I have a special connection with the United Kingdom —it's a country I love very much. It’s a place where I’ve spent so much of my time and grown over the years. Many of my oldest and closest friends are British, and much of my education was influenced by the British model. So if there is one place in the West that I associate myself with most of all, it is Great Britain, which is why I am genuinely concerned by challenges the country is facing right now.
Many of us are still reeling after the UK’s recent decision to leave the European Union. Apprehension and uncertainty have been felt all over the world in the wake of the referendum, and many of my British friends and students living in the UK and Europe have expressed deep concern and anxiety about their future. Although much is changing every day, it is clear there will be momentous implications for the UK, Europe, USA and the wider world, some of which may be extremely challenging. Wherever we stand on Britain and Europe, I feel it is crucial to reflect now on what we can learn from this moment, and to see how we can find strength, inspiration, unity and hope in the face of fear, divisiveness and adversity. There is a wonderful slogan in the teachings of lojong—transforming the mind through compassion. It says: “When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps into the path of awakening, or goodness.”
More than anything else, the Brexit vote, I feel, is a huge wake-up call, alerting us to a number of urgent realities. For one thing, it shows us that in this unpredictable, changing world, we need a new, progressive vision for social change and justice. It has to be one where the needs of all the people, those real issues and hardships they face, are recognized and respected. Only then can they be confident that the country’s leaders are actually listening to them and actively finding solutions, rather than appearing distant and uncaring. Otherwise, if people feel ignored and excluded, inevitably they will react and vent their frustration, blaming whoever they can for their troubles. What has also become clear is that this whole vision must embrace the views and aspirations of the younger generation, whose future depends on today’s leadership, and whose ideas and energy and participation must be mobilized in creating the path ahead. So let’s imagine that this moment can be used as a real opportunity to build a system that works for the people of the UK, and even restores their faith in the political process itself.
The fact that the impact of the referendum was felt with such immediacy all over the globe demonstrates just how connected we all are—how the wishes, desires and actions of any one group of people have an effect on everyone else. In this globalized age, our resources, and our social, political and economic interests are so tightly bound to those of others. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says, if we reflect deeply on our interconnectedness, it can only inspire in us a strong sense of universal responsibility. We’ll see clearly that our own happiness and suffering, whether as individuals, groups or countries, is directly linked to the happiness and suffering of others. We’ll see that ‘no man is an island’ and that, far from being independent, we depend upon each other and we need one another.
While the result of the referendum is clear, its ultimate impact is yet to be revealed. With so many consequences, and so many decisions to be made, anything can happen. This is a time of great uncertainty, but also perhaps of opportunity, and longed-for change at many levels. “Transform all mishaps into the path of awakening or goodness,” says the lojong teaching. It’s up to us. In their joint statement, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York explained: “As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers.” Although the outcome may not have been what many people wanted or expected, and some people felt justified and others felt cheated, what’s really important now is that disappointment does not give way to hostility and recrimination, and differences does not lead to intolerance. We need to resist the temptation to stigmatize people, and indulge in bad faith and lack of kindness. This is a time for us to be generous and tolerant, to try consciously to promote harmony and community, and to build bridges between people of different opinions and of different generations. A time to rebuild trust and prioritize courage, intelligence and conscience in finding our way forward.
Many claims and counter-claims were made during the referendum campaign and a lot of them were thought to be quite questionable. This seems to emphasize how important it is that, with all the information available to us today, we have the correct information and have made a point of actively educating and informing ourselves as much as possible about the real facts. Otherwise there will be risks, as Dr Martin Luther King Jr is supposed to have said: “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Yet I find it encouraging that amidst the chaos of the past few days, people in the UK seem to be talking to one another, and seeking to find out more about the issues that are of such importance for their future. Another thing that Martin Luther King apparently said was: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” How wonderful it will be if, like the lojong teaching said, people in the UK use this opportunity, very simply to come together, in a new kind of union, to stand up for one another, to talk about the things that matter, to try to understand each other more deeply, and to work towards genuine change and progress.
There are yet more incredibly moving words attributed to Martin Luther King. He said: “Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'what are you doing for others?" If, in a time of crisis like this, we hold the needs of others as close to our heart as our own needs, then whatever decisions or actions we take will naturally be guided by wisdom, and will in turn be a source of tremendous benefit. This is how we can “transform all mishaps into the path of awakening…” And so I hope and I pray that through the wisdom, compassion and action of so many good-hearted people, this challenging situation can be transformed into a force for good—something to inspire positive change in the UK and the world, and remind us all of the importance of treating everyone with more caring compassion and warm-heartedness.
Above all, this is a time when we must be optimistic, and never surrender to despair. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said recently: “While it would be easy to feel a sense of hopelessness and despair, it is all the more necessary in the early years of the 21st century to be realistic and optimistic,” and I feel that these words really apply now in the UK. Finally, I think we should all pray for the leaders and the people of the UK in particular so that, whatever happens, damage to the economy and people’s lives is minimized, and those qualities and values of the UK that we all admire and love truly flourish. May the UK continue to play its part in the world, and in creating a peaceful, open, compassionate, prosperous, inclusive and outward-looking society for future generations.
I'm an Acharya (a senior teacher) with the Order of Amida Buddha, which is a Pureland Buddhist Order. I'm a minister, teach on-line and hold Pureland Buddhist sangha gatherings in Perth, Scotland. I mainly write about Buddhist matters and share the teachings of the Head of our Order, Dharmavidya David Brazier