When conservatives go Buddhist
When conservatives go Buddhist, you know a change is in the zeitgeist.
Between stops around town, Sanford ditched his campaign driver and started hitching rides with reporters. He asked to ride in Yahoo News’ rental car and we zoomed off toward the next event. On the way, I asked him about his unorthodox campaign tactics. After all, Sanford was meeting only a couple people at each stop. The entire exercise seemed grossly inefficient.
“My view is, bigger the crowd, the fewer the votes,” Sanford said. “If you can just keep moving as an individual and you’re present — I don’t want to sound Buddhist on you — but you’re in the moment. You’re present with them, you actually can have a real conversation. You can talk about issues that they like, what they don’t like, in a way that you can’t if you have a crowd.”
I asked him about Buddhism. (Let’s face it, it’s not every day that a Southern candidate for national office will drop a Siddhartha Gautama reference in casual conversation.)
Sanford told me that his interest in Buddhism stretches back three years, to when he retreated to his remote family farm after his term as governor ended — a term marked by scandal over his secretly leaving the country to be with his Argentine mistress, whom he now plans to marry.
While in exile, Sanford began studying meditation, a practice he continues to this day.
“A buddy of mine said, ‘Mark, you’re becoming a Buddhist Christian.’ I come from the Christian faith. That’s my faith tradition. But what I do like about Buddhism is the idea of being present,” Sanford said during the car ride.
“I think that that’s missed in Western culture, where we’re so busy looking a week out, two weeks out, a month out, a year out, and we’re hurried and we’re busy. And I think if there’s any one thing I learned from that year I spent on the farm in the wake of getting out of office and just having a very, very quiet year, is the importance of stillness and quietness. And that extends beyond just the physical location. It extends really into the moment of, are you really with that person or are you thinking of the next thing you’ve got to do? So I do like very much that part of Buddhism. I think it’s right.”
How did you like the sound of that — “you’re becoming a Buddhist Christian.” It’s the cross pollination of cultural memes. To my mind it’s a beautiful (and significant) thing.
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