Stand Against Suffering: An Unprecedented Call to Action by Buddhist Teachers

This appeared today on the Lion’s Roar website.

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@DKervick , thanks for posting this. I’m glad to know about it!

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The article starts with:

Buddhism does not align itself with any party or ideology. But […]

And then continues to say the policies of the republican party will destroy the world. There is no argument made in the article, there is no example of a bad policy the republicans will implement. No attempt to explain why a particular policy of the republicans is bad while the left version would be more effective. All it does is claim the republicans are bad and that we need to unite against them. It is impossible to win an argument if you don’t even try.

It is precisely because of this type of name-calling without using any arguments that the democrat party has got to a historic low while the republicans are breaking records in terms of state legislative chambers controlled, state governors, both chambers of the congress and the presidency. The left has never been so low in the last 100 years. This type name calling and apocalyptic scaremongering instead of arguments simply does not work anymore. For the left to have any chance to re-gain popular support in the next couple of decades, it needs to re-learn the art of dialogue.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLG9g7BcjKs

Many people from the left are complaining about this. The second part of the video is dealing with this problem. It’s difficult to have a democracy with just 1 party competing.

In my opinion, religious figures should do their best to unite not to divide. If a religious figure declares alignment with a particular party and claims the other party is going to destroy the world, even if he would do an effort to present any arguments (witch B.Bodhi does not), even then it would not be appropriate because religion should not be about politics. There are democrat buddhist as well as republican buddhist. Many christian priest have refused to engage in politics anymore. A high profile religious figure like B.Bodhi should use his influence to unite not to divide. He could as well give a discourse more similar with Hillary Clinton after the election if he really cared about uniting people and is free from attachment to politics. Or better: abstain from political comments and focus more on the dhamma.

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Just like there exist detoxification centers for drugs and alcohol or even video games recently, I think de-politization clinics should be invented for buddhist monks who just can’t keep themselves from doing it, be them right-wing ones from Thailand or left-wing ones from USA. Or at least an add to block news sites from monk computers so there is no more attachment towards politics being built.

Those who have tried it know that it really works wonders. You just keep yourself from reading political news for a period and the attachment slowly fades away. In the case of monks, isolation from other politically engaged monks is also required. Company with monks who strongly respect the vinaya and do not engage in topics of conversation that are not allowed is required. And the de-politization period needs to be long enough so that the monk does not suffer a relapse.

I have big respect for B.Bodhi and it hurts me to see him ruining his image like that. There were a couple of times when I tried to bring B.Bodhi up while making a case to somebody, and the persons dismissed him from the start cause of his engagement into politics. It is like seeing a monk drinking alcohol in public repeatedly and then trying to bring up that monk opinion when trying to make a case. Even if the monk is very knowledgeable like B.Bodhi, he will lose his credibility to a big part of buddhist, even to those who share his political views.

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From the article:

As long as a society protects the vulnerable among them, they can be expected to prosper and not decline.

The problem here is, there are differences of opinion about witch way is better in helping the poor. Refusing to acknowledge that different points of view even exist is not a good way win an argument in a democracy. You can’t win an argument if you don’t even compete.

The video also contains a little known fact: conservatives donate on average 30% more money to charity than liberals.

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The statement is quite vague. It alludes broadly to government policies and other social practices can cause suffering, including both the policies of the current administration and deeper “systemic” practices whose harms precede this administration. But the authors of the statement decline to name or precisely identify any of these policies and practices. So I imagine many people reading the statement will be quite confused about what it is calling on Buddhists to do, beyond its general recommendation that one engage in the world and try to do some good somewhere.

Regrettably, to my mind, despite its general call to protect “the vulnerable”, it refrains from using the word “Muslims” anywhere.

In their defense, it must have been quite challenging to come up with a statement that all of the signatories, who represent many different practice traditions, could all agree to. But if the leaders of the US Buddhist community wants to engage socially and politically, but avoid the impression that they have little to offer beyond a kneejerk and shallow establishment partisanship, they might deepen their critique of the systemic and structural problems they allude to, but do not define.

On the matter of systemic problems, US society, which is the most unequal in the developed world, is the scene of a great deal of structural economic and social violence and suffering. These structural problems did not originate under the Trump administration, although the current administration is indeed likely to exacerbate many of them. Some of these problems are special afflictions of specific communities facing racism and other forms of bigotry. But some are grounded in the economic organization and social mores of American society more broadly. Both parties are implicated in these harms because they have been tolerated - and indeed promoted - in a bipartisan form for many years.

