Firstly I'd like to thank you, Mr. Man, for giving me this opportunity to explore and solidify my feelings on this situation in Western Buddhism. I tend to avoid quick posting when more detail and mindfulness is needed, so I took my time in responding, yes this will be a wall of text, but your question demands a deep answer.
It is not a surprise, nor a new understanding, that the overwhelming majority of convert Buddhists in America have liberal leanings. This makes perfect sense as people who are liberal minded tend to be more open to something like changing their religion, while conservative people are more likely to stick with what they were raised with , or at least not seek out any other frameworks to explore.
So not coincidentally, we have very liberal western Buddhists, in whose culture Buddhism is a new occurrence, and very conservative people from Buddhist countries. I see this play out at my own monastery, where some westerners come with pro left wing bumper stickers, and some of the immigrants from Buddhist countries come with pro right wing bumper stickers. I also see this play out on a variety of Buddhist forums that mix westerners and people raised in Buddhist cultures, like here and SC.
As I mentioned before, in lay life I skirted the middle between these two extremes, so I can somewhat understand the positions of both. Even in my own personal “Buddhism”, I feel much should be conserved, and some can be updated, the hard question is in the details of what is conserved, and what is updated.
With that all said, I think I can now move towards the meat of the question. The first thing I’d like to point out, is our two original statements. You immediately latched on to certain words from the original post, presumably ones that caused offense, and immediately demanded I answer for posing some agreement with the OP. I think a careful reading of my comment should be seen though :
I would also like to know, while I don't agree with some of what the person says, I think this paragraph is pretty apt to what I am seeing in some western buddhist circles today.
As you can see, I directly stated I don’t agree with some of what the person says, I don’t think there is anyone who only and just thinks of racial equality, no human being is unidimensional, even though it is a trait of ours to tend to do that to people we “other”, place in the out-group of the us vs them dynamic, something I will be speaking about later in this post.
But the general gist of the statement points towards a new trend in politics in the society at large that is now also immerging in some Buddhist circles. What is concerning to me about this new trend, is not necessarily what they believe, but how they go about acting that belief out in the world.
As stated many times before, I gave up politics years before I even became a monk, and I had moved to the monastery with politics furthest from my mind, happy to leave more of the world behind me as I moved forward in my journey… then came the election. The reaction of half the country that I saw, seemed like utter madness, the dismay I saw in people who came to the monastery, went well beyond the normal left vs right back and forth I was used to, and so in the interest of trying to understand what my supporters were going through(on one hand I felt I shouldn’t get involved, on the other I felt I owed it to the people who supported me to understand), I decided to do like I did in the old days, and research the situation from all sides.
A decision I now don’t necessarily regret, but has caused me to be more active in the world then I would of liked, look even here I am spending time writing this big post, although I do feel this is needed to clarify my positions and so I can move forward. Since the election a lot has been hanging over my head with regards to this. Even though Bhavana has a strict policy of not taking questions about politics, people still find ways to ask the questions, I know what they are seeking. What I have been preaching is metta, and if you feel the need to act, then do so with mindfulness, not with minds clouded by aversive mental states. The protests I saw after the election had no metta, or mindfulness, so I feel this is what is most needed in times people feel very distressed.
So back to it, I delved into the politics of the day(boy sometimes I wish I lived at a monastery with no internet lol), what I saw on the right was nothing new, moderate conservatives, and typical radical right wing evangelical types we are all use to in the last 30 years, what I saw on the left however, was new to me, there were the moderate liberals, but there was a new force , Political Correctness reborn into what appeared to me to be the left wing version of the right wing evangelicals, PC authoritarians claiming the moral high ground, just as the right wing authoritarians have done for years. The difference being however, was that the Right Wing Authoritarians were essentially a laughing stock to the average person and had little power or sway over them unless through law, the Left Wing Authoritarians had the power of the mass media and now ever increasingly the law, a very different proposition.
What I saw was that the two radical extremes had completely taking over the politics of the country and a “culture war” was in full swing, and it was currently dominated by the PC authoritarians.
I also began to see a trait often attributed to the far right, that of being science deniers when it didn’t fit their purpose, start to be a part of the radical left as well. I’ve seen the trend of bought and sold for scientists grow in the past 20 years, and now every side in a political debate has their own experts and their own facts, very convenient.
