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Buddhism in the News


Monday, January 28, 2008

Barack Obama: An Inspiration to the World.

Don't worry, even though this post is about U.S. Senator Barack Obama, who is running for president here in America, and despite the fact that I am supporting him and plan on voting for him in the primary, I am going to try hard to not talk too much politics. I try to limit political talk here on this blog, I have another one for that stuff.

I want to instead talk about Barack Obama the person. There is no debate that Mr. Obama is a brilliant, gifted man and he could have taken any number of jobs in the private sector making a lot of money. However, Barack felt his talents were needed elsewhere and that he felt a calling to help others. So instead of taking a lucrative position at a prestigious law firm he went to work with the people in the poverty stricken, violent neighborhoods of Chicago. This wasn't always easy for him as many didn't show up to his meetings intended to motivate community leaders such as church pastors. But Obama kept at it.

He has a deep, ingrained gift of listening to people, truly listening and realizing that their suffering was his suffering. In many cases, people who are struggling just want to be heard by someone. They want to feel like someone understands their situation and has faith that they aren't stupid, lazy or worthless because they are poor, sick or homeless. Obama has a way of uplifting people and leading them to a place where they can believe in themselves again. He gave these people hope that better times were possible and that united with others, they could improve their lives and regain their dignity once more. His compassion is on full display, he couldn't hide it even if he wanted to. The very fact that he went to work for those who often have to voice to seek assistance shows that this man has a deep reservoir of compassion and loving kindness. His smile glows that kindness and when his eyes smile you can see his love for others. This is a talent that he still has today, when I hear him speak I feel inspired, uplifted, filled with hope, compassion and yes sometimes tears of joy from feeling understood. He is the first politician that upon hearing them speak, I felt chills of inspiration throughout my body.

Working in those neighborhoods stricken with just about every problem imaginable, Obama was able to bring people of all races, ethic backgrounds and religions together to work as a united unit of people to bring the change that they all so desperately wanted and needed. He understand what we call in Buddhism, oneness, inter-being or interconnectivity. He knew that society is only as strong as the "weakest" link in the chain. He knew that he couldn't feel content knowing that others were suffering and realized that his happiness and that of others is intermixed with the lives of others. He is a rare person that is able to channel many people's hopes and dreams for a better community, a better country and a better world.

To hear him speak is to be inspired to be a better person and a better member of society. He speaks with convincing sincerity that change is not only possible but inevitable just like the Dharma teaches us. He understands that we all too often fear change and only see the bad side of change but he has a way of uplifting people to see the greatness in change, to see the great possibilities in change. His infectious, positive energy beams brightly like a lighthouse in a world so depressed, cynical, tired and lost in the darkness of fear and delusion. It is hard not to feel uplifted by his unflinching optimism and faith in humanity. He has convinced me to believe again that our greatest days as a society are still ahead of us. He is not only inspiring but stands firm as a rock in the face of negativity, criticism and fear. His confidence is admirable as he isn't arrogant about it. Instead, understands how to channel it into the lives of others to assist them in finding their own confidence and greatness that is already there but hidden under layers of fear, self-doubts and pain.

Standing for equality for all people is in his DNA. He is the product of a mixed marriage, his mother white and his father black. He understands the ignorance and fear that motivates people to want to divide society into separate groups. He spent several years during his youth living in the diverse country of Indonesia where he gained further insight into how different yet similar the world can be. He spent time in Kenya with his grandmother and came to know and take pride in his African roots. He may not be a Buddhist be he understands and lives many of the Buddha's teachings, one major one being understanding that all sentient beings are equal and have worth.

Like the Buddha, Barack Obama learned in his early adult years as a community organizer that poverty is the root of much suffering in the world. He saw how poverty seeps into people's lives like a poison that drives people into a life of crime and overall suffering. He understands that to bring people out of poverty is to improve society as a whole. He is known as a uniter, he is quite gifted at being able to bring about compromises that work for all sides involved.

Unlike many politicians he has faith in ordinary citizens and sees them as equals and the foundation of his movement, unlike many others who see ordinary citizens as worthless and tokens to amass to gain money and power. He knows that he wouldn't be where he is in life without countless others. He doesn't forget his roots and where he came from and I think that helps him remain humble and grounded in reality. This is practicing the Dharma teaching of no-self or selflessness where despite having great confidence in himself and seeking power in the government he realizes that his power is nothing without using it to vastly improve the lives of others. He understands that his mission in life isn't just about him but rather about us, everyone. I can see in his eyes and hear in his words and know in his actions that he doesn't think he is above or below anyone else.

In dedicating his life to serving others he is a great example of Right Livelihood. He could have been a very successful, wealthy lawyer and helped many people but his sights were set higher knowing that serving in public office he could help even more beings. That kind of self-sacrifice is rare and very admirable.

He tries to adhere to Right Speech when he speaks because he uses his words to uplift rather than destroy, to heal instead of hurt. True like all of us he sometimes doesn't say the right thing but overall I believe he understands the power of words and weaves them in a way that is helpful and not hurtful.

Barack is a man of peace and you can see that in his eyes and loving smile. When many others were for the Iraq war, he stood on the side of peace. He understands deeply that peace must be
a key aspect to a thriving and loving society. I can feel that this peace stems from a vast pool of peace within his essence, that he is at peace with himself and therefore able to help others feel at peace as well.

