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The Dharma is ALWAYS Political

posted by Ethan Nichtern

I got the chance to see the documentary What Would Jesus Buy? this weekend, about Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. It was great. Now, check out the article I wrote a little while ago.
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The Dharma Is ALWAYS Political
By Ethan Nichtern
Back in the summer of 2004 I was attending a two-week group meditation retreat. During a discussion group in the midst of the retreat, news of the outside world reached us. John Kerry had chosen Edwards as his running mate the day before. On a long group retreat, getting news from the real world is like being handed a piece of chocolate after you’ve forgotten that you have taste buds.
It was as if someone had flipped a switch. The discussion quickly turned to politics, to social issues, to the wide world beyond the retreat. Where we’d been talking about individual habits and thought patterns, now we were reflecting on the structure of systems, the vast zone of collective karma. We spoke of the war, the media, the environment. The sudden burst of energy was palpable, fueled by the inspiration that flows when the hard-won lessons from one’s inner cultivation finally become relevant to the world we all share. For a few minutes, we felt liberated.
All of us, that is, except for one man, whose face seemed strained and tight. This was surprising, because for the rest of the retreat this man had been incredibly loose and generous, rarely doing anything other than smiling. Now, though, he was pissed. “I didn’t know I was being recruited for a political action group!”
His words had a simple effect. Nobody was willing to cause (or bear) his discomfort. Our collective response was unstated but crystal clear: Don’t alienate anyone. We are a group. We practice compassion by making everyone feel safe and nurtured. And so the conversation died. A dozen strong were outvoted—silently but summarily—by one lone dissenter.
*****
It’s fair to say that— within contemplative communities—discourse about specific social and political issues has typically been met with a general unease. This discomfort even extends to many people who feel deeply passionate about social issues in their personal lives, but feel wary about bringing that discourse into the conversations and interactions that occur within their meditation community. A general fear of appropriateness abounds, coming from a compassionate intention not to alienate those who don’t share our political inclinations.
This uneasiness seems to hinge on a worldview that sees participation in political and social issues as a personal choice. Some people choose to be political, some people don’t, this worldview claims. No matter what choice they make, the inner work of meditation can benefit them. So please, let’s not alienate those who have chosen differently from us. From this point of view, keeping the context of our meditation practice personal and apolitical seems to be the most compassionate and inclusive thing to do. Everyone can work on personal issues, and no one feels alienated. In the various training programs I attended to become a teacher of meditation, we were warned multiple times against using too many political or societal examples in lectures and discussions. There is only one little problem: the view that participation in social and political issues is a matter of personal choice is based on a complete and utter fallacy.
*****
One could argue that the moral imperatives arising from the truth of interdependence – that nothing happens in a vacuum —will necessarily lead us as meditators to certain stances on social issues. One could argue that a growing awareness of oneself as part of a much larger network of sentiency would automatically lead to a deep concern about the climate crisis and lack of universal healthcare. One could argue that Buddhism’s unequivocal instructions on the destructiveness of violence would lead us to constantly challenge the ever-expanding military industrial complex and a heroin-like addiction to war without end. One could argue that the inner meditative work we do—consistently noticing our own internal biases—leads one to a particular perspective over racial, gender, and lifestyle biases in our economic and judicial systems. One could even directly quote Buddhist scripture, like the Kutadanta Sutta, in which a king is instructed that the solution to a crime epidemic in his country is not further incarceration, but a radical redistribution of wealth and opportunity. This piece of Buddhist scripture might lead one to be deeply disturbed by our prison-industrial complex, as well as the insanities of wealth inequality on Planet Earth. One could argue that these various insights and instructions knit together to form a political platform (Call us the “Interdependence” Party), and that we as meditators and citizens of representative democracy should choose representative leaders whose actions best embody this platform. One could argue all this, and they would have my vote, as well as my help organizing the party. But that’s not what I’m arguinghere. What I’m arguing is this: If you think it’s ever possible not to vote, then you’re dead wrong.
