A Conversation About Engagement

There have been a lot of posts about engaged Buddhism. Commenting back and forth with John has brought up what would be my position on that. Read John’s post Buddhist Banners first to get the starting point.

John wrote:

"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."

I wrote:

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.

John wrote:

"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.

I wrote:

"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. [usually at the expense of other segments of the population]

The point of a Buddhist foundation in both these cases is to bring freedom from these prisons.

So that succinctly sums up my viewpoint.

3 comments on “A Conversation About Engagement

    • That was after I published this. You may punch away here as you see fit. Did I mention though that I am not always a pacifist?

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