Barack Obama may not be a Buddhist (he's Christian and of course Christians share these same values) but he lives many of the teachings of the Dharma and I think that is a big reason why he is the inspirational figure that he is today.

~Peace to all beings~

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tinythinker said...

Many Christians think Buddhists live some of the important elements of Christ's message as well. I don't think is necessary (nor am I implying that you are attempting) to suggest that someone is a Buddhist because of their attributes or what they have done, any more than it is necessary to suggest they are Christian. It makes it sound like one tradition somehow has the market on a particular virtue. I think that what you describe about Obama's life and character is typical of Christianity (and is its exemplar, patterned after Christ himself), it is just not typical of the image Christianity has acquired.

They call him James Ure said...

Thanks for that reminder. I didn't mean to imply that Buddhism is the only religion that has good qualities mentioned in the post.

It was just my attempt at showing how the Dharma can be seen in Obama.

Perhaps I'll change the title.

They call him James Ure said...

I changed some of the wording in the post as well to better define that Buddhism isn't the only religion to put forth the ideals mentioned.

tinythinker said...

Sorry, I wasn't trying to get you to change your title!

I agree that we can often see people, regardless of their religious affiliation, expressing the Dharma. And as I said in my last comment, I knew you weren't trying to be dismissive of other religions. I should clarify that when I wrote "It makes it sound like...", I was referring to the very attitude I had just said I wasn't attributing to you. But since it wasn't clear, I can see where it sounds like I was discussing your title (and by association your views) instead.

In any case, whatever you call this post, I think it is great that you mention seeing the fruits of the principles of the Dharma at work in others in spite of the fact that they may profess a different faith. If the principles are true, they *should* be universal.

In fact, just the other day I was writing about how the life and understanding of an nonreligious friend of mind is also similar to some themes common to Buddhism, Christianity, etc. I wasn't trying to imply he was a "closet Buddhist", any more than you were implying that for Obama, but I do think he illustrated how there are important experiences of the truth of Reality that we can all share, whatever label we use.

They call him James Ure said...

Tiny Thinker:

I didn't get the feeling that you were criticizing but just pointing out an issue. In motivated me to re-read my post and decided to make a few changes to clarify any misconceptions that others might have. Not to worry. :)

BigHappyBuddha said...

People in America are starving for inspiration, thanks alot for your writings.

Sujatin said...

A lovely post - thank you - you've expressed much of what I've been feeling. A bodhisattva is a bodhisattva and an inspiration is an inspiration, whatever we label them. When we see and hear those qualities our hearts are lifted. I hope enough people see and respond as we do. Wishing I could vote!

They call him James Ure said...

Big Happy Buddha:

Indeed, we are. It is time for a transformation and I think Obama was built for this moment.


Great comment. Yes I couldn't agree more that we all embody qualities of a Bodhisattva.

Infinite said...

Obama was influenced by Buddhism when he was younger so perhaps Buddhist teachings helped his sense of unity. Keep in mind that Christianity, vs the organized religious version of Chrisianity, is very much about unity (Treat your neighbor like you would treat yourself, you are the same as your neighbor) so this could be his inspiration.

In any case we can all agree that Obama has within him a higher purpose. To me he transcends all organized religions and taps into what religious people call God, what atheists call altruism, what Buddhists call nirvana. Like others who have this higher purpose, many religions will try to claim him, and they're probably all right. We can just see a light coming from within him, I'm not so concerned about how we label it.

Anonymous said...

Just made up another word: BodhisattvObama

Dishonestees Inc. said...

The picture included in this blog really captures the calm, confident, balanced, and happy manor of Barack Obama. He has qualities of a buddha/buddhist.

I own a t-shirt company in New York and my partners and I produced a tee of Obama as a buddha.

"Buddha Obama" It was our best seller along with our "Om Bama" tee.

Tarek Pertew, my brother created the image after having a dream of walking with Hillary Clinton at the white house. She asked him who he was voting for and he replied "My man Barack Obama." "Hillary check out my shirt!" In his dream he looked down and that was the image he saw.

I know Obama will substantially improve the position our country is in and us at Dishonestees Inc. support him on this daunting task.

nash said...

Dear James,

I am a Thai columnist that just published a cover story on "The Mindful Candidate." I followed a link to your site and like what you wrote.

As a Buddhist living in a Buddhist country, I am thrilled to read such an insightful piece!

If you care to compare notes, please feel free to drop by here

In it, I also observed that I could see Buddhist values in Obama, most notably mindfulness. You and I know that it is the mindfulness practice that leads to all those other values!

The original piece on Bangkok Post web site is still there but will expire in 7 days (after which they will charge!)

After it was published, I got many responses from readers, both local and international. Most agree and thank me. Some has similar concerns with your readers.

I'm not worried, though, because the intention of our publication is to raise awareness among Thai people of mindfulness and how mindfulness can breed transformational leader. It is not to say that What Obama has are only Buddhist values and not any others.

If you have time, I would love to hear your valuable comments as well as I am just a new writer trying to improve myself to serve the reading public.

With Metta,

Nash Siamwalla
Bangkok, Thailand

Rajamanickam Antonimuthu said...

Yes, Barack Obama is Insipiration for everyone. This video proves this fact.

Rajamanickam Antonimuthu said...

Yes, Obama is true inspiration for everyone. This video proves this fact.

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