Too Liberal

Several issues ago Professor Robert Thurman outlined his view of Buddhist politics in “The Politics of Enlightenment” (Vol. II, No.1), which was a clear example of what I perceive to be a bias in your magazine and the Western Buddhist press in general. It seems that we are being led to believe that politically, socially, and economically Buddhism equals liberalism. It’s difficult for me to accept Professor Thurman’s idea of “welfarism,” a term he apparently feels will be less objectionable to your readers than “socialism.” I don’t presume to question the Professor’s erudition, and he certainly is entitled to his opinion, but I find it impossible to reconcile his idea that “every living being in society is owed a livelihood” with my own limited understanding of the dharma. Firstly, it is unclear to me who owes this and to whom it is owed. Do individuals fall into both categories simultaneously, or are we making a distinction here between two classes of people in society? Secondly, does this line of reasoning lead to the conclusion that capitalistic or “conservative” views are opposed to the teachings of the Buddha? I suspect that what many Westerners find attractive about Buddhism is the concept of karma, which places responsibility for our actions squarely on our own shoulders and makes “destiny” something that we create for ourselves at every moment. The idea that as individuals we are somehow “owed a livelihood” does not seem consistent with this.

I would guess that many Buddhists in this country came of age in the liberal sixties and I am willing to concede that many, maybe even most, Western Buddhists consider themselves liberals. It seems to me, however, that the inherent connection between Buddhism and liberalism is more apparent than real.

I find Tricycle consistently engaging, and “The Politics of Enlightenment” was no exception, but I think your readers would be better served if you ran more articles with a less liberal bias.

Herb Gatti,
Wakefield, Massachusetts

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