Is Buddhism apolitical and ‘purely’ religious?

via “Religious Freedom and a Mosque

It is time to stop and take a look at what we mean by a religion. There are about as many Buddhists in America today as there are Muslims. When was the last time you remember a Buddhist demand of any kind? Do Buddhists set up councils to shape the textbooks and demand Buddhist finance? Does the government make a big announcement when Buddhists are appointed to high posts? Are there even any Buddhists in any White House appointments? Do Buddhists complain? Never, for these are political actions, and Buddhism has almost no political outreach. Buddhism in America is purely religious, not political at all.

Some people say Buddhism is not a religion and this article states the Buddhism is “purely religious” with no political leanings at all.  I tend to disagree, Buddhists are political, we all are, but most Buddhists that I know have a firm line between the “religious” and the secular.  Of all the major world religions, Buddhism is the most favorable to a secular world as the secular world does not place Buddhist thought or practice at risk.  Evolution does not threaten the Pali Canon.  Super String Theory does not place a restriction on my zazen.  Science denotes a change in understanding and a view that is in flux.  This is recognized by Buddhists and embraced (at least) by me.

But to say that Buddhists are not political seems a very broad statement.  Buddhists don’t have a lobbying arm but Buddhists are (and should) be the first ones to speak out when they feel rights are being trampled upon or that compassion is needed.  To be a Buddhist is not to withdraw away from the world.  You need to recognize the world and the suffering therein to be a Buddhist (I rarely make absolute statements but this seems obvious to me)

The fourth precept of Social Engaged Buddhism is to not avoid suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Not to lose awareness of or ignore the existence of suffering in your life and in the world. To find positive ways to engage those who are suffering or the cause of suffering.  This includes personal contact and communication. This is a practice by which you awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.



4 thoughts on “Is Buddhism apolitical and ‘purely’ religious?

  1. Thanks James. I just found the idea that Buddhists are apolitical to be a gross exaggeration and the following statement that Buddhism is ‘purely’ religious to be a gross mistatement. The very act of engaging our own minds and conceptions allows us to engage socially.I think part of our practice is to learn how to engage in a compassionate manner. This will differ from person to person and vary in political ideal as well.

  2. Yeah, the idea that Buddhists aren’t political would come as a complete surprise to all the Buddhist politicians around the world.

  3. I know quite a number of Buddhists who think they should not involve themselves in anything political. This drives me crazy as I think this attitude gives licence to ignore dreadful suffering & injustice in the world. If you have developed compassion I think it is impossible to ignore those things that need tending to & I love how you address this in your post. I think Buddhists tend to do things differently when they get political. For example, one the whole they don’t use violence. I would be regarded as a very political Buddhist, but I choose my causes carefully & make sure my involvement is coming from a place of compassion, mindfulness, right intention & will benefit sentient beings. Oh, & I never say I am a Buddhist while doing these things.

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