An American Buddhist dissident disengages

Hello Rosie,
Another fellow American here.
The Buddha did not give up on the political system, nor did he expect too much of it.
Consider DN 2, the Discourse on the Fruits of the Homeless life. Here , the Buddha gives a long talk with King Ajatasattu. This king had come to the throne by murdering his own father, King Bimbisara, who had been a friend and supporter of the Buddha.
The Buddha knew samsara would not produce perfect governments and societies, but he gave tirelessly to help people understand how best to manage their politics and social affairs.
Yes, Trump is a disaster and an embarrassment. As American citizens, we would love to see our country project positive values and actions as a nation, but in my lifetime it has been a very mixed bag. I am nearly the same age as you.
Under President Eisenhower, we dominated Central America and overthrew progressive governments at will, all for cheap bananas. Under Presidents Johnson and Nixon we bombed Vietnam and neighboring countries mercilessly. Under President Reagan, we backed an insurgency in Nicaragua to again block justice for poor people. Under Presidents Bush 1 and 2 we waged war for oil in the Middle East, and lied to the world about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in order to justify our military intervention, which has resulted in bringing untold chaos and suffering to the region. And now under Trump we withdraw from climate talks and doom the world to the fire in order t protect our standard of living.
Yet amidst all this, America has also been a positive force in many ways. It is such a mixed bag. and as Gabriel reminds us, we can’t really expect more from samsara, or of our own country.
I find it very important to forgive my country and the world for not living up to my ideals and expectations, and to forgive Donald J Trump. He is not the devil. He is not evil. He is doing the best he can at his level of consciousness. I mean that. We all are.
When our actions are based on greed, hatred, arrogance, desire for fame, the ignorance of seeing others as objects to satisfy our desires, then our actions reflect that. Trump is President, and he is, as Freudian social commentator Norman O. Brown wrote about the presidency, “An erection of the body politic.”
Yes, Trump is there in power because in his genius he has plumbed the depths of the American psyche and turned it into a coherent political force, a strange form of American fascism and populism. Only a mentally healthy electorate can put forward a healthy government, and our democracy seems to be failing, does it not?
But elections are coming this November. I am registered to vote and will encourage all friends and acquaintances to also do so. In our country, we have the incredible ability, so rare throughout history, of being able to go to the ballot box and say, “No, this will not do. We will make a change.”
It will still be samsara, and there will be further troubles ahead. But we can leave this president in the dustbin of history.
Please join us and do it. Every vote counts.
with metta

5 Likes

Is there a difference between wheel-turning kings and philosopher kings?

I wish we could design an institution that reliably selects only sotāpannas for office.

2 Likes

LOL, a long time ago I had this same thought with regards to who should be allowed to be a parent :rofl:

(I was working in Child protection at the time)

Dukkha at all levels :upside_down_face:

6 Likes

And maybe his advice to the Vajjians in DN16?

Now at that time Venerable Ānanda was standing behind the Buddha fanning him. Then the Buddha said to him, “Ānanda, have you heard that the Vajjis meet frequently and have many meetings?”

“I have heard that, sir.”

“As long as the Vajjis meet frequently and have many meetings, they can expect growth, not decline.

Ānanda, have you heard that the Vajjis meet in harmony, leave in harmony, and carry on their business in harmony?”

Ānanda, have you heard that the Vajjis don’t make new decrees or abolish existing decrees, but proceed having undertaken the traditional Vajjian principles as they have been decreed?”

Ānanda, have you heard that the Vajjis honor, respect, esteem, and venerate Vajjian elders, and think them worth listening to?”

Ānanda, have you heard that the Vajjis don’t rape or abduct women or girls from their families and force them to live with them?”

Ānanda, have you heard that the Vajjis honor, respect, esteem, and venerate the Vajjian shrines, whether inner or outer, not neglecting the proper spirit-offerings that were given and made in the past?”

Ānanda, have you heard that the Vajjis arrange for proper protection, shelter, and security for perfected ones, so that more perfected ones might come to the realm and those already here may live in comfort?”

“I have heard that, sir.”

“As long as the Vajjis arrange for proper protection, shelter, and security for perfected ones, so that more perfected ones might come to the realm and those already here may live in comfort, they can expect growth, not decline.”

Then the Buddha said to Vassakāra, “Brahmin, this one time I was staying near Vesālī at the Sarandada woodland shrine. There I taught the Vajjis these seven principles that prevent decline. As long as these seven principles that prevent decline last among the Vajjis, and as long as the Vajjis are seen following them, they can expect growth, not decline.”

