Should monastics be involved in politics or vote?


Sorry for taking so long to get back to this.

You are right, of course, that it’s complicated. But I also think the perception of differences is often greater than actual differences. Take the discussion you mention between Ajahn Thanissaro and Bhikkh Bodhi. It only concerns a sub-aspect of the first precept, an aspect that most of us - hopefully! - never will be confronted with. The areas where the two of them agree are likely to be much greater than the areas of discrepancy. It is the nature of discussion and debate, however, that we focus on differences.

We have umbrella organisations for Buddhism here in Australia. When they make official statements on behalf of the Buddhist community, they are normally able to find compromises that everyone can live with. This shows that we are often not very far apart. So far as I can see, the Buddhist community is normally able to provide consensus responses to issues that are important in contemporary society.

It’s not livelihood, because you are not making a living from it. In the case of fortunetelling, you will often get something in return for your services.

It is the duty of monastics to give advice on spiritual matters and there is no exact cut-off between the spiritual and the worldly. Say a new law on abortion is being considered and the Buddhist position is sought. Such a case straddles the spiritual, the worldly, and the political. I cannot see why there would be any problem with a monastic giving advice in such a situation.

You have used quotes, as if I said those specific words. By expert, rather, I meant expert on Buddhism, or even more specifically the Dhamma.

I am not sure why you think I am advocating for a socially-engaged Buddhism for monastics. That was certainly not my intention with what I have said above.

This is exactly the point. Buddhist input is often sought, especially in pluralistic societies, such as Australia.

Let me give you an example. The Buddhist community was recently asked about its position on voluntary assisted dying. A reasonable position on this can be derived from core Buddhist principles. But you need to know these principles well in order to implement them in specific instances. This is where monastic understanding comes in very handy. I personally advised the lay Buddhist umbrella organisation that was dealing with the government on this issue.

Most of the other things you mention are unlikely to come up in this way.

By the very fact of being a Buddhist monastic you will “place yourself in direct opposition to some segment of society”. Does this mean we should not be monastics? :slightly_smiling_face:


Some Buddhist monks do fortune telling free of charge.
You do not have to charge money to say it is wrong lively hood. They get Dana by doing it.


Thanks for your reply, venerable.

Well the quote was by way of paraphrasing what you said, what we differ on is whether a monastic’s expertise on Dhamma makes him expert also on societal matters.

Because I could only glean your intention from your speech, venerable. In fact socially-engaged monastics, many of whom are my friends, will never make any of the arguments that you made here; but will rather humbly admit that their involvement with societal concerns is a deviation from what they should otherwise be doing. In other words, I think I am justified in seeing you not only as a socially-engaged monastic, but also a theorist of how such social-engagement of monastics is in line with Dhamma and is not contradictory with it!

No one is telling you what to do and what not to do, venerable, we are discussing whether you can claim that the advice that you will give will be coming from anything beyond your own individual wisdom, rather than from some universal Dhamma or Buddhism in which you regard yourself as an expert. Giving an advice on such matters in the name of Buddhism, or in the name of the monastic community, is highly problematic because we as monastics, idealy experts in Dhamma, will follow different standards and disagree with one another. Sectarianism over Dharmic doctrinal issues is only child-play next to sectarianism over mundane issues. And it is only allarmig to learn that

For it doesn’t really matter that it is working out “normally” or “for the time being”; the point I was trying to make is that this condition is wrong in principle: renunciate mendicants are not supposed to negotiate and make compromises on

Aside from that nothing is really ever “important” in society! … no one in the world is supposed to request such a mendicant to take a position so that someone else can speak on his behalf and in his name -in the Buddha’s name- on such mundane matters. In other words, giving advice on societal concerns is an individual business, you do it as an individual mendicant, not in the name of any Buddhism or Dhamma, and you do it preferably to individual laypeople who confide in you. You do not go out of your renunciate way to influence public policy that will be imposed on the populace, even if it was already a Buddhist populace, let alone if it was not. The clear reasons for this abound, really, but probably you don’t feel them in Australia! Come to a place where your input will be just a bit more relevant, more powerful, more effective, and then you instantly appear in the eyes of the populace as a fearsome ruler that wields immense power! Principles are drawn independently from the circumstance, venerable.

Yes but it also matters, sought over what? and by whom? and for what purpose? That your input is sought-for doesn’t mean that you should just run with it; otherwise we would end up fortune tellers and conjurers of magic tricks! And I agree with you, it’s not always easy to separate the mundane from the transcendental; but where we differ is that this makes it all the more reason to be cautious in social involvement rather than jump in with both feet!

