Gloating about Margaret Thatcher’s death gets us nowhere

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.

Margaret Thatcher

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’
  • warmonger
  • 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.

How?

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.

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21 thoughts on “Gloating about Margaret Thatcher’s death gets us nowhere

  1. Im a Derbyshire ‘lass’ (obviously from the UK), a miner’s daughter and grand daughter and was brought up in a mining community.(There is no irony in that statement amazingly enough, we were an actual community)I was a serving Police Officer during the horrendous strike of the 80s and even provided some security for Arthur Scargill on one of his public rallies.I reserve the right to state my private opinions on those years!
    I was saddened by the ‘hate fest’ understanding the karmic repercussions of those thoughts and actions and also, being English,restrained by ideas of common decency and consideration towards a human being experiencing the special sufferings of old age and ultimately death,whether in the Ritz or not!
    Nagarjuna’s words came to mind quite frequently as well,particularly his prayer never to be reborn as a politician.The poisoned chalice of power brings its own problems and karmic consequences even with the very best intentions.Therefore Margaret Thatcher is a wholly appropriate object of compassion.
    Those who rejoice in her death,being perhaps ignorant of karma and even from their side,the very best intentions are also creating causes for even more suffering.So using the wisdom of Lord Buddha,they too are appropriate objects of compassion.
    My father showed some remarkable equanimity and understanding this week.Being an NUM official and ex miner,I had expected him to have some bitterness about Lady Thatcher.He just said ‘She did what she had to do and we did what we had to do’.This made me happy since I realised he had not created causes for misery and rejoiced.
    Great Dharma teaching Happy Kadampa!!Even more rejoicing!xxx

    • Hi there,
      Thanks very much for your comment. I’m with you on the hate fest as you call it – but I fear without Dharma in my life I’d be joining in.
      Thanks for the reminder of that lovely quote from Buddha, that every living being is an appropriate object of compassion. Margaret Thatcher certainly stretches our ability to follow that teaching, which in a way makes her kind of valuable! (Thinking dogs and diamonds and bones here!)
      What an amazing experience of the miners’ strike you must have had. Your father sounds amazing, and a happy man I’m sure. As an alternative view of the whole dispute, equanimity is a pretty special one.
      With love,
      HK

  2. Dear Happy Kadampa I have a question for you please as you are a more experienced practitioner than me and I would value your insights..
    I note your statement that we should have compassion for the torturer as well as the victim. I have no problem with that whatsoever as I have some grasp of karmic consequences.
    What I do have a problem with is whether or not we should/must intervene to stop the torturer committing more terrible acts or whether we just say – this is just a karmic appearance to me – my mind is impure I must meditate more e.g. on compassion/equalising self with others. Thank you.

    • Hi David,
      Thanks so much for visiting the blog and commenting. I love this question.
      My understanding of this issue is that the two responses you suggest – intervention or meditation – don’t have to exclude one another. Of course, if we have the power to prevent harm being done, we go for it! But if we do that with an angry mind there’s a good chance we could make things worse, depending on the situation.
      Compassion is a big help with this, as it’s naturally wise and peaceful, as well as (not instead of!) being active. So with a compassionate mind, we would have a wish to protect everyone who’s affected, including perpetrators of harm. I’ve often been impressed with the creative, accepting and hugely practical solutions compassionate people come up with for day-to-day problems, when they’re free of any wish to punish or harm any of the people involved, including difficult or disruptive ones.
      The other good thing about compassion is that it recognises that when we’re not in a position to do anything practical, as is so often the case for example with atrocities happening in far-flung places or, as in this article, in the past, we don’t have to put up with that frustrated, powerless feeling. Taking time to do meditations like the ones described by Luna Kadampa in this article about Syria does make a difference.
      With love,
      HK

  3. I don’t feel like I am rejoicing or gloating. But I do genuinely feel relieved that Margaret has died, and during her funeral I feel a sense of peace that something wrong has taken the exit. I felt guilty for a few days, but after self-therapy I have given in to it. People were glad when other evil people, like Hitler or Pol Pot, died. Of course Margaret is empty, and people have different perceptions of her, but it is still conventionally true that she did all those inconsiderate actions. The way you look at Margaret doesn’t change that. This would be like saying the way I look at the second world war changes the fact that the second world war was a murderous hell-realm.

