President Gerald R. Ford was too down to earth, too much of a "regular guy" to probably ever consider himself a Buddhist.
But as the old expression goes, we are all Buddhists, we just don't know it yet.
I think President Ford is a great example of that in the way he lived his life.
First, as several commentators have noted since his death earlier this week, Pres. Ford lived "in the moment." He wanted the Vietnam War and Watergate behind the nation. Ford said we had to go on and concentrate on issues facing the country now.
Second, commentators have noted that he was an "uncomplicated" guy. I take that to mean genuine, which nearly all have said about the late President. If that isn't Buddhism--finding and then living your true nature--then I don't know what is.
Third, my own observations about President Ford was that he never got too excited or too angry about anything. While a loving husband and father, he didn't let his emotions get in the way of his decision making. He was always on an "even keel." He was mindful.
Fourth, President Ford understood the power of forgiveness. But first, a little Buddhist context:
And so it was that Ford pardoned President Richard M. Nixon. It was unpopular at the time but Ford knew that it was a step the country needed to take to move on, to heal, to be able to get back to the "here and now" of running a superpower. It was wise and also involved self-sacrifice by Ford, who knew it might cost him the Presidency.
One example of forgiveness in the Buddha Stories would be the life of Angulimala, the mass murderer who became one of the Buddha’s most respected disciples. Whether the actual words were spoken, certainly shame and apology was implied in the actions of Angulimala, as forgiveness was implied in the resulting actions of the Buddha. The teaching here is that deeds have more power and meaning that words.
To live our lives in “apology” and in “forgiveness” is far better than mere words which we may or may not in reality truly mean. Apology and forgiveness is implied throughout Buddhist texts and stories. Also unconditional love (metta) implies that we love others irregardless of whether there is a need or an expression of apology – this certainly is an act of implied forgiveness.
There can be no true healing without forgiveness of ourselves and of others. We can say that healing is the fruit of our practice of forgiveness.
Ford also had an amnesty program for Vietnam War draft dodgers. It too was unpopular. But like the Nixon pardon, Ford knew that the power of forgiveness would help heal the nation and again allow it to concentrate on the "here and now."
Gerald Ford was not a perfect person or President. But he lived a rich, full, long life. He practiced forgiveness on the largest scale imaginable. He was a great uncarved block of trustworthiness, virtue, and honesty. He is an example of a life well lived, a life of following The Middle Path.
Gerald Ford, our most Buddha-like President.