Should monastics be involved in politics or vote?


Well at a subtle level the existence of a Dhamma has effects on politics. The parliament in Scotland and United Kingdom has mindfulness groups in them, raising its profile, at the very least.

One is a lay initiative and the other by a Bhikkhu.


Wow, Buddhist with nazi sympathies? I never thought I would see that. I looked through some of those comments in dhammawheel, pretty weird stuff. I find it interesting thought these right wing Buddhist complain about western influence in Buddhism and how it has made Buddhism more feminine , yet they turn around and want to insert something as ugly as nazism into it, which is also a western way of thinking. Pretty disturbing and hypocritical.


As pretty much the only visible (in robes) English-speaking Buddhist within the Charlotte metro area of a million people, I get called upon occasionally to join public interfaith actions or to express a Buddhist voice on social matters.

Seeing the dangers of associating Buddhism with partisan politics, I carefully shun these. For example, during a heatedly contested election cycle in which ethical issues of concern to me lined up in favor of one party, I firmly refused a supporter’s entreaties to go to that party’s local campaign office to give a blessing (though secretly I felt tempted). Among the obvious risks was that a single photograph of such a partisan action could’ve potentially impacted Buddhists across the country.

For non-partisan situations, I still always ponder (and sometimes struggle with) the question of the suitability of getting involved. I try to foresee and avoid any potential landmines in each one. Yet NOT joining something to which I’ve been invited may be, in itself, perceived as a statement.

I’ve joined together with local religious leaders for the somber ceremonies held after mass shootings, several times. But I don’t join any related gun-control campaigns or petitions, despite the subject arguably having a strong basis in Buddhist compassion & non-harming, because gun-control is a heated and hyper-partisan issue here, hence unsafe and unsuitable for me to take a public stand.

When our City Council passed a rule in 2016 that extended legal protections to include transgender people, the state legislature reacted by proposing and passing a law forbidding cities from making such a rule. (Arguments against trans rights centered on who can use which bathroom, hence the proposal was known as the Bathroom Bill.) During debates on the state’s proposed Bill, I joined an interfaith religious service that called for recognition of human rights of transgender people. My presence - the sight of a Buddhist robe among the dozens of gathered clergy - brought relief and comfort to many transgender people and their allies. The newspaper dismissed the gathered clergy as “liberal religious leaders”, which gave me pause.

The Bathroom Bill’s debate soon became part of the state’s ugly “Red vs Blue” partisan politics, and to my amazement even the Red and Blue presidential candidates heatedly took sides for or against it. My fellow clergy continued to hold protests for trans rights, and I was urged to join, but as soon as it became clearly partisan, I had to step back. My absence seemed conspicuous, unfortunately.

Edit: So I really appreciate the comments by Metaphor explaining the breadth of what is “political”.

About voting, occasionally what candidates stand for can be as impactful as Arsonists vs Firefighters*; if we want to keep meditating peacefully in this precious house already on fire, perhaps we’d all better start voting.

*Edit: Fire Brigade changed to Firefighters for clarity.


This is sort of a conundrum of the maxim of “the personal as the political.” To act can be seen as political, but not to act also can be seen as political. As the Canadian rock band Rush sang, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.”

I suppose the difference between an action that can be seen as political and ostensible inaction that can be seen as political is in the motivations both of the individual and of observers. We can be mindful of our own motivations but we can’t control the motivations of others.

Or can we? If you take “the personal as the political” to its logical conclusion, every (in)action taken by an individual will have an impact on others. What we do causes others to reflect on their own motivations. This would seem to me to be part of Kamma. What any one person does will have consequences, much like the metaphorical ripples that emanate from a pebble tossed into a pond.

So, from a Buddhist perspective, it seems to me that maintaining mindfulness about one’s actions and the Kamma they produce should be what guides those of us who hew to the Dhamma path.


Did anyone else see the comments on the dhammawheel link sarawth1 posted? I was disturbed to see people actually think nazism is ok. Specially Buddhist.


I think a Buddhist monk can mention in the public that dealing in arms as wrong livelyhod.


As a Buddhist monk / nun you can say Buddha rejected all discrimination in regard to gender,race, creed and ethnicity etc.


Yes, one can speak the Dhamma freely in this way among friends or as part of a teaching.

But say those same words in front of a microphone at a rally? To a television news camera? The context can make the statement a blow struck for one side of the partisan debate. Even comments made to a small friendly group can be taped and redelivered into a heated partisan context, so we have to tread cautiously.


