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Western Buddhism and "the Left"

There have been a few times in which I experienced a deep spiritual crisis, doubting my association with Buddhism and yearning for a more traditional (to my background) outlook and way of life. The most recent episode of such inner turmoil was right after the US election.

I am a part of a local Zen group and for the most part that association has given me more grounding and sense of belonging than I had experienced in a long time. Yet after the election a few prominent members of my group went into a sort of a freak out mode that lasted for something like 3 months. Since I rely on my sangha a lot for socialization, that collective freakout dragged me down with it in a dark and severe way.

I sure did not vote for Trump and am praying for his departure from the White House every day. But my reasoning is just that he is an ignorant, angry and deeply corrupt individual. A very bad boss, caring only for himself and suckering his underlings to do his bidding. I really do not see much more to this. I do not see him as some kind of unique evil that will end life as we know it.

The take on the matter from some in my sangha was different. I heard people seriously comparing Trump and the Republican Party to Hitler and the Nazis-- a delusional comparison to someone who, like me, actually had relatives fighting on the Allied side in WWII. I heard talk about a second American Civil War breaking out. I heard about immigrants being hunted down (I am one myself and so is my wife and find that beyond ridiculous) and transsexuals having to be afraid. People were going to sign up as Muslims on Trump's mythical "Muslim Registry". White Supremacists were supposedly out on a rampage..yeah, that was close to being a full blown hysteria.

Since then we returned to normality but those traumatic months reminded me just how many in the American Sangha have their thinking deeply rooted in the extreme Leftism of 1960's and 1970's. Having had some deeper conversations on these subjects, I have come to believe that the hard Left is its own religion with irrational dogma and nastiness to those who question it. I am not at all sure that it is any better than the Hard Right. And I share neither dogma, aspiring to the Center (Middle Way?) when it comes to our cultural wars.

So how in the world Buddhism, with its emphasis on personal responsibility for one's happiness or lack thereof, has become so intertwined with the Far Left? I do not see anything in the original teachings that would align with zealous Progressevism that quite a few of their followers seem to espouse.

I apologize if this is too divisive or harsh but this is giving me a real headache. I just really need normality, reasonable-ness and calm. Can anyone relate? Share any experiences? I greatly enjoy the take that Sam Harris has on things, any more recommendations of more middle of the road reading?

personnsyy

Comments

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    @shadowleaver -- I sympathize with your sense of burnout. How many times can anyone say "shitshitshit" before the bloom is off the cussing bud? But you have to admit that when you bang your thumb with a hammer, the ache doesn't magically disappear just because you remember what a wonderful Buddhist you are. Buddhism is no shield. It's the same people on different days. Maybe you should join a bowling league or a garden club? Maybe I'll see you there. :) I too have friends who are deeply afraid of the Trump fallout. But afraid or not, Trump is president and people will need to do what they need to do. Maybe talk endlessly is one of the things they need to do. The only question is, am I required to listen? How about a little zazen?

    Sorry for the disjointed rejoinder.

    shadowleaver
  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited May 15

    I don't think Buddhism is intertwined with the Far Left. I think you just happened to score an immature group of individuals. Are there other Zen groups in your area?

    RE: praying for Trump's departure from the White House---------be careful what you pray for. Look who's right behind him, in the VP position.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited May 15

    As a non-American I am left guessing a little here, but I think the origins of Buddhism's identification with the far left are down to history... many hippies and similar characters were interested in eastern philosophy in the sixties and seventies, and they made Buddhism more popular and grew it via their friend networks.

    But I feel that Buddhism is compatible with either left or right politics, it doesn't directly enter into it as such although I do think amongst the right in the US you will find a stronger Christian bias. Buddhism ultimately doesn't care what political view you bring with you, as long as you leave it at the door of the study or meditation room.

    As for more 'centrist' thinking from teachers and commentators, I'm afraid I can't help you there. I've not noticed any of the main teachers such as TNH, Ajahn Brahm, Pema Chödron or such having a political bias. If you notice a left-wing bias among teachers, I would call them on it, and see if they could justify it as Right View, beneficial or skilful. They shouldn't be expressing such views in their teaching, if you ask me.

    shadowleaver
  • shadowleavershadowleaver Veteran
    edited May 15

    @Dakini : just to be clear, the alarmism I was talking about was shared by the minority of members, even though that minority was vocal and has senior members. Some folks in my Sangha seemed to also not be thrilled by the dynamics. Also, a couple of folks in the "alarmist" camp had backgrounds that make it harder for them to retain a cool head...so not being perfectly balanced myself, I have some empathy there.

    Anyway, I think it is undeniable that the American Sangha has a strong Left bias politically (so do I but not nearly to that degree) As proof of that just read the reactions of Buddhist teachers to the election, published on Lion's Roar. While I fully understand why one, as an American, would wish for the other candidate to have won, most (but not all) of those reactions make it clear that their sources are strongly invested in Liberal causes mentally and emotionally.