And yet the Buddha established the Sangha on the principal of radical (everyone has to agree), local democracy rather than a hierarchical model? :woman_shrugging:

2 Likes

Yup! :pray:
I think the Vajjis were a republic - and I think the Buddha supported beneficial republics - actually, probably all types of beneficial governments, not just monarchs.

I don’t think any form a government is inherently worse or better than any other - it seems to depend primarily on the beings who are make up the government.

I just wanted to bring this into the conversation because I think in the west, there is, for the better or worse, a bias against monarchy, regardless how harmful or beneficial it could be, that’s all. Also, the highest government ideal in Buddhism seems to be a beneficial constitutional monarchy with a wheel-turning king as the head of state and the Dhamma as the constitution to be obeyed by the king himself.

How do you mean? I have heard of this before, but I am not sure. Can you elaborate how this is the case?


I think the overall idea and the sentiment of both seem remarkably similar:

philosopher is the only person who has access to ideas – the archetypal entities that exist behind all representations of the form (such as Beauty itself as opposed to any one particular instance of beauty).

This could be interpreted somewhat like the Buddha being able to discern the universal laws of nature, which was generally called “Dhamma or Dharma” in India at the time.

That being said, I do think that the fundamental difference between the two is that:
A philosopher-king seems to a very general notion of a “wisdom-loving king,” whereas a cakkavatti/wheel-turning king seems be very specifically defined as one who governs based, depending, and relying only on the Dhamma (as taught by the Buddha, as opposed to say Hindu Dharma, Jain Dharma, Greek philosophy, etc.).

Depending on how you define it, one could say that all cakkavatti/wheel-turning kings could be considered a type of philosopher-king in the broadest sense of the phrase, but not all philosopher-kings could be rightly and accurately called cakkavatti/wheel-turning kings, primarily because they do not necessarily depend on and govern in accordance with the Dhamma.

I don’t know if this would be wise or in accordance with the Dhamma though.

For example, King Bimbisara was a sotāpanna, but say, neither Pasenadi nor the Vajjis seemed to be.
Furthermore, that Buddha was a wheel turning king in previous lives, but he did not become a sotāpanna until his last lifetime.
Finally, there are sotāpanna who are neither interested in nor skilled at governance, while there may be those ordinary, worldly beings who have not been able to attain even the first stage of Nibbana, yet may be relatively skilled at governance.

Perhaps a better institutional design is one which reliably selects only those who are knowledgeable and skilled at governance to govern - perhaps not unlike the way people need to study in medical school and practice in residency training before getting licensed to become qualified, independent doctors.

If you were able to come up with such an institutional design (especially one that accords with the Dhamma-Vinaya), I think that would definitely be an extremely valuable contribution to the world.

1 Like

I am very happy that all sorts of people, including Trump supporters are taking up Buddhism. There is no political view put forward by the suttas, and it does not necessitate us to be liberals or conservatives, or to take part in politics at all. But as we begin to drop our unskillful views, behaviors and associated prejudices, delving into the teachings of the Buddha and especially looking inwards into our own mind will transform us and impact on all aspects of our lives. This will, if we are active politically, impact on our political action and views. I honor and respect you and your opinions, as I hope you do mine. May we all together enlighten our minds and help this troubled world. With metta and smiles.

4 Likes

I’m not sure that I really can as I’ve never actually been a mendicant so I’m going to struggle. Hopefully a passing mendicant can put right any misconceptions I have. With that said …

I think that the idea is that in the EBTs you don’t have the idea of things like Sangharajas, branch monasteries, or even the idea of the abbot of a monastery. The structure of the Sangha is very flat and not hierarchical in the way we see it often portrayed today.

So all the monasteries are independent and you have local Sangha meetings in the boundary of the sima (I think).

All the bhikkhunis (or bhikkhus if it is a male monastery) are equal and they all have an equal say when something (of importance) needs to be decided. If any one of the mendicants disagrees (votes against), then the proposal doesn’t go forward. Everyone has to agree.

So it’s any mendicant that is present in the sima at the time that has a say. If a mendicant is away traveling then they don’t get a vote. A visiting mendicant does get a vote I think.

If a mendicant disagrees with all the other mendicants, I believe that they can abstain and allow the vote to go through if they want.

Sorry if that all turns out to be totally wrong, but that’s my current understanding.

2 Likes

Such a wonderful message. Thanks!
May we all be free from suffering and its causes.

With mettā.

:pray:

1 Like

I totally agree. :pray: How can this ever lead to anything bad ever?

Thank you for the attempt though!

Makes sense, I agree.