That’s not the same as calling for the government to pass laws restricting guns. Likewise, one can discourage abortions but not call for tougher laws regulating the practice. And one can criticize hate speech as wrong speech, but not call for legislation forbidding hate speech. Etc., etc.


Didn’t a US state just ban abortion? Clearly some one was advocating for that. I don’t understand why changing guns laws would be any different if being “pro life” is the concern. Hate speech is also forbidden in many countries, many developed countries have laws agsaint hate speech.


Well, yes, quite a few religious leaders do advocate for anti-abortion laws. But my point is that a religious figure doesn’t have to do that, even if they oppose abortion morally and discourage its practice. Ditto with other controversial moral issues.


Engage in whatever that engages you in samsara; I will not oppose you, so long your positions are not harming others (and you will be surprised how, nowadays, any position on any societal matter ends up harming someone somehow somewhere; it’s only that you haven’t the wisdom to be aware of it, and that’s why I regard you as oblivious rather than as evil!). But promoting such mundane engagement, for whatever reasons you think are “benevolent”, as if it was in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha; that, I will always oppose, without hesitation and with no chances of compromise. Engage in whatever that engages you in samsara, but do it with humility and self-understanding, without dragging the pure and transcendental teachings of the Buddha with you into this mundane filth, and certainly without trying to convince others that such mundane involvement is what the Buddha intended to teach us all along.


Dear Venerable @brahmali,

Not only do I disagree with the statement “monastics are ideally experts in societal concerns”, but moreover, I don’t even know where exactly does it come from! In front of every sutta one could cite as supports for a socially-engaged Buddhism, there will be a dozen that another can use as supports for a socially-withdrawn Buddhism – and I’m not saying this to make a point of my originality or put a counter argument from authority, but only to show that this statement is at precisely lacking in authority, and is nothing other than a personal opinion. Why is it important to make that point? Because you haven’t made it already, and because readers who trust in you will think that such promotion of “societal wisdom of monastics” is coming from the authority of the “EBT”, in which they believe you to be versed, and thereby will believe it to be the position of Lord Buddha himself. It is not. It is merely the position of the Venerable Bhikkhu Brahmali, not that of the Buddha.

And though in this particular debate it is finally “me” that for once gets to argue for “renunciation” from the authority of the text; I won’t do it. It’s not worth it and it’s always a waste of time, never changes anything, appeals only to those who already agree with your interpretation of the text. I will instead argue from reason: not only are monastics not required to develop any such societal wisdom, but even if they did, it is imperative to remain silent on societal issues, or use their wisdom only by those who seek it, and with extreme caution. Why? Because if you go out of your supposedly renunciate way to tell others what is right and what should be done, you are already plunged in the excrement of the world, and the smear that is all over you exposes you to the exact same blame, opposition, antagonism, and even violence, to which the mundane politician or activist willingly exposes himself.

The thrill of it maybe incomparably juicy and pleasurable, grant you that, but what position are you going to take on “abortion”? What about fuel tax hikes to save the planet from the extinction of global warmmmming! (the “mmmmm” is because it was really cold last winter and it gives me chills each time I remember it!) What about the right of government to take a child away from his parents because they don’t allow him or her to become transgendered? What about migration?

That is what monastics are ideally experts in? Well, you see, whatever position you take, you will have placed yourself in direct opposition to some segment of society, in the wellbeing of which you imagine the ideal monastics to be “experts”! And the glorious Sangha finds itself deserving of the miserable situation of being called either “promoter of child-murder” or “a misogynist patriarchal medieval dark religious power that seeks to oppress the freedom of women and that must be stopped at all cost”. And then good luck living in “peace and harmony”, with them protesters congregating at the doorstep of your monastery, not seeking any teaching on “metta”, but abusing you with the most gruesome expressions day and night. Or perhaps the mighty and fearless protesters of France, the rightful heirs of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, will throw some fireworks or a Molotov cocktail or two at your religious edifice that has disgraced itself, because of your support of the “save-the-planet” tax hikes that they, and never you, will have to pay for from their already depleted incomes.

