By Shyamal Sinha
American Buddhist teachers and practitioners are voicing objections to US President Donald Trump’s executive order to suspend refugee admissions for 120 days from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. While a portion of the mainstream American media and some critics of Trump have characterized the executive order as a “Muslim travel ban,” theocratic Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia are not included on the list.
On 30 January, Lion’s Roar published a range of Buddhist responses to the executive order, mostly from the Facebook-listed activities of Buddhist teachers and groups. In a Facebook status update on 2 February, the progressive Buddhist activist network Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF) stated that four of its members went to San Francisco International Airport to join a larger group protesting the ban. The airport authorities had detained 50 travelers at the time. According to the BPF, the four Buddhists sat in quiet solidarity “in the midst of the passionate mass action.”
The fellowship also noted that, “Police threatened us with bodily harm; please be very careful in attempting nonviolent direct actions. Often they are more complex than they seem, and preparation is ideal. If possible, prepare legal support; know the legal risks involved and your own personal risk level; and form pre-existing relationships and agreements with action teammates before entering a nonviolent situation that risks police retaliation.”
African-American Soto Zen priest Zenju Earthlyn Marselean Pierre-Manuel, who is ordained in the tradition of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, wrote on Facebook that embracing views and platforms that harm others is not the path of harmony, loving-kindness, or openness. “I have heard some Buddhists [sic] teachers speak during this time in our country suggesting that we not choose sides, but embrace all points of views [sic] regardless of the thinking, as if we are witnessing a political debate or watching a football game. If ANY thinking leads to detrimental action to groups of people then that is NOT what the Buddha taught,” she emphasized. (Lion’s Roar)
“This is not the time to test your personal capacity for equanimity or excuse oneself because you are about unity. This is a time to walk through the door of fear and at the very least speak out for those who have been rendered silent and indispensable, for this would be the greatest expression of love. If not, then how can we wear the great robe of liberation? In the name of my Muslim relatives and immigrants in my own personal family and in the world, I stand upright with you.” (Lion’s Roar)
Hondo Dave Rutschman, a Soto Zen priest also of the Shunryu Suzuki Roshi lineage, commented that he saw hundreds of people waving signs of support, chanting, and singing on the sidewalks near his local Islamic center in Alameda, California. “Thank you, thank you, thank you to those of you out there today!” he wrote. (Lion’s Roar)
Buddhist teacher Norman Fischer observed in a Facebook post that the US immigration service already has a program of “extreme vetting” for refugees from the Middle East. He argued that the Trump administration’s narrative that vetting was lax was incorrect and harmful. Fischer noted that the devastated refugees from the Middle East needed the US to play the role of a safe haven in a similar manner to how America accepted his own relatives when they fled Europe in the 1930s. (Lion’s Roar)
The Trump administration’s abrupt temporary ban on travelers to and from affected countries has led to chaos at some American airports, and a diplomatic and domestic backlash. Supporters argue that the ban is necessary to prevent terrorists from entering the US. However, there seems to be a consensus among many American Buddhists that the overall direction of the Trump administration is not a good one. The renowned writer and teacher Joan Halifax of Upaya Zen Center had unusually strong words for the new president, perhaps among the most forceful of all the Buddhists in American public life:
Apple now has Rhapsody as an app, which is a great start, but it is currently hampered by the inability to store locally on your iPod, and has a dismal 64kbps bit rate. If this changes, then it will somewhat negate this advantage for the Zune, but the 10 songs per month will still be a big plus in Zune Pa8ss#&217; favor.
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