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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
spring 2 0 1 7 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 9 Irecently came across a news report stat- ing that 2,500 religious leaders had signed a petition urging Congress to reject Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees as “a cabinet of bigotry.” I looked over the list of signatories, designated by religion, and saw only one who identified as Buddhist. This observation reinforced my puzzlement as to why Buddhist teachers and leaders in the U.S. are not more outspoken in address- ing issues of public concern. Considering that Buddhism is widely hailed as the pre- eminent religion of peace and compassion, why, I ask myself, aren’t we more visible as advocates of peace, basic sanity, and social justice? Granted, our numbers are small, but I don’t think that is the only reason for our reticence to speak up. Several other factors may also be involved. One is the adoption of the dharma as a path to personal happi- ness to be pursued mainly in the silence of the meditation hall. A second is the fear that political activism will fire up our passions and shatter our fragile calm. A third is the belief that active engagement with worldly let’s Stand Up together events is an entanglement in illusion. And still a fourth is the view, widespread among dharma teachers, that we must welcome everyone and not risk alienating poten- tial students by expressing our political convictions. Now, I believe that teachers whose primary job is to teach the techniques of meditation practice should not expound their personal political views from the cush- ion. It’s also unfitting for heads of dharma centers to use their authority to endorse candidates for office or throw their commu- nity behind a political party. Nevertheless, I would draw a sharp line between politi- cal endorsement and advocating on public issues, and I would hold that to address such issues is well within a dharma teacher’s domain. Politics today is not merely a bat- tleground over power and position; it is also an arena where great ethical contests are being fought, contests that have a crucial impact on everyone in this country and on this planet. If, from fear of upsetting others, dharma teachers shy away from addressing these critical matters, their silence could even be considered an abdication of their responsibility as spiritual leaders. There are certain convictions that we as Buddhists hold and consider inviolable. ➤ PHotoSoUrCeUNkNowN by bhikkhu bodhi commentary Bhikkhu Bodhi is a senior Theravada monk and scholar who has translated and edited a number of important Pali texts. in 2008 he founded Buddhist Global Relief.