Should a lay Buddhist vote? If the answer to that is yes, then certainly one has to make an informed choice, which means keeping oneself informed about what’s happening in samsara around us. But that is an extremely deep and intricate rabbit hole, or a jungle-thicket of views that can chew some time off what’s available for practice.
So where should we draw the line?
Layfolk have not renounced the world yet; if you wanna do that, ordain.
It’s kinda like anatta - most people yammer on about this, and don’t practice for the ending of sakkaya-ditthi. So with samsara & sex & so on: people are trying to be pseudo-monks, or wear white robes unofficially, or something.
Yeah the world sucks. Not voting isn’t the way to peace of mind; hiding under blankets is not helpful. Being alive is a time for clarity of awareness and embodied morality, and that can mean communicating to others about social organization, e.g. political discussions, sometimes. Life isn’t for sticking hands in one’s ears.
So how much time should we spend daily keeping ourselves informed, reading news and possibly debating politics online?
It’s not a matter of time we should spend, it’s a matter of how long it takes to become well-informed as well as how much time it takes to become agitated. Different folk will have different answers here.
Being well-informed is something one can do quietly, you see, and then one can even practice meditation with respect to watching praise & blame rise and fall, etc. Helpful, too, since politics are everywhere.
Vote for the side you think is better for you and others. It is (or can be) a moral decision.
Listen to politics to know enough, so it doesn’t fill your mind up with defilements.
I struggle to set boundaries on how much information I seek in regards to what’s going on in the world.
I am an active voter, and feel it’s important to be as usefully informed as possible. That said, the trick is to see when it isn’t useful. When I feel unwholesome emotions overriding any attempt to sincerely consider information, I try to realize it is time to push away from the news/internet/TV and go do something more useful or wholesome.
I fail in this all the time, but every moment is a new chance to try.
I would say the moment things aren’t wholesome and useful is the time to back away and do something else for a bit. It’s important to make informed decisions and to accept that others will do the same thing even if their path isn’t the same as one’s own.
The world will still suck when the mind is calmer, so there’s no need to endure if there isn’t anything useful in it.
I propose that there is a way of becoming informed as a type of spiritual practice in line with the dharma. Also the process of becoming informed is much easier and less time consuming with the help of diverse circle of spiritual friends. Especially friends who can speak as honest brokers of information rather than issue advocates.
“Being informed” or “staying informed” is an illusion I would say. But becoming better informed is possible. How much being ‘better informed’ is good enough becomes a constant question that we may never have enough information to answer
There are a couple of significant challenges to finding such a practice, one of which is that the Early Buddhist Texts (EBTs) don’t appear to me to give much explicit guidance . We can get some hints from the structure and method of dialog we read in the EBTs. The EBT’s and western Liberal tradition together suggest some ways forward. In summary this way as I see it includes epistemic humility (an embrace of the difficulty or impossibility of being fully informed), an embrace of our own “blindspots”, support of a sanga that has real viewpoint diversity, and honest brokers of information and policy options as opposed to issue advocates. In most cases honest brokering requires a diverse team.
But I don’t know of a passage in the EBT about a situation where everyone in the dialog begins from the place of “we are unsure” and “we need more information”. The closest we seem to come were about topics that the Buddha declined to comment upon partly because verifiable information wasn’t available. The situation in the EBT’s that may come closest to the modern challenge of becoming informed is the creation of monastic and sanga rules.
Becoming better informed – both as to a situation and as to what policy options/productive social responses are viable – doesn’t allow us in that moment to be be intellectually and ideologically more orthodox; that is, tending toward one acceptable point of view . Rather new learning is supported by a more heterodox approach – that is, accommodating diverse points of view.
The dialogs in the EBT’s reveal a teacher who is aware of multiple perspectives and viewpoints and comfortable in dealing with their interplay. A “middle way”, for example, requires a type of dialectic – one idea (a thesis), a different idea (anti-thesis) and a new way that somewhat takes from both (a syn-thesis).
It’s my belief that wise, compassionate and skillful socially engaged Buddhism calls for valuing a certain type of multi-perspectival approach, a bi-partisan/multipartisan/transpartisan strategy, and viewpoint diversity—particularly political diversity.
I recommend this resource:
Being informed doesn’t mean having hope, by the way. Alt-right & such are examples of the rampant ignorance pervading modern issues, an intractable problem that, if it can be fixed, cannot be fixed in time to matter.
In the previous national election I was an active member of the Australian Greens and door knocked etc for my local candidate. I felt very strongly about certain human rights issues etc. and also wanted to see a bit of the inside of politics.
What I learned is that you actually don’t need to be caught in the news cycle to be informed. Now I take a rather large step back from ‘news’. I care about issues governed my politics but rarely read/listen/watch ‘the news’. Instead I take a Sunday-paper approach. I skim the news once a week/fortnight and read up on anything I think is actually new. After a while you see that not much is. I also listen to a couple of podcasts which cover the week’s big issues in review with an interest in looking at the ethics involved.