The system we live under in the US is based on, among other things, ruthless competition; radical individualism and greedy acquisitiveness; the exploitation of the weak by the strong; the permeation of market-place values and practices into all areas of life, along with the suffocating atmosphere of lies and untruth that always characterize the bazaar and commercial marketing; class-conscious practices of systemic humiliation of the less fortunate by the more fortunate and desperate emulation of the more fortunate by the less fortunate; systemic (and deliberate) unemployment aimed at keeping working people weak and subjugated; laws helping employers prevent working people from organizing; the aggressive marketing of unhealthy and addictive forms of sensual craving and gratification; the glorification of violence and aggression; and inadequate limits on the accumulation of concentrated private wealth, along with the social and antidemocratic political power such wealth always brings.

The financial crisis of 2007/8, triggered by wildly greedy and fraud-riven financial speculation, especially in the US mortgage market, triggered a recession that ruined the economic lives of millions of people, has left permanent scars on our society, and made evident the unhealthy dependency of the whole society on its most ruthless, dishonest, aggressive and greedy members.

In addition, the US is a powerful and imperial state that maintains a security and military order spread around the world. It tortures its adversaries and presumed adversaries. It launches murderous conventional wars and covert wars to exercise political control over regions of the world that supply resources we deem vital to maintaining our very high, though unequally distributed, standard of living. These realities did not begin with Trump. The other candidate in the last election, Hillary Clinton, is widely understood to be in the “hawkish” wing of the Democratic Party, is a friend and admirer of the war criminal Henry Kissinger, and was expected to turn toward what the media in the US euphemistically calls a more “muscular” foreign policy.

I think some of the anger and despair in contemporary America is due to the intolerable psychic strain of the double-think we must maintain hereto perpetuate the rosy, TV-commercial view of ourselves while knowing we are also this country:

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The current American way of life is sick at its core, and we are now seeing unprecedented declines in overall life expectancy due to what the Nobel economists Angus Deaton calls “deaths of despair.”

The photographer Chris Arnade has been documenting this despair and misery in some of the US’s most abandoned and forlorn communities:

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And yet, it’s still in top 1% best places in witch to get reborn in this world. It’s also in top 1% most tolerant and least racist places on earth. It’s also the world leader in innovation and is the country that has contributed the most to rising living standards around the world through scientific progress and promotion of democracy and free market economy.

I agree that US has some problems, such as a high Gini coefficient and a little more pressure put on employees than in european countries. But we should not go overboard and paint a super apocalyptic picture of the USA. It’s still by far one of the best places on earth to get reborn into. As a famous Indian immigrant once said: “I wanted to live in a place where poor people are fat”.

And the fact that US economically leans a little more in the right wing direction than european countries should not make us go overboard and embrace the kind of socialism that continues to keep many south american countries in poverty. I am not speaking here about radical forms of socialism such as venezuela witch only fringe groups would embrage. I am speaking about moderate but still terrible forms of socialism such as the one in Brazil witch many leftist in US would embrace.

There is a reason why the overwhelming majority of economist are right-wing economically. For simple people who do not understand economy, simplistic measures such as “take money from the rich and give them to the poor” sound brilliant. But the economy is a much more difficult field to understand and it is very easy to take terrible measures and end up in poverty or economic stagnation like many south american countries have done. This is why both US parties, while disagreeing on social issues, are both right wing economically.

It is simple to think that “all these economist are evil people who are right wing cause they want their own good”. Believing our political adversaries are evil is a good way to boost our self esteem. “These guys are evil, but I am not evil like these guys cause I am more willing to donate other peoples money than them”. But when it comes to personal money, conservatives donate much more on average than liberals. Conspiracy theories about “everybody who is not a leftist is an evil person who hates the poor” are just that: conspiracy theories propaganda not supported by facts.

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Uh oh… all us monastics better put our names on that list as well or else they might think we are evil buddhist monastics who have no compassion and don’t care about people.

This article gets off to a great start… with a quote that does not exist in the suttas, at least not in the Pali(maybe chinese?). No where does it say " protect the vulnerable", or anything like it that I can see in my looking over of the sutta to see if it was a close translation I could check towards the pali. “protect the most vulnerable among us” that is modern partisan slang by a particular type of ideology and used as a rallying cry that turns the world into us vs them, victims vs perpetrators, good vs evil, and justifies hatred in the name of “justice”… and the quote is used in a way to try to justify the rest of this article.