    I just feel that being strongly invested in any side politically is fundamentally not Buddhist (or spiritual for that matter). I think any spiritual practice points in a very different direction- it is about acceptance, unity and clarity. Mixing religion/spirituality and politics just seems like a universally bad idea.That is what prompted me to write here.

    lobsterperson
  • DakiniDakini Veteran

    @shadowleaver said:

    Anyway, I think it is undeniable that the American Sangha has a strong Left bias politically (so do I but not nearly to that degree) As proof of that just read the reactions of Buddhist teachers to the election, published on Lion's Roar. While I fully understand why one, as an American, would wish for the other candidate to have won, most (but not all) of those reactions make it clear that their sources are strongly invested in Liberal causes mentally and emotionally.

    Published "on" Lion's Roar? Is there a website with a blog? If so, could you post a link? Or do you mean in the magazine? If so, could you let me know what issue? I'm curious to read these comments. They do seem a bit over-the-top, and certainly lacking equanimity.

    That said, though, I can see where some of the fears come from. Re: new American Civil War--there were a plethora of ugly scenes after the election results came in, involving racist attacks, and even a former KKK Grand Dragon rejoicing in the election results. That doesn't mean a war will break out, but it could make some people awfully uncomfortable.
    And the fact is, that some immigrants have been rounded up. And contrary to the PR during the election campaign, law-abiding ones have been included. Even those who were on their way to citizenship, and one who created a business that employed dozens of people. This was profiled on 60 Minutes, I think. That one who had a green card and started a successful business got deported, leaving wife and kids behind.

    So there's some grains of truth to some of those fears being expressed in your sangha, but it's not constructive to go overboard and to exaggerate.

  • shadowleavershadowleaver Veteran
    edited May 15

    @Dakini , here is the resource I meant: https://www.lionsroar.com/buddhist-teachers-respond-to-news-of-trumps-presidential-win/

    PS. Regarding deportations of legal immigrants, I think I have some insight since all of my loved ones have walked the visa to green card, to citizen path. The thing is that unless one is a citizen, the US law makes one's stay conditional upon observing every law and regulation. Any offense, even the most minor one (like registering to vote or a DUI) may make one subject to deportation.

    Trump or Republicans had nothing to do with that- there are plenty of horror stories out there of legal immigrants being sent home for the silliest things under all recent presidents, including Bill Clinton and Obama. I obviously think these draconian laws are wrong but once again, the fact that only now that Trump is president, people are talking about this, shows us something about biases in public discourse.

  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran

    @shadowleaver I have felt much the same way, my politics being more center left than far left.

    I also resonate with Sam Harris' opinions around the topic. I'd highly recommend Jonathan Haidt, he's a (by his own admission) formerly self identified liberal social scientist who has researched into the moral roots of political identity and has some very reasonable and insightful critiques of the left (and right).

    shadowleaver
  • dhammachickdhammachick crazy Aussie BUJU Sydney, Australia Veteran

    @shadowleaver said:

    I just feel that being strongly invested in any side politically is fundamentally not Buddhist (or spiritual for that matter). I think any spiritual practice points in a very different direction- it is about acceptance, unity and clarity. Mixing religion/spirituality and politics just seems like a universally bad idea.That is what prompted me to write here.

    I agree - as a JuBu (Jewish Buddhist) who lost a sizeable amount of family in Auschwitz, it shits me to tears when people pull Godwin's Theory out of their backsides and start comparing people to Hitler. My personal opinion is, have whatever opinion you want about politics but keep it out of my Buddhism. Politics isn't discussed at the Sangha I (infrequently) go to and I wish we had less of it on here.

    _ /\ _

    shadowleaverHozan
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Can anyone relate? Share any experiences?

    Sure.

    Dharma center politics, individual psychology and affiliations effect our practice. It does not matter if we are Royalists, Lama or Sangha Nazis, leftist hippies, Liberals, Anarchists, Hinayana fundies, Purelanders or part time Cod piece worshippers. What matters is our independence or equanimity to others and our conflictive attachment to any positions we fiercly cling to.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huiyuan_(Buddhist)

    An example: I was attending a dharma talk at a temple where a monk was extolling the medicinal benefit of piss drinking (urine therapy). Another talk I attended, the nuns were being unhelpfully admonished by a senior monk, who was not awake or spiitually independent enough to offer such a position. :p
    I would suggest the ability to 'see the log in our postion before the splinter in anothers eye' is a useful faculty to develop ...
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mote_and_the_Beam

    Meanwhile I do not always expect credible medicinal, political or feminist advice from myself or [insert usual culprits] ...

  • @person said:
    @shadowleaver I have felt much the same way, my politics being more center left than far left.