****
We could take a cue from postmodern thought on the nature of discourse. The postmodernists exposed the fallacy that it’s possible to stand outside a conversation passively, without implicitly taking a side in the discussion, without empowering a particular narrative or viewpoint. Silence doesn’t equal nonparticipation; silence is a very specific kind of participation. Deeming a discussion inappropriate or shutting down dialogue actually empowers a side in the debate. By definition, the viewpoint that silence and discomfort empower is the conservative one. In the most general sense, conservativism is about the stability and maintenance of any system’s status quo. The only chance for change to result (the “progress” in progressive) is in dialogue. If the conversation never happens, or only happens in hushed voices constantly afraid that the conversation might be deemed inappropriate (or worse, unpatriotic), or if dialogue only occurs on constrictive and prefabricated terms, then the status quo wins every time. Nonparticipation is always a vote – a vote for the status quo.
*****
With apologies to all the minor parties, there are actually three major political parties in the United States. The Republicans and the Democrats remain locked in a recurrent battle to determine who will become the 2nd most powerful political party in America. Each of these parties controls roughly 25% of the vote. Far more powerful than either Donkeys or Elephants, however, is the Apathy Party, composed of the 50% of eligible voters who perennially fall prey to the propagandized myth that it’s possible to stand INdependent, somehow outside the collective discourse. The size and general disposition of this Apathy Party have determined the outcome of every election and the resolution of every social debate since our democracy began. Having no human candidates of their own, the Apathetics throw their votes to the candidates with whom apathy is most closely aligned. It’s a generally documented (though not universal) principle that conservative candidates win elections with lower voter turnout. Often times an Apathetic throws her support unwittingly to a true conservative – someone whose agenda is really about preserving the status quo. Even worse, Apathetics often cast their votes for radical candidates posing as true conservatives (such as the current US administration) who press through an unfair agenda that would never have a chance at popular success without such an overwhelming wave of support from the Apathy Party.
****
It’s not enough to talk about compassion as care and nurturing for the suffering of other individual beings. For ours to be a meaningful discussion of compassion, we must discuss structural suffering caused by systems of collective karma, because the suffering of individuals can never be untangled from the system in which individuals participate. In democratic society, this examination of systems means we have an inescapable responsibility to participate politically, and therefore an inescapable responsibility to enter political discourse. If we aren’t willing to talk about our meditation practice as it connects to the systems we all co-create and live within, then what are we even talking about? Not much at all.
****
Beyond a participation in the formal political process or engagement in any particular issue, our meditation practice leads us to a much deeper and more pervasive definition of what it means to vote.
As meditators, we become intimately and systematically aware of the link between our mental conditioning and the actions that bloom from our state of mind. We also become aware of the complex and subtle effects of those actions on ourselves and the collective communities in which we live. So any time we act with interdependence in mind, we are living a political choice. Voting for someone to represent us and make choices for us is merely an indirect (and often skewed or even perverted) extension of the political choices implied by our way of living day in and day out. It even transcends the idea of voting with our feet or voting with our dollars. Moment by moment, we are each voting with our minds, casting ballots for the way we would like our lives and our communities to manifest. This thing called Earth is just the democratic tally of the results of billions of mental votes. Of course, it’s interesting in democratic societies that some people’s votes seem to count much more than others. But then again, the blatant equalities of our system might just be due to the influence of a strong lobby – the Apathy lobby.
No matter what your leanings in the political arena one thing is clear. If you think it’s possible not to get involved, then guess what.
You just did.
And the status quo loves you for it.



