Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby plwk » Fri Nov 16, 2012 6:22 am

Bhikkhus, if you develop and make much this one thing,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.
What is it? It is recollecting the Enlightened One.
If this single thing is recollected and made much,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.

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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby Sekha » Fri Nov 16, 2012 7:21 am

I am not in a position to watch what the old man has to say, but as far as the teaching of the Buddha is concerned, the answer to this question is pretty simple:

- for monks, it is very clear: no involvement. Talking about kings, ministers, armies, cities, streets etc. is improper for monks and at MN 67 the Buddha even dismisses the monks because they are engaging in those talks (tiracchanakatha) and being loud. It takes Brahma Sahampati to appear in front of him to beg him to teach again to accept teaching again.
AN 10.69 wrote:It isn't right, monks, that sons of good families, on having gone forth out of faith from home to the homeless life, should dwell engaged in various low conversations, i.e., conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state; armies, alarms, & battles; food & drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, & scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women & heroes; the gossip of the street & the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity, the creation of the world & of the sea; talk of whether things exist or not.


- as for lay people, they should involve themselves in developing conviction, virtue, generosity, and wisdom, plus the instructions given at AN 8.25:
"Mahanama, inasmuch as a lay follower is possessed of faith himself, and rouses others to possess faith; is possessed of virtue himself, and rouses others to possess virtue; is possessed of liberality himself, and rouses others to possess liberality; is himself desirous of meeting with monks, and rouses others to meet with monks; is himself desirous of hearing the true Dhamma, and rouses others to hear the true Dhamma; is himself habitually mindful of the Dhamma that is heard, and rouses others to be mindful of the Dhamma; is himself ascertained of the meaning/benefit of the Dhamma that is heard, and rouses others to ascertain the meaning/benefit; having known the meaning/benefit, having known the Dhamma, is himself committed to the practice according to the Dhamma, and rouses others to be committed to the practice according to the Dhamma; in that way, Mahanama, a lay follower is engaged in his own welfare and in others' welfare."

So as far as political matters fall in either of those categories, lay people should engage in them.
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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby James the Giant » Fri Nov 16, 2012 10:58 am

One western Ajahn I met quite openly discouraged his bhikkhus from voting. That's going a bit too far I feel. He needn't indulge in talk of kings, etc, to vote.

But actually engaging in politics and supporting political parties? No.
It is shameful what some of the the Sri Lankan sangha have said and done, especially in regards to the war. And more recently, the words of some of the Burmese bhikkhus regarding the Rohingays... totally disgusting, and devoid of humanity.
Their actions bring disrepute on the whole sangha.


But as for resisting an oppressive regime... hmm...
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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby Dhammanando » Fri Nov 16, 2012 6:06 pm

At 0:40 in the video, Rev. Dhammananda says:

“The Buddha has given this advice: ‘anujaanaami bhikkhave raajaana.m anuvattitu.m’. First advice as the followers of the Buddha: to cooperate with the existing government or law enforced by the government.”


The passage quoted is from one of the Khandhakas of the Vinaya Pitaka. It was spoken after some king (I forget if it was Bimbisara or Pasenadi) had introduced a new calendar. Some bhikkhus approached the Buddha in doubt as to whether they should follow it or stick with the old calendar (e.g., when deciding on the date for entering the rains retreat). The Buddha replied by ruling that bhikkhus should conform to the wishes of kings and made it an offence of wrong-doing not to do so.

Buddhaghosa’s Vinaya Atthakatha qualified the rule by limiting its scope to those wishes of a king that are ‘dhammika’: ‘righteous’, ‘just’, ‘in line with Dhamma’.

So, pace Dhammananda this is not a general piece of advice for “followers of the Buddha”. It’s a Vinaya rule and concerns bhikkhus only.
    ...and this thought arose in the mind of the Blessed One:
    “Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby daverupa » Fri Nov 16, 2012 6:13 pm

Another case of political realities in the Vinaya is the second parajika, which defines theft according to the definition used by the government. Indeed, most Vinaya rulings are almost neurotically concerned with making as few social waves as possible, all for the purpose of creating wholesome space for monastics to practice.

Beyond the Pali, we can note that the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya is a huge compendium of a Buddhist response to dharmasastra law, with the same purpose.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Nov 16, 2012 11:54 pm

I'm beginning to think the thread title should have been composed more carefully.
Some of the responses here are answering the question, "Should Ordained Members of the Buddhist Sangha Get Involved in Politics?"
It's a sensible and therefore useful question, and has received some good answers, but it is not particularly relevant to most of us here.

