The Urban Dharma Newsletter - July 6, 2004


In This Issue: Buddhism & Politics

1. Buddhism and Politics
2. Buddhism and Politics
- Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
3. E-sangha, Buddhist Forum -> Engaged Buddhism
4. Temple/Center/Website:
Fahrenheit 9/11
5. Book/CD/Movie: Imagine All the People: A Conversation with the Dalai Lama on Money, Politics, and Life as it Could Be
...by Tenzin Gyatso, Fabien Quaki, Anne Benson, His Holiness the Dalai Lama



Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy. - Ernest Benn

I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians. - Charles De Gaulle (1890 - 1970)

Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first. - Ronald Reagan (1911 - 2004)

The more you read and observe about this Politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that's out always looks the best. - Will Rogers (1879 - 1935)

Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them. - Paul Valery (1871 - 1945)

Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book. - Ronald Reagan (1911 - 2004)

Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects. - Lester B. Pearson (1897 - 1972)

1. Buddhism and Politics


Buddhism plays an eminent political role in Sri Lanka and serves as a unifying force for the Sinhalese majority . Although the monks must renounce worldliness, they of necessity maintain close relationships with the lay community, whose members must supply them with food, shelter, and clothing. During the past century, as Sinhalese nationalism fueled lay devotion to Buddhism, there was a proliferation of lay support organizations, such as the All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress, the Colombo Buddhist Theosophical Society, the All-Ceylon Buddhist Women's Association, and the Young Men's Buddhist Association

The state has similarly retained close ties with the sangha . Since the time of Asoka, the first great Indian emperor (third century B.C.), the head of state has been seen by Buddhist thinkers as the official protector of Buddhism, the "turner of the wheel of the law". One of the recurring problems in the history of Sri Lanka has been a definition of the state as the official supporter of Buddhism, which in turn has been the religion of the ethnic Sinhalese. To be successful among the Sinhalese, a government must provide visible signs of its allegiance to the sangha by building or maintaining dagoba, judging disputes among the orders of monks, and fostering education in the Pali Buddhist tradition

Individual monks and entire sects have involved themselves in party politics, but seldom do all families and orders unite behind a coherent policy. When they do unite, they are a potent political force. In 1956, for example, a rare union of monastic opinion gave crucial support to the election of the Sinhalese political leader Solomon West Ridgeway Diaz (S.W.R.D.) Bandaranaike. As of 1988, the sangha controlled extensive estates in the interior of Sri Lanka and retained an independent power base that, combined with high status in the eyes of the Sinhalese population, gave the Buddhist orders influence as molders of public opinion. Monks remained prominent at rallies and demonstrations promoting ethnic Sinhalese issues.

2. Buddhism and Politics - Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera


The Buddha had gone beyond all worldly affairs, but still gave advice on good government.

The Buddha came from a warrior caste and was naturally brought into association with kings, princes and ministers. Despite His origin and association, He never resorted to the influence of political power to introduce His teaching, nor allowed His Teaching to be misused for gaining political power. But today, many politicians try to drag the Buddha's name into politics by introducing Him as a communist, capitalist, or even an imperialist. They have forgotten that the new political philosophy as we know it really developed in the West long after the Buddha's time. Those who try to make use of the good name of the Buddha for their own personal advantage must remember that the Buddha was the Supremely Enlightened One who had gone beyond all worldly concerns.

There is an inherent problem of trying to intermingle religion with politics. The basis of religion is morality, purity and faith, while that for politics is power. In the course of history, religion has often been used to give legitimacy to those in power and their exercise of that power. Religion was used to justify wars and conquests, persecutions, atrocities, rebellions, destruction of works of art and culture.

When religion is used to pander to political whims, it has to forego its high moral ideals and become debased by worldly political demands.

The thrust of the Buddha Dhamma is not directed to the creation of new political institutions and establishing political arrangements. Basically, it seeks to approach the problems of society by reforming the individuals constituting that society and by suggesting some general principles through which the society can be guided towards greater humanism, improved welfare of its members, and more equitable sharing of resources.

There is a limit to the extent to which a political system can safeguard the happiness and prosperity of its people. No political system, no matter how ideal it may appear to be, can bring about peace and happiness as long as the people in the system are dominated by greed, hatred and delusion. In addition, no matter what political system is adopted, there are certain universal factors which the members of that society will have to experience: the effects of good and bad kamma, the lack of real satisfaction or everlasting happiness in the world characterized by dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (egolessness). To the Buddhist, nowhere in Samsara is there real freedom, not even in the heavens or the world of Brahama.