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Michael

posted December 3, 2007 at 5:53 pm


THANK YOU for the book and blog. It’s so great to receive dharma from the Tibetan tradition from someone of my age, from someone with a post-conventional, post-modern, and politically-active mind set, from someone who cares and who can communicate with me, directly.
Thank you Ethan for speaking to those of us who care with a with a widsom we can understand.



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Pat

posted December 3, 2007 at 6:26 pm


I am so happy that are willing to fit a daily blog into your busy life.
I am an out-of-town fan of The ID Project and eager podcast listener.
Enjoyed your article even if the magazine is not willing to print it. The concept of ‘moot points’ makes me laugh. Is the readership really that savvy? Don’t we all need to be reminded over and over about really simple things? Isn’t that what studying and practicing the dharma is about…returning over and over to this moment?
Thanks for reminding us over and over about interdependence and allowing a progressive dialogue to grow.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted December 3, 2007 at 6:33 pm


Thanks Michael.
I appreciate the well wishes.



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Ellen Scordato

posted December 3, 2007 at 6:50 pm


What an excellent articulation of interdependence and political activity!
I have to agree with Pat. And somehow, the response, “Oh, we already know about all that stuff” strikes me as a little rigid rather than open, esp from Shambhala. “Yeah, we know that” – did they say that about their last piece on mediation?
And what about the casual reader of Shambhala Sun? Do they imagine it is so much an insiders’ publication?
oh well. I’m very glad I got to read this piece here, and I look forward to rereading it, linking to it, and talking about it to people who might not already know it all. Like, um, me!
thanks!



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Matthew

posted December 3, 2007 at 7:13 pm


Great stuff, Ethan! I agree with your premise and think it is important to share.
To me, the question is not whether someone should be politically involved, it’s how to take action with out aggression. What turns me off to politics is that there is no meaningful discussion, just pointless fights. Progressives and Conservatives (to use your terminology) are both equally guilty. Regardless of the wisdom of their POV, all that is often communicated is aggression and hatred. For some of us in the “Silent Majority” it is more about abstaining from aggression than being apathetic.
Count me in as a member of the Interdependence party. I propose we start by enforcing an equal listening/talking rule…



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Helen

posted December 3, 2007 at 7:53 pm


Ethan,
First, I just discovered ID project and was very excited when I stumbled upon it. As I write this comment I can’t remember what links lead me to yours but anyhow, it was a pleasure.
I think that I understand your platform and your article has many interesting and valid points. I felt that publishing it on your blog and asking the members what they thought was a bit biased itself though since most people here are going to share a lot of thoughts with you on issues as a collective.
It seems the very reason that meditator communities, buddhists, spiritualists, etc. may not get so political is the very reason that you decided to post this blog in the first place; to be right. Politics is a fascinating sphere for me that always seemed so slippery because whatever information I could grasp, it seemed there was ALWAYS more to the story. Its a full time job to get the facts straight and seemed rare that there was ever true objectivity. I ended up confused.
The apthetic party you speak of, I wonder if I am a part of. I started to feel apathy about politics when I understood that it was imposible to ever get Truth and objectivity from politics. But then I think about the participation I do take in, not in silence but in something that your organization calls transformative culture. I imagine that once you start doing your own thing and not paying energy to the parties and people that are supporting wars and genocide, you take their power away. I don’t beleive that is supporting status quo at all, its just paying attention to something different.
“…the suffering of individuals can never be untangled from the system in which individuals participate.” This statement seems to go against the grain of what your project is about. From this I gather that you think the system is always greater than the individual. If the individual ceases suffering, would that not untangle( or loosen) the system in which it receives and gives suffering to?
“This thing called Earth is just the democratic tally of the results of billions of mental votes.” I am not sure how literal you are being, but the idea here strikes me to be superior. I have hard time imagining the children in war ridden countries to be a part of this collective mental vote. I think they are thinking of other things that I am sure are far more basic and necessary.
As for it being published, I don’t think that the contemplative culture that Shambala Sun seems to target has accepted all your arguments and think it would have been a very interesting article to create discussion.
I will be voting and I know it will be for a candidate that I really don’t have much faith in what they are saying. That seems to be my truth right now and it saddens me but I would lke to meet someone who feels different.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted December 3, 2007 at 7:59 pm


I agree Helen. It might be sort of biased to post here. But this was where the article was accepted :~)
Also, if you’ve been to an ID Project gathering, you might know that quite a lot of the brilliant folks in our community have very different views from me. Thanks so much for sharing good insights for me to contemplate.



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Helen

posted December 3, 2007 at 8:21 pm


I have not been but look forward to participating an ID Project gathering. I am making efforts to make my mediation practice stronger and hope the groups will give me that support and inspiration. Maybe even this evening! Thank you.



