I’m just going to say it. If you’re a Buddhist, you need to vote for progressive candidates. And this year, you need to vote for Obama.
There’s bit over on the Tircycle Editor’s blog wherein some prominent Western Buddhists urge people to get political, “whatever your political beliefs.” It’s not all that uncommon for Buddhists to be political (I’d argue that it’s impossible for anyone to be apolitical, but that’s just me1). And usually Buddhists try to paint a happy face on their activism. We don’t like to think about Buddhists taking up arms, but they do.
But I’d like to call attention to that phrase, “whatever your political beliefs.” This sort of tempered political activism is out there a lot. A lot of people want to say, “go out and vote!” as if voting is the most important thing you can do. But it isn’t. Voting for the right candidate is the most important thing you can do.
The Tricycle piece opens with a quote from the Mahaparinirvana Sutra:
When a society comes together and makes decisions in harmony, when it respects its most noble traditions, cares for its most vulnerable members, treats its forests and lands with respect, then it will prosper and not declineâ€¦
Read that again. Carefully. Soak it up. Think about it. Reflect. Now let’s parse it.
“When a society comes together” Beyond the platitudes of “post-partisianship” or “crossing the isle,” Sen. Obama is deeply concerned with making decisions that benefit the most number of people in this country, even those I disagree with. This is the very definition of coming together.
“when it respects its most noble traditions” I know the Buddha here is talking specifically about the Dharma, and I know we could extrapolate from this all religious traditions, but I’d like to extrapolate a little further and include such noble traditions as academia and the sciences, the legal system and Constitutional Law, and even the very fundamentals of our democracy. I don’t often agree with Sam Harris, but I think he’s absolutely right when he points out that voting for someone “you could have a beer with” to run the country is ridiculous. And it in no way respects this country’s noble traditions. Running the country is necessarily a challenging job that requires skill, intelligence, patience, empathy, and sound reason and judgement. Yes, we live in a country where anyone can become president; but that doesn’t mean that anyone should become president.
“cares for its most vulnerable members” McCain wants to make health care benefits taxable. McCain assumes that free enterprise will take care of poverty, homelessness, health care, the disabled, seniors, and wounded Vets. Are you kidding me?
“treats its forests and lands with respect” Three words. “Drill, baby, drill.” I repeat. Are you kidding me?
“then it will prosper and not decline.” In other words, if you work for progressive causes, the country, and by extension, the planet, will proser.
Taken at its word, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra suggests that Buddhists should be liberals. Let me make this very clear: as a firm denouncer of fundamentalism, I respect everyone’s right to make their own opinions. But I don’t get this politically correct idea that respecting other’s opinions means we shouldn’t assert our own. I’m glad that the Tricycle’s blog tells people to get out the vote. But their own textual support goes much further than that.
Buddhist philosophy asserts the inherit interconnectedness of all living beings, praises charity and compassion toward the weakest members of society, and, in the Ten Duties of the King, extols the virtues of peace and non-violence. From this perspective, the choice is clear. If you’re a Buddhist, you need to vote for Obama.2
There. I said it.
- I think it’s impossible to be apolitical because even if you don’t pay any attention to politics, politics still effects your life. More generally, the sociologist in me knows that the body is politicized all the time. Bodies are gendered, for example, such that the very act of a woman choosing to between a dress-suit and a pants-suit is a political act. [ back ]
- Eight and twelve years ago, I believed it was more important to vote your conscious, vote your personal political beliefs. And if your political beliefs ran outside the mainstream, then you shouldn’t support a mainstream candidate. And I still believe that up to a point. That point being when the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. In other words, when the elected official represents more than my local constituency. In the case of the office of the President, he or she needs to account for all three-hundred million of us (and by extension, all six billion). So I may not agree with everything that Sen. Obama stands for; but I know he do everything he can to account to me and my needs while balancing my needs with the needs of others. Unlike the current administration who has been concerned with attending to the needs of big oil. Period. [ back ]