Saturday, 4 July 2009

Political Activism and the Buddhist

Since it is the Fourth of July, Independence Day here in the United States (as all you non-Americans from around the world probably know from our enormous and sometimes rather loud and flamboyant pride we take in it: as my Canadian girlfriend says) I thought it was a good opportunity to talk a bit about politics. These days, at least here in the US, it is hard to separate out our own personal spiritual philosophy from the political climate around the nation. Unfortunately, centrist politics has gone the way of dinosaur; more and more extremist views on both the right and the left have garnered the ear of many voters. It is easy to push these hot button topics and scream them into a megaphone loudly to evoke an emotional response, as so many of the talking heads brilliantly do these days. But to engage in constructive and consolatory discussions about actual things that effect the lives of people on a daily basis is all but nearly impossible. The voices of reason and compromise have been all but drowned out by those on both sides by those who believe their position to be without fault and infallible to other viewpoints. As modern Buddhists, we all probably have pretty strong feelings, one way or another about the important issues of the day, and I think it is of utmost importance for us, not to stand by the sidelines, sitting on our cushions, but to actively and constructively engage in the political discussion not only of our individual countries but in the world as a whole.

Today there are no less than 10 major military conflicts and dozens of smaller violent engagements currently ongoing. Most of these conflicts involve the poorest and most destitute countries on the planet, with the most defenseless and impoverished populations the largest victims of the most brutal atrocities. HIV/AIDS continues to devastate sub-Saharan Africa with an infection rate of between 25-40% of their entire population. Common diseases that are quite curable or treatable, such as malaria, tuberculosis and dysentery still wrack and destroy millions of people each year, whose only real obstacle is a lack of access to medical care and inexpensive medications. In our thirst for an ever-expanding need for energy, we have resorted to bio-fuels which have had the unintended consequence of causing global food shortages and a growing famine. These are but a short list of great world crises that will soon come calling on us for answers, and not the other way around.

Fortunately, we are finding out the fate of all other people and the fate of our environment are completely and totally entangled with our own. While we may gain much needed comfort in our practice for ourselves in this life, we must not forget all the suffering that continues to plague this Earth. For many of us, the end of suffering not only for ourselves but those around us, is a goal of our practice, and I don't see this as such a bad thing. The end of suffering can start in the voter's booth or with an outspoken voice or with a simple kind deed; perhaps our voices must not crackle or flail in a way that causes further divisions or rifts among those that disagree, but speak of unity, cooperation, understanding and reconciliation. We must reach out to all sides, to all people - even with those who may have another vantage point, to bring about some real change, some new ideas and a new direction to the ultimate destiny of our humanity.

This is neither a liberal thing nor a conservative thing; neither a religious thing nor a non-religious thing, it is simply the decent human thing to do.

While I don't usually link back to organizations, I would encourage all of you to take a look at

1 comment:

  1. I often struggle as a Buddhist finding the line of caring and being overly passionate about these issues. My best philosophy to deal with this is, our actions as humans are our footprints and our waves. Start with yourself and be true....others who are ready will follow with a little explanation of yourself. My happiness leaves others wondering how they too van achieve the same happiness. Hopefully my actions reflect strong enough for them to repeat.