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KC

posted December 3, 2007 at 8:51 pm


I prefer that meditation practice be unpolitical for the same reasons mentioned by Helen: the objective truth is not available.
Unless you’re inside The Beltway (or psychic), you really won’t have a good understanding of what goes on in political circles.
About two weeks before the controversial 2000 election, I had a memorable dream. In my dream there was a terrible war being fought in what appeared to be a European city. Women and children were being mercilessly murdered. Just before I woke up, a voice declared “There’s going to be a war, and if Gore wins, it’s going to be a gorey war.”
Well, as you can imagine, I was quite affected when I awoke. I hadn’t determined who I would vote for yet, but this dream did push me toward Bush. Notice that in my dream, the voice did not say “If” there is a war. There would definitley be a war, it was merely a matter of how bad it would turn out.
The dream was enough to persuade me to vote for Bush. But I should also mention that about a month before the above dream, I had another dream about Gore that turned me off: He was riding in a train through a crowd of activists. It seemed to be an AIDs rally. Gore turned to the person sitting next to him and said, “I wish I didn’t have to pretend to like these people.”
That did it for me. I’ve had psychic dreams before.



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Elisabeth

posted December 3, 2007 at 9:11 pm


Thanks Ethan,
I am wondering if you have further advice on how to engage the 3rd party. I never fail to be dismayed when I forward something like this to my long list of non-voting arm-chair (or computer chair as the case may be) pundits and I receive back from them a grin and a “yep.” And more apathy. On Nantucket, we recently lost a Town Meeting vote to purchase a historic run-down theatre by less than 50 votes. I couldn’t get my friends off the beach to go vote with me. They all supported the move and applauded my attending the meeting to vote, but when it came down to it, the present comfort of a cold beer and sand between the toes beat having a functioning theatre and year-round performance space. It drives me crazy that they agree with everything we say, yet can’t be convinced to participate in a positive way, EVEN when they understand that their apathy is a form of participation! Any suggestions are most welcome and keep up the good work!



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pablo

posted December 3, 2007 at 10:09 pm


Ethan…
I’m so impressed by what you’re doing..I see …even from the outside… a momentum building!
keep serving and stay useful!
Pablo



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Keith Gladysz

posted December 3, 2007 at 10:23 pm


Hi Ethan. I haven’t seen you in a while, and I’m glad to chat with you, even indirectly.
I want to ask you about a point that you made indirectly in your entry. You mentioned that the argument might be made that as one deepens in their understanding of the path, they might conclude that universal health-care should exist, and maybe even support “a radical redistribution of wealth” as noted by the Kutadanta Sutta. This idea seems to fit nicely in the NY Buddhist circles I’ve encountered. I’ve found the vast majority of NY meditators that I’ve met to be liberal-minded.
I’m wondering, first, if you agree that a predominant number of NY practitioners are left politically. If so, what is it about the way the dharma is taught here, that resonates more with liberal people? Can the multi-faceted dharma really be affiliated with a particular political stance? Is it accurate to polarize and repeat, “bleeding heart liberals, cold-hearted conservatives”?
Maybe there’s been a lack of substantial political dialog in the lectures and classes I’ve attended because many of the people there share similar political beliefs and assumptions. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, other than people becoming too warm and cozy with their assumptions. They are worth analyzing. It’s all grist for the mill. Shying away from political discussions in classes and lectures is as silly as provoking them.
I’m not in the Apathy Party. But I’m also not a democrat or a republican. I’m not even sure I’m buddhist. My path has led to a renewed commitment to individuality, and of a volitional compassion. More John Stuart Mill, less government.
So what, a pretty hardcore leftist is now more libertarian-minded. Who cares. The point is, the process of being one thing, and becoming something else, taught me to think in new ways. It opened me further. I’ll continue to change and hopefully benefit from future transformation as well.
I’d love to hear other voices from within the buddhist community. I think it would only help frustrate us. And then we’d just have to learn to deal with not getting our way. That’s a good thing. Real grown-up stuff.
I agree with you Ethan, that politics include you, whether you include them or not. I’d love to see the “Interdepence”Party bloom on the floors of meditation rooms, and also see the formation of it’s individualist buddhist counterpart (the “Hinayana” Party), rise in opposition. In this instance, I think it would benefit the community if there were further dissent and disunity.
I’d love to hear from you and anyone else. Congrats on the book! I’m proud!



