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The Most Important Election of Our Lifetime?

Five spiritual teachers tell us why

Question: The United States is currently the single most powerful nation on earth, and yet it exists within an increasingly interconnected, conflicted, and complex global community. In that light, many are convincingly arguing that the upcoming presidential election will be the most important in our lifetime. Do you agree? And if so, why?

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Never before has an election in the United States had so much global significance. Our planet is currently sick, and everywhere there are outbreaks of inflammation. So it is necessary for the people who will govern this country—and by extension, much of the rest of the world—to be in touch with the pulse of life on this earth and understand that all the cosmologies we are currently using are not benefiting the healing of the world.

Why is it that people like President Bush, who pledge allegiance to the teachings of the master from Nazareth, ignore the teachings of lovingkindness, of feeding the hungry, of taking care of the sick? If he were to follow those teachings in relationship to health, education, and welfare and follow the tenet that “blessed are the peacemakers” rather than produce the greatest number of weapons of mass destruction on earth, I would believe his religious commitment.

And to us, as citizens of the United States, I would say that anyone who meditates or prays and places him- or herself in the presence of God the Creator must be able to feel the compassion that God has for every species and for all the creatures. Someone who simply takes doctrinal clues, rather than those that arise from compassion, will not know what to do in the voting booth.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has been at the forefront of pioneering Jewish spiritual renewal. He is an author, a faculty emeritus at Naropa University, and the founder of the Spiritual Eldering Institute.

Jan Chozen Bays Roshi

First of all, I don’t know if this is the most important election in our lifetime, because I don’t know the long-term implications of everything that I do. If we had the awareness of the Buddha, we would have an awareness that extends into the future, and a clarity about cause and effect, that would help us make decisions about what to do or not to do. Because every action sets in motion a chain of karma that reverberates essentially forever unless something is done to counteract or change it.

When people say to me, “This is the worst time in the history of the world,” I just don’t believe it. Our existence is so short, it’s like a dust mote in the eye of God. So to say that the time in which my dust mote existed was the most important time in history, and that the things that I did were earth-shaking, is a self-centered view. At the same time, in Buddhism we believe that each person’s enlightenment frees all the other people they interact with, and we shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to do good. What one person does really matters. And with our limited wisdom and our limited capacity to know about the past and the future, we can still act and do what we think will produce the most wholesome outcome for the largest number of beings—and that includes voting.

Jan Chozen Bays Roshi received dharma transmission (authority to teach) from Maezumi Roshi in 1983. She is the abbess of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon.

Sheikh Tosun Bayrak

When I came to this country from Turkey in 1945 with the returning GIs, America was revered, loved. Its culture was admired; its people were admired. Those GIs who were returning from the war—they were angels. And while there have been some disasters in the meantime, I think Mr. Bush is the biggest disaster to have happened to the United States. And unfortunately it has fallen in the wrong moment, because there is no balance of power. President Bush’s management of the country has been terrible, because a human being is made of two things. One is the body, and one is the soul. In terms of the body: people are hungry, people are jobless, the economy is in a disastrous state. And in terms of the soul: what is most unfortunate is that he claims to be a religious man, but his actions are just the opposite of a religious person. Spiritually speaking, he is obnoxious, and that affects people. Because they think, “Well, if one can be religious like Mr. Bush, then I’m religious, too.”

But I’m hopeful, because Muslims believe that the first thing God created was intelligence. The ancient Greeks also believed this, and what they called “Logos” we call “Nur Muhammademan,” which is the light, which is the causal intelligence. And from that, everything else was created. So this intelligence cannot be erased just because Mr. Bush doesn’t have it. It cannot be totally eliminated. So I count on that.

Sheikh Tosun Bayrak is the imam of the first mosque in Rockland County, New York, and the Jerrahi Order of America, which has provided humanitarian aid in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Yugoslavia.

Father Basil Pennington

It’s a tragic thing that what is, by God’s mercy, one of the greatest nations on earth isn’t able to call forth great leadership. The language we’ve been hearing from the present leadership of our country is frightening because it is taking on a kind of crusade terminology. Jesus sent his disciples forth to teach all nations, but he never said anything about conquering. And yet, fundamentalism seems to be growing, and it is playing into the political scene in the United States perhaps more strongly than ever before.

So there’s a great need for sanity at a higher level to move this nation forward, using the tremendous assets that God has given us for the well-being of the whole human race. And this needs to happen within the evolutionary thrust that began from the moment when the divine energies poured forth into creation and will continue until the consummation which, as Teilhard de Chardin said, lies God knows how far ahead. We Christians pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Our whole aspiration is to bring this to its fullness, so there isn’t any dichotomy between living fully in the redemptive, saving power of Jesus Christ and living in the creative power that’s in the whole of creation. It’s a global world now, a global society, so moving that forward is my duty as a devout Catholic. There’s no separation there. Political action, social action, and economic action are all part of the spiritual life. It’s all engaged. As Saint Irenaeus said so beautifully, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive,” and that means all dimensions of our being.

Father M. Basil Pennington, OCSO, is a Cistercian monk whose worldwide ministry focuses on bringing contemplative practices into the lives of spiritual seekers. He is the abbot of St. Joseph’s Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts.

David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri)

In the Vedic view, a country, like a person, must follow some higher dharma, or it will suffer long-term negative karmic consequences. The more power or position that a person or country has, the greater such consequences are likely to be.

The United States has gained the important role of the world’s sole superpower. Yet rather than using its position to help deal with the dire human and environmental problems that threaten the planet today, it has acted instead out of a narrow, nationalist self-interest that only makes these problems worse.

The coming election is of great importance because it provides an opportunity to change this irresponsible course of action. It will be a referendum that could very well determine whether America’s role as the world’s leader will be a positive (dharmic) or a negative (adharmic) force for the planet, or whether that role will even be able to continue. While there may not be an ideal choice for the voter, there is a clear distinction relative to the direction the country is likely to go in.

As the situation in America affects the entire world and the spiritual destiny of the planet, it is important that everyone take some action, inwardly or outwardly, to help counter this national crisis in consciousness and values.

David Frawley is a teacher and writer of Vedic knowledge. He is currently the director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico (


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