Buddhist Banners

I think this comment explains my view of “Engaged (TM)” Buddhism well.  It is from Kazen Miller and was posted on The Reformed Buddhist.

There is nothing more socially engaged than the practice of Buddhism: alert, aware, no separation, taking care of whatever appears. The idea of socially engaged Buddhism is the opposite of social engagement. Alas, if we didn’t keep sprouting another head on top of our heads we wouldn’t need to practice.

It is just the teasing out of another head, another branch that will bite and snip at every other sectarian head that has spouted up from the Gorgon of organized religion.  This one happens to be firmly latched onto liberal politics rather than conservative dogma.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love liberals.  I am one.  I was raised by a pair of liberals, married a liberal, had liberal babies (ok…two) but my politics don’t need to be melded with my practice.

That does not say that there is not an organic growth of social awareness and engagement that comes with continued contemplative practice.  It does not matter the tradition or religion but when we start stating or hinting that only liberal politics are “engaged” or Buddhist then we are clouding our practice with our politics.  And that is what I fear will happen to Engaged (TM) Buddhism when we begin to look more into organizational activism and less towards personal activism.

So overall, I think that the “Engaged” Buddhism movement is similar to SGI or any other religious group that starts mixing spirituality/religion with politics in an organizational context.  It is a dangerous recipe that leads to groupthink.  I can’t think of one thing more dangerous or detrimental to practice than groupthink.

Rather than wave a Buddhist banner, internalize the precepts, manifest your practice and approach your personal political beliefs as another chance to show compassion tempered by wisdom.  The Engaged Precepts are a wonderful way of doing that.  Becoming an “Engaged (TM) Buddhist” I think is the worst way of doing that.

Gandhi, Rev. King and Thich Nhat Hanh walked as people with a practice.  They did not walk as Hindu, Christian or Buddhist.  They allowed human rights to transcend religion…as it should.

Painting

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11 thoughts on “Buddhist Banners

  1. “And that is what I fear will happen to Engaged (TM) Buddhism when we begin to look more into organizational activism and less towards personal activism.”Has this actually happened? We can speculate from a fearful point of view yet none of the results will be whatever we speculate. When and if this should happen then it needs to be pointed out and rectified. But it seems to me getting twisted up about things that have not yet happened, or may never happen is somewhat counter-productive.If one checks out the words of the three individuals you mention they are very certainly informed by their religious views. They may not say bluntly “I am X religion” but most of their engaged work (social change) definitely comes from a religious viewpoint. TNH wrote the book-literally-on engaged Buddhism, Gandhi attacked castism using Hindu rationales and MLK did say among many other religious references “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” The engaged precepts you mention go well beyond the basic precepts. I happen to agree with them too, but I do not think they are an appropriate guideline for Buddhist practice for everyone since they do emerge from and lead to a specific viewpoint. If someone’s not in that head- or heart- space then it is better for them not to go there than try to fake it. It could even ruin their practice. Buddhist practice has to be about authenticity and has to acknowledge within where someone actually is. Otherwise it’s just another act in the drama-which I think may be part of your point.

  2. “Buddhist practice has to be about authenticity and has to acknowledge within “Yes. “They may not say bluntly “I am X religion” but most of their engaged work (social change) definitely comes from a religious viewpoint”As I said on twitter (and I think we agree somewhat on this): We should let our politics be a representation of our practice. Not our practice a manifestation of our politics. That is authentic. It may lead some of us to activism and others to engagement in other venues.It should be of little doubt to anyone that I am very wary of religious organizations. Buddhist as much as any other.

  3. “We should let our politics be a representation of our practice. Not our practice a manifestation of our politics. “I agree strongly with this. The foundation has to be realized in social or personal transformative efforts. This is where I get into a beef with psychology co-opting Buddhism too. The discipline of psychology is about making a more comfortable prison of the ego. Politics is often about making more comfortable social prisons for certain segments of the population. The point of a Buddhist foundation in both these cases is to bring freedom from these prisons.

  4. Be carefull when agreeing with me, @NellaLou. Soon we’ll form a club, print t-shirts and do meditation counter-protests, have secret handshakes…

  5. Your action, your consequence. Though to make a prediction-and slightly contradict something I just said-it is quite possible some will punch back.

  6. I think I agree with your essential point–not to become attached to labels and any real Buddhist should try to avoid “groupthink.” But I don’t think there is anything wrong with engagement as long as it comes from a place of mindfulness and compassion. Keep in mind that Thich Nhat Hanh is credited with coining the phrase “Engaged Buddhism” and identifies with it.There is the Orwellian perspective and then there is that of Huxley. Orwell was concerned with the banning of books (and “groupthink”); Huxley was concerned that people would stop reading books (and stop thinking). Similarly, although we might be concerned that people might march under a banner of Engaged Buddhism, there is the other Huxleyian concern that some Buddhists may become so preoccupied with their private practice that they might ignore the world around them. In the West, this self preoccupation–intentional or not–seems to be the greater danger.I haven’t encountered many people who identify themselves as Engaged Buddhists, but my intuition says that extending your practice beyond the seated posture and engaging your world mindfully and compassionately is the very opposite of “groupthink.” Getting off your butt and into the world isn’t always a bad thing!

  7. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with engagement as long as it comes from a place of mindfulness and compassion”Agreed and every practicing individual makes this determination for themselves. When speak of extending our practice beyond the posture, I can’t think of any Buddhists that I know that don’t extend their practice into realm beyond the cushion.But from personal experience I have seen more damage from religious banner waving than from those that ignore the world around them.I have other examples, Mr. Hack, that I would be willing to share in a less public forum. Protecting the innocent and all…

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