Thank you for explaining. Your point is well-taken regarding there being a beneficial democratic process instituted in the structure of the Sangha.

In your original comment, you stated:

Allow me to provide a partial counter-argument.
First, I agree that the democratic processes, perhaps even somewhat radical democracy, was accepted by the Sangha and the positions of Sangharajas and perhaps abbots of monasteries do not seem authorized by the Dhamma-Vinaya. So I think we both agree that beneficial democracy was not only accepted, but also utilized within the Sangha itself.

That being said, I think there was also a hierarchical model that was accepted and used, which I find is sometimes overlooked and ignored in favor of emphasizing the democratic processes:

Then the Blessed One said to Ven. Ananda, "Now, if it occurs to any of you — ‘The teaching has lost its authority; we are without a Teacher’ — do not view it in that way. Whatever Dhamma and Vinaya I have pointed out & formulated for you, that will be your Teacher when I am gone.
-DN 16 Maha-parinibbana Sutta: The Great Discourse on the Total Unbinding

You phrased it as “Buddha established the Sangha on the principal of” - I would argue that this hierarchical structure is even more fundamental than the democratic process because the authority of Dhamma-Vinaya seems to overrule and supersede any and all Sanghakamma that goes contrary to it.

For example, the Sangha cannot simply come together and pass a motion, neither on a local level nor on global level, where they simply say, abolish the first four Vinaya rules and allow monastic to engage in sexual intercourse, steal, kill, and lie about their attainments, nor can they come together and agree that from here on forward they will reject the four noble truths.

This is why the democratic model seems secondary to the hierarchical model with regard to the Sangha.

Based on my current understanding, the hierarchy seems to be:

  1. Dhamma: even the Buddha cannot/does not transgress Dhamma, and say kill, lie, deceive, or any other harmful actions, not even if justified as “skillful means” or “expedient means” to “help others and lead them to enlightenment.”

  2. Buddha: the Vinaya rules formulated by the Buddha, perhaps except for the minor rules, are not negotiable. The members of the Sangha are to either follow and obey the Dhamma-Vinaya or are to be excluded, expelled, kicked out, ejected, banished, or gotten rid of like trash. The Sangha is not authorized at all to be changing and modifying the Dhamma-Vinaya as they see fit, nor overrule the Buddha - who claimed the epithet “King of the Dhamma,” I think - under any conditions unless explicitly allowed by the Buddha (for example, the minor Vinaya rules).

  3. Sangha: I think we agree that there seems to be a relatively complete democratic and egalitarian structure in the Sangha. But that argument seems specific to the Sangha. But even here, there seems to be somewhat of an hierarchy:

"At present, the monks address one another as ‘friend,’ but after I am gone they are not to address one another that way. The more senior monks are to address the newer monks by their name or clan or as ‘friend.’ The newer monks are to address the more senior monks as ‘venerable’ or ‘sir.’

Conclusion: I think both democratic and hierarchical models are accepted and used to the extent that they are harmless, beneficial, and suitable to do so.

First I would like to than all contributors for making this a most enlightening discussion . Some thoughts from this unenlightened being:

I too find it important and most challenging to understand and forgive a man with such low ethical and moral standards. He is not evil. He is the product of a degraded political system which has allowed a person like him to be elected. You say he is doing his best, and perhaps you are correct although at what cannot be stated. His desires as expressed through his ‘twittering decrees’ seem quarrelsome and intended to cause harm to the people…the country, and the ecology.

The same could be said of Germany’s Hitler. Yet he exists as president as the result of a uneducated reactionary population…one that consistently favors wealthy white men, just as in fascist Germany.

Thank you as this is precisely the point I have been espousing for years. This so called republic has been slowly, silently modified over the years to the point where it produced such an aberrant personality.

I know you are referring to the sangha in this, but I do think that it relevant to the topic that I posted. This hierarchical model would be acceptable if it did not contain monetary rewards as one ascends upward through layers of power thereby encouraging the promotion of sociopathic personalities.
The horizontal model was the original intent of communism, where every one, regardless of the qualifiers like race, sex, and money, had an equal vote. Yet that experiment also failed. And the consistent failure of a variety of these systems and institutions makes me wonder if our human character is disintegrating over time?
I’m voting BUDDHA FOR PRESIDENT! :grin: :face_with_raised_eyebrow: :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:
With Metta for you all!

1 Like

Thanks everyone once again for staying civil and connected.

