Bridging Dharma and Political Action
As the midterms come to an end and we turn to the 2020 presidential election cycle, I encounter a familiar internal tension between dharma practice and what it means to engage with representative democracy. Three dharma concepts frame my political engagement. They are: the first noble truth, responsiveness, and peace. I try to hold them my mind simultaneously.
The first noble truth asserts that life, including politics, does not do what we want. I can mitigate my suffering by expecting not to get my way. The suffering we seek to end in Buddhist practice is that which we self-generate out of resistance to life on its own terms.
Dharma practice is not passive, it’s responsive. It’s a path of wise communication, compassionate action, and principled engagement with the marketplace. Some feel politics should be left out of dharma. For me, political engagement, because it is so consequential, is an obvious extension of Buddhist ethics. I’m not so interested in a dharma that can’t respond to attacks on transgender people, the mainstreaming of white supremacy, and the pervasive trauma of sexual assault.
Refusing to dehumanize those who are different from me. As a gay man who feels threatened in the Trump era, this is really hard. I fail all the time. But we are at war with each other in this country. I fear it could get much worse. Someone has to take a stand for peace. If not Buddhists, then who?