You mean from an interpretation of core Buddhist principles; from a process of drawing out such principles. Again; sectarianism!
And what position was that? I’m really curious!

Not if you were a renunciate Buddhist monastic! For my life I can’t see how you will have placed yourself in direct opposition to any segment of society if you were leading a renunciate life, Buddhist or otherwise! Even if you are in a society that doesn’t tolerate monastics, in this case you are not opposed to society because of your involvement in their business, but because of their involvement in your private, withdrawn, precisely non-engaged life. If they antagonise you for it, then that’s on them. But it’s precisely by being a socially-engaged Buddhist monastic, one who supports this policy and objects to that, takes sides on this public matter and that, that you will have placed yourself in direct opposition to some segment of society; that segment that differs with your positions, and whose victory is your defeat, your victory its defeat.


Right. Then it’s certainly wrong livelihood.

We seem to have a very different conception of social engagement. When I answer questions from Buddhists about ethical dilemmas - as in the example I provided above - I do not consider it as social engagement.


Debating on dhamma forums could be considered social engagement! Say one thing…!


I try not to engage too much, unless I am asked specific questions. The problem is that once you engage, it is hard to avoid discussion altogether.


Maybe so, though i think i was quite sufficiently clear about what kind of engagement I’m talking about.

Thanks, venerable, for your replies, … I only hope that whatever mechanism you have in there that is generating such consistent unanimity of positions among the venerable mendicants in your tradition, is not based on inculcation or indoctrination, and that they are at least given the option to withdraw from any such participation if they so wish, and that those amongst them who espouse opinions variant from the norm (conservative opinions i suppose), do not feel estranged or pressured in any way in relation to their brothers.

I on the other hand am content to strictly forbid the slightest form of participation in public matters of political purport! In my tradition, the Desert tradition (as opposed to forest tradition! which i intended to establish in my home country one day), even charity and social support will be forbidden. The desert monk remains at the receiving end of the social equation, all that he’s allowed to offer is purely and strictly spiritual and transcendental. But it’s okay, you will be most welcome to come from Australia and stay in our secluded desert monasteries. It’s so profoundly quite there to the extent that talking, about anything, becomes only and naturally an unlikely option.


Which desert :cactus: are you talking about? :smiley:


Is this sort of insinuation really necessary? Perhaps I am being too sensitive, but I find this quite unpleasant. If there is any specific problem with my conduct you wish to discuss, you are always welcome to PM me.

For your information, when I said

I was referring to lay Buddhist organisations:


There’s nothing wrong in advising. If they follow the advice or not is up to them. In fact if you think you know better after years of deciding what is ethical and what is not-ethical and not say something feels a bit unethical! But it’s very important to remain secluded :meditation: .


Venerable, what insinuation or insinuation of what exactly are you talking about here? My speech is as direct, clear, and loud, as a thunder in an open horizon. You’ve been asked (not even by me) a specific question about how social-involvement may lead to divisions among monastics, which is one of the points of my argument against social participation of monastics. You responded by saying that there are no such divisions, which is odd, and yes, very odd indeed! Why? because there are usually differences of opinion concerning every last one of these current social matters (even in a tight family of father and mother and two children), and what people struggle to do is that they learn, with much difficulty, to live with each other despite of their differences rather than not having any differences altogether, because such uniformity of opinion would only be a miserly and contemptible kind of social fascism. This was another reason, which I already expressed clearly and openly, as to the danger in having the sangha involved in any official positions or statements being made on behalf of every member in it, and about the importance of advising others as an individual monk rather than as some representative of others or of Dhamma or of the Buddha. That’s it, no more, no less.

I apologise having made a reference to your monastic community. And I hope you will forgive me, because on this forum, it was not just once or twice that other monastic communities, or even individual known monastics, have been singled out by name for outright criticism that far exceeds in its ferocity any subtle insinuation. The only reason I talked about this was that it was the thing which "you" have chosen to use for an example. And now it is not even clear it was an example of what exactly, as you now say it is not the monastic community that makes the statement, but some lay organisation that acts upon the advice of monastics. Well the same applies still, nothing is changed. Lay people and organisations can do whatever they like to do so long their actions are precisely independent from the sangha, but not when their actions and statements are based on the monastic position or publicly endorsed by it

closed #93


This thread will remain closed.