Although a good and just political system which guarantees basic human rights and contains checks and balances to the use of power is an important condition for a happy in society, people should not fritter away their time by endlessly searching for the ultimate political system where men can be completely free, because complete freedom cannot be found in any system but only in minds which are free. To be free, people will have to look within their own minds and work towards freeing themselves from the chains of ignorance and craving. Freedom in the truest sense is only possible when a person uses Dhamma to develop his character through good speech and action and to train his mind so as to expand his mental potential and achieve his ultimate aim of enlightenment.

While recognizing the usefulness of separating religion from politics and the limitations of political systems in bringing about peace and happiness, there are several aspects of the Buddha's teaching which have close correspondence to the political arrangements of the present day. Firstly, the Buddha spoke about the equality of all human beings long before Abraham Lincoln, and that classes and castes are artificial barriers erected by society. The only classification of human beings, according to the Buddha, is based on the quality of their moral conduct. Secondly, the Buddha encouraged the spirit of social -co-operation and active participation in society. This spirit is actively promoted in the political process of modern societies. Thirdly, since no one was appointed as the Buddha's successor, the members of the Order were to be guided by the Dhamma and Vinaya, or in short, the Rule of Law. Until today very member of the Sangha is to abide by the Rule of Law which governs and guides their conduct.

Fourthly, the Buddha encouraged the spirit of consultation and the democratic process. This is shown within the community of the Order in which all members have the right to decide on matters of general concern. When a serious question arose demanding attention, the issues were put before the monks and discussed in a manner similar to the democratic parliamentary system used today. This self-governing procedure may come as a surprise to many to learn that in the assemblies of Buddhists in India 2,500 years and more ago are to be found the rudiments of the parliamentary practice of the present day. A special officer similar to 'Mr. Speaker' was appointed to preserve the dignity of the Parliamentary Chief Whip, was also appointed to see if the quorum was secured. Matters were put forward in the form of a motion which was open to discussion. In some cases it was done once, in others three times, thus anticipating the practice of Parliament in requiring that a bill be read a third time before it becomes law. If the discussion showed a difference of opinion, it was to be settled by the vote of the majority through balloting.

The Buddhist approach to political power is the moralization and the responsible use of public power. The Buddha preached non-violence and peace as a universal message. He did not approve of violence or the destruction of life, and declared that there is no such thing as a 'just' war. He taught: 'The victor breeds hatred, the defeated lives in misery. He who renounces both victory and defeat is happy and peaceful.' Not only did the Buddha teach non-violence and peace, He was perhaps the first and only religious teacher who went to the battlefield personally to prevent the outbreak of a war. He diffused tension between the Sakyas and the Koliyas who were about to wage war over the waters of Rohini. He also dissuaded King Ajatasattu from attacking the Kingdom of the Vajjis.

The Buddha discussed the importance and the prerequisites of a good government. He showed how the country could become corrupt, degenerate and unhappy when the head of the government becomes corrupt and unjust. He spoke against corruption and how a government should act based on humanitarian principles.

The Buddha once said, 'When the ruler of a country is just and good, the ministers become just and good; when the ministers are just and good, the higher officials become just and good; when the higher officials are just and good, the rank and file become just and good; when the rank and file become just and good, the people become just and good.'(Anguttara Nikaya)

In the Cakkavatti Sihananda Sutta, the Buddha said that immorality and crime, such as theft, falsehood, violence, hatred, cruelty, could arise from poverty. Kings and governments may try to suppress crime through punishment, but it is futile to eradicate crimes through force.

In the Kutadanta Sutta, the Buddha suggested economic development instead of force to reduce crime. The government should use the country's resources to improve the economic conditions of the country. It could embark on agricultural and rural development, provide financial support to entrepreneurs and business, provide adequate wages for workers to maintain a decent life with human dignity.

In the Jataka, the Buddha had given to rules for Good Government, known as 'Dasa Raja Dharma'. These ten rules can be applied even today by any government which wishes to rule the country peacefully. The rules are as follows:

1) be liberal and avoid selfishness,
2) maintain a high moral character,
3) be prepared to sacrifice one's own pleasure for the well-being of the subjects,
4) be honest and maintain absolute integrity,
5) be kind and gentle,
6) lead a simple life for the subjects to emulate,
7) be free from hatred of any kind,
8) exercise non-violence,
9) practise patience, and
10) respect public opinion to promote peace and harmony.