A more broadly relevant question would have been, "Should Lay Buddhists Get Involved in Politics?"
Again, it is a meaningful question. Sekha gave a good answer to it:
- as for lay people, they should involve themselves in developing conviction, virtue, generosity, and wisdom, plus the instructions given at AN 8.25:
"Mahanama, inasmuch as a lay follower is possessed of faith himself, and rouses others to possess faith; is possessed of virtue himself, and rouses others to possess virtue; is possessed of liberality himself, and rouses others to possess liberality; is himself desirous of meeting with monks, and rouses others to meet with monks; is himself desirous of hearing the true Dhamma, and rouses others to hear the true Dhamma; is himself habitually mindful of the Dhamma that is heard, and rouses others to be mindful of the Dhamma; is himself ascertained of the meaning/benefit of the Dhamma that is heard, and rouses others to ascertain the meaning/benefit; having known the meaning/benefit, having known the Dhamma, is himself committed to the practice according to the Dhamma, and rouses others to be committed to the practice according to the Dhamma; in that way, Mahanama, a lay follower is engaged in his own welfare and in others' welfare."

So as far as political matters fall in either of those categories, lay people should engage in them.


But the OP's question was, "Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?" and I can't find a meaning for it.
:shrug:
Over to you, plwk - did you mean either of the two questions above, or "Should politicians have to act according to their religion?" or "Should countries be run on religious principles?" or ... ??
Did you mean to restrict it to Buddhism or not?
Tell us, and I'm sure we'll try to answer.

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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby plwk » Sat Nov 17, 2012 3:00 am

Thank you Bhante Dhammanando for that kind elucidation.

sekha, thank you for the scriptural citations and when you refer to 'old man', is that with reference to the late Ven Dr K Sri Dhammananda? And if so, does not proper Buddhist etiquette entail the proper use of appellation for the ordained by the laity?

Yes, James, I can understand those sticky situations but I can't help but to think on how difficult it is on one hand to apply and integrate the Buddha Dhamma in our lives and not include the sphere of national politics as well, although not getting mired as much as possible in the usual dirty games of politicians but for the general social welfare and good governance of the nation, especially as lay Buddhists?

Kim, I try to follow back the original title of the actual poster of video but what I can hope to shed some light for you as how I understand this video is:
a. Buddhism is generally regarded as one of the world's many available religions, yes? So, in this sense, Buddhism is meant as a 'religion'
b. On that note, should its adherents (here encompassing the laity and ordained) be involved in politics?
c. Politics? I should think it refers to the extent of being involved in the general good governance of the country which involves social welfare activism? Though not meant to be an exhaustive definition but I have these two in mind. For example, as a lay Buddhist, being a good citizen of my country, it's my constitutional duty to engage myself in voting for a proper and just government for the country come every national general election at the very least to becoming involved full time as a member of parliament and so forth.
d. So based on the above, the opinions of lay and ordained Buddhists (here with special reference to Theravadins as this is a Theravada Forum) are sought in this matter under 'General Theravada discussion' but non Buddhists are also welcomed to give their input based on their observance on countries where 'Buddhists' are the seeming majority in society. Hope this brief is of some use.
Bhikkhus, if you develop and make much this one thing,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.
What is it? It is recollecting the Enlightened One.
If this single thing is recollected and made much,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.

Anguttara-Nikaya: Ekanipata: Ekadhammapali: Pañhamavagga
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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Nov 17, 2012 4:35 am

plwk wrote:Should its [i.e. Buddhism's] adherents (here encompassing the laity and ordained) be involved in politics?

Hi, plwk,
That's your question, then!
Good to know. :smile:

:namaste:
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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby Buckwheat » Sun Nov 18, 2012 6:28 am

It depends on one's motives...

Greed, anger and delusion directed toward gaining power and fame, or wanting to assert that "I am right..." will lead to negative consequences.

Renunciation, goodwill, and harmlessness directed toward affecting positive social change, done skillfully, could lead to some beneficial kammic fruit.

The political system is a tool. It is up to the users to determine the work done with the tool.
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby Jason » Sun Nov 18, 2012 8:38 pm

Personally, I don't think religion should get involved in politics, but people definitely should. While the Buddha clearly discouraged the monastic community from engaging in 'worldly' activities such as politics, I think it's a mistake for lay-followers not to be. For one, politics affects almost every aspect of our lives, and being engaged in our communities and being a part of the political discussion, not to mention being active in broader political movements, is what makes our political systems function more effectively, and how progress, however slow it may sometimes be, is made.

To leave these these kinds of activities and decisions solely in the hands of others, some of whom are slaves to their defilements, isn't wise, in my opinion. And if we choose to live in the world, then I think we at least share some responsibility for shaping it; and it makes sense to have people motivated by things like non-greed, non-aversion, and non-delusion add their voices to the mix, not to mention helping do what they can to fix things like inequality and injustice as long as it's done with a spirit of compassion and harmlessness. The greatest danger of the practice, in my opinion, is the tendency of practitioners to ignore the world around them while seeking their own happiness.

Moreover, just from a practical standpoint, not addressing many of the material conditions giving rise to and supporting society's suffering ultimately serves to help maintain their continued existence (when this is, that is), which can negatively affect our practice, as well as that of others. If the society one lives in isn't conducive to practicing Buddhism, for example, then it does matter what kind of society one lives, so we should naturally try to make it as conducive for ourselves and others as possible. As the Buddha said in Khp 5, "To reside in a suitable locality, to have done meritorious actions in the past and to set oneself in the right course — this is the greatest blessing."