Which is to be expected though because it is a heavily political , mahayana publication and takes a mahayana bent, they should not try to pretend to not be political though, because it is blatantly obvious that they are and have been even before Trump.

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As long as a society protects the vulnerable among them, they can be expected to prosper and not decline.

Define the most vulnerable. Are the illegal migrants the most vulnerable within a society? I would argue they aren’t. Are the refugees the miost vulnerable in a society? Sounds plausible, right? Now, the refugees here in Germany ahve accommodation - even though pretty frequently it is sub-standard - they receive money from the German state to pay for their food, medical care, and other basic expenses, they enjoy immense support of the population and have every opportunity to learn the language and try and find the job that can sustain them financially. The German foreigners office is so lax in handling the refugees and wanna-be refugees that Anis Amri, the Berlin terrorist attacker, could enter the country with a fake pass while the German authorities knew about it, and he was able to get a stay permit and live for close to two years in Germany without being controlled by the state. I know about people from Kosovo and other nations who shred and burn their pass as soon as they illegally come to Germany, because it is a real pain in the neck to prove they are really from Kosovo. I know Syrians complaining about the lack of control of refugees by the German state, because they obviously don’t even cotrol whether a ‘Syrian refugee’ speak the Syrian dialect of Arabic or even knows what the capital of Syria is.

I live in a 10 square-metre large room and have to pay 230 euros for it very month. I have to pay for my medical insurance 90 euros per month, 300 euros are paid to my university ever six months. I am paid 670 euros per month and I cannot find a better job because I am legally forbidden from doing so - as soon as I work more than 120 days per year my visa is automatically void. I have a college degree, I speak German on the C2 level, I am willing to integrate into the German society and I am in fact more or less successfully integrated into it, and yet my standards of living are lower than those of very many refugees. I know lots of other people who are living just like me. The illegal migrants and other minorities are not the most vulnerable group in the modern Western world - at the very least not here in Europe. It is the legal migrants. We are discriminated by the state and society, because there is no other name for the fact that we are deliberately put in worse conditions than the illegal folks or honest to God refugees - we cannot have the full benefits of being the citizens of the Western countries, and we have to comply with the horrible bureaucratic non-sense that often makes our lives nigh unbearable. Who protects us? No-one. Because it is fair we obey the laws of the country. It is fair other people who don’t want to obey the laws of the country are not allowed to enter it. It is fair that we are all equal before the Law.

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Yes, I’ve been googling around trying to understand he provenance of that statement, and as far as I can tell, it is simply one of those fake Buddha quotes that tend to float around.

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its quoted from the Mahaparinibbana sutta - https://suttacentral.net/en/dn16

although like I said there are mahayana versions, so maybe there is a line closer to that translation in there, but certainly not in the Pali, so they technically could be right, I just had a red flag go up in my head after reading it as it sounded like a translation that took a lot of liberties.

2: Seven Things which Prevent Decline in the Vajjians
Now at that time venerable Ānanda was stood behind the Gracious One fanning the Gracious One. Then the Gracious One addressed venerable Ānanda, saying:

  1. “Have you heard, Ānanda: ‘The Vajjians assemble regularly and assemble frequently?’” “I have heard this, reverend Sir: ‘The Vajjians assemble regularly and assemble frequently.’” “For as long, Ānanda, as the Vajjians will assemble regularly and assemble frequently surely growth, Ānanda, is to be expected for the Vajjians not decline.
  1. Have you heard, Ānanda: ‘The Vajjians assemble unanimously, rise unanimously, and carry out their Vajjian duties unanimously?’” “I have heard this, reverend Sir, that the Vajjians assemble unanimously, rise unanimously, and carry out their Vajjian duties unanimously.” “For as long, Ānanda, as the Vajjians will assemble unanimously, rise unanimously, and carry out their Vajjian duties unanimously, surely growth, Ānanda, is to be expected for the Vajjians not decline.
  1. Have you heard, Ānanda: ‘The Vajjians do not establish new laws that were not established, or cut off old laws that were established, and carry on with such laws as were accepted in the Ancient Vajjian Constitution?’” “I have heard this, reverend Sir: ‘The Vajjians do not establish new laws that were not established, or cut off old laws that were established, and they carry on with such laws as were accepted in the Ancient Vajjian Constitution.’” “For as long, Ānanda, as the Vajjians do not establish new laws that were not established, or cut off old laws that were established, and they carry on with such laws as were accepted in the Ancient Vajjian Constitution surely growth, Ānanda, is to be expected for the Vajjians not decline.
  1. Have you heard, Ānanda: ‘The Vajjians honour the elders of the Vajjians, respect, revere, worship and think them worth listening to?’” “I have heard this, reverend Sir: ‘The Vajjians honour the elders of the Vajjians, respect, revere, worship and think them worth listening to.’” “For as long, Ānanda, as the Vajjians will honour the elders of the Vajjians, respect, revere, worship and think them worth listening to, surely growth, Ānanda, is to be expected for the Vajjians not decline.
  1. Have you heard, Ānanda: ‘The Vajjians do not coerce and force their women and girls to dwell with them against their will?’” “I have heard this, reverend Sir: ‘The Vajjians do not coerce and force their women and girls to dwell with them against their will.’” “For as long, Ānanda, as the Vajjians will not coerce and force their women and girls to dwell with them against their will, surely growth, Ānanda, is to be expected for the Vajjians not decline.
  1. Have you heard, Ānanda: ‘The Vajjians honour the Vajjian shrines amongst the Vajjians, both within and without the city, respect, revere, and worship them, and do not allow the righteous sacrifices that were formerly given, formerly made, to be neglected?’” “I have heard this, reverend Sir: ‘The Vajjians honour the Vajjian shrines amongst the Vajjians, both within and without the city, respect, revere, and worship them, and do not allow the righteous sacrifices that were formerly given, formerly made, to be neglected.” “For as long, Ānanda, as the Vajjians will honour the Vajjian shrines amongst the Vajjians, both within and without the city, respect, revere, and worship them, and do not allow the righteous sacrifices that were formerly given, formerly made, to be neglected surely growth, Ānanda, is to be expected for the Vajjians not decline.
  1. Have you heard, Ānanda: ‘The Vajjians have made good arrangements in regard to the lawful protection, safety, and guarding of the Worthy Ones, so that Worthy Ones in the future can enter the realm, and having entered the Worthy Ones can live comfortably in the realm?” “I have heard this, reverend Sir: ‘The Vajjians have made good arrangements in regard to the lawful protection, safety, and guarding of the Worthy Ones, and that the Worthy Ones in the future can enter the realm, and having entered the Worthy Ones can live comfortably in the realm.” “For as long, Ānanda, as the Vajjians will make good arrangements in regard to the lawful protection, safety, and guarding of the Worthy Ones, and that the Worthy Ones in the future can enter the realm, and having entered, the Worthy Ones can live comfortably in the realm, surely growth, Ānanda, is to be expected for the Vajjians not decline.”

Then the Gracious One addressed the Magadhan chief minister the brahmin Vassakāra, saying: “At one time, brahmin, I was living near Vesālī near to the Sārandada Shrine and there I taught the Vajjians these seven things which prevent decline. For as long, brahmin, as the Vajjians maintain these seven things which prevent decline, and the Vajjians agree with these seven things which prevent decline, surely growth, brahmin, is to be expected for the Vajjians not decline.”

After this was said, the Magadhan chief minister the brahmin Vassakāra addressed the Gracious One, saying: “If the Vajjians, dear Gotama, were endowed with even one or the other of these seven things which prevent decline, surely growth is to be expected not decline, what to say about having seven things which prevent decline? The Vajjians cannot be overcome, dear Gotama, by the Magadhan King Ajātasattu, the son of Lady Wisdom, by war, but only through diplomacy, or through the breaking of an alliance. And now, dear Gotama, we shall go, as we have many duties, and there is much which ought to be done.”

“Now is the time, brahmin, for whatever you are thinking.” Then the Magadhan chief minister the brahmin Vassakāra, after greatly rejoicing and gladly receiving this word of the Gracious One, rose from his seat and departed.

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Just google “monk politics” - all that appears on the first pages of google results are exclusively buddhist leftist monks.

Christian priest (not monks) might some times get involved in politics. They might slightly suggest people what to vote at the church, but rarely will you see christian priest writing long political articles, especially high profile and respected priests. They’re smart enough to know that would make them lose credibility and be used against them by the left. Religion should stay out of politics and respect the church-state separation.

As for christian monks, it’s basically unheard of for christian monks to get involved into politics. Especially deep to the throat like buddhist ones. Addiction to politics appears to be one of the biggest problems in terms of Vinaya of buddhist monks. Maybe we as laypeople should start putting pressure on monks to fix this bad habit. It is embarrassing buddhism in the west. Maybe my joke about de-politization rehabs for monks would actually not be too bad of an idea.

It is quite easy to do and does not require many resources.