Regarding the behavior of rulers, He further advised:

- A good ruler should act impartially and should not be biased and discriminate between one particular group of subjects against another.
- A good ruler should not harbor any form of hatred against any of his subjects.
- A good ruler should show no fear whatsoever in the enforcement of the law, if it is justifiable.
- A good ruler must possess a clear understanding of the law to be enforced. It should not be enforced just because the ruler has the authority to enforce the law. It must be done in a reasonable manner and with common sense. -- (Cakkavatti Sihananda Sutta)

In the Milinda Panha,it is stated: 'If a man, who is unfit, incompetent, immoral, improper, unable and unworthy of kingship, has enthroned himself a king or a ruler with great authority, he is subject to be tortured‚ to be subject to a variety of punishment by the people, because, being unfit and unworthy, he has placed himself unrighteously in the seat of sovereignty. The ruler, like others who violate and transgress moral codes and basic rules of all social laws of mankind, is equally subject to punishment; and moreover, to be censured is the ruler who conducts himself as a robber of the public.' In a Jataka story, it is mentioned that a ruler who punishes innocent people and does not punish the culprit is not suitable to rule a country.

The king always improves himself and carefully examines his own conduct in deeds, words and thoughts, trying to discover and listen to public opinion as to whether or not he had been guilty of any faults and mistakes in ruling the kingdom. If it is found that he rules unrighteously, the public will complain that they are ruined by the wicked ruler with unjust treatment, punishment, taxation, or other oppressions including corruption of any kind, and they will react against him in one way or another. On the contrary, if he rules righteously they will bless him: 'Long live His Majesty.' (Majjhima Nikaya)

The Buddha'semphasis on the moral duty of a ruler to use public power to improve the welfare of the people had inspired Emperor Asoka in the Third Century B.C. to do likewise. Emperor Asoka, a sparkling example of this principle, resolved to live according to and preach the Dhamma and to serve his subjects and all humanity. He declared his non-aggressive intentions to his neighbors, assuring them of his goodwill and sending envoys to distant kings bearing his message of peace and non-aggression. He promoted the energetic practice of the socio-moral virtues of honesty, truthfulness, compassion, benevolence, non-violence, considerate behavior towards all, non-extravagance, non-acquisitiveness, and non-injury to animals. He encouraged religious freedom and mutual respect for each other's creed. He went on periodic tours preaching the Dhamma to the rural people. He undertook works of public utility, such as founding of hospitals for men and animals, supplying of medicine, planting of roadside trees and groves, digging of wells, and construction of watering sheds and rest houses. He expressly forbade cruelty to animals.

Sometimes the Buddha is said to be a social reformer. Among other things, He condemned the caste system, recognized the equality of people, spoke on the need to improve socio-economic conditions, recognized the importance of a more equitable distribution of wealth among the rich and the poor, raised the status of women, recommended the incorporation of humanism in government and administration, and taught that a society should not be run by greed but with consideration and compassion for the people. Despite all these, His contribution to mankind is much greater because He took off at a point which no other social reformer before or ever since had done, that is, by going to the deepest roots of human ill which are found in the human mind. It is only in the human mind that true reform can be effected. Reforms imposed by force upon the external world have a very short life because they have no roots. But those reforms which spring as a result of the transformation of man's inner consciousness remain rooted. While their branches spread outwards, they draw their nourishment from an unfailing source -- the subconscious imperatives of the life-stream itself. So reforms come about when men's minds have prepared the way for them, and they live as long as men revitalize them out of their own love of truth, justice and their fellow men.

The doctrine preached by the Buddha is not one based on 'Political Philosophy'. Nor is it a doctrine that encourages men to worldly pleasures. It sets out a way to attain Nibbana. In other words, its ultimate aim is to put an end to craving (Tanha) that keeps them in bondage to this world. A stanza from the Dhammapada best summarizes this statement: 'The path that leads to worldly gain is one, and the path that leads to Nibbana(by leading a religious life)is another.'

