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Question: What is the Buddhist view of politics? When there is social injustice due to politics, how should Buddhists approach it as concerned citizens?

Answer: The Buddha personally, after renouncing his royal status, also renounced all political affiliations and political activities. That said, kings and princes who were wise learnt from him and sought his advice on how to rule their countries better. As the Buddha was living as a monastic teacher reaching out to as many as he could, he had to be free from partial politics. 

Lay Buddhists are allowed to be politicians and activists, to speak up against social injustice, as individuals or in groups, and to do what ought to be done. All these should be moral of course, while abiding by the precepts taught by the Buddha – while Buddhism itself should not be brought into politics for political advantage. This is to keep it pure, to not be abused or tainted by deceitful, greedy or hateful politicking.  

As politics is not everyone’s cup of tea, there is still the power of voting, petitioning, letter-writing to share views… and the power to help society in many non-political ways, such as starting and running charities, or volunteering for them. Sharing the Dharma is also a direct way to improve society in a non-political way. In fact, it can be said that the Dharma offers the long-term solution for alleviating suffering of the masses, both in worldly and spiritual ways, in this life and the next.  

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One Response to “How Should Buddhists View Politics?”

  1. Re: The Lotus Sutra states that the Buddha’s incarnate into the world for the sole purpose of saving (all) sentient beings (from the samsaric cycle in the Saha world). Saha means endurance – or the world where suffering must be endured. T

    Reply: Not that is ‘must’ be endured, as there can be liberation from suffering. It is the deluded for endure without seeking liberation.

    Re: The Buddha did not incarnate into the Saha world to create a better Saha world, he came to help sentient beings remove themselves from the cycle of samsara.

    Reply: The Buddha also gave various teachings to better worldly life ethically – though this does lead up to the path to Buddhahood. This is a skilful means.

    Re: When Buddhists become activists they immediately and forever alienate half of the world to Buddhism through their activism.

    Reply: It is not always half – it can be less or more.

    Re: If their cause was universally accepted they wouldn’t need to fight for it. That means that half the population disagrees with them and feels that they are trying to take something from them, or that they are fighting against their opponents moral value system. Therefore social activism creates deep division between people and alienates them from the Buddhists they feel are trying to hurt them in some way.

    Reply: The Buddha advised kings too, though in non-political ways. In a sense, the Buddha was a revolutionary spiritual (and to some extent social) activist, whom some disagreed with too. (E.g. He spoke against the caste system, that most adhered to.) But he did what he had to do to inspire and educate – even if there was no one enlightened exactly like him in this world then. The Buddha aimed not for division, but unity in harmony.

    Re: And for what? With all of the activism going on in the world today, things are getting steadily worse by the day. Rather than allow social norms to change through osmosis -which they always do eventually – Buddhists are forcing their ideals down everyone else’s throat and creating anger and division. Contrary to popular belief the Buddha was not an activist – he was a teacher and a peacemaker. He was interested in saving sentient beings, not making them more comfortable.

    Reply: Not all activism leads to worsening of the world. Much works. Buddhists in general do not force their ideals upon everyone to create anger and division. (Generalisation is generally inaccurate.)

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