  1. Remove the monk from the toxic political environment of his monastery.
  2. Place the monk in quarantine in another monastery with monks that respect the Vinaya or at least do not have problems with politics. There are many monasteries with predominantly asian monks where the western monk can be placed.
  3. Block that huffingtonpost website from the computer.
  4. The monk should be advised to memorize the Vinaya rules regarding suitable topics of conversation and engagement into politics + Counseling from elder monks about renunciacion and attachment + explain the monk why those rules were put in the Vinaya.
  5. An elder should supervise the monk after the rehab program to prevent relapse into the old habit. Other monks should be supportive and try to distract the monk with other topics of conversation until full political detoxification and re-integration into the monastery is achieved.

Dude. Seriously. Relax.

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Ok ok. Enough jokes. :anjal:

It should not be understood that I am judging B.Bodhi to be a bad monk because of his habbit. On the contrary, I consider him one of the few truly knowledgeable monks, well versed in the suttas. And he has a good and modest character. It is precisely because of this that I have always been critical of his political addiction. You can number on the fingers of a single hand the monks of the caliber of B.Bodhi that exist. And this habit left untreated is ruining his credibility to many people. As I’ve said, there were a couple of times where I tried to bring B.Bodhi into an argument and the person dismissed him from the start cause of his political habit. People are always fast to devalue another person based on a small character flaw that they have, especially if it’s an annoying one like politics that instantly antagonizes a big part of buddhist towards him.

There is a section in the vinaya dealing with the benefits of following the rules. One of the benefits was preserving respect to the shanga, not making it open to criticism from the outside world.

Becoming a monk is much more difficult that people realize. A person who becomes a monk has renounced woman, money, sea side vacations, family etc. He has renounced the strongest attachments that one can renounce. Let him not ruin his credibility with this last attachment to politics that is to be renounced. What he renounced before was much more difficult to renounce than this last little attachment.

I have no faith in politicians even though that I believe there are good politicians. Another assumption they made here is that a country is run by politicians. I think the countries are run by some invisible force. I see politicians as straw men/women.
My main concern here is Ven. Bodhi. I think his effort should be aimed at elsewhere. Buddhist monks should keep away from direct politics. There are more qualified people to take the place of politicians.

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Yes, if you look around the internet, you will find that someone, somewhere decided to translate that passage about women and girls, like this:

“As long as a society protects the wives and daughters and vulnerable among them, they can they be expected to prosper and not decline.”

I have no idea where this version comes from, but it now seems to have been passed around promiscuously and taken on the status of a bona fide Fake Buddha Quote :slight_smile:

Now the signatories of this message have gone even further, and transformed the text even more by lopping off the part about the women and girls, keeping mostly the fake part.

I don’t think it is from the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra. I looked a a few translations of that sutra, and couldn’t find it there either.

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Can you point to something in the Vinaya where it is forbidden for Bhikkhus to teach lay people about wholesome and unwholesome actions?

Of course, you have a right to question and/or reject the opinion or interpretation of certain Bhikkhus, just as others have the same right regarding your opinions.

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Before you admitted to be not-entirely-serious, I was about to remark that your methods of sangha governance and purification seems to resemble a dictator, or at worst treating monks as if they were children.

If “mainstream” Theraváda monks took such approaches towards enforcing orthodoxy we wouldn’t even have a SuttaCentral, or, “Early Textual Buddhism” would be entirely a sect of its own, split off on doctrinal and philosophical grounds much like a classical Christian schism, not like any Buddhist schism of precedent.

Monks would be required to disavow “early” Buddhism as a modern heresy. If reading the suttáni resulted in propegation of “Early Buddhism” ideologies, those very suttáni would be banned to those without proper (read: Abhidhammic) context to interpret them.

I can imagine similar “isolation cells” for Abhidhamma-questioning monks as those you suggest for “political” monks.

That is what would be the case, IMO, if mainstream Theravada took the approaches toward preserving orthodoxy that you (non-seriously) suggest.

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I can imagine similar “isolation cells” for Abhidhamma-questioning monks as those you suggest for “political” monks.

That is what would be the case, IMO, if mainstream Theravada took the approaches toward preserving orthodoxy that you (non-seriously) suggest.

But the Vinaya does not ban speech about the dhamma. It does not advise monks who follow the suttas not to speak about it. There is no such rule that I know of. The vinaya only advises against political discussion among monks, discussion about kings etc. Such as discussion about Trump, discussion about governance of the country or the end of the world coming because the republicans won the elections.

As for the de-politization program, I even came up with a name: “One monk at a time” :grin: