Two weeks ago, I sat on a panel and was asked: “who should Hindus in America vote for?” This seems to be a question that even devoted members of the Republican Party have difficulty answering. It's no longer an issue of policy, but one of personality and character.
As we've seen, the recent tipping-point for them has been the release of the 2005 video of Donald Trump bragging how brazenly he can treat women. Mr. Trump has, of course, since offered an apology in which he claimed he's changed and that this was just "locker-room talk".
Probably, most of us say things in private we wouldn't dare utter in public. But, is that acceptable or morally healthy? Hindu texts indicate that all speech reveals who we are. The Upanishads say our actual character is made up of our deepest desires; those desires manifest as our words and actions, which, in turn, create our destiny. But, this is not just for politicians.
The Buddhist Dhammapada contains a similar warning to us all: We are what we think; and, with our thoughts, we make the world. Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow us as a cart follows the ox that pulls it.
Speech gives reality to our thoughts. Once uttered, the damage our words cannot be completely undone - the Vedas say it's like trying to repair a broken ornament. But, even though our mind may come up many wayward, even awful, thoughts we can analyze and filter them. The Bhagavad-gita suggests therefore, that we check what we are about to say with four tests: Our words should be true; but also necessary and beneficial. Our speech should not agitate or offend others; rather, it should be kind and endearing.
That may seem an impossible task in real life - such as a Presidential election campaign. Which is why I was impressed that the moderators in the fractious debate on Sunday slipped in a final question. It was from Karl Becker in the audience who asked both candidates: “regardless of the current rhetoric, would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”
There's a challenge for all of us to bear in mind. It might influence how we speak about each other - in public and in private.
Thanks to writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and others, this sequence from thoughts to destiny has been developed and re-phrased in the West over the past two centuries. My favorite modern version is:
[ character ] [ sense control ] [ speech ] [ habits ] [ election ] [ USA ]
“Watch your thoughts, for they become your words;
Your words will become your actions;
Your actions will become your habits;
Your habits will become your character;
And, your character will determine your future.”