Strolling through the city; sipping coffee or eating out in a restaurant; visiting tourist cites … things of that sort, which we monastics actually do and are not prohibited from doing; yet feel somewhat uneasy whenever we do them! It is a spontaneous sense of shame, which comes from the stark contrast between the perceived indulgent nature of these activities, and the ideal of renunciation, which we not only have freely chosen, but which also governs the social relationship which we have with the laity, and for which we receive in exchange all that we need in terms of material sustenance, and furthermore, a continually owe-inspiring respect and reverence.
How could a mendicant with any such basic sense of shame, and whose life symbolizes the very effort of deliverance from the world, even from the most fundamental forces of it, such as sexual and egoist drives and impulses, and who is supported in this individual quest of deliverance by all people of faith, irrespective of their political inclinations – how could he show his face in the polling booth?! With whom will he be competing at that moment, and over what miserable worldly concern?! And what face does he show later, when the one he voted for wins and brings ruins and destruction upon that portion of the earth that common people call “my country” and “my national homeland”, or abuses the power given to him by people who, with a high-powered self-righteous sense of sociopolitical “responsibility”, go so far in their arrogant delusion as to demand political participation from others, even from mendicants, who are supposed to carry upon themselves no responsibility other than that of renunciation! [You can’t blame mendicants for dropping their social involvement and “responsibility” without at the same time blaming the Buddha for leaving his family behind! Show consistency over this matter and you will end up all China!]
If there is no prohibition on voting in the vinaya, this be the case only because any mention in this ancient text of ballots and democracy would only be anachronistic! And it takes no genius to discern how such liberty of monastics to vote will instantly create divisions, not only between monastics and the laity, but worse, between monastics and monastics. And the world already laments how parents and children, brothers and sister, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, and many other people and communities which were once integrated and whole, have now become divided and separated, antagonistic, hateful, resentful, even violent, due to the process of “political participation”. Indeed, it’s already a telltale that there is any question or confusion about whether renunciate mendicants, or any serious practitioners for that matter, should join this miserly mundane festival!
For it is not like it’s the official ordination or the vinaya that restrains mendicants from doing this or that; rather it is “shame”, arising spontaneously and naturally in the heart of any sincere and genuine practitioner, literally, right at the center of the chest, where the piercing poke of guilt strikes mercilessly the moment he consciously acts in a way that contradicts what he publicly states to believe in, and what his life represents and for which he takes the material support of the laity, and accepts their reverence. And don’t take my word for it; just use your imagination: picture him whose sense of shame arises with great urgency even when the careless act is done in private, and then have a look on the other: Here he stands in the polling booth, in front of everyone, in robes yet competing with others, including those who just offered him food and medicine because they believe in the spiritual worth of his renunciate quest - there he stands, deeply confused about what should constitute his own purpose, neither living the renunciation which he preaches after the Buddha, nor practicing even its appearance!
And then it might all appear so clearly: indeed, it was precisely for such type of people, that we ever needed any vinaya. Dummaṅkūnaṃ puggalānaṃ niggahāya!