Bankei, the seventeenth century Zen master, had this to say: “Don’t side with yourself.” By this he meant don’t give your own wants and desires such importance; don’t reinforce your own sense of being a separate, unchanging self; don’t be selfish; don’t take sides. The Buddhist universe doesn’t have sides or edges. It doesn’t have an inside or an outside. The universe doesn’t take sides. It doesn’t side with the east wind; it doesn’t side with the west wind. It doesn’t prefer sunny days to thunderstorms. Everything is just as it is.
Zen Master Dogen once wrote about an eternal mirror of the Buddhas that had “no blurs or flaws within or without.” Dogen went on to say, “The mirror is unclouded inside and out; this neither describes an inside that depends on an outside, nor an outside blurred by an inside. There being no face or back, two individuals are able to see the same. Everything that appears around us is one, and is the same inside and out. It is not ourself, nor other than self, but is naturally one and the same. Our self is the same as other than self; other than self is the same as our self. Such is the meeting of two human beings.” This is our Buddhist practice.
What does it mean to be socially and politically involved if one doesn’t have a side? Politics demands to know “which side are you on?” The Abrahamic religions believe in dichotomies: good against evil, God against Satan. Our Western culture reflects this everywhere. We find ourselves in the midst of multiple wars both here and abroad, whether the war against terrorism, or the culture wars between fundamentalists and secularists, conservatives and progressives.
And yet, the universe does not have sides. Buddhists do not see the world as a conflict of absolutes. We see that everyone has his or her own limited interests, points of view, and desires and that these clash with each other. We see history as great waves of historical forces crashing into each other and creating cataclysms that resolve over time in the same way that air currents crash into each other and create weather. The universe does not favor the east wind or the west wind. The universe does not favor calm weather or hurricanes. At the highest level of understanding everything just happens and just is.
Our Buddhist practice is one of cultivating compassion and wisdom and alleviating suffering wherever we encounter it. This leads us to make certain choices in the way we vote, donate money, and communicate within the political community. Is it possible to support a course of action without demonizing, demeaning, or ridiculing those who support another course? Is it possible to view those who disagree with us with respect, caring, and loving-kindness? Is it possible to do this even when we think someone’s views reflect their greed, hatred, or delusion? This is Buddhist practice.