A guest post by Robert Shuken Ju-Etsu McCarthy
My name is Robert McCarthy, my dharma name is Shuken Ju-Etsu, the meaning is “kind humble and goes beyond,” I would say that these elements are reflected in both my spiritual and secular life. I was born and raised in Western Michigan in a fairly conservative working class town. I am currently enrolled at the University of the West’s Masters of Divinity program learning to be a chaplain, with the ultimate goal to find employment in either the US Army or a hospice program.
How has Buddhism shaped your political preferences?
With mention of the US Army’s Chaplain Candidate program you could gather that I am mildly conservative. As a Buddhist I tend in the direction of quiet political awareness and participation in the form of public service. For example, I worked in multiple elections as an election official, helping others get to the polling places and ensuring that everyone had a safe and enjoyable experience, not espousing for or against any candidate. I believe in remaining apolitical as a Buddhist, the Buddha was not a member of any political party and his teachings were available to anyone regardless of political bent.
How has Buddhism helped you through this very stressful political season?
As a student of history I can see that this election is just part of the wheel turning, meaning this happens all of the time in the history of humankind. I will continue to remain civil and help my fellow humans regardless of outcome.
How do you see your Buddhism mixing with politics in general?
I see Buddhism and politics as water and oil and they really should not mix. The idea of the separation of church and state is important to me. Political groups tied to religious organizations often cause trouble, I believe that when Buddhist groups, or any faith group for that matter, become involved in politics it is a slippery slope, eventually leading to the ostracizing of the religious group and the permanent association of the faith/sect with a particular political leaning. One of the reasons I was so attracted to Buddhism was that it was patently unpolitical, I was not being told how to cast my ballot. I would personally like to see Buddhism continue the trend of remaining secularly apolitical in the future, let us be a sanctuary from the chaos not a participant in it.
The most pressing issue is that of the military. I am applying to the US Army’s Chaplain Candidate program because I would like to go where I can be of the most use. For me the Bodhisattva vow is all about being of service to others. Service is ultimately where I believe that Buddhism and politics can indeed mix. As Buddhists we are called to imitate Kshitigarbha, descending into the most chaotic and dangerous of situations to provide succor for all sentient beings.
Robert “Shuken Ju-Etsu” McCarthy is a 27 year old graduate student living in Pico Rivera, California. He writes: “I am currently enrolled in the University of the West’s Masters of Divinity in Buddhist Chaplaincy. I consider myself Irish-Dutch American, born and raised in a factory town on Michigan’s west coast. I have been practicing Zen Buddhism for close to 9 years now and I am preparing to ordain as a novice Soto Zen Priest in March 2017. After graduation I plan to either serve as a chaplain in the United States Army or as a chaplain in a hospice setting, I am up for whatever the world throws at me.
Robert “Shuken Ju-Etsu” McCarthy”