How could anyone NOT admire our magnificent President, Barack Obama, as he faced down those ignorant Republican hacks in Baltimore last week?
The most striking feature of the President’s performance, beyond his clarity of purpose, intellectual stamina and firm grasp of the issues, was his perfect calm under pressure. There’s a reason they call him “O-calma.”
The Republicans hurled their snide partisan attacks, distorting the facts in their own inimitable way.
Obama stood at the podium, holding his ground, even smiling, and reached out in friendship and cooperation. His face expressed perfect equanimity. When a brief lull came in the Republican attack machine, he explained why it wasn’t about politics – it was about action.
He was masterful. It reminded me of the Buddha.
I’m serious. Here’s why.
When Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, renounced wealth and privilege and left his father’s palace to wander as a monk, one of the first disciplines he sought in his path to enlightenment was meditation.
Following the meditation practices of his time, the Buddha embraced three refusals.
First, the refusal to move. He learned to sit perfectly still.
Second, the refusal to breathe. He mastered slowing his breaths until they were barely detectable.
Third, the refusal to think. He cleared his mind of all extraneous distraction so he could sit in perfect peace.
These refusals were designed to promote calm – to permit an inner space to exist, where he could be strong within himself.
Like a mighty tree – the wind blows, the storms howl, the seasons change. But you are stillness, firmly rooted in the earth.
A self-barrier, an invisible boundary, protects you from attack, granting you the space to contemplate all paths and decide on your direction ahead.
Young children have no self barrier – they spill their emotion in all directions and confuse other’s emotions with their own. But an adult can learn to contain his feelings, and to insulate himself from the attacks of others. He can find a place of serenity within.
I have no doubt that Obama felt anger at the Republicans’ hypocrisy. Perhaps he also felt fearful of the immense challenges ahead in his administration.
But, like the Buddha, his self-barrier remained intact. Within, he located a place of calm. The clamor and tumult outside only strengthened his resolve to walk the Middle Path – the path of moderation.
There is a useful lesson in the President’s grace and his dignity.
Let’s save the planet from environmental dangers.
Let’s treat immigrants with the respect and gratitude they deserve.
Let’s provide every American with decent healthcare.
Let’s give LGBT people equality, which is all they ask.
Let’s work to establish understanding, and peace among nations.
This isn’t politics – it is an expression of our best selves as humankind.
We can follow the path of the Buddha, and remain strong within ourselves. We can refuse to be drawn into fear or anger.
In so doing, we can make the world a better place.