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Al Billings

posted December 4, 2007 at 12:00 am


The problem with voting for the Republican Party (well, one of them) is that a vote for them is an endorsement of their party platform. This is also true for the Democratic Party.
People can say that not voting is a choice and I agree but I am also not sure that I want to give the rather unenlightened Democratic Party my vote simply to not vote for the Republicans.
Historically, I’ve voted for Democrats but never out of a true belief in them. I vote for them because voting for a Republican has always been worse.
I think I’m pretty sick of given my explicit endorsement to a repugnant political charade through. While I am glad you wrote the above, I really don’t think that this is addressed.
For my own part, I am uncomfortable with politics coming up at Dharma events because, in my experience, everyone assumes that everyone else is a Democrat (and a vegan and many other things) and it causes dissension when you start pointing out how corrupt both parties are and how their platforms don’t match a healthy world, country, or society. I’d rather just avoid that than cause an argument.



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Chris

posted December 4, 2007 at 12:04 am


Well written piece (as always). Apathy is something that runs rampant in our society, and it is maddening, especially from people that are aware of things that need change and what needs to be done to change them, they just either do not care or do not think they can make a difference. I think this is one of the areas that practices like meditation, yoga, and traditional martial arts really benefit people in tangible ways. It is kind of like taking the red pill in the Matrix, you gradually become aware of what is going on around you, realize that it needs to change, and start doing what is necessary to make the needed changes. You then make two horrible sequels… :> (sorry couldn’t resist)
Still, at least in the western world mediators are in the minority and therefore apathetics are in the majority. The only mildly effective analogy I have found to motivate the people that think they can’t make a difference is the lottery analogy. “If you buy a ticket you are not likely to win, if you don’t buy a ticket you are certain not to win.”
Thank you for sharing Ethan.



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Al Billings

posted December 4, 2007 at 12:12 am


Chris,
What needs to be done to change things? Protest in the streets (and be ignored)? Buy a Prius?
If we had a lot of money and paid for lobbyists in D.C., then we might change something.



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Joe

posted December 4, 2007 at 12:57 am


I hope I can be helpful but also point out some things that bother me about this. It came across to me as beneath you to express sour grapes about not being published in Shambhala Sun. It’s great to publish it here on this blog, since you have the forum, and you are gathering your own following, but I believe you are above what comes across as kind of putting the readers in a divisive position with that publication, which to me is not going to reap great benefits for anyone. (I don’t
really read it that much but I feel like I am being
placed in the position of seeing the editor as
a villain and this is starting to come across as
an ego issue, which is not surprising because
I know very few people, even Buddhists, who
have transcended this natural phenomenon.)
For me, politics is very important, but I do not believe meditation practice leads to becoming
a democrat. The third group in this country are actually libertarians, by the way, even though the right wing has co-opted that term and the left wing tends to think libertarianism means Lyndon Larouche. The left wing today tends to be philosophically bankrupt, while the right wing has a malevolent political philosophy. That’s why we have these problems. (that’s my humble political
opinion.)
You can meditate all you want and universal
health care is still going to be a big problem
to implement through “big government” in
this country.
I am not politically apathetic in any way. I love
to talk about politics, but at one point does it
become the catalyst for more anger, more personal division with people who don’t agree
with you? Isn’t this all narrative vs. narrative?
I became interested in the Buddhist community
because I wanted to clear my mind, not join
a group of angry protesters. We hopefully
have a system where you can and should express
your opinions by voting.
How you express your political points of view
to others, Buddhist or not, liberal or conservative, requires great compassion and mindfulness, and probably will be an ongoing
test in the present moment in which it arises.
(BTW, the difference btw an American conservative and a liberal from their point of view is not that they want to hold onto the old ways. If it were, they would want to hold on to Roe Vs. Wade because it is old. The difference in their mind is that they see human nature as flawed and basically prone toward evil, whereas liberals see humans and the future in idealistic terms, which leads to socialism and the Soviet Union.)