    With all respects to the author of the article, Buddhists can dissolve too much away into emptiness and they fail to see the true injustices in the world, blaming their own ‘faulty perception’ instead. This annoys me. It implies that my (and others) critique of Margaret has always been invalid because Margaret ‘is just a hallucination’ – an incredibly conservative view from a political perspective. I think that if we went along with this passive political stance, we would be under dictatorships and oppressive governments for the rest of time. It is true that Margaret is a hallucination, but this fact is only relevant to Buddhist practice. To political practice, what she did to what groups of people becomes relevant. I am concerned that as a result of her foregrounding economics over community, the miner, steelworker and other communities were destroyed in her day, and later, most of British industry, to be replaced by a network global society run from the top by a global banking elite. This general action, from a karmic perspective, is not trivial, and it doesn’t change after you dissolve it into emptiness .. it appears again .. and again .. and again ..

    My conclusion. First point was that it is permissible to feel relieved when an evil person dies as long as the sanctity of the grieving is granted, and as long as gloating and rejoicing are avoided. My second point was that dissolving the political issue away using emptiness argument is a completely vacuous and ineffective political act, and reflects an extremely conservative attitude.

    • Hi Alex,
      Thanks for visiting and for your excellent questions, a really personal heartfelt response I thought.

      “But I do genuinely feel relieved that Margaret has died, and during her funeral I feel a sense of peace that something wrong has taken the exit.”

      Me too, which is why I decided to practice and write about it. Although the selfish attitude she propogated is alive and kicking in all of us, sadly.

      “Of course Margaret is empty, and people have different perceptions of her, but it is still conventionally true that she did all those inconsiderate actions.”

      I’m no expert, but my current understanding is that conventional truth is not the same as being inherently existent. ‘Out there’ there is no true Mrs T who ‘really did’ all that stuff. Socially, I and many others are with you about the actions and our interpretation of them. Many don’t. But it’s still just a convention.

      “Buddhists can dissolve too much away into emptiness”

      How much is too much? Should we continue to hold the worst bits as inherently existent, so we can feel right about being angry?

      “…and they fail to see the true injustices in the world”

      Speaking for myself, Buddhism opened my eyes to more suffering, and the truth of it, than I’d ever previously understood. At the heart of every evil and inconsiderate action is unbearable pain and fear. If we can just liberate our enemies from that, the evil actions will stop.

      “It is true that Margaret is a hallucination, but this fact is only relevant to Buddhist practice”

      So it’s true, but not relevant? I don’t understand this point, sorry.

      “…as a result of her foregrounding economics over community, the miner, steelworker and other communities were destroyed in her day, and later, most of British industry, to be replaced by a network global society run from the top by a global banking elite.”

      Yup. She wrecked so much – but she won’t wreck my inner world. And the method for not allowing her to do that is finding some way to be peaceful about her. Which involves trying to be compassionate. So I have to see her suffering. It’s the only way. I totally see how it sticks in the throat, but this is how Dharma challenges us. Simple but not easy.

      “This general action, from a karmic perspective, is not trivial, and it doesn’t change after you dissolve it into emptiness .. it appears again .. and again .. and again ..”

      I’m mostly with you here: This general action, from a karmic perspective, is not trivial, and it doesn’t change until you dissolve it into emptiness .. it appears again .. and again .. and again.. for her and us.

      “it is permissible to feel relieved when an evil person dies”

      Absolutely. Your feelings are your own, you don’t need anyone’s permission 🙂

      Thanks again for this comment – you’re teaching me a lot and I appreciate it.

      With love,
      HK

      • Thanks HK,

        Today I feel as though I’ve moved on a bit. The whole Margaret issue is a ghost from my past (pre-Buddhist even), and I think that her death and the funeral stirred it up a bit.

        I certainly don’t feel good at being ‘relieved’ at her death.

        I think I’m experiencing an ‘equanimity problem’ and I have to see how I can develop good intentions surrounding her future life; maybe she will be reborn as someone who can be reborn in a place in which she can perform compassionate actions very easily. This is a more Buddhist perspective, and maybe I should concentrate on this now the cloud has subsided a bit.

