Does Buddhism Require You To Be a Liberal?


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.