Politics

Buddhist teachings on civic engagement without attachment to outcome
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    Confessions of a Bush-Bashing Buddhist Paid Member

    Sometime in the early '90s, just after the Soviet Union had collapsed, the Dalai Lama appeared at U.C. Berkeley, where an interviewer asked him to speak about his relationship to the communist government of China. His Holiness began reminiscing and told the crowd that when he was young and still living in Tibet, he traveled to Beijing as the guest of the Chinese. He went on to say that after being around the capital for a few weeks and observing how things worked, he just couldn't understand how the Chinese officials could call themselves communists. Then he paused, reflected for a moment, and said, "I think maybe I myself am half Buddhist, half Marxist." The crowd gasped in shock, partly because any reference to socialism had become taboo in America, and also, I think, because we were surprised to hear the leader of Tibet admit his identification with this political ideology, especially considering the recent history of his people. More »
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    Ten Practices to Change the World Paid Member

    1. VoteIf Buddha had added a ninth practice to the Eightfold Path, it might have been Right Voting. Voting is a manifestation of the law of interdependence: Each of our actions, no matter how small, affects the whole cosmos. Our votes count. True, more people voted for Gore than Bush in 2000, but a great many people did vote for Bush, and if just a handful more had voted for Gore, history would have unfolded differently. The law of karma is operative. There are many causes and conditions that get a person a job in the Oval Office—or the mayor's office, or the office of the superintendent of schools—but your voting is a big one. More »
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    Present Moment, Urgent Moment Paid Member

    As American Buddhists contemplate the present political moment, we may experience considerable confusion about what—if anything—we should do to make a difference. Isn’t the real work of Buddhists the individual inner work of rooting out the defilements (the kilesas) that impede our spiritual awakening? In 1992, while staying at a Thai forest monastery, I was told this by an eminent Western monk, who suggested that social work may help, but shouldn’t be confused with the heart of Buddhist practice.This view, which I have also heard from Mahayana teachers, has a basis in Buddhist tradition. The central focus of the Buddha’s teachings was on individual transformation for monastics. A clear boundary separated the monastery and "politics," which was understood (in a way very different from Western notions of politics) as related to the activities of kings. "Danger from kings" was a greater concern than danger from robbers, fire, or wild animals. More »
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    Silence in the Pagoda Paid Member

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    Why Buddhism Needs the West Paid Member

    In an oft-cited statement, which might be apocryphal, the British historian Arnold Toynbee said, “The coming of Buddhism to the West may well prove to be the most important event of the twentieth century.” Given the monumental social, political, and scientific changes of the last century, that claim seems pretty unlikely. But Toynbee may have noticed something the rest of us need to see: that the interaction between Buddhism and the West is crucial today, because each emphasizes something the other is missing. Whether or not Toynbee actually made this observation, the significance of the encounter may be nearly as great as his statement suggests. More »
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    The R Word Paid Member

    In our current atmosphere of cultural polarization, the term religion has become highly contested. Just how contested was brought home to me in April 2006, when, during a public lecture I gave at the University of Montana in Missoula, a man in the audience sharply questioned my very use of the word. I said that I was simply following a long history of usage, that I knew that some people contrast spirituality, which they see as good, with religion, which they believe is bad, but that I had never found that dichotomy helpful, as spirituality until recently was always considered an aspect of religion, not a rival to it. But he was adamant. Religion, he insisted, is a terrible thing and if I didn’t want to use the term spirituality, I should think of some new word. Like what? I queried. He had no answer but insisted I come up with one. More »