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Ethan Nichtern

posted December 4, 2007 at 4:30 am


Joe,
not at all my intention to express sour grapes with the editor. Just wanted to see if people agreed with him that these points were moot. I think the editor is a great guy. Sorry for lack of clarity. I’m also not a Democrat but do self-identify as a progressive. Thanks a lot for your post.



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Leanne

posted December 4, 2007 at 4:31 am


Bravo Ethan, I am so happy that you shared your rejected piece with us. As I am also very happy that you continue to share with us so much of your time and energy. The ID Project is great and it so needed and important.
I am not comfortable with politics becoming part of the dharma practice. In theory, I’d like to believe that there isn’t a political line drawn in Buddhism. Yes, I am situated somewhere on the left. But I’d like to believe that there are Buddhists on the other end of the spectrum or that at least they would feel welcome rather than believing that it’s just another another leftist political group. If all beings are to become enlightened, we will have to lose these distinctions that discriminate. With loving kindness for all sentient beings.
Metta,



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marty stein

posted December 4, 2007 at 4:52 am


Focusing primarily on our thought patterns via mindfullness and meditation training can lead to a very narcissistic perspective and an introspective orientation that runs counter to interdependent ways of viewing the world.
The ideal of neutrality is to my view a myth. Political engagement is one area where our Buddhist teachings are put to the test and our skillful means are challenged as they are in any passionate endeavor. Practice is great, but eventually we have to play the game. Can we have strong passionate beliefs without demonizing those with opposing views? Can we take a strong stand, while at the same time remain cognizant that all truth is relative?
In the end the fact that America, for example has more prisoners than any other country on earth and that prisons seem to be the main way we have solved our “race” problem is not something to remain neutral about. Mindfullness does not mean mindlessness. Being mindfull of space is not an excuse for being spaced out!



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Eva

posted December 4, 2007 at 5:16 am


Ethan,
Cheers for starting the blog out on such a powerful note. This is a great article. And I agree that practicing the dharma is inherently political. The notion that a conservative could practice meditation deeply and remain a conservative seems impossible to me. The intolerance that is inherent in the conservative worldview would show itself for what it was under the light of awareness. A self-described liberal myself, I’ve been truly rattled by the hate and intolerance (and more often, fear) I’ve found in my mind through meditation — and, even worse, my serious attachment to those feelings. ( Because who would I be if I didn’t hate hippies? My whole selfhood would vanish!) I can only imagine how destabilizing that process would be for neo-con.
Mad props,
Eva



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Aaron

posted December 4, 2007 at 7:44 am


Maybe the real reason the Sun didn’t publish this was that it was to political.



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Dogo Barry Graham

posted December 4, 2007 at 1:56 pm


A good article. I think the Shambhala Sun’s decision not to run it is typical of that magazine’s general editorial cowardice.



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frodo441

posted December 4, 2007 at 4:57 pm


for the preservation of aculturalization…their Dharma is not your political synthesis of what you think your socio-political reality should be…your searching for a semantic barometer that does not exist in the world of vernacular of civilizations beyond eschatologies…your argueing rhetoric…



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DJ Voton

posted December 5, 2007 at 12:20 am


The notion that a conservative could practice meditation deeply and remain a conservative seems impossible to me. The intolerance that is inherent in the conservative worldview would show itself for what it was under the light of awareness. A self-described liberal myself, I’ve been truly rattled by the hate and intolerance (and more often, fear) I’ve found in my mind through meditation — and, even worse, my serious attachment to those feelings.
Your hate and intolerance (and ignorance as well) certainly shows up in sharp relief in this posting. I’d practice your own meditation more deeply if I were you.



