Should (Zen) Buddhists Be Involved in Politics and Other Activities in the World?


I’ve found a new blogger I like. Well, I found him a while ago, but I find I keep dipping into his posts. He’s a Christian thinker, by my best read an anarcho-pacifist of some sort. So, what’s not to like, one might ask?

Well, he casually throws around the term the “empire” to mean not just America and American culture, but near as I can tell for life in this world where harsh choices are the stuff of life.

Not that he doesn’t call for harsh choices, but they’re of a rejectionist sort, a call to be an outpost of heaven, an insurrectionist among the fallen.

I’ve noticed this revulsion at the world as we find it is a common thread among many religions.

Buddhists certainly are colored by this perspective, if not of the colorful insurrectionist sort.

Just rejectionists.

Buddhists who don’t like the world tend to sneer at the clinging worldlings caught in the snare of samsara, unable to break free.

Hear this from some of my Zen friends on occasion.

And.

This is not how I see the matter.

First there is no separation. And that means no spiritual/material dichotomy. (Nor, as I see it, some material life and then some material resurrection or reincarnation down the line…)

No escape.

This is the deal.

But, as a Zen Buddhist, this isn’t simply materialism. I mean no insult but as best I hear it the materialist argument is for a dead universe, with a projection of meaninglessness. Rather, as I see it as a Zen Buddhist (yes, of the liberal sort: Blessings upon the names of Henry David Thoreau, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Theodore Parker, Curtis Reese, Kenneth Patton, and James Luther Adams) where there is no dichotomy between spiritual and material, each terms that point to reality in part (oh, that glass darkly thing without a later time where it is all made clear)…

What you see is what you get, darkly or otherwise.

Just this.

Just this.

Without projections of meaning or meaninglessness.

This is our home. And with a home comes some rules. Don’t shit in it. Pick up after yourself. Be a good guest and a good host. And take care of it.

And, so, living here not as a stranger and sojourner, but as someone at home, while I think we need serious time looking into the matter so we understand viscerally what’s what, we also need to get off that pillow and do stuff. We need to take care of ourselves. We need to lend a hand to others.

And sometimes we’re called upon by circumstances to make very harsh choices.

Within the dynamic of reality we are bound up together. And the fortunes of one are the fortunes of all in some very real ways.

And, I don’t think any one person should be expected to do it all. We have orientations and skill sets. And we need, I believe, people who dedicate their lives to contemplation just as we need people who dedicate their lives to engagement. But those are outliers. Most of us need to find our way now reflecting, now acting. Find the heart of action in reflection. Find the heart of reflection in action.

As they say not over, not under, not around, but through…

And along the way, yes, what we do will generate consequences.

Harsh choices.

Uncertain outcomes.

Through that glass darkly.

And yet, and yet, choices must be made, and actions taken.

So, be careful all along that way, this way,

But, for goodness sake, don’t turn away.

  • Peter Wilson

    Well said. I worked for Hewlett-Packard for 13 years, most of that time we faced lay-off after lay-off. After a while we realized that the culture which included the feeling of having a secure job with a good company was gone. Facing the problem of trying to focus our energies while constantly being distracted with the possibility of being unemployed, we played with the idea of “The illusion of security.” That illusion seemed to be most palpable just after a round of layoffs. During this time I sought ways to cope and was introduced to Soto/Rinzai Zen through my UU associations in Sonoma County. That was about 7 years ago and I am no longer associated with HP, but my Zen practice is still alive. Over time I have come to realize that the sense of equanimity we experienced just after a layoff was not just due to the relief of not being laid off but also to having faced the real prospect of an uncertain future and being forced to marshal our interior resources in preparation for the unknown. That state of being internally prepared for the unknown, of being ready for anything, for me, is dependent on facing those harsh choices and acting on the information at hand. Where I end up has somehow become less important than how I end up.

  • BuddhaFrog

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