions asked. This is something some American Christians—some prominent and powerful American Christians—seem to hypocritically ignore. This is something some Mexican Catholics seem to remember and live by.

“I would never disrespect you because you will all become buddhas.”

The Lotus Sutra—aka The King of Sutras, The Lotus Blossom of the Wonderful Dharma, The Discourse on the White Lotus of the True Doctrine—is one of the best-known and best-loved discourses of the Buddha.

A bodhisattva is one who takes up the way of the Buddha for the benefit of others. The Buddha speaks of various characters of bodhisattvas in the Lotus Sutra. In Chapter 20 we find Sadāparibhūta Bodhisattva—the Never Disrespectful, Never Disparaging, Never Belittling Bodhisattva.

The Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva was mocked and cursed by people, including those who were “attached to the Dharma superficially”, for his absolute refusal to disrespect others, no matter their behavior. His simple explanation was “I would never disrespect you because you will all become buddhas.” Ultimately, after a long while, the others learned and came around to his way.

How easy, even irresistible, it can be to disrespect, disparage and belittle others, especially when it seems to us so clearly appropriate and deserved. How cleverly cutting we can be. At those times, recall the Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva:

Then the World-Honored One, wanting to restate this teaching, spoke in verse:

There was a bodhisattva
Whose name was Never Disrespectful.

At that time the four groups
Were attached to the Dharma superficially.

Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva would go to them
And say: “I would never disrespect you,
For you are following the Way
And surely will all become buddhas.”

When people heard this
They made light of him or cursed him.
Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva
Withstood it all patiently…

At the end of his life
Never Disrespectful met countless buddhas,
And through teaching this sutra
Gained immeasurable happiness.

Gradually developing his blessings,
He quickly attained the Buddha way.
The Never Disrespectful of that time
Was really me.

Meditation is not about meditation

zafu-and-zabuton

Meditation is not about meditation.

Many meditate. Many think about meditation. Many talk about mediation. Many write about meditation.

The Zen expression “just sitting” is helpful. So many ways, with or without meditation, and so many ways of meditation. “Just” says it is enough in its unadorned, undecorated, uncomplicated way. Whether it is Zen or some other practice, “just” does not stop people from decorating, as they would a bare-walled house.

Without adding to this, without hanging one more picture on the wall, the thought arose: meditation is not about meditation. Not an original thought, but an essential one, maybe the essential one. Rather than explain it, I just repeat it. If you are meditating in any way, or thinking about meditating, or talking about meditating, or writing about meditating:

Meditation is not about meditation.

Dreams

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Dreams

In dreams
those who can’t walk walk
those who walk fly
the long lost is found
the precious disappears
hearts are broken and mended
without reason.
Is the night different from day
sleep from wake?
All and nothing
are possible.

©

Birthday

Birthday

For K

The birds don’t keep a calendar
or mark occasions.
Every day is an event
for celebration and music.
But today from the first slice of sun
that is their cue
I heard the wordless symphony
include you in the manifest of wonders.

The Incomparable Incredible Inimitable Mulla Nasrudin

 

A Sufi story:

Guess What?

A wag met Nasrudin. In his pocket he had an egg. “Tell me, Mulla; are you any good at guessing games?”

“Not bad,” said Nasrudin.

“Very well, then: Tell me what I have in my pocket.”

“Give me a clue, then.”

“It is shaped like an egg, it is yellow and white inside, and it looks like an egg.”

“Some sort of a cake,” said Nasrudin.

Idries Shah, The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin

About Mulla Nasrudin:

The Mulla is variously referred to as very stupid, improbably clever, the possessor of mystical secrets. The dervishes use him as a figure to illustrate, in their teachings, the antics characteristic of the human mind….

The Sufis, who believe that deep intuition is the only real guide to knowledge, use these stories almost like exercises. They ask people to choose a few which especially appeal to them, and to turn them over in the mind, making them their own. Teaching masters of the dervishes say that in this way a breakthrough into a higher wisdom can be effected.

But the Sufis concur with those who are not following a mystic way, that everyone can do with the Nasrudin tales what people have done through the centuries – enjoy them.

Idries Shah, The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin

It is impossible to hear these stories without thinking about Marx Brothers movies, and particularly about Duck Soup (1933). That movie is about the nation of Freedonia, which hires the world’s biggest idiot, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), to be its leader. He brings along a crew of other idiots, Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx), to help him ruin the country.

Chicolini: Now I aska you one. What has a trunk, but no key, weighs 2,000 pounds and lives in a circus?
Prosecutor: That’s irrelevant.
Chicolini: Irrelephant? Hey, that’sa that answer. There’s a whole lot of irrelephants in the circus.

* * *

Rufus T. Firefly: Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot. But don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.