However, this does not mean that Buddhists cannot or should not get involved in the political process, which is a social reality. The lives of the members of a society are shaped by laws and regulations, economic arrangements allowed within a country, institutional arrangements, which are influenced by the political arrangements of that society. Nevertheless, if a Buddhist wishes to be involved in politics, he should not misuse religion to gain political powers, nor is it advisable for those who have renounced the worldly life to lead a pure, religious life to be actively involved in politics.

3. E-sangha, Buddhist Forum -> Engaged Buddhism


This is an edited version of the Forum Page... Click on link above to see forum.


2003 was the year of the angry Buddhist. Because of the war in Iraq, and general opposition to the current US administration, I have seen Buddhists expressing death wishes for public officals, and wishes for mass casualties and death for American military personel.

On another list to which I belong, someone was expressing disappointment that the elder George Bush didn't get killed when he skydived on his birthday. This may have been a joke, but I believe this is an expression of a genuine hate, and anger that is typical of Buddhists when their thoughts turn to politics.

Exactly as the religious right, Buddhists think themselves on the moral superior ground. Those who disagree are mental, or moral inferiors. As long as we are too engrossed in our own hopes & fears to see that those who disagree with us have a set of hope and fear of their own, as long as we think such people as less than ourselves, and as objects of scorn, and hate.... we will be exactly the dragon we want to slay. We not only are not promoting peace, but have become the war itself.


Oh Suzanna, don't you cry for me.

For I come from Odiyanna with a benzra on my knee!


In my opinion, extremism in any form runs counter to what the buddha taught.

Experience has taught me that political movements of all forms-- even those whose agendas seem in keeping with the spirit of loving kindness-- can have a tendency to cultivate a form of zealousness in their adherents that seems well removed from the middle way and psychologically unhealthy.

I myself try to shy away from any form of activism, preferring instead to make my impact through the choices I make in my day to day activities.


Thanks for bringing this up. I am more and more inclined to the option of disengagement rather than engagement. I take as an example of this Shakayamuni's own life. Shakyamuni withdrew from political life, leaving his inherited position of political power, never to return to it. In addition, the community he set up was a kind of counter-culture, a community that withdrew from formal involvement in the political process. I take my cue from these kinds of actions.

After study of Dharma history, I also have come to the conclusion that every time State and Dharma merge, the Dharma loses. I don't really think it is possible to reform the state to any great extent. This doesn't mean that I think all states are equal; clearly some states are better to live in than others. So I'm not saying that political activity is inherently anti-Dharma. But my expectations about the effectiveness of such activity, particularly in the long term, are very low.


Recently, I attended a political activist group at my local sangha. It was aimed at nonviolence Buddhist political activists. After 10 or 15 minutes, after the ice was broken, the discussion quickly degenerated into what I would call hateful, divisive rhetoric. While the group represented the majority of the local Buddhist and peace activist communities, the bulk of the discussion consisted of hurling ad hominem attacks against conservative politicians, namely president Bush. There was alot of rejoicing at the failure of others deemed, for whatever reasons, non-Buddhist or non-peaceful. And there was great laughter at shared visions of how to best bust the chops of various peoples and groups. You know, them, over there, away from us, here.

I left and never came back.

My root teacher doesn't allow discussion of politics of any sort in his gonpas. Not even pro-Tibet politics. I thought it was crazy at the time, but now I understand a bit better.


QUOTE - As long as we are too engrossed in our own hopes & fears to see that those who disagree with us have a set of hope and fear of their own, as long as we think such people as less than ourselves, and as objects of scorn, and hate.... we will be exactly the dragon we want to slay. We not only are not promoting peace, but have become the war itself.


If you are not involved with materialism
either spiritually or physically
then there is no emphasis made on any extreme.

~Chogyam Trungpa

Always keep your beginner's mind.

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities,
but in the expert's mind there are a few.

~Shunryu Suzuki

~The time is now~ Practice is not for another time or another place or another person~


Thanks for bringing this up. I am more and more inclined to the option of disengagement rather than engagement. I take as an example of this Shakayamuni's own life. Shakyamuni withdrew from political life, leaving his inherited position of political power, never to return to it.

... So I'm not saying that political activity is inherently anti-Dharma. But my expectations about the effectiveness of such activity, particularly in the long term, are very low.


The notion that Buddha had withdrawn from any sort of political life is a best a misconception, and at worse, a misrepresenation.

In fact, Buddha counseled Kings, ministers, brahmins, lay people, generals, etc. Why? Because people asked him to, because people look at religious leaders and relgions for moral and ethical guidance in their daily lives.