What I have found is that you can still take action through voting and contacting your local politicians regarding issues you’re passionate about. This way allows me to stay detached from the news as entertainment and it’s fear/worry cycle.
As for debating politics. Why bother? Mostly we do it to boost our own sense of self. There are more effective ways to address issues within our sphere of influence.
I seem to notice that the more I read news, or listen to news, the more distracted I am. My concentration is off. I get more stressed out and less available to dealing with what is in front of me. I vote, but I don’t know what good it does. Too much of what passes for politics right now in the USA, SF Bay area in particular is just intense anger, entitlement and identity-view.
I have a bizarre way of voting.
My objective is to make my electorate a marginal seat.
So I vote for the party running in second position.
Politicians care only for the marginal seats.
It is also important to know how to become well-informed. People may have different guidelines - or none - when it comes to this question. Its a big problem! I have had experience of cult-like organisations in Buddhism. The in-group discourages open-inquiry that may take the followers in a direction that does not fit with the dogma. The teachings are there but they are bent to affirm the party-line.
Before we make political decisions we need to determine - clearly - what the issues are that are important to us. What is of benefit, for instance, do we think a healthy and clean environment is very important for sentient beings? We need to properly understand the issues of economic development. The different ways human beings have related to the natural-world - through time - in order to ‘make a living’ and what kind of impact this has had on the environment.
If we have a love and concern for the health of the natural world we will require some understanding of the impact of different kinds of technology. We will need to have some understanding with regard to technology - technological options. What kinds of short and long-term impacts do different forms of energy production have on the environment? Obviously, if a form of energy production creates bi-products that are dirty or dangerous in the short and long-term then, it would be better to find cleaner and less-dangerous alternatives?
What kinds of energy-policies/technologies are promoted by different political parties etc. Some promote dirty and dangerous others promote clean and sustainable - less dangerous approaches. We need to be well-informed about these alternatives before we can make environmentally sensitive and caring political choices. We need to understand many things before we can make ethical political choices. Therefore, whats going on in Samsara is important with regard to Buddhism. What if wild-fires in forests become more frequent as a consequence of climate change? What might be the impact on forest-sangha as a consequence?
Sustainable, clean and, not-dangerous - in the short and long-term - energy systems, will help to mitigate climate-change. The preservation of biodiversity and natural habitats are also important in mitigating climate-change. They are also important to forest-sanghas who require them - a natural forest is a place where we find more bio-diversity. Therefore, the energy policies of political parties - and whether they promote developmental policies that preserve or destroy natural habitats - are important considerations with regard to Buddhist practice.
Whether we live as lay-people or as monastics the state of the environment is an important thing to think about. The protection of human beings from exploitation is also important. We need to wisely reflect on what is required to maintain a healthy natural environment where people are treated with respect in order to promote the healthy flourishing of the Buddha-Dhamma for those born and, to be born. This is how we can extend our loving-kindness practice into our political decision making.
The title of the OP is an excellent question with no easy answer. At least, I’d say it depends on the individual and their occupation.
Also, many monastics pay a great deal of attention to current events so I think we could apply this question to them as well. Is one truly a renunciate when one’s mind seeks out and dwells in worldly events?
What if the party running in second position is something like a Neo-Nazi-party? A group that hates all influences from non-european cultures - including Buddhism? Do you feel there is something problematic about considering what a party stands-for before you decide to vote for them?
So, if I am an arms-dealer I should vote for a party that encourages arms-dealing - correct. How do bring about meaningful change in a society that way? Do we need to give some consideration to right-livliehood before we make political decisions?
Perhaps you did not understand my strategy.
Certain electorates are the strong hold of a certain party.
Party leaders become out of control when they have too much power.
Perhaps Neo-Nazi-Party had too much power.
That’s not what I meant. Let me be more specific with an example. A person with a family, their own business and who is involved in their community has a virtual obligation to keep up to date with current events in order to wisely protect their people and interests. OTOH, a person with no family who works a simple job and otherwise keeps their head low doesn’t have many strong reasons to keep up with things and definitely not to the same extent as the first person.
No one is obligated to meaningfully change society.
For the record, my answer to the OP’s question, “Should a lay Buddhist vote?” is: it’s up to them.
I don’t think political decisions fall under that aspect of the path. It fits more under right intention and right action and yes we should consider those in making political decisions.
Ok, lets say there are 2 parties running. The 1st party’s major policy is to provide appropriate care to the disabled, the aged and, the poor - in the electorate. They are very powerful and have held that seat for the last 20 years. The second party is a Neo-Nazi Party. They are a disempowered party because few people support their policies once they find out what they want to do about the disabled, the poor and the elderly in the community. Who will you vote for?
This is the problem. They become complacent. You have to shake them a bit.