Monday, June 29, 2009
Well, I stumbled upon the blog Tengu House because of a post about President Obama and Buddhists that I felt compelled to comment on. And then I noticed a few articles on Engaged Buddhism, and decided to take a look. Needless to say, the posts got me a bit riled up, and so I give you my response below. I'm pretty sure that the use of the word "lobby" in terms of Buddha's actions with prominent figures of his day is probably not correct, or maybe too strong. But anyway, here's what was said.
The author of Tengu House wrote: "We can protest private corporations, government agencies, elected officials and media outlets until we’re out of oxygen and our arms fall off from holding our signs. All of this may have the effect of making us feel better, momentarily, but this isn’t what the Buddha taught us. The Buddha taught us to find the peace that is already within us, and then to teach others to find the peace that is already within them, if they want."
And I responded, "Actually, I disagree. Why suggest practice is only one way? It's possible to discover truth about life, about the moment as it is, right in the middle of a protest, or negotiating a piece of legislation with a legislator, or coming together as a community to clean up a toxic waste site. I've experienced this myself, and it's been beyond whether or not 'my side' of an issue 'won' or was the 'right' one.
I think you're tossing the baby out with the bathwater.
Yes, it's disappointing that Buddhists are pigeonholed as all 'liberals' who support in the case of the U.S. the Democrats. That's false. And it's unfortunate when people toss out their sitting practice, and/or fail to keep digging into their own greed, hatred, and delusion because they are too busy working on political causes. But I take very seriously the teaching that there are 84,000 dharma gates - anything and everything can be a point of awakening for us. And I'd argue that, in working on a collective scale to change something, you learn a hell of a lot about your life - about where you are attached and where you have been freed - by being in the middle of such group efforts.
And the Buddha himself, for the record, often lobbied political leaders, military people, and business people who were not members of his sangha. He directly attempted to stop conflicts between warring groups in his home region at least twice, the second time having to watch as his efforts failed (at least in the short term). Now, this was not the lobbying or intervention we know of today, but it, along with Buddha's teachings in the Pali Canon on 'good governing,'
suggest that Buddha felt the social/political world was not outside of his teachings.
As for someone chaining themselves to a tree - how do you know for sure that this is not Buddhist? How do you know for sure that this act is not upholding the precept of not killing? What is Buddhist anyway?
Do you know the koan about Nansen cutting the cat in half?
Nansen saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a cat. He seized the cat and told the monks: `If any of you say a good word, you can save the cat.'
No one answered. So Nansen boldly cut the cat in two pieces.
That evening Joshu returned and Nansen told him about this. Joshu removed his sandals and, placing them on his head, walked out.
Nansen said: `If you had been there, you could have saved the cat.'
Was it Buddhist to kill a cat? Is it Buddhist to cut off any part of life and say it's not practice?"
Here's the link to the original post. (Sorry it's not easier to use - I can't seem to figure out how to paste a link in so you can just click it.)
I'm very interested in others views of Engaged Buddhism, or simply Buddhist practice and "activism" in its myriad of forms. Feel free to drop a comment if you're inclined.
Posted by Nathan at 7:11 PM