Friday night vandals defaced the Adam Yauch public park in Brooklyn by spray painting swastikas on playground equipment. Adam Yauch was a member of the Beastie Boys, and after he died from cancer in 2012, this park was created in honor of him. Yauch was born Jewish but also practiced Buddhism, and his song “Bodhisattva Vow” is an expression of how Yauch practiced with his own thoughts and how that practice guided his actions.
The vow mentioned in the lyrics is about examining yourself before you speak and act, about practicing awareness of what’s going on with yourself so that your words and actions do not harm others. I took similar vows in 2011 and live by them every day, imperfectly, but they are always a kind of compass for me. This practice really comes through for me in tough times, and the recent election is no exception.
Buddhism teaches that all living things are interconnected, meaning “that nothing exists in isolation, independent of other life.” In my practice it has been really difficult for me to grasp this concept. It has made a kind of sense, logically, but I always had a hard time seeing it. This notion of interconnectedness became more clear to me, however, when after the election I was filled with grief and despair that someone so intolerant and egomaniacal was elected president.
I attempted to write something here about what the results showed us, about the man who is about to become our president, and how we may feel called upon to “do something”. But the message felt inadequate and did nothing to alleviate the swelling grief. The words just felt like a crappy band aid for an aching wound.
When I read about the graffiti in Adam Yauch Park that profound sadness swelled. It hurt that two things of such magnificent beauty – an artist who contributed so much to this world and the public park dedicated to him – were harmed.
When Trump talks about banning Muslims, deporting illegal immigrants, or being disrespectful towards women, some people say, “He doesn’t mean it.” Perhaps. But what kind of message does it send when the president-elect normalizes this kind of speech? What kind of consequences result from that? What kind of harm does that do to the very people he was elected to represent? The graffiti included messages of “Go Trump”, associating the swastikas with our president-elect. Writing it off as “he doesn’t mean it” is denial.
I was in denial, too. As I made coffee Saturday morning, aching over the graffiti in Adam Yauch Park, I thought, “This isn’t who we are.” But this is who we are. The perpetrators are no less a part of this country than I am. By telling myself, “This is not who we are”, I was denying that those individuals are members of a greater community; that they carried their own pain and anger; and that they felt these actions were a solution to their suffering. By telling myself, “This isn’t who we are”, I was not being honest with myself about the existence of that suffering.
We all have our fearful “other”, someone who doesn’t look or act or live the way we do or believe in the things we do. This thinking does us harm. We cannot think that way anymore.
When someone spray paints a swastika in a public park, it hurts other people. When we deny the pain and anger that drives that person to commit harmful acts, the cycle of suffering perpetuates.
We are all in this shitshow together. More blame, more anger, and more fear is not going to heal us. For things to be different, more compassion is needed. Compassion doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it does create space for seeing and hearing the suffering of others.
As much as I want to, I cannot separate myself from the people who voted for Trump, from the people who didn’t vote at all, from the individual(s) who spray painted those swastikas, and from the people who want to ban Muslims or deport illegal immigrants. Their suffering is my suffering.
Even though compassion may feel impossible right now, its something Yauch practiced as part of the Bodhisattva Vow. I have no doubt that there were days when he struggled to practice with it, as I did on November 9th. Just because he wrote a song about it doesn’t mean that the vow didn’t come with its set of challenges. But practicing that vow brought him closer to living in the kind of world that he wanted to live in, the kind of world where he could be the very best person he could be, practice his art, make his music, and be a positive role model for his local community. It brought him closer to the kind of world where communities honor great artists with public parks.