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JayhooRay

posted December 6, 2007 at 8:35 pm


I think that last comment from DJ Voton kinda sums up the problem with politics and Buddhism especially where Sangha is concerned. Because that is really this issue you are getting at isn’t it Ethan? What we do as individuals, as Buddhists, is really our deal isn’t it? But when we start to speak about others we run into the potential for problems– the uncomfortableness that you address. For us to handle things as charged as politics within a sangha really requires just about everyone to be on the ball with compassion, right speech, and non-attachment. Otherwise it turns out like DJ Voton. You express an opinion, which maybe Buddhists just aren’t supposed to have?, and Voton is going to nail you to the wall for being judgemental…and then tell you to get back on the cushion. As if you are only allowed to open your mouth as a Buddhist if you enlightened because that means you will only offer perfect speech if any. Shew. What a high standard. For my part, I can see where Voton could maybe take offense, especially if he/she was not really taking the time to grasp that in a world of injustice the philosophical position of defending the status quo is defending injustice. But then to go on to point out your short comings and send you back to the cushion? Ouch. As if that is a nonjudgmental statement. It is easy to be “right” when your mouth is closed but it is called Right Speech, not right silence! And then where does all this leave us? Right where you started, with people afraid of making other people uncomfortable or of being counter”attacked” for offending someone.
Who is the someone who is offended?
(a little Zen joke)
Yes, the Buddha’s teachings come with moral and ethical imperatives that are damn hard to figure out if we leave the walls of the monastery…or live in Burma. Furthermore, statistics, studies, and history show that in a world where people are afraid to speak out that oppression and injustice will take hold.
But as I see it, and as I’ve been told by revered teachers, comfort isn’t kindness. In fact, there is little that seems comfortable at all to me about a robust practice. Sitting all quiet…that ain’t really what it is all about is it? Inside the battle with Mara rages and outside there is much that can be done to benefit all sentient beings. So when speech is uncomfortable to hear, that is when I think one must really look at why that is uncomfortable to hear. Is it uncomfortable for Ego and thus an invitation to wake up?
It seems pretty simple to me that as Buddhist we should be pretty quick on the uptake of civil discourse: our motivation is benefit for sentient beings but we are human and less than skillful so we are going to make mistakes and misunderstand each other. Wisdom and loving kindness folks…no matter what we do it is always going to be about wisdom and loving kindness…skillful means and bodichitta…
the lesson is the same even in politics in the sanga



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JayhooRay

posted December 6, 2007 at 8:43 pm


oh, and for the Sun not to want to deal with this? duh… for all the reasons now made obvious and more. But because everyone already knows this? hooey. It is scary and divisive, that’s why.
So it is fine to leave the glossy pages of the temples and castles unsullied. We can get together in the streets and get to know each other…even if it is just virtually.
Fear is fear no matter what you call it…and we all got it…life without fear? Well yer either stoopid or enlightened…I don’t know yet.
Take it on Ethan!What is there to be afraid of, having your ego and reputation trashed? You trying to get rid of that anyway aren’t you? As long as your heart is in the right place and you mind is settling in that direction!



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Ethan Nichtern

posted December 7, 2007 at 12:24 am


I think DJ Voton’s response was directed at someone else’s comment, because it references a quote that wasn’t in my article. But i definitely do need to stay on the cushion as well. we all do.



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One City Blog « both/and

posted December 7, 2007 at 10:05 am


[...]  And now… his new blog totally rocks too.  [...]



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Eva

posted December 8, 2007 at 1:57 pm


Your hate and intolerance (and ignorance as well) certainly shows up in sharp relief in this posting. I’d practice your own meditation more deeply if I were you.
DJ Voton: I’ve certainly got a lot of hate and intolerance to work on, tons of it, always have. But I still think political conservatism — both the Bush Sr./Reagan philosophies and the GW brand — is completely antithetical to the dharma. That’s just my non-expert opinion, and maybe in a few weeks I can blog about it more coherently and we can talk it out. I agree that political differences can be harmful when they divide a sangha, but I don’t think the risk of divisiveness warrants ignoring politics altogether. We should be able to argue about all this stuff openly, ideally sticking to Right Speech as best we can.



