Politics and buddhism - am I missing something?

Brenna, I agree with your post, and offer the idea that while there may be many Buddhisms, there is only one Dhamma, and that, I think gives us a very solid and consistent template by which to guide or responses to injustice and unskillful behavior by governments. I don’t mean to sound obnoxious or preachy; I know that you already know what I am writing here…my words are nothing new. I’m no expert on this stuff, by far. Bhikkhu Bodhi, by way of just one public example, someone who is invested in the Dhamma for decades, has become a strong voice for action in the midst of oppression in the world. Our Bhantes/Ayyas on this site have demonstrated similar courage and wise action.

I’m seeing ( at least via Facebook, of all places) a lot of unskillful responses from some Buddhist quarters. So, while there are Buddhists that see Buddhism as a vague, flexible, malleable psychology, ethic and practice, it always helps me to come back to the Dhamma to see the skillful way that the Buddha interacted with rulers of his time. Taking a cue from the Buddha, it seems to me that there are some wise and effective ways to counterbalance injustice, some of them slightly subversive from the inside, and nuanced. It’s great to read your response; gratitude to you for your work in the past with refugees.


Please do also without anger, you have my support.


I understand and feel for both Brenna and AnagarkaMichael. I’m having similar emotional and spiritual struggles. The political and media environment here is very challenging, even toxic. One thing I decided to do was delete my social media accounts - Twitter and Facebook - which I just did this morning.

I have been very politically informed and somewhat politically active and disputatious my whole life. But I’m 57 now, and feel like I have put in my time in the political wars. And I also feel so alienated from the prevailing, consensus values of American society and culture that organized politics seems pretty hopeless to me. So enough. If I get involved in any political activism, it will be in a very focused and limited way, where I can peacefully do some good without being buffeted emotionally from one place to the next by the raging gales of the worldly winds. Otherwise some writing - and seeking out wholesome spiritual friends like the good people here.


It’s a tough subject.

The only thing I (we?) can really do is to continue on the path shown by the great ascetic gotama. What ever that brings.

I’m still somewhat interested by politics, but I’ve never really believed that voting for election is really meaningful.

Yet, I’m still voting everyday, when I refuse to buy meat, to participate in social networks and to follow click-bait ads or links shown on most news sites these days.

And just doing that is hard enough!

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Hmmm. I’m not sure I agree with this, and I’d love to discuss it further, but I don’t remember how to split posts. :grin: (Because I’m Discourse-challenged).

Indeed![quote=“AnagarikaMichael, post:16, topic:4181”]
Taking a cue from the Buddha, it seems to me that there are some wise and effective ways to counterbalance injustice, some of them slightly subversive from the inside, and nuanced

Thank you for your wonderful thoughts, Anagarika Michael!

Good for you! I have a tendency to read a great deal of news, and so even if I deleted my social media profiles, I still would not be able to get out of said environment. But I agree, being in a politically tumultuous environment is exhausting, which is why it’s so important for people to take care of themselves.

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3 posts were split to a new topic: A Discussion on Refugees & Providing Social Services

I actually feel some compassion for these men who are causing so much harm. Consider the Karma - how much pain they are going to have to acknowledge and open to before they have peace. But for me it’s a bit like seeing the neighbor’s kid attacking another child or a dog with a bat or stick. He has to be stopped - for his own sake as well as his victims’.

I have unfollowed most of my “friends” on facebook by now - my current feed is pretty much cute cat pictures. But this is no time to be negative, this is the time to ground deeply in our sila, have the kindest intentions possible, do whatever we can to help the vulnerable, and connect with as many people as we can in positive ways. Rather than attack our representatives we can tell them what we hope for and thank them for their efforts on our behalf. We can contact our news sources and tell them what we want them to cover. We can go to events and find ways to meet people outside of our usual bubble, because the more connection, the better.

When I look at my friends who practice, what I see above all is an increased ability to look at suffering and open to it - to not look away, distract themselves, blame others or take refuge in anger. And every time one of us can take in a distressing experience, feel what needs to be felt, and bring the reactivity to stillness we are saving the world.


Theodor Adorno once wrote in his Minima Moralia that an unblinking gaze upon the horrors of the reality and comdemning them is the only dignifying way of living. While some of his ideas - like his vicious criticism of the capitalist society and phrases like ‘The Whole is untrue’ (‘the Whole’ unfortunately meaning the society, not the Samsara) - later led to ethically very questionable acts by the 1960’s generation as well as contributed to the emergence of the left-wing terrorism in Germany, this particular idea makes a lot of sense to me. I feel like it could lead so many people to the Dhamma if they wished not to apply it to the social criticism only. To me, the most beneficial spiritual reaction to the events in the US is not to loudly protest on the streets burning trash cans and cars and calling people you don’t personally know bigots. Neither does it make sense to ignore everything and get secluded in a cat video castle, pretending that the world is a nice place to live in. To me, the most beneficial spiritual reaction would be to despair. Ultimately, it was despair, anxiety and resignation that made the Buddha look for the Truth, and ultimately among other things it was existential despair that allowed him to find it. So, don’t worry if you are anxious or desperate because of the U.S. politics. It may mean you are on the right track.

@Brenna I really really really don’t want to come across as rude, and please believe me it was not my intention, but to me implying there might be more than one Dhamma is a bit too much post-modernism. The world is infinitely complicated, but at the same time I have strong suspicion it is also infinitely simple. I also really do respect you for your social activism and work with refugees. At the same time, calling Trump’s actions BS loudly on a protest like Women’s March doesn’t really seem like a good idea to me. If anything, it looks revolting to many people including me - a reason for both the shouting party and the revolted party to work on their metta and behaviour, but still. I think the best example of how to treat political opinions you think are wrong and harmful is to be found in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, when the Buddha lays out why it wouldn’t be very smart to attack the Vajjians. Would the king hav listened to him if he started shouting loudly and expressing his rightful protest against this unethical idea? Somehow, I don’t think so. What to do if the opposing party isn’t listening to your advice still? Well, either wait for four years, or do anything you can in the situation without getting loud or angry. If you get loud or angry, you may end up with the Western Buddhist reminding of the Burmese Islamophobic or Sri-Lankan Nationalist monks and laypeople, just on the left wing. Once again, I have enormous respect for all people who are helping the real refugees and I wish them the very best luck in everything. But as someone with political views that are somewhat different from the apparent Buddhist mainstream in the West I can definitely say that Women’s Marches and protests are not something that can convince people on the opposing side. In fact, they can hardly convince anyone. Instead, people should do what the Lord Buddha did in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta: give well-grounded logical arguments, stay level-headed and stay awesome :slight_smile:



I’m very touched by your post.

I can relate to this very much. Two things I’ve often found coming to mind lately are:

this simile in AN 5.162 (a sutta about how to sudue anger or resentment):

And as for a person who is impure in his bodily behavior & verbal behavior, and who does not periodically experience mental clarity & calm, how should one subdue hatred for him? Just as when there is a sick man—in pain, seriously ill—traveling along a road, far from the next village & far from the last, unable to get the food he needs, unable to get the medicine he needs, unable to get a suitable assistant, unable to get anyone to take him to human habitation. Now suppose another person were to see him coming along the road. He would do what he could out of compassion, pity, & sympathy for the man, thinking, ‘O that this man should get the food he needs, the medicine he needs, a suitable assistant, someone to take him to human habitation. Why is that? So that he won’t fall into ruin right here.’ In the same way, when a person is impure in his bodily behavior & verbal behavior, and who does not periodically experience mental clarity & calm, one should do what one can out of compassion, pity, & sympathy for him, thinking, ‘O that this man should abandon wrong bodily conduct and develop right bodily conduct, abandon wrong verbal conduct and develop right verbal conduct, abandon wrong mental conduct and develop right mental conduct. Why is that? So that, on the break-up of the body, after death, he won’t fall into the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, purgatory.’ Thus the hatred for him should be subdued.

Also, something I once heard the Dalai Lama say regarding the terrible acts some Chinese officials were engaging in (imprisoning/torturing Tibetan etc): He said he had compassion for the Chinese too because they were creating such bad karma.

These reflections have been very helpful to me and remind me to continue to pay close attention to my own mind state and whether in any moment I am furthering the causes for suffering or for freedom.

I’m not on social media but I can realte to the kitten pictures :smile_cat: At times I delieberately think of our kitty (well, 19 year old cat) who passed a couple of years ago and it imediately brings up a lot of metta and compassion for me. And thaose qualities have a profound effect on whatever else I might be feeling/saying/doing.

Beautiful, totally agree. :anjal:


As someone who actually went to the Women’s March, albeit in Sydney, let me clarify that there was no trash can or car burning, general pillaging or even yelling! In fact on that day I walked alongside mothers with children, men, differently abled people, different religions, immigrants and more, in peace. In fact, there was a sort of unspoken rule not to use harsh words or violent threat/action against perceived opponents. Of course it’s not perfect though.

As a ‘protester’ I don’t expect my protest to change anyone’s mind. What I needed was a little motivation, and being amongst thousands marching for a similar cause provided it, spurring me on to work harder as an individual for my cause. We know protests don’t change things by themselves. They serve to strengthen the cause, to show both ourselves and others that what we believe in is worth standing up for. Then the real work starts :slight_smile:


I am not suggesting there is more than one Dhamma, I am suggesting that there are many different variations of the Dhamma that have changed over time and continue to change. We see this even canonically with omissions in the Pali texts that are present in the Agamas, specifically in relation to the foundation of the nun’s order (pi-tv-kd20). Perhaps, the Buddha taught something that we can call the ‘Dhamma’, but from a religious studies and historical perspective, that canon that we call the Dhamma is both inconsistent and constantly re-interpreted. Thus, what I am arguing is that to say there is one coherent Dhamma is to suggest that it is stable, and I would reason otherwise.

Also, why is postmodernism a bad thing?

Why not? The intention, I think, of protesting is not necessarily to shout into the void, on one hand, or to directly change a politicians mind on the other. The purpose of protesting is to make it very clear that a large number of the population does not consent with the actions of its government.

I don’t really think this is a fair or accurate comparison. The Buddha was speaking one-on-one with a ruler, something that is fairly impossible for any person of the United States to do. We can appeal to our state representatives, but there is very little chance we are going to be able to speak with the President ourselves. There is thus no (or very little) opportunity for reason in modern-day politics, this is fairly clear. For even if I were to be able to the President, he would not listen, because reason is not as important to him as image and power.

I think this is exactly the time to get loud and angry. This might not fit squarely within Buddhist principles, but I think it is in accordance with the Buddha’s idea of metta precisely because it is compassionate. What people are getting angry about is the severe mistreatment of immigrants, people of color, women, LGBTQ+ people, and many more excluded groups.

There is an exhibit at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum that talks about the complicity of German citizens in aiding the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust. What the exhibit addresses is the tendency of German people during the time to ignore what was taking place, inspite of the fact that they knew exactly what was happening. If one is getting loud and angry to stop such events from taking place, then it is absolutely necessary.

Therefore, I absolutely object to your idea that becoming loud and angry will lead to extremism, Islamophobia, or Nationalism. The persecution of Muslims in Myanmar is at least in part due to a long history of ethnic and racial ‘othering,’ of the belief that Buddhism is better than Islam.

I agree that it is important to not also conform to such alterity, to label ‘us’ and ‘them,’ but to remain silent and passive in the face of persecution is unwise, un-beneficial, and dangerous.


Okay, so this is a matter of definition. In my understanding, and I don’t claim it is necesarily true, the Dhamma that the Buddha called ‘timeless’ or, if you will, ‘non-temporal’ is the Truth that one can experience for themselves at any given moment and it wouldn’t change a bit since the Buddha’s day. It is not the Buddha’s teachings as they are laid out in the Suttas, as I prefer to call them buddhasasana, and yeah, the way the buddhasasana is preserved and understood can and does change a lot. The Dhamma in my view is what the Buddhasasana is about and it doesn’t change at all. As far as I see, your understanding of the Dhamma is much nearer to what I call buddhasasana, so our initial disagreement was just a product of different terminology.