So through my research I heard the term Social Justice, started hearing terms like “white privilege”, “safe spaces”, etc, so I wandered into the world of SJW vs Anti-SJW and went further down the rabbit hole. I heard the term intersectional feminism, I researched that, learned about it, even watched some talks by the woman who is credited for starting the concept, There were some things in there I felt were radically simplified, and some I didn’t agree with, and some pretty objectively off the mark, but the concept also has some good points and like most tools, can be used in a good way, or a bad way. I heard the term “critical theory”, a modality that often goes together with intersectional feminism, and researched that, and felt the same way for the most part, although I felt it to be a more destructive and negative view of things in general.
I found out that all of a sudden so many people were “racist, sexist, misogynist, cis, etc etc”, in fact it was an epidemic! even people I had known to be quite middle of the road like myself, people who spoke logically and rationally, and wanted to talk out issues, were labeled in such a way. In fact, I found out that I was, as a “cis white male” essentially the cause of all the problems in the world, and literally the devil. Now it was no longer about the content of your character, but the color of your skin, and your group identity…. Sounds oddly familiar to many places and periods in history, right before a lot of people died, and not to mention totally opposite to the teaching of the Buddha and the concept of kamma, but maybe I’ll digress to that later.
Actually, it’s a basic human trait of othering, and scapegoating. People have been doing it to each other since people have been around, it’s part of the in-group/out-group mechanism ingrained into our survival mechanisms from natural selection, we probably wouldn’t be around if it were not there, but in modern times it has caused humanity much strife, and death.
I was raised to be “color blind” and egalitarian, but now being color blind was racist, and egalitarian sexist. This, like many things, became topsy tervy as the definitions for things were changed by the PC authoritarians, confusing the average person and causing fear, because any average person would be deathly afraid to be labeled “racist, sexist, misogynist, cis, etc etc” , the words became an easy way to control people, a use of force, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, as this is what authoritarians of every stripe tend to do, the only difference is the narrative behind the force.
The Social Justice narrative is one of oppressor vs oppressed, of compassion for oppressed peoples(the “us”), and hatred and destruction towards the oppressors(the “them”),same old song, different lyrics. It uses compassion as a weapon of control and power(something I saw a lot of in politics, not with social justice, but in general politicians and people in power preying off peoples compassion for their own ends), this is why it is authoritarian.
Yes there have always been oppressed peoples, and oppressors, in fact near every group of humans have been both at one point in time or another(although now I hear even history cannot be trusted as it is a tool of the oppressors), but it is too simplistic a world view, the world is much more complicated than that. It is essentially the macro level version of us vs them, and can have very devastating consequences.
almost no one denies that real problems exist, and some can even be worked on and mitigated to a certain degree, but there is a bit of utopianism in this doctrine that is worrisome, anytime people have striven for utopia, they have created dystopia, The Buddha had no expectations that even the dhamma he proclaimed would lead to a utopia, let alone anything else, and I think a quote from Ajahn Brahm is quite apt as a response to this “ suffering is asking from the world what it cannot give you”.
So with all this research and trying to understand what was going on in the broader community, I began to feel the need to be extra careful of my speech and the words I used when speaking to people, which is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, it’s always good to be mindful as the Buddha gives advice to his son to be like a mirror, but it is a bad thing when done because of fear and compulsion, that is never good.
In general though, even though I have been around very left leaning groups in my travels and retreats, I have had no trouble, even when speaking my mind, I have never been known to be the most PC person, and that is still part of me, so I don’t always sugar coat the dhamma or life in general, and sometimes I call it as I see it, but even with that I have not had any troubles per say, I have certainly been asked my own political views multiple times(people have to know what side you are on these days!, and no side is worst of all, im use to that from my political days, being blamed for every election because we didn’t vote for one of the two major parties), and have had questions many times from a social justice viewpoint, to which I have answered to the best of my ability in accordance with the dhamma, but I think the main trap people fall into is failing to recognize that the average person is a generally good person trying to do their best in the world, to the best of their abilities, ideologies of all stripes have the potential for dehumanization and the potential for divisiveness, and it behooves us to rise above them to meet people as they are, not as we feel they should be.