    I also resonate with Sam Harris' opinions around the topic. I'd highly recommend Jonathan Haidt, he's a (by his own admission) formerly self identified liberal social scientist who has researched into the moral roots of political identity and has some very reasonable and insightful critiques of the left (and right).

    Thanks, @person . Pulled up podcast just now, listening.

  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited May 16

    @shadowleaver said:
    @Dakini , here is the resource I meant: https://www.lionsroar.com/buddhist-teachers-respond-to-news-of-trumps-presidential-win/

    PS. Regarding deportations of legal immigrants, I think I have some insight since all of my loved ones have walked the visa to green card, to citizen path. The thing is that unless one is a citizen, the US law makes one's stay conditional upon observing every law and regulation. Any offense, even the most minor one (like registering to vote or a DUI) may make one subject to deportation.

    Trump or Republicans had nothing to do with that- there are plenty of horror stories out there of legal immigrants being sent home for the silliest things under all recent presidents, including Bill Clinton and Obama. I obviously think these draconian laws are wrong but once again, the fact that only now that Trump is president, people are talking about this, shows us something about biases in public discourse.

    According to the report I saw, Obama gave special orders to deport only criminals, i.e. those who had criminal charges filed against them, and to be careful to avoid those who merely had paperwork snafus, or minor charges or misdemeanors, like traffic tickets. IOW, he made an effort to make the "draconian laws" less draconian. A somewhat kinder, gentler policy, so to say. That's gone, now.

    Thanks for the link, btw. I didn't see any comments of the type you mentioned, but I didn't read the whole thing. I saw several that seemed constructive, and well-tempered. I'll peruse some more at a later time.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran
    edited May 16

    The nice thing about politics here is that most of the time, they are headered in their own post so if you choose you can avoid them. They come up sometimes in other topics, but not nearly as much as everywhere else online. This morning at the bus stop (mostly kids who are 7-10 years old) a little girl who is 7 rose her hands and said "Raise your hands for Trump!" and another kid said "God, he's ruining our country, put your hands down." It happens everywhere, :lol: This place is mostly safe as long as you avoid the actual political posts.

    Part of the problem in deporting criminals is it is up to debate what constitutes a criminal. Sometimes people make mistakes, pay for them, and deserve to stay because they have families they are supporting. There have been cases, under Obama as well, when people made mistakes (most often drug crimes) and then were deported, leaving their spouse and children unsupported and reliant on our welfare systems. IMO drug crimes should not result in deportation, as they are people who need help. Yet the other day, the media was all over a case of a young man being deported in my state (I think it was my state) but it turned out he had murdered someone when he was 14 years old. Where does one draw the line? I'm glad it's not my decision to make.

  • ShakShak Veteran

    @dhammachick said:

    I agree - as a JuBu (Jewish Buddhist) who lost a sizeable amount of family in Auschwitz, it shits me to tears when people pull Godwin's Theory out of their backsides and start comparing people to Hitler. My personal opinion is, have whatever opinion you want about politics but keep it out of my Buddhism. Politics isn't discussed at the Sangha I (infrequently) go to and I wish we had less of it on here.

    _ /\ _

    Amen to that! My grandmother's family emigrated to the US from Germany shortly after Hitler came to power. Her mother was Jewish and her father was Catholic. Great Grandpa saw the handwriting on the wall and got out while they still could. As a moderately conservative registered Republican I get highly offended every time some ill informed twit compares my political views to the Nazis. And keep in mind, most Republicans aren't anti immigration. We just want to see people use the front door and not climb in through the back window.

    For anyone who's interested, Brad Warner has some interesting insights on politics in the Zen Center. http://hardcorezen.info/page/5

    shadowleaverdhammachick
  • shadowleavershadowleaver Veteran
    edited May 17

    Much appreciated, @Shak .

    This guy Brad sees things very similarly to the way I do. Very relieved to hear that there are teachers in the Sangha with a more grounded view of humanity.

    I think now that polarization and division in this country has reached such high levels, the right/spiritual thing to do would be to understand and accept the "other". Or, from a Zen perspective, strive to see that there is no "other" side. As citizens, building that bridge is probably our highest duty- if we don't, the traditional stuff of our cultural wars will be the least of our problems.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    I am not sure people really want to understand each other. Most of the time when we claim to want to understand, we want an explanation that allows us to further cling to our beliefs. We are looking for that person to help us cement our beliefs, and that is usually what happens. I don't know if it's possible to understand where someone else is coming from when we completely cannot relate to the way they live their lives. Perhaps understanding is not what we need but rather to arrive at acceptance whether we understand or not.

