Last weekend, 200 prominent Buddhists met in New York City at a conference called “Buddhist Action: Morals, Vision, and Justice.” According to an article in Lion’s Roar, the idea behind the conference was, “Buddhists strive to alleviating suffering. Political and social crises cause immense suffering around the world. How can as-of-yet unconnected Buddhists groups work together to help?”
The article tells us that, “All Buddhists share a dedication to compassionate action, and so Buddhist activism is grounded in love, not hate.”
Angel Kyodo Williams gave what the author calls a rousing speech via Skype in which she said, “We don’t have a personal liberation without a collective liberation.” A Chan Buddhist teacher named Rebecca Li got a big round of applause for saying, “The debate about whether Buddhists should be socially engaged is over.” And Greg Snyder, co-founder of the Brooklyn Zen Center and one of the organizers of the event, said, “Historical violence — white supremacy, sexual violence, misogyny — came to the fore. They walked into the Oval Office.”
In other words; No Buddhism for you if you happen to disagree with any of these political positions.
These folks plan to form a coalition of Buddhists all across America to implement the kind of social and political action they believe is right. Greg Snyder said, “Then those local movements can connect to each other and create a national movement. I would like to see a coalition come out of this. If something like that were to happen nationally, it would be an important move for the moral authority of the religious community, generally. The Buddhist voice is important.”
So, the Moral Majority* gets replaced by the Moral Authorities.
I will not be joining their coalition. And here’s why.
I do not consider myself to be one of the voices of Moral Authority. I do not consider my own political views to necessarily be the right ones for everyone. I am deeply suspicious of any group who claims that their activism is “grounded in love, not hate,” especially when there is so much hate clearly evident in their own statements.
But even if I could get past that, I feel that what we as Buddhists have to offer to the world is far too rare and important to create the kinds of barriers to participation that folks like the people who organized this event are creating. I do not want to erect my own border wall to keep out anyone who disagrees with my point of view.
There are lots and lots and lots of people taking to the streets to protest Donald Trump. But there are only a few people teaching and practicing Buddhism.
I constantly get emails from people who’ve read my books and want to meditate with a community, but there’s no place around for hundreds of miles where they can practice meditation with others. Wouldn’t it be sad if someone finally found a place but felt they couldn’t hang out there if the leadership discovered their voting record?
Of course, nobody’s gonna get tossed out of a Buddhist center for voting for Trump — at least I hope not! — but the level of discomfort for anyone who happens to hold conservative political views at lots of our American Buddhist centers has got to be intense these days. I sure wouldn’t hang around too long at one of those places, and I don’t even like Trump!
Once when I was about to give a talk at a Zen center in Texas, the leader of the place took me aside and said I should remember that many in her congregation were politically conservative and that I should be careful when speaking about politics. This was a number of years before Trump, when people could think straight about such things. I happen to believe this is still very good advice.
Once when I was at Tassajara Zen monastery in Northern California it struck me that the only thing the 75 or so of us who were in the valley that summer to practice had in common was our commitment to zazen. I’d had a few conversations and noticed that I didn’t really line up with a lot of people’s views about politics, social conventions, tastes in music and films, or even a lot of their views about matters of Buddhist philosophy such as reincarnation and karma.
But we weren’t there to find a consensus about those things. And we certainly weren’t there to have someone else’s views about such things foisted upon us. We were there to do zazen in the unique silence that rare and precious space provided.
I was glad that my access to that almost sacred space was not restricted due to my politics or the fact that I’d much prefer to watch Adventure Time than Seven Years in Tibet.
I feel that the main reason I, as a Buddhist teacher, try to keep my politics in check is because what I have to offer is not easy to find. I don’t want to make anyone feel like they cannot ask me about it, even if they did happen to vote for Captain Comb-over.
(* Watching some of the right wing religious pundits on this video, it’s difficult for mr to see any significant difference in their approach from what I’m seeing these days among some Buddhists.)
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