Politics and buddhism - am I missing something?

Hi Jess,
I agree cultivating anger and hate in the face of anger and hate is pointless. However I don’t think that having political opinions or being involved in resisting as a Buddhist layperson is wrong. How else will we let Dhamma be known than to stand up to what is not-Dhamma?

As far as we know, right now, this is the only planet that has the Buddha’s teaching. To me, that’s something worth fighting for, in a very peaceful way. Of course, I see in myself the need to do this mindfully. I attended the Women’s March in Sydney two weeks ago and it was one of the best days I’ve ever had in Sydney. But it was tiring. I think many people (myself included) feel like we can’t sit back and be silent all the time anymore. And now, I won’t. But I know for myself, I will need to balance it too.

I feel like balancing my time in this lifetime means that hopefully I can not only spend it preserving and spreading the Dhamma, but realizing it too.


“These days, I am thinking that socially engaged Buddhism is to be found in those with a solid Dhamma
practice—not just fuzzy, nice intentions—who can bring it to bear on social issues in real live situations.
What Dhamma practice can give is enough mindfulness to be present in the moment, enough non-bias to
see the situation from various angles (including one’s own inner dynamics), enough compassion to want to
end suffering, enough wisdom to understand the major causal relationship at play (including intra- and
interpersonal) and enough effort to do something effective on the ground”.
–Santikaro Bhikkhu, cited in Ken Jones,
The New Social Face of Buddhism: A Call to Action
Wisdom Publications, 2003), p. 230. My sympathies, Jessica.


I’m also a US citizen and feel the same way. I’ve never been an activist. I pay some attention to what’s going on politically and in the world, but whatever happens, my attitude is, “Eh, that’s just the way it is.” I shrug my shoulders and move on with my life or deal with it if it affects me.

My attitude might be different if I had kids or people dependent on me or if things really took a turn toward the Orwellian (I don’t think we’re there yet and I don’t think it will happen).

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; specifically, about how the Buddha managed to attract so many people to his dhamma in his own lifetime and beyond. It seems to me that what he did above all to attract people to the way of peace is to achieve peace himself, and then abide in peace near where people could witness it. When people saw him and his followers sitting together in large numbers, silently, in imperturbable peace, they were gripped and drawn by the spectacle. Even his tone and demeanor when speaking to people seems to have converted them.

I am finding this so much more compelling these days than the Christian and secular traditions of my own country, which depend so much on moral hectoring and aggression, and agitated zeal. If someone screams “Thou shalt be peaceful!!!” at me with a face contorted by disturbance and agitation, it’s hard for me to believe they actually know much about the direction of real human progress.


Absolutely. Peace and non-violence should be at the helm of all we do as Buddhists. But the suttas also chronicle the Buddha engaging in debates and teachings with laypeople, monks and nuns, ascetics of other traditions, kings, etc, and astounding and ‘converting’ them with the power and wisdom of his teachings.

They go hand in hand for me. Retreat, acceptance of the mind is balanced with teaching, learning, improvement and change of the mind. Just accepting everything the way it is isn’t enough - sometimes the way it is is wrong.

I believe it is possible to address these issues with gentleness and compassion, perhaps it’s just difficult for us to know how?


Hi Jess,

Just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone. Steer clear of the hate and stupidity, and stand by kindness and wisdom. If you can do this with all that’s going on, you will be a beacon for others, with more power than you know.

A couple of days ago I translated this line from the Pali:

Vesamantarassa vimalassa
Stainless in the midst of it all



From the view of an outsider, the hysteria regarding Trump is somewhat puzzling. I doubt that there was a time in humanity’s past without persecution, violence, war, xenophobia and just plain, callous hatred. But, the scale of the noise generated regarding Trump is just astounding. And I think that the Internet/Web is the key factor that facilitates this. Now every person has a podium to proclaim his or her view as righteous. This is quite the opposite of the path of the monk or even the philosopher - their labor just tells them how much they don’t know and how foolish it is to argue or debate while standing on a foundation of ignorance.

The Buddha somewhat frequently observed that he did not counsel anybody until he had eradicated ignorance regarding the key questions. Why do we exist at all ? Why do beings suffer ? Why are we here hurtling toward death ? etc. Quite a marked contrast to the mentality that is widely prevalent these days that favors hasty, loud conclusions over introspection.


