As Americans head to the polls and ballots are counted for the presidential election—as well as other national and state-level contests—on Tuesday, many Buddhist teachers and communities are offering in-person and virtual meditations. While nearly all events will be hosted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a few in-person events are planned in outdoor spaces.
While most of the world has had to deal with the stresses of COVID-19, problems in the US were compounded over the summer as Black Lives Matter protests sprang up across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd in late May. As commentators have also noted, this year’s presidential election has been marred by partisan divisions not seen in recent history.
The result for many people in America has been anger, fear, and anxiety. Buddhist offerings of meditation and community have been offered in response to the stress of the election and to particular problems in America at this time.
Roshi James Ford, an American Soto Zen priest, has dedicated an hour on Tuesday evening to Heart Sutra recitations and meditation in response to worries over the election. Ford told Buddhistdoor Global: “This is an historic election in the United States. And the level of anxiety appears to be at equally historic levels. Our sangha felt this is an ideal time to offer an opportunity to sit together. If it provides nothing more than a bit of quiet in a storm, well, that’s great.”
He continued: “But we also offer a recitation of the Heart Sutra, which may open new vistas for people. And we think that dedication, an opportunity to throw their hopes and fears into the great deep, seems equally important.”
The Insight Los Angeles meditation center will offer two events: one from 5:45–6:30 p.m. PST, with a Mindful Aging supper, meditation, and conversation event; and another evening-long event featuring teachers in multiple online breakout rooms committed to election returns, meditation, community, and a Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) affinity group.
The Frederic Meditation Center in Maryland will offer a two-hour class from 7–9:00 p.m. EST Tuesday night, with the guidance to: “Turn off the returns. . . Turn inward instead. Meet anxiety with the support of community.” (Frederick Meditation)
Zen Mountain Monastery, located in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, will offer an evening of meditation for its residents with a 9:30 p.m. lights-out. The only technology present will be the equipment needed to offer a Zoom session titled “A Refuge for Election Week.”
Abbot Geoffrey Shugen Arnold has urged residents there to take a step back from the news frenzy, instead turning inward. “Have faith in human nature and the ebb and flow of history,” Arnold said. “We are certainly being called to respond in ways to bring forth kindness and compassion.” (The Washington Post)
Bhumisparsha, a Vajrayana Buddhist community based in Massachusetts, will be “holding space for a sangha check-in” led by Lama Rod Owens from 8:30–9:30 p.m. EST. (Bhumisparsha)
Vajra Dakini Nunnery’s Khenmo Drolma will co-host an online vigil with Soto Zen teacher Tenku Ruff from 7–9:00 p.m. EST, with the guidance: “Sitting with uncertainty, strengthening openness, the Heart Sutra reminds us that in this very messy moment, there is the potential for wisdom to arise.” (Vajra Dakini Nunnery)
Ruff told Buddhistdoor Global, “I wanted to offer something that brings benefit to ourselves and others, while also offering an alternative to watching the news and worrying. I knew that it might be challenging for me to do everything on my own, as the only monk at Beacon Zen Temple, but did not see vigils announced at the larger Zen temples. So, when Vajra Dakini Monastery announced a vigil, I reached out to Ven. Khenmo Drolma, whom I knew from a Buddhist-Christian trip to Taiwan last year, and asked if we could merge our efforts. She said yes.”
The Berkeley Zen Center will host an all-day online event starting at 5:40 a.m. and running until 9:00 p.m. PST. The day includes periods of zazen, walking meditation, open discussion and breaks, led by Abbot Sojun Mel Weitsman.
Following the election, several of these and other groups will host follow-up meditations and discussions.
The Seattle Insight Meditation Society will offer a virtual gathering on 6 November from 7-9 p.m. PST on Zoom. On 14 November the Shambhala center in New York City’s Race, Racism, and Racial Inequality Group will offer an in-person community sit at Columbus Circle at the southwestern corner of Central Park. The organizers ask participants to wear masks and “sit in meditation together to bear witness and lean in with fearlessness with whatever is arising in and around us.” (Eventbrite)
Most events require prior registration to ensure security but are free or on a sliding fee scale.
Yurts, meditation and medication: Getting through election night by tuning it out (The Washington Post)
Event Schedule (Empty Moon Zen)
Bearing Witness Together on Election Night, 2020 (Upaya Institute and Zen Center)
BYOD (Bring Your Own Dinner): Election Evening (Insight LA)
Election Night Community Support Space (Insight LA)
Election Night Refuge (Frederic Meditation)
Interactive Sangha Check-In (Bhumisparsha)
Retreats (Vajra Dakini Nunnery)
BZC Open (Online) Zendo on Election Day (Berkeley Zen Center)