Buddha, as a religious leader, was far more powerful in the political realm then he would have been as the King of the Shakyas.

Buddhism has always been engaged, and must be engaged. The term "socially engaged Buddhism" was invented by westerners merely to alert us to the fact that Buddhism has been engaged all along.

The very bodhisattva ethic of active compassion is at the very heart of engaged Buddhism-- indeed; among the two kinds of bodhicitta, the active practice of the six perfections is known as "engaged Bodhicitta".

In general, engaged Buddhism is the practice of dana; avihimsa, the protection of living beings, and bringing Buddhist values with us in our interactions with others-- and this extends to trying to inform others through the confidence we hold in Buddhist values. This can and does extend to every are of our lives.


I guess I'd like to experience this thing called "engaged Buddhism". What I have seen has nothing to do with bringing the compassion and ethics of one's Buddhist practice into the world. What I have seen is little more than institutionalizing hatred and bigotry within the Buddhist community-- and then ostracizing those who stand up against that very institutionalization.


QUOTE - While the group represented the majority of the local Buddhist and peace activist communities, the bulk of the discussion consisted of hurling ad hominem attacks against conservative politicians, namely president Bush. There was alot of rejoicing at the failure of others deemed, for whatever reasons, non-Buddhist or non-peaceful

This reliance on theorising, sloganeering and anti-Americanism is rife in the UK left. It's a shame, really. I used to be like that, but I gave it up as a bad habit - since then I've become quite fascinated by it all.

(I'm all for pragmatism and The Facts, now - sometimes Left, sometimes Right. The world's a lot less frustrating when you see how complicated things are. )

This all seems to be a phenomena caused by the link between the 'countercultural' appeal of both far-left politics and Buddhism. The two seem to get stuck together somehow in people's minds, so that one is automatically related to the other. It seems to be similar to the frequent theist (ie Christian) bashing found among some Buddhists.

Not at all Middle Way....


Whatever is the essence of the Tathagata,
That is the essence of the world.

The Tathagata has no essence.

The world is without essence.

[Nagarjuna, Mulamadhyamakakarika, XXII:16]


Please note: Life is a test. It is only a test. If this were your real life, you'd have been given better instructions.


As always, you make some good observations.

I am aware that the Buddha had politically powerful disciples and patrons and that he did not exclude such people from his sangha. I was making a different point; though I admit I made it clumsily.

My point is that the Buddha was not a political activist in the sense of starting a political movement (or party, in contemporary terms). If politically powerful people approached him, he taught them. But it does not seem that he deliberately sought them out.

In Chapter 14 of the Lotus Sutra it says that Bodhisattvas who have vowed to spread and preserve the Dharma should not approach those who are politically powerful. I think this is consistent with the Buddha's life.

The problem with the political sphere is that it is rooted in coercion and intimidation, and will lead, therefore, at some point to living a life that runs counter to the basic precepts of the Buddhadharma. When Dharma traditions have merged with the State, they have become institutions of coercion, just like any religion that merges with the State. That is why I say that when State and Dharma merge, the Dharma always loses.


QUOTE - That is why I say that when State and Dharma merge, the Dharma always loses.

As can be seen in the history of Tibet when it first encountered Buddhism and was opposed by the Bon priests or decidedly uncompassionate behaviour and nationalistic rhetoric spouted by Zen masters in Japan during WW2. There are many, many more examples..


Whatever is the essence of the Tathagata,
That is the essence of the world.

The Tathagata has no essence.

The world is without essence.

[Nagarjuna, Mulamadhyamakakarika, XXII:16]


The problem with the political sphere is that it is rooted in coercion and intimidation, and will lead, therefore, at some point to living a life that runs counter to the basic precepts of the Buddhadharma.

I think this gets quite at the core of the matter: how does one bring the values and view of Buddhism into the public sector-- in an organized way, outside of one's own personal choices, etc.-- without the subtle (and not so subtle) violence that is at the heart of political action?

I have no found such a way, but am hopeful and optimistic that such a vision might come to exist.


I would add that even if I wanted to change the world, I would do it by changing myself. Ultimately that which is a phantom is a kind of magic, and changing it effectively requires one to be in tune with this fact. Buddhism is very much against mundane manipulation of the world, and most political activism I see is precisely the kind of futile and entangled mundane manipulation that perpetuates false hopes/fears and false ideas about the true condition of things.