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Joe

posted December 12, 2007 at 5:17 pm


I think we really need to be careful about what we think of as the concept of “conservatism,” which seems to be set up as a duality for some of these postings with either “liberalism” or “progressivism.” When some of you say you can’t see a conservative and a Buddhist, it is because the word “Conservative” has a fixed and duel meaning , when in fact, there are many kinds of conservatives, and the term is empty. I am not being a relativist, but really examine it before casting stones. I am not a conservative, by the way. My father was a conservative who was very influenced by Zen Buddhism through Thomas Merton. Believing in free trade is not the same thing as trashing the planet. One could conceivably be a Buddhist and have issues with abortion, when in Buddhism killing a maggot is problematic.
When you get into these areas, they become political, not Buddhist per se–be for women’s right to choose, but that has nothing to do with Buddhism.
I do see Ethan’s point for calling himself progressive as opposed to a liberal democrat I guess. However, can we all be careful not to demonize anyone through a concept? And isn’t a true conservative someone who wants to conserve this planet’s resources? The terms will evolve–remember it was Lincoln, a Republican, who helped free the slaves. And it was Kennedy and Johnson who got us into Viet Nam. Do not live in concepts–but yes, there are progressive issues that the extreme christian right wing today does not exactly embrace. I just believe we can change the planet through our own mindfulness toward the emptiness of these concepts and how they make us divide each other.



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Erg

posted December 13, 2007 at 9:40 am


There is something to that Joe. I would pointedly call myself a liberal, not a progressive. I look to guys like FDR, LBJ and Kennedy, even Eisenhower, for my inspiration more so than Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, etc.



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Idetrorce

posted December 15, 2007 at 11:10 am


very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
Idetrorce



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Janet

posted December 20, 2007 at 1:17 am


Found this post through the Worst Horse website and wanted to thank you for this post and your blog. You’ve captured wonderfully what I’ve always felt — that living according the Dharma will change one’s political beliefs and engagement with society (not just in activism and voting, but in how they live and treat others, and how much responsibility they take for their actions and non-actions). I’ve not yet been to a meditation retreat in which politics is discussed (and I sure wouldn’t mind it) — but I have been to my share of activism events where, unsurprisingly, I always felt were full of people I could click with on spiritual levels — most of them were there because of non-discriminatory (that’s the operative word here) love and compassion, and had made the choice to act upon that. Thanks again for this piece.



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Lisa Moore

posted February 4, 2008 at 10:51 am


The gratitude that I am feeling for discovering the ID Project via/the Worsthorse site is genuinely heartfelt. Being deeply political by nature but feeling overwhelmed,I have this tendency to fall into an apathetic depressed state somewhere between nihilism and lethargy as we get closer to a presidential election. Why? Powerlessness. In this lifetime I donnot get to have any power. Why? In this lifetime I am, hopefully, taming my mind and aggression. However, with the planetary emergency,the quagmire of the Iraq war,the uninsured health care crisis,the blues reign supreme; until I remember that I am a student of a great teacher who is saving my ass and helping me to take a peek at how this mind works/verses how “Ordinary Mind” works. Being here such a short time in this human realm,and being such a small influence, I am banking on finding a seed of hope via/what the 91 year old chinese born activist Grace Lee Boggs recommends,”Regain our humanity through small projects and jobs that empower us.” Boggs goes onto say,”Evolution will happen,(in terms of human changes)”,says Boggs. Change of course is inevitable,but,change into what? It is upto us; right here, right now in this present moment, to not pollute the atmosphere with the painful uncertainty that I feel in these times. I am greatful to be tempered by the discovery of the ID Project. My sadness and powerlessness is comforted. Blogging is another way to gain control over the political situation, it is new, it is fresh, and it is free. This way we are doing something local and international as well. We donot have to disrespect politics as Boggs warns us. Boggs also states,”We have to rethink the concept of leader. This wonderful elder of the grassroots political community reminds us,”We are the leaders we’ve been thinking of.” These few quotes are from Grace Lee Boggs,An interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now.



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bbizbor

posted February 17, 2009 at 2:26 pm


? ?????? ??? ????? ??? ?????????



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