Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Someone tell Mark Sanford about Angulimala

Mark Sanford is a funny guy. After embarrassing himself and his state - but seriously, is it really possible to embarrass South Carolina?- by carrying on an illicit love affair in the Southern Hemisphere while governor and attempting to throw off discovery by claiming he suddenly decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, he has seen fit to rise from political exile and run from Congress.

As if people would forget about, oh, I don't know, that whole marital infidelity thing.

But Sanford's no dummy, because while most voters will remember their former governor's previous juvenile horn-doggery, they just might ignore that transgression and choose, instead, to view Sanford as an opportunity to throw more obstruction at that evil black president.

We'll have to wait and see how Machiavellian South Carolina voters really are. And if they're not so inclined to give Sanford another chance at public office, we shall then see how Machiavellian Sanford had been. Because in his effort to turn over a new leaf, it appears that Sanford has become, well, Buddhist.

I was enlightened about Sanford's "practice" by this article in Yahoo! News. Apparently after Sanford's political demise, he retreated from the spotlight and began learning about Buddhism and even asserts he has begun meditating; at least that's what he calls it. It's difficult to tell just what type of practice Sanford has begun, what were his influences, and how serious he is about it. The article was scant on detail.

Understandably, people are skeptical. It's likely that the only Buddhist thing Sanford is up to is working a little bit of mindfulness into his life. After all, if he's really taking a serious look at Buddhism, he will need to confront one of its basic concepts: Karma.

Someone needs to tell Mark Sanford about Angulimala.

Angulimala was a murderous thief who killed travelers and cut off their fingers to wear in a gruesome necklace about his neck. Despite the wide-spread fear Angulimala inspired in others, the Buddha successfully tamed this beast and turned him into a monk.

 But Angulimala quickly learned that simply becoming a monk and following the Buddha didn't erase his past, unlike the concept of being "born again."  In fact, even after the Buddha accepted him into the sangha, Angulimala's past continued to catch up with him.

At first, Angulimala couldn’t get anyone to offer him food during his alms rounds because he remained feared and despised for all of his past murderous actions. Even after the Buddha set up an act of truth to show others Angulimala’s new noble birth and he became accepted by more villagers, there remained a group who refused to believe that Angulimala was nothing more than a murderous monster. Whenever he went for alms, these holdouts threw rocks and sticks at him. One time he comes to the Buddha, his head bleeding, to show the Buddha what had happened. The Buddha tells Angulimala to buck up and endure this because he is lucky to be suffering this torment now as the continuing fruits of his past actions rather than to suffer those consequences by spending eons in a hell realm.

Angulimala does buck up and eventually he attains the fruits of the holy life, but it wasn't easy. It took considerable time for him to work through all the karma he had accumulated as a murderous thief.

Will Mark Sanford buck up and comprehend that he doesn't get a free pass? That he may be suffering the consequences of this extramarital excursions to Argentina for years to come? Should Sanford lose his bid for Congress, we shall see whether he continues his dabbling in Buddhist practices, or abandons it as a failed expedient device. And even if he wins, who knows how his past karma will continue to manifest itself. The mere fact that he might win is no indication that he has completed that karmic journey.

As the farmer in a fable about the various fortunes and misfortunes of his son said to his neighbor: "We'll have to wait and see."

Image courtesy of Buddhism - Being Truly Human.