        And there has to be an end to this ‘old rebel’ at some point, or at least a change 😉

      • Thanks again Alex,

        I’m glad you posted so honestly the other day. It helped me learn a lot, and gave me a ton more ideas for future blog articles!

        We’re all reflecting on the turbulence, inside and out, Thatcher managed to stir up, even just by dying.

        I think a realisation of emptiness is the ultimate rebellion, so don’t fall in with the crowd just yet. 😉

        Love,
        HK

  4. Again the categorisation of Margaret Thatcher along with mass murderers like Pol Pot and Adolf Hitler saddens me somewhat.In my world,that is a gross injustice to her in fact.We cannot have it both ways I believe as Buddhists.We cannot mix our political opinions with Dharma because doing so is a gross perversion and is really attachment to opinions,I feel, and is inappropriate if we are really interested in controlling and transforming the mind.
    What I find most extraordinary and the same time very dubious,is blaming one person for all the current perceived ills of society from the banking crisis and materialist excesses when that person lost power over 20 years ago.She was no dictator but a democratically elected politician with a majority.I lived in and witnessed those turbulent times protecting the law abiding and picking up the pieces personally and professionally and consider it almost lazy to play the individual blame game.Many inappropriate actions were perpetrated by many people and in truth we all created the ‘society’ we live in today. Anger ,annoyance or irritation is pointless.Compassion and wisdom are the only real antidotes.May we perfect those qualities.

    • Thanks Anon,

      ^^ see my reply to HK above. Generally I agree with the criticism.

      We must acknowledge the grievances that occurred surrounding Margaret; having done that we can develop a compassion wish that she takes rebirth in a place where she can change and purify these mistakes. This is more appropriate.

      • Dear Alex, anyone and anything can teach us so contemplating current and past events through the wisdom eyes of a Spiritual Guide is perhaps most appropriate for us all now whatever our strong convictions and duties were in the past.On this particular issue,my father taught me the value of equanimity without bitterness or anger.(he has never received a Dharma teaching in his whole life)You obviously have a compassionate heart so I respect your feelings.
        I respect anyone with opinions which consider the suffering of others.We live in a world pervaded by suffering. May we all attain the skilful means to dispel suffering and its causes.Kind regards,Ven.Lady.xxx

  5. Thank you HK for taking the time to reply to me.and giving wise advice. I kind of do that already in so much as I do what I can to alleviate suffering when I am able to. I do realize that my actions are very limited though and so I make prayers and dedications to help resolve a negative situation.
    I do try to keep a positive and calm mind at all times (not always successfully alas) and I do recognise that these appearances are due to my own karma and need to be purified.
    The reason I asked the question was that I felt one or other (meditation) action should be done exclusively but your answer makes sense to do both with wisdom. Thank you again.

    • Thanks David,
      I thought about this overnight and it occurred to me that opposing injustice/crime with inner peace is a big gear-change which goes against our oldest and strongest instincts. Hence we need meditation, and good quality discussion! For which I thank you.
      HK

      • Thank you HK. I am interested to hear what your reaction to the following is “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke (18th Century philosopher).

        I see in this world much suffering caused by a powerful wealth minority controlling many key parts of our society eg energy, media etc. Why has this happened I ask and the answer to me is apathy.
        My dilemma is do I stand and watch our World metaphorically burn and reap the consequences of ‘greed before people’ or do something to actively oppose it with a peaceful mind? I do try to practice the latter at present.
        I would be interested in your take on this.
        BTW I have heard the ’emptiness’ is everything argument and to me it has a hollow ring to it. There seems to be no compassion present in that view..

  6. Well said HK! This is a very good and timely article. Many of us have been dwelling on these same thoughts.There is way too much suffering in samsara so let us always pray for the benefit of others especially for those who are dying or recently dead. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Pingback: Thatcher’s funeral? Reply with the Light that drives away Dark | Cosmic Loti

  8. “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.” I keep being reminded of this section, when I read spiteful comments online. Really, she’s deserving of our prayers, not venom.

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