If compassion causes ruin to your being, what kind of compassion is that? I say, if you can live beyond hope and fear without helping anyone, and if helping others causes you to live with hope and fear, you should stop helping, because you are not skillful enough helper yet. Help yourself first.

I'm not saying one should be a jerk. We should be decent and kind, but this shouldn't require a strenuous effort by default.


I love and respect Buddha Dharma, but I am not formally a Buddhist -- I have not made any vows nor have I taken any precepts. I have not completed any retreats. Although I make efforts to be well informed, there is a lot I don't know.


QUOTE - every time State and Dharma merge, the Dharma loses
Except for Tibet, where the State lost and the Dharma won because of that.

PS. I don't want to sound cynical.


Agreed. While Tibet was doing fine, hardly anyone knew anything about Tibetan flavor of Buddhism, and to me, it's a very important flavor to know and it's a very important contribution to Dharma. So, in a perverted sense, the fall of independent Tibet has caused the spread of Dharma and perhaps saved countless beings.

Also, if not for Chogyal Namkai Norbu Rinpoche we would probably know nothing about Dzogchen right now, and that would be a tremendous loss and a misfortune. I am very glad that people find the strength to step outside the limits for the benefit of all beings.

I wish Tibetans to be happy and I wish them wellbeing. However I can't help but to look at history this way. Perhaps someone can correct me.


Politics in modern democracies means the relations between polarized advocates (parties, lobbyists, unions, single issue folks etc.), our vast bureaucratic government and the lukewarm rest of us. How anything of lasting value for the reduction of all forms of suffering & ignorance would come forth from this noxious mixture is not very likely.

If individuals wish to help reduce suffering & ignorance, then we are free to quietly do so - alone or in groups. But to try and use government as our "skillful means" is silly and counterproductive.


The case of Tibet is difficult to discuss. Because of the precarious situation of the Tibetan people, and because I think that anyone of good will hopes for more freedom for the Tibetan people, any criticism of the politics of pre-communist Tibet can be used by those who wish to continue the suppression of the Tibetan people for their own purposes. This puts those of us who find the merger of Dharma and State problematical in Tibet in an awkward situation, as we do not wish to be misunderstood as in any way supporting the suppression of the Tibetan people.

Having said the above, I hope my brief comment will be understood. And that is that I do not think that Tibet is an exception. As States go, Tibet was pretty good; yet it did have its history of suppression and sectarian strife, both between Buddhism and Bon and between various Buddhist traditions. I don't think it is helpful to go over past wrongs. Better to look to a more open and tolerant future. In my opinion, that more open and tolerant future can be built upon a separation of State and Dharma.


Secularism was the hit of the last two centuries.


I don't think a mixture of Church & State is necessarily a bad thing. We have some phobia of it in America, even though separation, technically, isn't guaranteed by the articles of government-- although it has been traditionally interpreted as such.

A theocracy is great if you hold those values and principles. It can be really unpleasant if you do not, and the dominate religious group is fundementalist, intolerant, exclusionary, etc. I'm an American, happy to be so... I'm fairly proud of the intellectual foundations of my government... but I see no need to condemn the political systems of other countries.

The problem with Tibet and politics was the politicizing of dharma itself. When powerful clans come to sponsor monasteries or entire lineages, it becomes very difficult to separate dharma from politics. This phenomena has occured elsewhere-- it's nothing special.

I fear two things regarding dharma and politics in America. One, is that people practicing in a traditional model of Tibetan Buddhism come to feel some contempt for Western political models, striving for some Buddhist theocracy that isn't going to exist, and shouldn't exist, given our cultural and intellectual history. I hear plenty of this.

The second, is Western Tibetan Buddhists, picking up ancient Tibetan religious politics, thinking it is somehow relevant to the practice of dharma. The Tibetans have long wished to drop this baggage-- no need for us to pick it up.

Both of those points, however, are entirely separate from cultivating a truely American political ecology based on Buddhist values and world view. That is the thing I find most interesting (in this thread at least), and is something I find quite elusive, despite the best efforts.


Buddhadharma is perhaps the most "sociable" and "politicos" religion but, ironically, it detaches itself from the politics, as the common citizen does in any normal democracy. Politics nowadays is a Schimpfwort. It is not the people that spoil the politics, it is the power that spoils people. And a detached politician is a contradictio in adjecto.