Anne, I understand, and I often feel the same way. And I often feel alone and worried, that the solution is so clear and obvious, yet we simply do not do it. In these times, we will all have different responses, and our own responses will change. There is, I think, no one right way to respond. And so we must be as forgiving to our own state of mind as we are to others.

maybe make a separate thread for this.

If I may, I’ll just drop in here one of the most informed and intelligent commentaries on the situation with the current incumbent of 1600 Penn. She makes a compelling case that we will continue to misconstrue what is happening if we ignore the advice of mental health professionals.

https://twitter.com/BandyXLee1

Bandy X. Lee - Wikipedia

4 Likes

Sabbe sattā bhavantu sukhi-tattā

1 Like

You pointed directly at the real problem with my country…and perhaps the global politik in general. Or perhaps it is a human problem that we often lack the ability to step outside of our frame of reference to critically assess our own equilibrium. In almost any other profession, Trump would have been fired for malfeasance among many other egregious acts typical of a pathological narcissist . In a sane political scenario any leader who displays the pathological tendencies seen in Trump who be called upon to submit to a battery of psychological tests in order to ascertain his ability to function as a leader of the people.
As it stands now a majority of my people in country know that the emperor wears no clothes but don’t know how to handle the knowledge. So the machine rolls on.

3 Likes

Dear Rosie,

Hello! Much respect for your understanding and whatever way you choose as being right for your heart.

I come back to a saying of Ajahn Brahm’s: if there’s something you can do, do it; if there’s nothing you can do, then do nothing.

I think all systems and ideologies are flawed because we are. There bound to decine.

But if there’s some small thing to be done to reduce the harm in this world, perhaps, without any hope or expectation, it is worth doing. At least we know our intention is pure.

I want to post some links but might link them to some new topics so they don’t get lost at the end of a long thread. But dear @moderators, if you deem them inappropriate topics, please feel free to remove or lock them. :anjal:

Much love Rosie

4 Likes

Much Love to my dear Kay! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: :heart_eyes: :wink: :hugs:

1 Like

And so we should continue, while giving ourselves restorative breaks, to hold all our leaders’ feet to the metaphorical fire.

:fire:

4 Likes

On further reflection, I considered, how have I been able to find this fresh way of engaging in social and political work which feels so spacious and supportive of my practice?
Three reasons…
Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha!
Oh…and another eight…you know the ones. :slight_smile:

Much metta to you Rosie. :green_heart:

Your heart speaks to mine in joyful notes, Metta …Love…Peace, Anne

I maintain that we are all doing our best, including Donald Trump. My practice is to forgive everyone, including Donald Trump.
The fact that we are all doing our best at our level of awareness (level of consciousness) is a very important realization if we are to forgive ourselves, forgive others and forgive the world.
What is Trump doing his best at? He, like everyone else, is trying his best to find happiness. All of his actions, public and private are governed by that. This is true of all of us.
Our ability to skillfully let go of the causes of suffering and find true happiness depends on our level of consciousness, our ability to see clearly things as they are. For those of us fortunate enough to have found the Noble Eightfold Path, this includes bringing to the light of awareness that which was previously hidden and unconscious. To the extent that we do that, we find freedom. We also find our natural sources of universal love and compassion.
For those to whom the avenue of awareness has yet to be discovered, life is all about finding pleasure and avoiding the unpleasant. When people operate mostly from unconscious compulsion, life is based on the poisons of the mind, namely attachment, aversion, and ignorance. All private and political actions based on such unconsciousness will be flavored with those unskillful states of mind, and in the case of political decisions, we will all suffer the consequences.
What do I mean by forgiveness? I take it to be an understanding that most peoples’ actions are unfolding due to dependent origination. That is, we are usually unconscious of what we are doing, feeling, thinking, imagining. Our lives are unfolding automatically and impersonally. There is no freedom. It is mostly guided by unconscious compulsions.
How can I blame myself for my own past actions committed due to such unconsciousness? How can I blame others for what they have done to me when hypnotized by negative mind states? There is no blame. The blame game is rooted in ego: “I am a victim”, “You made me angry”.
Yes, we are advised to reflect on the mistakes of the past and clean up our act, and to set a positive course in our lives. We have no control over what others do. We can only forgive, forgive, forgive. This world is not here to live up to our expectations.
I can forgive the world but at the same time attempt to contribute to its upliftment. Of course, we help and serve others when we can. I will be voting in the upcoming election. In my discussions with others, I will be participating in highlighting the important social and political issues facing my country and the world.
The Buddha didn’t expect much of samsara, but he never gave up on trying to help all beings who are caught in cyclic existence. Amidst our peace and equanimity, we take compassionate action as required.
with metta and smiles

11 Likes