It'd be great if everyone were free from greed, hatred, and delusion, and everyone treated everyone else with kindness, compassion, and generosity—if the world was free from all forms of exploitation, privation, and gross inequalities. But the world isn't a perfect place, and we're not all saints; and one of the ways we can help alleviate some of the world's suffering is by trying to materially change it for the better. And from this point of view, it's not about making Buddhism political, but about applying the ideals of Buddhism in all that we do, which for me includes being political active.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby Jason » Sun Nov 18, 2012 10:36 pm

Jason wrote:Moreover, just from a practical standpoint, not addressing many of the material conditions giving rise to and supporting society's suffering ultimately serves to help maintain their continued existence (when this is, that is), which can negatively affect our practice, as well as that of others. If the society one lives in isn't conducive to practicing Buddhism, for example, then it does matter what kind of society one lives, so we should naturally try to make it as conducive for ourselves and others as possible. As the Buddha said in Khp 5, "To reside in a suitable locality, to have done meritorious actions in the past and to set oneself in the right course — this is the greatest blessing."


To help illustrate what I mean here, I'll give two example.

A general example is that a society that's not only consumerist, but also politically and economically geared more towards the idea that greed and self-interest is the highest good, will potentially be less supportive culturally of monastic communities that live entirely in an economy of gifts (e.g., in comparing Eastern cultures, in which alms-giving and gift exchanges characteristic of 'human economies' regulated by custom and reputation and based more on co-operation have historically been more prevalent, to Western culture, where market-based economies based more on competition have been the norm, I noticed that Eastern monastics often receive more lay support as opposed to Western monastics, who often have to produce goods like beer, chocolate, coffee, wine, etc. to sell in order to support themselves).

A more specific example is the ecological impacts of logging in Thailand. The Buddha praised the wilderness and the benefits of practicing in the forest. The Thai Forest tradition grew out of a movement among monastics to return to this way of practice. In the past few decades, however, much of Thailand's forests have disappeared, making this more difficult. Being involved in conservation efforts and trying to find better farming techniques and/or other ways of raising revenue is one way of trying to help preserve remaining forests in order to help keep this tradition alive.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby SarathW » Mon Nov 19, 2012 1:04 am

I think that people involved in politics should involved (learned) at least all five major religions!
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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby Kim OHara » Mon Nov 19, 2012 3:22 am

SarathW wrote:I think that people involved in politics should involved (learned) at least all five major religions!

If not that, then at least basic ethics. If all politicians always told the truth we would have a vastly different society!

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Re: Should Religion Get Involved in Politics?

Postby Sekha » Mon Nov 19, 2012 1:14 pm

plwk wrote:sekha, thank you for the scriptural citations and when you refer to 'old man', is that with reference to the late Ven Dr K Sri Dhammananda? And if so, does not proper Buddhist etiquette entail the proper use of appellation for the ordained by the laity?

monk or layman I don't consider that anyone writing things such as these is worthy of any respect derived from his social status:

Although religious traditions and customs can create a congenial atmosphere for spiritual development, some Vinaya rules need to be amended according to changing social conditions. If this is not done, monks will have to face numerous problems in the course of their survival and in their association with the public.
Some lay people criticize monks for handling money. It is difficult to carry out their religious activities and to be active in modern society without dealing with money. What a monk must do is to consider himself as unattached to the money or property as personal belongings. That is what the Buddha meant. Of course, there may be some who deliberately misinterpret the rules to suit their material gain. They will have to bear the consequences of their own inability to gain spiritual development.
However, those who choose to confine themselves to an isolated area for meditation for peace of mind, should be able to carry out their religious duties without hindrance from worldly things which can become burdensome. But they must first ensure that they have enough supporters to attend to their needs. While there can be such monks who wish to retire completely from society there must be enough monks in society to attend to the numerous religious needs of the general public. Otherwise, people may think that Buddhism cannot contribute very much in their day to day lives.

http://buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/whatbudbeliev/148.htm

This is just a heap of wrong views, many of which are downright dangerous.

As for money handling, I could easily quote the scriptures but this time I opt for ajahn Chah:

There was once a monk I met who told me he was a real meditator. He asked for permission to stay with me here and inquired about the schedule and standard of monastic discipline. I explained to him that in this monastery we live according to the Vinaya, the Buddha's code of monastic discipline, and if he wanted to come and train with me he'd have to renounce his money and private supplies of goods. He told me his practice was ''non-attachment to all conventions.'' I told him I didn't know what he was talking about. ''How about if I stay here,'' he asked, ''and keep all my money but don't attach to it. Money's just a convention.'' I said sure, no problem. ''If you can eat salt and not find it salty, then you can use money and not be attached it.'' He was just speaking gibberish. Actually he was just too lazy to follow the details of the Vinaya. I'm telling you, it's difficult. ''When you can eat salt and honestly assure me it's not salty, then I'll take you seriously. And if you tell me it's not salty then I'll give you a whole sack to eat. Just try it. Will it really not taste salty? Non-attachment to conventions isn't just a matter of clever speech. If you're going to talk like this, you can't stay with me.'' So he left.
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