Should monastics be involved in politics or vote?

Much depends on whether one views voting as related primarily to politics or to ethics. In the last election I voted on such referenda as whether eggs could be sold in my state from hens kept in cages too small for them to stand up or turn around; likewise meat from animals kept in confines too small for them to lie down; whether funds from a special “millionaire tax” could be used to build subsidized housing, and whether taxes should be repealed on gasoline and gas-guzzling vehicles. I view these as ethical decisions.

I tend to agree with Nadine. If we don’t vote, then our right to vote will go away. While I can understand not wanting to disturb one’s samadhi with messy decision-making that could result in regrets, I think it is better if we all try our best to make wise decisions and then let it go. If all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then by sharing in this potentially unpleasant duty we may be able to prevent at least some extremely harmful outcomes. Cooking and driving for the monastery definitely disturb my samadhi - and eliminate almost all my time for meditation for that matter, but that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily bad for my progress on the path. Maybe we should consider voting as a renunciation practice. :smiley:


A circumstance worth considering is that people with strong political identity might feel aversion towards a monastic because he votes conservatively or in a way otherwise disagreeable.

I think it is obvious that it can be quite unfortunate to mix Dhamma and politics because one might become known as that “leftist monk” or “the commie monk” or “nationalist monk” or get some other ism attached to a person or worse yet to the whole monastic community of which he is a part.

I do agree that it is up to the individual and voting it is a situational thing but i am quite certain that in most cases i would try talking a person out of being actively involved in politics if i was to give counsel.

And i do not mean situational in sense of this is an important election, i mean something closer to voting on one’s own execution or voting on matters which are fundamental to one’s training.

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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!


They can mail in their ballot. :grinning:


Yes. We vote by mail these days so going to a polling place is not really an issue.


It’s about making an ethical decision. What’s best for oneself and others. From deciding whether or not to vote to choosing a political party. It’s not about dictating what renunciates should or shouldn’t do but rather finding skilful means, in every unique dilemma. There are suttas saying monks shouldn’t engage in talk of politics.


As I understand it, a monastic person has withdrawn from society when it comes to mixing spiritual and political life. So voting for a political party will not help him / her in the cultivation of dhamma. Yes a monastic person could probably vote, but I haven’t heard of anyone yet who has done so.

Personally, I am not ordained but I also do not live as a regular lay Buddhist, and I have not used voting rights in the country I live in. Why? Because as a buddha dhamma cultivator, it is more important to me to live by Buddha’s teachings.


I don’t think the Buddha could foresee and proclaim the teaching so that he has an answer to every decision we have to make in our complex life.

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Does Vinaya allow the monk to involve in politics?

I like to know the opinion of Bhante @brahmali and other monks and nuns as well.

Please also refer to following discussions in Dhamma Wheel.

Why Buddhist monks become political?

Should nuns and monks be political? text

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This topic has been discussed here in a slightly different vein:

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Thanks @Metaphor
@SarathW1 I was going to suggest we merge them… I may just edit the title to better reflect this.

Hi @Viveka
I think changing the topic title after such a long discussion is inappropriate.
As far as I am concern voting and involved in politics are two different things.
I like to keep my topic as a separate question as it is specific about the Vinaya.
However people can link old posts which help the new post.
Normally I do not read old posts as they have run their course unless it is brought up in a new discussion.

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As far as I know there is little or nothing about participatory democracy in the EBTs. Would someone please correct me if I’m in error.

In Australia all adults are required by law to vote. Does anyone know if exemptions can be sought on religious grounds?


I believe so.

The Australian Electoral Commission’s Divisional Returning Officer has discretionary power to determine if your reason for not voting is ‘valid and sufficient’. (cf. legal precedents set out here: Electoral Backgrounder: Compulsory voting - Australian Electoral Commission).

Abstention on religious grounds is specifically mentioned in the Commonwealth Electoral Act (1918, section 245):

Without limiting the circumstances that may constitute a valid and sufficient reason for not voting, the fact that an elector believes it to be part of his or her religious duty to abstain from voting constitutes a valid and sufficient reason for the failure of the elector to vote.

(source: COMMONWEALTH ELECTORAL ACT 1918 - SECT 245 Compulsory voting)

Among other religious groups, members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are directed not to vote.


The Vinaya is silent on this. But the ancient samaṇas, the broad group of ascetics that Buddhist monastics belonged to, were considered to stand outside of society, and so we can be pretty sure their political involvement was minimal. This is in contrast to the brahmins, who were often very politically involved.

But the broader question is what it meant by political involvement. So many things in life are arguably political. I am not sure if it is, or was, possible to avoid politics altogether, even for the ancient samaṇas.

Still, I think a useful distinction can made between being involved with political parties and being involved with specific issues. I don’t think it is a good idea for a monastic to support a political party as a general political stance. You find Buddhists across the political spectrum and as a monastic it is important to be able to relate to all of them. If someone is a good Buddhist, they deserve respect for that, regardless of their position on worldly issues. As a monastic it is not a good idea to allow political affiliation to have a detrimental impact on your relationship with individual Buddhists.

When it comes to specific political issues, however, I think it is absolutely necessary for monastics to get involved. The whole purpose of Buddhism is to apply its principles to real-life situations, whether personal or societal. If experts - which is what monastics ideally are - do not give their input, society might be deprived of Buddhist wisdom in making important decisions. The world could do with a bit more principled Buddhist involvement.

Probably for a number of reasons, some good and some bad. Sometimes monks become political for reasons that have nothing to do with Buddhism, for instance nationalism, in which case it is almost certainly contrary to Buddhist ideals. In other cases, monks may get involved because they genuinely want to apply Buddhist principles to worldly problems. But even in these cases it is probably better for monastics to act as advisers rather than getting directly involved.

At Bodhinyana Monastery we never vote and we have no problem getting an exemption.


What is the ground for exemption?

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Thanks you Bhante.:anjal:
In Sri Lanka many Buddhist monks are involved with the discussion about recent terrorist attack. Many monks point blank put the blame on Muslims terrorist. But they turn their blind eye to the terrorism happen in places like New Zelanad, Terrorism of Sri Lankan youths (Buddhists) or even the terrrorism of the former govenements and the security forces.
What I am saying is monks should speak about terrorism in gerneral sense rather than a specific sense. (without isolating Muslim terrorists)


Religious. That Buddhist monastics do not normally vote.


Who exactly decides what is an “acceptable” position for a monk to advocate for vs. an “unacceptable” position? Who decides what political views are “Buddhist” vs. “non-Buddhist”? (These are not intended as rhetorical questions). I mean, just as an example, just look at that Ajahn Thanissaro vs. Bikkhu Bodhi debate on war…these were two supremely learned monks, both born in the same country (and even state, no less), who cannot agree on a basic subject of critical importance in political discourse.


Hi TheSynergist,

I don’t understand why the Bodhi-Thanissaro debate should be seen as a “problem”. Personally I think that it is useful for people to see that even those who have obviously put a lot of thought and study into such issues have different interpretations. It should be a lesson for them not to jump to conclusions.

Unfortunately, the opposite is often the case. Both Bhikkhu Bodhi and Thanissaro Bhikkhu are aware that people have strongly-held views, and in various talks that I’ve listened to I have heard both speak, with some amusement, about how they expect that as soon as they say what they think about the issue that they are about to talk a bout there will be people jumping on-line to complain about how misguided they are… :sweat_smile:

There are disagreements about the interpretation of all kinds of core Buddhist concepts: jhana, nibbana, etc. Why would you expect there to be agreement on social and political issues?