Well, it is not bad in and of itself if you don’t overdo it, it is actually quite a nice thing. Still, the Sokal affair showed that it is overdone sometimes. Moreover, my impression in confronting postmodernism is that when you apply it to the Buddhism rigourously (or maybe overdoing it a bit) the only logical development would be to say there is no Dhamma (in my terminology), only various buddhasasanas writing themselves, as it were. If you are okay with this idea, great, why not? I am not okay with it, however :slight_smile:

Okay, that’s fine, if you think this is the right idea and that is has worked even a single time in the human history without using violence (to be fair, I don’t think it has), sure, why not? I choose to respectfully disagree with you in that regard, but that is a wrong place to talk about these things at any length.

One last question, however, and again I don’t mean it in any disparaging way, I ask it just for the sake of curiosity and don’t want to use it as a segue into another discussion or argument on my part. If Trump supporters or supporters of any other ideologies you don’t agree with would protest, say, in the middle of Washington DC for erecting the wall on the Mexican border in the same numbers and in the same way the people are protesting against Trump now, would you like it or consider it to be a good idea? Or if they would have protested in case of Hillary’s victory? What would be your reaction to that protest?


That’s great, I can only say that in this case I am totally with the people who protest this way. I can disagree with them, but I can respect them and their position if they behave the way you described it :anjal: Maybe I should specify that well, yeah, writing ‘Women’s March’ without using the tiresome phrases like ‘some of the protesters at Women’s Marches who are on the more radical side of the political spectrum’ I over-generalized. I didn’t mean you or nice people like you, and I am sorry if you felt like I meant you, I rather meant wearing vagina suits and burning cars and trash cans and people using very harsh words on the Internet to the extent they are hardly distinguishable from the moronic side of the right-wing supporters.

One thing I would love to specifically point out is how much I appreciate your view on the motivation behind protest. I personally don’t think non-violent protest can be politically efficient or even tell politicians about what the people think - or that the politicians even care about these protests. Still, seeing them as a way to strengthen the cause and bonding the people supporting it tighter - that is a great idea. If it is civic and makes you feel better and closer to other people it is awesome. I only hope that I will be able to march with other people and express our divergent ideas in such a peaceful way and there won’t be this ugly reaction I am frequently confronted with.

Maybe one day there will be a Women’s March followed by a Conservative Baptist Against Islam March followed People Believing in a Reptiloid Conspiracy March followed by one more march by people on an opposite end of the political spectrum, and no-one would care because there will be no violence both ways. I would be 100% down for that :slight_smile:


Well that does sound interesting! As always, I appreciate your kind and respectful reply, and your attention to my points @Vstakan :anjal:
I think speaking out is important. People say ‘Oh, it’s just words’ but words can change lives. That’s why the Buddha instructed right speech. So we should remember the power of words, and speaking out.

And don’t worry, I wasn’t at all offended. Just speakin’ out :smile:


That’s interesting, thanks for explaining! [quote=“Vstakan, post:27, topic:4181”]
the only logical development would be to say there is no Dhamma (in my terminology), only various buddhasasanas writing themselves, as it were. If you are okay with this idea, great, why not? I am not okay with it, however

Ok. :sunglasses:

I mean I certainly wouldn’t like it (such as with the March for Life protest that occurred recently) but they have as much right and cause to protest as I do.


I’m not suggesting that people stop protesting…but perhaps in conjunction with this…they could also write polite but clear letters or petitions to their local representatives. Innundate them with mail. And post the whole thing online too…so it’s open. Let them know you work for you!


Yes, I think peaceful protest such as you’ve described is important. Sometimes we can believe we’re all alone and that the powers that be are far too powerful for us to have any say with.

But seeing so many women and men, marching was actually inspiring. It showed that people did care as a society about simple things like creating a welcoming, inclusive, kind, sharing, generous society. It some how made one feel more connected, less isolated.


I’m not suggesting people stop protesting either. The protests I’ve gone to have been fun and uplifting. My point is that we can protect our minds from unwholesome states and still engage with politics in a beneficial way. And our representatives, like all people, are more likely to respond in desired ways to courteous requests than to scathing criticism.


With thanks to Samita ASBL’s posting on Facebook today, here is an inspiring and thoughtful interview by Raymond Lam with Bhante: “Personal Courage and Restoring the Sangha’s Moral Purpose”


I agree 100%! Judging by my contacts with the German bureaucracy (not sure if it is true for the U.S.) they don’t care about protest at all if they cannot instrumentalize it for their own ends. But if you make them work more, they start paying attention =)

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