It is that potential for divisiveness, that I see manifesting itself to a degree I don’t believe I’ve seen in my 40 years (it was always there, being an independent you couldn’t help but see it, but it has been flamed and fanned to a fever pitch today). Nor, I should make it clear, do I think that it is ONLY the fault of one side, but both, it takes at least two to tango as they say, so it behooves us to do things that would lead to LESS divisiveness, not more, because the cycle ramps up and never ends well. Two fringes are in a war, feeding off each other and growing off each other, and the majority of us are just caught in the middle trying to live our lives.
So moving on, because it is part of the general population, I have concerns about its impact in the Buddhist one. For an example of that you need go no further then something that arose from the Buddhist community after the election, this was the undercurrent reveling itself in grand fashion:
Stand Against Suffering: A Call to Action by Buddhist Teachers
Not only is this call to action extremely divisive and politically driven, it also attempts to claim high ground in the typical Authoritarian fashion, complete with all the buzzwords you find when researching Social Justice. This is, in effect, a Social Justice, PC Authoritarian, Call to action, a call to divisiveness, to oppressor vs oppressed(we must protect the vulnerable at all costs against this evil administration that will genocide millions!), an attempt to frame it as something Buddhists are supposed to do. I was quite appalled when I first read this, because I saw what I had been researching about the general culture, come alive right in my own sphere, the Buddhist one, although I had also seen the growth of this in Buddhist forums for a year or two prior, I had just not had the research at that time to understand where it is coming from. I also believe that many of the teachers who signed this are well meaning, and have not done the research into what is going on and the implications of this.
Thankfully a zen teacher, Brad Warner, wrote a series of articles explaining very well how people like he and I saw this article, and keep in mind, he is a very left wing person, me in lay life a centrist independent, neither right wing, there is no real ideological “dog in the race” as it were. He honestly puts it together better than I could of.
You can find the main article here - [html]http://hardcorezen.info/stand-against-suffering/5320
another here - [html]http://hardcorezen.info/no-buddhism-for-you/5738
I will not rehash much of what he has said in that article here, because this post is already way too long, but I think this quote sums it up well :
It’s sad to see pretty much all of the self-styled leaders of Buddhism in the United States today aid in strengthening and hardening the very positions they seek to oppose. Seeing all the names of the heavyweight signatories of that article made me wonder if Buddhism in the United States is worth pursuing anymore. Or has it become just another thing folks who style themselves as The Resistance can cloak themselves in to add a religious aura to their ideology?
Although the article claims to be non-partisan it’s peppered with buzzwords that let any reader know exactly what political party its writers think their readers should align themselves with. It’s also overwritten in the nauseating style of a polemic aimed at appealing to emotion over evidence, sensitivities over specifics, feeling over fact.
And from - [html]http://hardcorezen.info/everyone-is-marginalized/5426
The article Stand Against Suffering was written by 13 of the most popular, powerful, and influential teachers of Buddhism in the United States and was signed by an additional 140 extremely influential teachers. The message it conveyed was that all Buddhist teachers in America and many in Europe are united in a single political outlook.
The article sends the message to Americans interested in Buddhism that they need to align themselves with this majority political view, or shut up — or just stay away from Buddhism. Whenever a large group comes together to tell a smaller group that they are wrong, that their views are unworthy of consideration, and that they are unwelcome, this is a problem — especially when that large group are Buddhists who ought to understand this.
there are also two points in that call to action that jump out at me, The first is the very first line of the article :
As long as a society protects the vulnerable among them, they can be expected to prosper and not decline.
—The Buddha, in the Mahaparinirvana Sutta
Oh look the Buddha talking about protecting the vulnerable, who knew Buddha was fought for the rights of the oppressed against the evil oppressors… oh wait.. that flat out just doesn’t exist in the texts, period, it’s completely made up, not even correlated with any pali words. You can check the translations yourself by going to section 2 and reading through it - [html]https://suttacentral.net/dn16/en/anandajoti
Right from the get go you have a twisting of the Buddhas words to fit your own agenda, very dangerous, and not all that different then some Budhist monks in Asian countries using the dhamma to incite division. And another example :
For now, we prepare to face challenging and stressful times. To prevail, we must hold fast to our timeless ideals of wisdom, love, compassion, and justice. We must maintain our faith that, while ignorance and hatred may at times be dominant, through concerted action patiently pursued we can create a society based on justice, love, and human unity.