What kind of a "renunciate mendicant" chooses to leave behind, even momentarily, the bliss of samadhi and the liberating gnosis of the eternal and unconditioned, to get involved in such temporal, meaningless filth of the world?! What exactly does he think he will accomplish thereby? Will those others that he will help in such mundane fashion transcend DEATH and attain stream-entry thereby? Will the mundane victory to which he will contribute, precisely by vanquishing others in society, last forever in the world? Or is it perhaps that he gets involved because he has no more access to the bliss of samadhi and the liberating gnosis of the eternal and unconditioned, and because the boredom and restlessness that feed on his heart and boil his blood will not abate until he becomes "engaged", engaged in anything, even in filth! But there is more …

Now what are you going to do when the monk who is setting next to you in the evening chanting adopts the exact opposite views on "societal concerns"? Coexist? Yes but, how are you going to formulate a "monastic Buddhist position" regarding societal concerns with him having equal rights to you in the Sangha? Which position is it going to be then, yours or his? The majority? Really?! You expect a monk to accept what he believes to be a wrong moral position that involves harm to others because it was adopted by the monastic majority??? That monk [and those who agree with him], will be wrong not to leave, will be wrong to stay, will destroy themselves by staying. But … what if that monk is as much confident as you are, and capable of harnessing the resources of the laity as you are? He will leave, but he will build another monastery, perhaps right next to your [just to make a point], and then we will have two opposite Buddhist monastic communities next to one another, and holding opposite positions about the same societal concerns in the same locality! How wonderful!

No. The Buddhist monastic community is not ideally expert in societal issues. The Buddhist monastic community is ideally what people go to when they have grown sick and tired of societal issues, when they have grown disenchanted with this miserly and laughable world, and when they now seek to find meaning for their lives beyond the world, or even, despite of it, rather than through it or by means of it. This, and nothing else, is what all truly spiritual renunciates, Buddhist or otherwise, are ideally experts in: What to do about the ego, and about the deadly nature that is within one, rather than what to do about the world, and about the deadly nature that is without one. Sadhu! And alas! Because where are we to find such spiritual renunciates who are indeed experts in precisely what they are supposed to be expert in?

The Path is lost. The Path is lost. The Path is lost. And it must be found again. That is the ultimate task and duty of the son of Buddha.


Socially-withdrawn* Buddhism is a obvioulsy much better than race-nationalistic Buddhism…sorry, still disturbed by what I saw on dhammawheel. Also the silence by some of the users also quite disturbing.




Is renunciation a political act?


LOL @SarathW1, spot on!

It’s a form of overgeneralisation (or over-reductionism) that is becoming (or too late, already became) alarmingly prevalent in western academia. So political scientists think that wei-wu is a form of political action(!), sociologists think renunciation a passive form of social action, activists of all kinds think renunciation an act of betrayal to social progress, and so on. Whatever discipline or pseudo-discipline or dogma or ideology it may be, it must regard the phenomenon, any phenomenon and all phenomena, whatever they may be, as something that is covered under their expertise one way or another.

The funny thing of course is that a true renunciate is not someone who abides holding back some such socio-political consent and giving out another; a true renunciate is simply someone who abides not giving a *___ about the battle that is raging without, but concerned and carrying the responsibility only of that which is going on within. In the good old days this was the very definition of being a renunciate as opposed to being worldly, but apparently that distinction has gone blur in the eyes of present-day folks, including the eyes of “scientists” who, in their ignorance of the inward experience of renunciation and what it represents to the actual renunciate, contextualise it and offer an interpretation of it as in abstract phenomenon without regard to how it is experienced, and what motivations mobilise those who embark on it. So you end up with such non causa pro causa fallacies as: why does a renunciate mendicant not vote? Because this is the form of political participation that he, consciously or unconsciously, opts for! Just as saying that fish don’t come out of the water because, unlike frogs, they don’t like to eat bugs! Heh!

But it is understandable when it comes to the issue of renunciation and withdrawal, though it really goes a bit too far sometimes! Perhaps I need to stop being so shocked by these blatantly mundane Buddhist attitudes all the time and try to be more patient (not tolerant, but patient!!). For even Venerable Ananda will pose and wonder whe Venerable Sāriputta says:

“Natthi kho taṃ kiñci lokasmiṃ yassa me vipariṇāmaññathābhāvā uppajjeyyuṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā.”

But the story does not end here … not yet …


Many do not understand the difference between household equanimity and the Ariya equanimity.


Pali quotations without translation may inadvertently suggest exclusivity. Here’s the quote in English. SuttaCentral (SN 21.2)


Sure. And useless off topic comments about how participants choose to express themselves may inadvertently suggest arrogance.