Patriotism in Buddhism

It seems the United States is headed in the wrong direction, and yet I feel such gratitude and love for my country.

There are more Buddhists in America than any country outside Asia, especially due to our immigrant heritage.

America was the first nation on earth founded on the ideals of freedom and democracy, and our history has been a constant struggle toward fulfilling these ideals.

It’s also worth mentioning the bottom 5% of Americans enjoy a higher living standard than 68% of the world:

Does Buddhism have any teachings related to patriotism?

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questions which come to mind:

Can patriotism be defined as something other than nationalism? Perhaps patriotism could be desiring the ultimate well beings of many beings (especially as desiring harmlessness, righting views etc), which might be part of metta meditation… but attachment to limits for well being would imo be problematic, as would identification with a self.

Of course, aversion based on nationality would be a problem, in as much as aversion to anything except wrongness is a problem… ? (And even that is just part of the Raft, AFAIK.)

I think it might be beneficial to examine this, maybe take it apart. For what can one perhaps feel gratitude and love, as a disciple? Perhaps for well being truly fostered; perhaps for diligence, opportunity for dilligence, support or dependence for spiritual paths suitable for the variety of lives…?

Some thoughts, may they promote well being of many or all.

That’s a very important question.

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As a political scientist and linguist (not a scholar of ancient Buddhist texts) I feel compelled to chime in on this topic.

The English word “patriotism” (and its derivative “patriot”) has its origin in Latin and Greek root words for “father,” which themselves are derived from Indo-European root words such as the Sanskrit pitr, all of which are based on an onomatopoeic origination in the exclamation pa uttered by infants when recognizing a male parent. Thus, the modern-day notion of a patriot is someone who expresses kinship with individuals related through familial ties.

From a political point of view, patriotism is relatively new, at least in terms of the English usage of the word, and can be traced back only as far as the creation of territorially-defined political sovereignty as conceptualized in the West, i.e., the formation of the modern state system in the 16th and 17th centuries (the Oxford English Dictionary gives the first appearance of the word “patriot” in 1577).

Thus, from a political point of view, individuals during the Buddha’s time would not recognize the modern notion of patriotism, associated as it is with a system of states established in Europe and codified in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years War with the Treaties of Westpahlia.

On the other hand, as illustrated by the association of Western idiomatic origination of the English “patriot” in Indo-European words meaning “father” (e.g., the Sanskrit pitr), clearly people during the Buddha’s times would be no stranger to associating political loyalty with familial relationships. That is, rule-making originates in the authority of family members and thus political systems founded on family and kinship ties produce a sense of loyalty bound to those ties. To the extent the Buddha had anything to say about what we today conceptualize as “patriotism” it would have to be put into this context.

On this question I defer to scholars of early Buddhist texts.


… etymology is interesting to me, but the definition offered by it does not need to be so literal, does it? Anti-nepotism is for example not incompatible, i have thought. Immigrant-friendly is not antithetical to patriotism… except rather narrowly defined.

I guess I could have elaborated more clearly on how the linguistic origins of patriotism translate into its modern-day incarnation. In the contemporary era patriotism is associated with teritorially-demarcated sovereign political authority, typically what political scientists refer to as the state (more colloquially, “country” or “nation,” although the latter is fraught with its own anthropological complications).

That patriotism today should imply a notion of identity is where the etymological origins of the term come into play. “Patriotism” in the age of the modern state draws on innate conceptions of shared identity, and therefore it is not surprising that in its linguistics roots the concept draws on feelings of kinship based on familial ties. I guess I could have made this conception more explicit in my previous post. Thank you for the opportunity to draw out these themes.


What about love or gratitude for one’s country? I don’t mean valuing one’s own country as more important or as having more rights than other countries.

Countries as we know them today are a function of the European state system created in the 16th and 17th centuries. As for love or gratitude for other manifestations of political authority, i.e, those from the Buddha’s time and place, I leave that to scholars of ancient Buddhist texts.


I wonder if the Buddha would encourage or discourage others to have love or gratitude for the kingdom in which he was born.

thoughts of his caste, thoughts of his home district, thoughts related to not wanting to be despised. These he abandons, destroys, dispels, wipes out of existence.AN3.100

Attachment, even attachment to one’s country is to be considered a defilement. Attachment to the dhamma fades away with time it seems.

With metta


Borders are completely artificial, of no ultimate relevance. Nationalities also don’t truly exist. But, if you find patriotism helpful in engendering good qualities of the heart, if seen in the right way it may aid in your practice. Unfortunately patriotism can spill over into negative qualities as well.


Is there a difference between attachment and gratitude?

There is a sutta in AN 5 where Buddha said about five oblations (pancabali), one of them is for the king (i.e paying tax to the country):

(4) “Again, with wealth acquired by energetic striving … righteously gained, the noble disciple makes the five oblations: to relatives, guests, ancestors, the king, and the deities. This is the fourth utilization of wealth.

Perhaps, this can be a “small” notion of patriotism in Buddhism?


Respect, humility,
contentment, gratitude,
hearing the Dhamma on timely occasions:
This is the highest blessing .- Mahamangala sutta Sn2.4

Gratitude is a wholesome quality and the Buddha says such people are rare, in another sutta. It should not be seen as somewhat unwholesome debt (of gratitude) which has more binding connotations, IMO.

With metta

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Considering the high measure of freedom and prosperity that even low-income Americans take for granted compared to a majority of the world’s people, I definitely feel grateful for having been born in this country. This doesn’t mean, however, that I value the United States above all other countries.

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I guess there are wholesome mind states and wholesome objects (or ideas) and we need to use wisdom to make sure that we align the two.

We do not want wholesome mind states to align with unwholesome objects. Or wholesome objects to be derailed by unwholesome mind states.

It seems to me that most of the patriotism in America stems from the indoctrination it’s citizens receive starting at a very early age, which extends well into adulthood. In other words, it’s a highly conditioned phenomena whose effects can be seen in the unwillingness to accept the country’s faults, to the extreme of willingness to die for an idea, no matter the moral validity of the military operation they serve. Ultimately, I can’t see how patriotism, in this context, could possibly lead to, or support, a wholesome path.


And this seems to me a harsh caricature; but perhaps you would view russian patriotism, or sri lankan, or canadian, or hawaian, or australian, etc., the same way? In that context, applicable to any nationalism, i could perhaps appreciate the point…


Well, that’s exactly why it’s funny and a bit sad, as well. :laughing:

Everybody believes their country is better than the next country! It points to a problem of perception! It seems to be a kind of ‘measuring’ or conceit (manna).

With metta


Indeed. Some time ago, it seemed someone was very distressed over criticism of ancient Rome in another thread.