In my manuscript for “The Original Frontier” I am currently editing (for hopefully the last time), I mention that Matsuoka Roshi referred to the times we were then living in as the “Age of Anxiety.” This is the title of a long-form poem published in 1948 by W. H. Auden, but I am not sure whether that was the inspiration for O-Sensei’s use of the term or not. While you might say that we have gone beyond the age of anxiety in some ways, the current vogue is to speak of uncertainty, which might be thought of as anxiety exacerbated by the many knowns, unknowns, and unknown unknowns—to borrow a phrase from a recent secretary of defense, who was himself a considerable source of uncertainty—afflicting us from all sides these days.
The question in Zen is, as usual: So what? So what do we do about it, and isn’t this the way it has always been?
Well, to some extent you would have to argue that no, this is not the way it has always been. In Buddha’s time, as well as Bodhidharma’s, Huineng’s, and Dogen’s, things had to be a little more dependable on a day-to-day basis. We did not have the 24/7 news cycle chronicling the daily disasters from around the globe, so that along with our own personal suffering, we share the suffering of others to the point of fatigue. We just want it to be over. This is close to the state of angst associated with suicidal tendencies.
What do we do about it may be the more germane and operative question. And the answer in Zen is, as usual: just sit.
But this can be taken as dismissive, uncaring, self-absorbed, and all manner of other pejoratives, in the face of the global calamity that is our daily diet. However, in Zen, it means that not only you, or we, just sit; but that everybody, including all the usual suspects and main perpetrators of the atrocities, also just sit. The theory is that most of the trouble comes from the fact that these folks are mistaken in their worldview, which leads them to pursue what they think they want and need in all the wrong places. If they just sat, in zazen, they might come to see this for themselves, and change their ways.
This was true in the history of Zen, for example in the case of Emperor Ashoka. A brief quote from Wikipedia will suffice to fill in the background in case you are unaware of this Indian figure:
Ashoka waged a destructive war against the state of Kalinga (modern Odisha), which he conquered in about 260 BCE. In about 263 BCE, he converted to Buddhism after witnessing the mass deaths of the Kalinga Ware, which he had waged out of a desire for conquest and which reportedly directly resulted in more than 100,000 deaths and 150,000 deportations.
So the problem of immigration is not a recent development, though we tend to think of our times as unique. The exception proves the rule, as we say, and Ashoka may be the historical exception. So it may be considered wishful thinking to suggest that if the leaders waging war upon their peoples today would only convert to Buddhism, we would see world peace. And it is true that statistically, overall carnage is on the decline, if you believe the sources that claim to be able to measure such things.