Ah the Buddha, Wisdom, compassion, love, yes yes.. ah justice.. hmm, something doesn’t quite feel right there does it, it’s as if something was tacked on in the end.. hmm. I’m no sutta scholar, but I’ve pretty much read the Nikayas cover to cover, “justice” is not something you see the Buddha talking about much, if ever, and its usually not justice as we see it today, or seen through the social justice lens.
And of course, you know, there are SOME times where people are ignorant and hateful, but we are above that ourselves, being all arahants, so we must fight against it. You see this throughout the piece, and I’ve seen it elsewhere, where the “them”, the “other”, the “oppressors” are the forces of greed, hatred, and delusion, and we , who apparently don’t have any greed, hatred, and delusion in our minds, are the forces of light that fight against the oppressed, it’s like all the fantasy books I’ve read in life , good vs evil in modern secular terms.
The real world is more like a game of thrones then Lord of the Rings through isn’t it? We all have greed, hatred, and delusion, we all have biases and blind spots, no one is purely good, or purely evil. Understanding this reality makes it much harder to “other” people in your mind.
This is ,frankly, just a dangerous thing for people who are supposed to be Buddhist teachers, to do. Then you have what a Buddhist teacher said that Brad mentions in another post:
A Buddhist teacher friend of mine recently wrote in her blog, “Once I see you fighting for the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, queer and disabled people, then I will talk to you about emptiness, about the Bodhisttava vow, about compassion.” She can take any stance she likes, but I cannot agree with that as a criterion I can personally adopt for my teaching of Buddhism
Oh, so the whole thing about Buddha saying he teaches with an open hand, not a closed fist, I guess she didn’t get that memo
. Now you have to be a good little follower before you can hear the Dhamma, that is a teacher I would stay a mile away from. Even though we are all human, those who share the dhamma are supposed to be a little better than that.
I have to give Brad credit, because in this time of division he did an amazing thing, something that to me is much more Buddhist then this “call to action”, despite his own feelings, he reached out across the aisle and asked for Buddhists who voted for trump to respond and tell him why, AND he posted it on his blog.
this is not growing divisiveness, that is growing dialogue, and diversity, inclusiveness, and compassion, this is reaching out past your own views, slowly untangling the tangle, that is how it’s done.
So I think this very long wall of text is my answer to your question Mr. Man. I know some people with right leaning views will look at what I say and think “ hah he showed those SJWs!”, and those with left leaning views will see this as an attack on their values, I am easily dismissed based on my race, gender, and ethnicity after all, but where my concern lies, as mentioned before, is with the using of the dhamma for political means, left or right, western or Asian, it doesn’t matter to me. I have always been a strong idealist, in my earlier years that was used more in the political sphere, now I am an idealist in terms of the dhamma, of course I am setting myself up for my own suffering in doing so, I realize that, but the potential for meaning and growth that the dhamma represents is so powerful that the dhamma should always be open for all, and as Brad says, be a place where all feel welcome, regardless of who they voted for or what their politics is.
I hope that people do not take this as me saying people are not Buddhist if they think in such a way, I don’t want to be the “dhamma police”, I don’t want to impose my understanding of the dhamma and the Buddhist path, on anyone else, nor should anyone else force their views on others. That is the true injustice, that is oppression, and all of us do it to some degree or another to others during our lifetime. I have always tried to live by the motto “live and let live”, I find getting into debates as to what type of Buddhism is best, or which texts are the more real, to be wastes of time, let others practice as they do, and you practice as you do.
That being said, as someone who is technically a representative of Buddhism, something I am reminded of every time I go out in public, I do feel it to be important to present other views and concerns for people to examine. People who don’t have the same liberal political outlook on life may be the minority of western Buddhists(although keeping in mind the far far majority of Buddhists in America are not western converts, but immigrants), but that just means that, as one of the tenants of intersectionality is to allow a voice to those in a minority(or many at once), other views and opinions should also be represented in the grand landscape of Western Buddhism to grant a larger picture of the whole.
I could be wrong, I often am( or maybe even mostly am
), Like all people I see things through my own particular view shaped by my genetics, experiences, kamma, etc etc. But like most long term Buddhist practitioners, I also try to do my best to transcend that view and see a grander scope, to step out of the limited self and try to see things through different sides. In the end, this is how I see it, and so this is why I found some of the things said in that original comment to be “apt”. Take it as you will.