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Does Buddhism Require You To Be a Liberal?

Does handing out Obama phones reduce suffering?

by
Charlie Martin

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September 8, 2013 - 3:00 pm
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It’s a central tenet of hipster Buddhism that being a Buddhist is just like being a college-town liberal, but with Oriental art and maybe some yoga classes.

I don’t think it’s necessarily so. In fact, I think Buddhism, real Buddhism, is inherently more in tune with libertarian “conservative” politics. (This isn’t the place for this particular rant, but I scare-quote “conservative” because I think it’s a bad term. As I was telling someone last night, I’m not a “conservative,” I’m an 18th-century Enlightenment radical.)

As I usually do, I see this in terms of first principles, the Four Noble Truths, and yes, I am going to recite them again:

  • Our daily understanding of life, the universe, and everything is full of frustration, annoyance, discomfort, disease, anticipation, avarice, mindless acquisitiveness, dread, anxiety, stress — all the things that are included in the Sanskrit word duhkha, which is usually translated as “suffering.”
  • This suffering arises from clinging to our desire to make life, the universe, and everything be the way we want: we want pleasurable experiences, we want to avoid unpleasant experiences, and we want to control the world to make all these things happen. This is called duhkha samodhaya, the truth of the root of suffering.
  • This suffering ends when we absorb and reconcile ourselves with the fact that life, the universe, and everything stubbornly persist in doing what they’re doing and that clinging is pointless and leads to suffering. This is called nirodha, the snuffing out of duhkha.
  • And we can make that reconciliation by practicing ethical conduct (sila), by developing wisdom (prajña), and by engaging in practices that quiet the endless internal chatter (samadhi), which tends to be all about how much we like the good feelings, dislike the bad feelings, and want to make things go the way we want. Buddha gave advice on how to do this, first in the Noble Eightfold Path (aryastangamarga in Sanskrit, 八正道 in Chinese, or “I can never remember all eight at the same time” in English) and then later in more specific guidance in the Precepts.

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Top Rated Comments   
I'm pretty certain that I don't write these columns to trash Buddhists.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Two basic points about Buddhism that prove you don't have to be a liberal/progressive to be a Buddhist. In fact, I think these two points alone reveal that a true progressive, if he were consistent in his logic, couldn't be a Buddhist as I understand the teachings.

Point one. Buddhism is all about personal responsibility. No matter what happens to you, no matter who does what to you, you are responsible for your own thoughts, actions, choices and ultimately for your own enlightenment or failure to gain enlightenment.

Point two. There is no room within Buddhism for coercion no matter how "noble" some cause might be. None.

Does anyone know a progressive that thinks like that?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Whenever hipsters say "But you're a Buddhist!" when I make a statement that violates their "idiot compassion", my answer is always the same "So were the Samurai. What's your point?"
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (87)
All Comments   (87)
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Thank you so much for writing on this topic. I've always called the "idiot compassion" of the left 'copious caring'. It's a disease that liberals cannot even see that they have. Caring is there calling ca
rd! And if you don't care like them then you just don't get it. It blinds them to any kind of meaningful discussion. Teaching yoga and being a conservative is very hard for my students to understand - especially the ones who love my classes. But they love my classes because of who I am and how I teach - which is from my base of conservatism. Please keep writing on these topics!!!
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks Charlie. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I have long felt that modern 'liberalism', which looks to the government for solutions to social problems, is totally incompatible with Buddhist teachings, which is all about PERSONAL responsibilities. I am appalled to see so many self-identified 'Buddhist' are so deluded. I consider them to be more of a cult, in which a pernicious political philosophy is 'bolted onto' a superficial understanding of Buddhism, using it as a cover to promote, using your term 'idiot compassion'. Anyway, great theme, keep writing on this idea!
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good discussion of what you call "idiot compassion" and I call leftist compassion, vs real compassion. I have discussed the same. The key differences are:
1. Real compassion is vuluntary, with your own money/time, leftist compassion is cooerced, with other peoples money.
2. Real compassion is supposed to help the target, preferable in a manner that will allow them to permently end their problems by voluntarily changing themselves. Leftist compassion is solely to make the leftist feel good, and asuage their guilt, and generally still leaves the target dependent, rarely permanently fixing their problems.
3. In real compassion, the giver decides where the money goes, with leftist compassion, a politician or burocrat decides where the money goes.
4. Real compassion expects nothing in return, but is glad to receive thanks. Leftist compassion trades handouts for votes and power.
5. With real compassion, the receiver knows they are getting charity, are thankful for it, and desire to change their lives to no longer need it. With leftist comapssion, the target beleives they are permanently entitled to it by right.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think compassion is about what YOU do to relieve the world's suffering. I'm not sure it's about what you do to compel other people to relieve the world's suffering.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
1) Would someone please inform an ignorant European about the "Obama phone"? I am sure he never developed or produced this product. Does he give phones away for free? Mystery to me!
2) The word Nirvana or Nibbana is related to pali: "nibbuto", meaning "cooling" of a sick person's fewer. I assume its meaning is "cured" or "healthy".
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're right. The "Obama phone" thing derives from a government program that gives free cell phones to poor people, funded by a tax on cell phones that people pay for. The video I talked about is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpAOwJvTOio and a story showing that the program is being abused is hee: http://dailycaller.com/2013/06/18/obama-phones-given-to-people-promising-to-sell-them-for-drugs-money-video/

You're right. The PIE root here is nibh- which means to extinguish or snuff out. "Nirvana" is the snuffing out of the clinging that leads to duhkha, and thus it's the cure for duhkha.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Charlie,

I assume, just to be fair, that you are going to examine whether Buddhist can be conservative or not.....

And there seems to be misunderstandings of what Nirvana and Samsara are, maybe you can clarify those.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
The first one is easy, as I exhibit an example. Ecce homo.

On the second, that'd be a couple of good columns. I might take on nirvana next time; in the mean time, see my answer to Torben.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
The goal of Buddhism is nirvana which is oblivion. Every liberal seeks oblivion for America so wouldn't they all be liberals?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I believe you've created a semantical game here Relayer. Oblivion, as Buddhists descrbe it, is different from the meaning you are implying. For leftists, oblivion is the same as suffering, whereas in the Buddhist context it means non-existence which is the ultimate condition of non-suffering.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I *think* that was a joke. But see my explanation of Nirvana.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
One might have some justice in asserting that "'you should abstain from doing this bad thing.'" is directed. in the U. S. Constitution, toward the Federal government.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I like the term "Idiot Compassion".

It's difficult to see how liberals could really be Buddhists considering that they are so good at making themselves feel good about themselves while trying to make those who aren't in total agreement with them feel bad about themselves.

In the liberals world of the zero sum game there must always be a villain whose suffering they want to increase in order to relieve THEIR suffering at the thought someone else is disagreeing with them and getting away with it.

I couldn't help but think of Hank Hill's difficulty understanding Buddhism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37qFlPc6i80
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dialectic Materialsim Buddhism? LOL!
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I enjoyed this article; I hope I am not attached excessively to its good thoughts.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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