Margaret Thatcher died on Monday (8th April) and since then, as they say round here, it’s all been kicking off.
Like many Kadampas from the North of England, she was Prime Minister of the UK for most of my childhood.
My strongest memories from that time surround the miners’ strike. I remember when deliveries of coal stopped dead, I remember the fundraising galas, the rallies and the turbulence.
I knew, at age six, that Margaret Thatcher was behind all this, somehow. She was the only politician I knew anything about. Every other MP blended into a grey mess of dullness for me, but her enormous hairdo and her drawling voice, which always made me think of something being dragged along behind her, made her distinctive, as did the resentful awe she inspired in the adults I knew.
Her resignation was such a huge event, that the news was delivered to us by a breathless teacher in the middle of, quite fittingly, our history lesson. In spite of her departure, she continued to be portrayed as a powerful but shadowy puppeteer, working from the wings for many years after that.
And now she’s dead, it seems like the streets, the town halls, everywhere people come together, there is more disruption and division over this one woman.
As good Kadampa, we know everyone gets old and dies. However, the frail being who died this week seems a long way, albeit just 20 years, from that mighty figure.
In fact, there seem to be thousands of different Margaret Thatchers, to listen to the current debate and list just a few:
- milk snatcher
- sociopathic destroyer of livelihoods
- powerful leader who made Britain ‘great’
- heroine of feminism
- betrayer of feminism
- rescuer of the economy
- destroyer of the economy
Consequently, the debate around what she ‘really was’ is at fever pitch as the country fights with itself over the issue in comments threads, forums and even the streets.
So who or what is the ‘real’ Margaret Thatcher?
Buddha can clear that up for us.
His answer would be, or always is, that there is no real Margaret Thatcher. She’s an appearance to the minds that apprehend her. In fact, a reflection of the minds that apprehend her.
It’s a great answer, and a huge relief to me, for a couple of reasons. First, it means I don’t need to get upset about her any more. And I never did like being upset.
Second, it helps me with my own mind, so much that it could take me to a place where no politician has the power to make my life difficult.
If Margaret Thatcher is a reflection of my mind, what is she reflecting? Or, to put it another way, can I find the faults I see in her, in my own mind?
Here’s a few, as I see it. (You may have a few more of your own)
- Critical about community, seeing the collaborative giving and receiving of help as somehow weak
- Inconsiderate of others’ feelings and views
- Individualistic, single-minded pursuit of one’s own interests being a good thing, almost a duty, and using her leadership to license that view in others.
Does any of this describe me? Sadly, yes.
Celebrating Thatcher’s death would not help me with any of these pesky ‘inner enemies’, as Geshe-la calls them. That is one of the many reasons why I’m not partying this weekend. Another is that I’m doing Nungye and I need my energy.
A further reason is that revelling in the death of a so-called enemy puts me on dodgy ground, karmically. According to Shantideva, any practice of rejoicing draws us closer to the experience we’re celebrating. If we rejoice in someone’s virtuous actions, for example, we make half the merit of that action. It’s the only type of virtuous thievery, in a way.
So these vehement, vengeful feelings and actions that arise around Thatcher’s death? They can’t function as a punishment for her. For one thing, she can’t hear the parties where she is. For another, our opinions of her affect her even less now than they did when she was at the height of her powers, famously impervious to criticism as she was.
However, what this celebrating does to our own mind is another matter entirely. Thatcher’s final years appears to have lacked love, she wasn’t close to her children and the best relationships in her life appear to have been with her staff. Thanks to dementia, she had to be reminded of and therefore mourned her husband’s death on a daily basis.
She died in the Ritz, a cause of resentment for many, but it’s a death that reminded me of Geshe-la’s haunting words a few years ago during a teaching on lower rebirth: “Imagine you fell asleep in a luxury hotel room, and during the night you naturally died, and woke up in a place completely pervaded by fire.” He was reminding us that we all have massive amounts of negative karma in our mind, which we will definitely carry through to our next life if we don’t do something about it now, while we can.
I would argue it’s actually impossible to take pleasure in all of the above experiences, whoever may be experiencing it. What seems to be pleasure is actually a bitter kind of hatred that cries out to be vented.
As a Kadampa Buddhist, my challenge is to remain calm when recalling Margaret Thatcher’s actions, to remain calm when the debates and the arguments and the parties rage on, to remain calm as the mud is thrown back and forth. To purify my mind, to try and have a compassionate view of the torturer as well as the tortured as Geshe-la recommends in Eight Steps to Happiness, and to follow Nagarjuna’s example who apparently prayed to never, ever take rebirth in a life where there is a danger of my becoming a politician.