I think there is plenty of room for both the more reclusive approach and the more engaged approach. There are those whose main interest is meditation and cultivation of their minds. There are also those who, along with meditation and cultivation, engage themselves more with the world in skillful ways. I have great respect for people of both stripes and I would hesitate to call one approach categorically better than the other.


As someone living faraway from the action, it’s a relief to see so many folk in the US are engaging with their democracy.

Yes. And maintain some calm and remember you really aren’t alone, there’s a whole, massive, huge, group of people who feel like you do.

Yes, it’s really important to spend time out; meditate. Maintain some calm. For our ownsakes but so actions and democratic engagement is more careful, critical, clever, useful and efficient.

People aren’t going to be able to keep up the high levels of emotional charge. They need to be cleverer.

I came across this article…I was debating whether or not to post it here and then decided to go ahead. I don’t know if its opinions are correct. But I think it raises some important points. What is the cleverest, most efficient way of doing things here. Who needs to contact who? How do you get people to listen to each other and focus on things to do with genuine common values…so many of us do value truth and kindness? And where are the fact checkers and statisticians…who needs to make contact with them…they provide the opposite of “alternative facts” and fear mongering “alternative facts”. I’m hoping like I’ve never hoped before, that all the concerned people over there, channel their energies and come up with some effective, peaceful, kind solutions.

Forgive me if this isn’t appropriate here…but it might have some positive consequence. I hope so anyway. After reading it…please, don’t bury your head in the sand and don’t stop finding time out for yourself to meditate or to do something like meditation. This is not a time to disengage. It’s a time to stay clear and keep our hearts as happy and kind as possible. If those brave people who hadn’t sheltered the persecuted jews in their homes during the time of the nazis had disengaged, what further horrors might have happened? Stay informed, engage and connect but understand more than ever the rather desparate need to meditate, to entertain - perhaps inexplicably and counter-intuitively - wholesome, hopeful (against all hope) and happy mind states; and find times to (wholesomely) disconnect as well.

I suppose this is a call to those in the states more than anything. Don’t lose hope. Stay energised in happiness. Google “good news”…there’s heaps of it out there too. You will lose focus if you lose your happiness and peace. Whatever happens, that will be there no matter what.

I’m half a world away, and I’m shaken. I don’t how I’d go right there in the middle of the storm. I know what I ask is perhaps a massive challenge…especially when I don’t know if I’d be able to rise to it myself…but it’s the massive challenges that can bring the most growth…the most skillful letting go, the most peace and the most insight.


Perhaps exhaustion is a good thing, and is a necessary precursor to getting beyond initial stages of extreme arousal and panic. The contemporary social media environment is a double edged sword. It can spread a lot of useful information, but also spreads wildfires of passion, hatred, fear and dread, combined with rumor and either false or incomplete information.

1 Like

There are people who hate Trump, they are like that because of their family and friends, their education and what they read in news and internet. There are people who love Trump, they are likewise due to their upbringing, family, friends and what they read and learn.

We would like to believe we’re in the group of light and intelligence while the other group of people are in the dark, but the truth is we’re all in the gray. Dhamma is for people to jump out from the white, black and even gray.

Take Dhamma as refuge, be colorless.


I’ve been hesitant to comment on this thread because I’m aware that Right Speech becomes difficult (goes out the window) the more I talk about it. I am also a citizen of the United States, and live in the capitol city of said country. Thus, it feels like everything is happening here, every week there are protests, and everyday there is mounting outrage. I, over the past few days, have been more inclined towards mounting outrage. Particularly because I have worked with refugees and immigrants in the past, who have often (through a very long process) escaped violence and turmoil in order to establish a better reality for themselves and their families.

In one of my religion classes today we discussed the plurality of religion. That being, that it is false and un-beneficial to say that there is one ‘Buddhism,’ one ‘Islam,’ and one ‘Christianity,’ etc. Instead, and in our instance, there are Buddh-isms, many different versions of what we call Buddhism that are constantly changing and reproducing. And thus, my Buddhism is one that is simultaneously compassionate and willing to call out and dismantle structures of hatred and oppression. And I believe that what we are seeing right now is absolutely defined as hatred and oppression. So I’m going to muster up some energy and call bull-[redacted] on my current President, and do so with as much compassion for all beings as I can.

(And also maybe work on meditating more – but that’s a little bit harder…)


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!

1 Like

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.

1 Like

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.