Today there are numerous assumptions we Americans hold, even the most conservative of us, that are direct result of the Socialist labor movement in the US in the 1800 and 1900's-- such as the 40 hour work week, the ban on child labor; rights to basic education., etc.

Nevertheless, Socialism these days gets a bad rap because people do not understand that what is important about socialism is the values it brought into our culture, necessary balances to the anarcho-capitalism of J.P. Morgan, John. D. Rockefellar, and other 19th century robber barons.

Is the point of engaged Buddhism to convert people to Buddhism? no, the point of engaged Buddhism is to bring Buddhist values into action in our daily lives with all of our decisions. To do this we need information. We need a baseline of understanding just what acts and political choices are consistent with Dharma and what are not. For this reason the discussions around what constitutes a Buddhism of social engagement is very important because we are Buddhists living in a larger culture, We have an opportunity to ensure that our values are impressed upon our society by our actions and behavior.

My teacher, Namkhai Norbu, offers an excellent model for Buddhist engagement-- he has an organization call A.S.I.A which works in Tibet bringing in much needed western Medical expertise and educational and medical facilities to remote places in rural Tibet. This organization employs several hundred people in Rome and Tibet, and it as registered NGO in Europe.

We, as socially engaged Buddhists, need to understand that our key focus is the desire to relieve suffering, non-harming, and as the Dalai Lama so eloquently puts it taking "universal responsibility" for our world and our place in it.

4. Fahrenheit 9/11


One of the most controversial and provocative films of the year, Fahrenheit 9/11 is Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore's searing examination of the Bush administration's actions in the wake of the tragic events of 9/11. With his characteristic humor and dogged commitment to uncovering the facts, Moore considers the presidency of George W. Bush and where it has led us. He looks at how - and why - Bush and his inner circle avoided pursuing the Saudi connection to 9/11, despite the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis and Saudi money had funded Al Qaeda. Fahrenheit 9/11 shows us a nation kept in constant fear by FBI alerts and lulled into accepting a piece of legislation, the USA Patriot Act, that infringes on basic civil rights. It is in this atmosphere of confusion, suspicion and dread that the Bush Administration makes its headlong rush towards war in Iraq - and Fahrenheit 9/11 takes us inside that war to tell the stories we haven't heard, illustrating the awful human cost to U.S. soldiers and their families.

5. Imagine All the People: A Conversation with the Dalai Lama on Money, Politics, and Life as it Could Be ...by Tenzin Gyatso, Fabien Quaki, Anne Benson, His Holiness the Dalai Lama


Amazon.com - Reviewer: from Cincinnati, OH USA... You know before reading this book, I thought I had pretty much captured most of what the Dalai Lama had to offer by way of the written word. But this book gave me a different glimpse into the man, where we find a dialogue of intimacy and open honesty unlike we have ever seen in his other works (still wonderful other works, at that!).

My favorite section in here was called "The Seduction of the Military." The Dalai Lama comments, "Frankly, as a child, I was attracted to the military. Their uniforms looked so smart and beautiful. But that is exactly how the seduction begins." And how true, yes? Children will be children, even I played with toy guns and bought G.I. Joe's to pass the time with. There are a wide variety of such exciting games, but I now see that perhaps they really are not as harmless as we might perceive them to be. Surely there are fun games for kids to play that aren't based on the killing of other human beings. The Dalai Lama purports that if it wasn't for the fact that so many adults in this world are fascinated and mesmerized themselves by military and war, that we could all see more clearly that allowing our children to play such games is extremely unfortunate. Imagine your child running around the back yard like he is a serial killer! It's somewhat scary when I look at it from this perspective. The Dalai Lama tells of how some former soldiers have through the years told him that at first when they killed someone, it made them feel awkward. But as time on the battlefield progressed, they grew desensitized and more and more accustomed to the act of taking life. That's the condition many of us seem to be in. We see so much of this on either the news or in the form of movies, that we are completely desensitized as to the harm it is actually doing everyone.

This is a magnificent book. If you are looking for a presentation on the Dalai Lama the man, this book delivers the good for us here. He covers compassion in a section titled, "The Medicine of Altruism." He refers to the plague Tibet underwent at the hands of Mao, and how this medicine was the requisite every Tibetan needed and sometimes still needs to fully heal from those terrible atrocities. Man I could go on and on. But why don't you let the Dalai tell you for himself? Enjoy the book.


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