This Buddhist monk explains what’s crazy about the world and what to do about it

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“We’re in a divided and volatile time….something’s happening in our time and it’s not just coming off the screens, but it’s really touching the heart and soul of people and it’s asking something of us.”

This is how Jack Kornfield opened his touching talk at the recently held Wisdom 2.0 Conference. Trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India and Burma and credited with being one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West, Kornfield draws on ancient wisdom to bring comfort and guidance in a time of political and social uncertainty.

He defines politics as “ritualized warfare.” Paraphrasing early 20th century commentator H.L. Mencken, he said the point of politics is to “put the populace in a state of alarm and keep them fearful so that they will vote for safety.”

Kornfield referred to the Bosnian crisis, where the radio was used to spread hate speech about what was done to you and your group hundreds of years ago and we have to get them back.

“We have to stop the war. And the place where the battle stops is in ourselves, every day.”

First, put a proper perspective on the news

Kornfield suggests we turn off the news for the most part. “Get enough, but you don’t need a lot – you know the plot.”

Rather, sit down quietly with your own thoughts in the serenity of nature.

“Hike. Swim. Step outside. See the vastness of the sky and the mystery of life. It’s just a much bigger scene going on here than what you think. See the trees and feel their resilience and rootedness and take their equanimity and balance into your body.

“Let yourself become the temple of wisdom you would want for the world.”

This is really the question, says Kornfield. The question isn’t the future of politics or even the future of humanity; it’s the presence of eternity.

Can you stop and tune into something that connects with your soul and your heart that is so much bigger. That’s what Gandhi did – one day a week he would spend in silence. While bringing down the British Empire, with hundreds of thousands of people marching the streets, Gandhi excused himself on Thursdays.

To do what?

To sit and listen to what is the deepest, the truest thing that you are and what you most value and care about. When you do that, the ancient and eternal laws become apparent to you.

You will discover within yourself that when individuals or societies are based on greed, hatred and ignorance those forces create suffering. When individuals and societies are based on love, generosity, respect, wisdom and compassion, they bring happiness to all who are part of it.

And a society that offers dignity and honors all members, takes care of those who are vulnerable… such a society will prosper and not decline.

So what to do? You have to turn toward the difficulties we face today, but do not get immersed in them and get traumatized again, but look at them clearly.

“You turn to the difficulty and you see that the election or whatever is really a symptom. Like in family therapy they identify the patient. But it’s really a symptom of the family. And you begin to name the suffering that you see shared. It’s a shared suffering.

“You have to be willing to open your heart and hold the sorrows not just of you but of everybody. Because everybody who vote and everybody who didn’t vote, carry their measure of tears.”

A call to action

Whatever your inner practices, he says, now is the time to use it. To quiet yourself, to listen to what your deepest values are. Trust that what you find within yourself is also what the world needs, then join with others to do what matters to you at the deepest level.

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