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Lama Looks at Life Beyond politics

By Samuel Harwood

417456e5e364f8613764305e672c88e5Close to 50 people gathered at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica on July 11 to hear from Lama Jampa Thaye on “Why Politics Doesn’t Matter.”
Founder of the Dechen Foundation, Lama Jampa Thaye is the first westerner to be granted the title of Lama and he offered thoughts from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition on politics.
Lama Jampa acknowledged from the outset that this was an unusual subject for him or any Lama to speak on, given the basic incompatibility between spiritual and political missions, as well as the patchy history of both religious governments and religions that become politicized. But the aim of the talk was not to give specific political recommendations, but rather to apply the central Buddhist practice of examining one’s assumptions about the world to the political world, he said.
“It was a different subject for an authentic Lama to tackle,” added event coordinator Joe Rug-giero.
The event was divided into three “meditations” with the first asking why politics lets us down.
The answer is not individual politicians, the Lama said, adding that we ask too much of them, given the common humanity we all share. Instead, it is the promise of politics itself he proffered – that human suffering can end through the correct social arrangements and that history flows in a linear fashion leading to a promised land.
“From the Buddhist perspective, this is a fairy tale,” the Lama said. “History is cyclical.” It is crucial to understand that political change, while not undesirable, is always temporary, he ex-plained.
The second meditation asked the audience to search for where they have been influenced by “the delusion of selfhood,” the notion that humans are separate individuals who can be happy if the world shifts to individual wishes. Politics feed this delusion, the Lama suggested, because it asks us to create an “us” and a “them,” rather than look at human beings as a whole.
The third meditation looked at engaging with the world while working internally. The Lama of-fered that the “castle of self…the bubble of pomposity” steadily dissolves with compassion, the act of forgetting about ourselves through attention to others. He added that this can be done with “modesty.”
Despite the talk’s title, the Lama did not argue that politics are irrelevant, but rather that we can get past the suffering it causes us and still effect positive collective change if we act with com-passion to root out our selfishness.
Before ending with a brief silent meditation and an at-times emotional Q&A session, the Lama told a story of a wealthy couple he knew who identified as revolutionary socialists, but never tipped at restaurants because they wanted the waiters to become discontented with their wages and rise up. This was not an indictment of revolutionary socialists, he explained, but a way of demonstrating that political priorities do not absolve us from individual action.
He suggested that this is a notion that everyone can stand behind, no matter of the ideological background.

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