    The major sticking point is that most people keep a view of "live and let live as long as your aren't hurting someone else." Except we all have vastly different ideas of what it means to hurt someone, and who those someones are who need us to step in. You notice when you look at political maps by county that there is a distinct line drawn between city dwellers and rural folks. There is a good reason for that, and I'm not convinced that that divide is bridge-able. Their way of life is so, so vastly different and neither side is terribly interested in understanding why others choose to live that way. Both sides are equally uncomfortable when put in the position that is opposite of the way they live, and as a result, they judge people who live in that way and attempt to make broad decisions in order to hold onto their way of life and obliterate the way of life that makes them uncomfortable. It simply doesn't work. Neither side wants to understand. Rural people don't want to understand city life. City people don't want to understand what they consider to be a backwards rural way of life. That divide is what drives, largely, our political divide.

    shadowleaver
  • And yet, @karasti , we did not have as much tension 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Yes, there are objective divisions like you said but we are managing them poorly, compared to recent past. We will never be all the same but we must create an environment where differences do not create so much tension.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    We have to create that environment in ourselves. A lot of the reason that it's more tense now is because rural people know how urban people think of them as uneducated, backwards folks. Before, the 2 sides didn't interact much. It wasn't common for city folks to hang out in rural areas except for vacations which gives them little input into rural life, and rural people tend to hate the city for the busyness and noise. but the internet has brought the 2 sides together, especially in the last 10 years when the last of the rural hold outs got access to the internet. Now the 2 sides know how they feel and talk about each other and so they are consistently butting heads and fighting to control and maintain their way of life in the face of something that feels like a new threat.

    I can't even tell you how many rural people have said "I voted for Trump to teach you a lesson because you keep calling us ignorant and backwards and stupid and racist!" They never paid any mind to what city people said because they never interacted with them. Now they know, because both sides have made their feelings about each other and their way of life much more clear. Rural people tend to hide where they are so they don't have to deal with that part of the world. Now they have to and they are clinging for anything they can hold onto about their way of life and electing whoever promises to give that back to them, or maintain it for them.

    I live in a rural area but also lived in cities. The difference in how they see the world is vast. Neither side has any respect for the other because they cannot appreciate a different way of life. The internet can actually facilitate that, but people have to be open to it and right now they are not. That is not something we can force people to do. They have to arrive at an open mind and heart on their own terms.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    The one place we have a chance to make a difference is in education, but we so far have no interest in it. Study after study shows how much difference teaching emotional intelligence, meditation and mindfulness to young children makes. But when the kids get to middle school age, all those things are dropped in favor of "real" studies and they lose the benefits due to lack of practice and reinforcement. But ask politicians or the average American if they want to see schools spend more time focusing on this stuff instead of studies, and most of the time you get a resounding no, because they'd rather try to catch up our standardized testing to the Asian countries.

    When it is used at home and reinforced at school, the results are astounding. But it doesn't happen, and it pretty much has to considering how much time kids spend in school and school related activities. My 14 year old spend 7 hours sleeping, and 12 hours at school/activities. The few hours he is home are spent doing homework. The amount of influence I have in that little bit of time does not help much when it can't be reinforced elsewhere. It helps some, but at his age, it needs to be more. learning how to deal with conflict, manage emotions, calm yourself...none of this is part of his schooling. Compare with my 8 year old who learns all this. They take yoga and meditation breaks. They learn to identify emotions and how to breathe through them. They learn how to calm themselves both in times of conflict and in time of simply stress, like a spelling test. It is reinforced at home by many, and the result is an entire grade that is more focused, doing better in school, has fewer conflicts and far fewer punishments. But by the time he is in 4th grade, all of that disappears because there is not time in the curriculum for it.

  • Appreciate your insights as usual, @karasti . Nevertheless, rural Americans alone do not account for all or even most Republican support. After all, rural population of the US is something like 20%. The bulk of Republican support comes from suburbunites who, by definition, do have regular exposure to cities and their dwellers.

    I know you are in MN, so case in point would be some place like Anoka county North of Minneapolis. It appears to be not rural, at least not in any traditional sense. Or Waukesha county in Wisconsin right next to the biggest city in the state...both very strongly Republican.

    Heck, even in my very liberal very coastal urban area, suburban counties gave Trump 20-30% of the vote. I know these places extremely well and the rural/urban divide argument does not apply to them. Something else is going on here.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    Anoka county is much more urban now, but it has its roots in rural life, and many of the people there maintain that same viewpoint and refusal to change their views. They suffer many of the same problems as rural people as a result, such as high suicide rates. They are also areas of high religious belief, which is a major player in conservatism of course. The area is full of pro-life signs and other such things that suggest heavy religious influence. I'm not suggesting the rural/city divide is the only thing at play by any means, but it is a big issue and not one with any easy resolutions. I don't think there is any one particular problem but a so-called perfect storm of conditions for people of various concerns that gave us Trump. He was an answer to a problem. Just not the right answer to a much more complex set of problems.

    shadowleaver
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