The point of discussing a Buddhist platform is not to generate something altogether new and exotic, but to reinforce enlightenment-oriented tendencies and to mobilize active Buddhist participation in American politics.

It is a misunderstanding to think that enlightenment is some sort of final escape from life and that the doctrine of the unsatisfactory nature of samsara obviates any need for involvement with other beings or social responsibility. Because nirvana is selfless, there is no self that enjoys a state of being beyond the world. Selfish habits that dominate unenlightened living may be dissolved, but that leaves the aggregates of body and mind just as present in the world as they ever were. Buddha himself remained deeply engaged throughout his life after his enlightenment. Wisdom and compassion are ultimately inseparable, wisdom being the complete knowledge of ultimate selflessness and compassion being the selfless commitment to the happiness of others.

The Buddha was trained to be a prince in his early life, he was trained in the arts of management in times of peace and war, and was attuned to the responsibilities of a king for his subjects. He renounced being an unenlightened king. But once he attained his own enlightenment, he emerged in world history as a kingly leader with far more impact than any ordinary king. The Buddha did not teach escape from responsibility or society. He taught escape from ignorance and evil thoughts and actions. He founded not merely a religion or a therapy, he founded a quiet revolution, a total reorientation of the habits of individuals and societies that has continued to this day.

The main engine of Buddha’s revolution was the society-within-society he founded, the sangha or community, with its fourfold membership of nuns, monks, laywomen, and laymen. Within his alternative society, he was able to implement his enlightened principles of individualism, nonviolence, personal evolutionism, altruism, and pragmatism.

The Buddhist community was centered on the sacredness of the individual’s liberty, on nonviolence, on equal access to enlightenment, on simplicity and sharing of property, and on pragmatic, reasonable, consensual flexibility in all things. This community exercised a powerful and sustained influence on the larger societies within which it existed. And it spread throughout the world without any violent invasions. In America, due to our democratic ideals, Buddhism has one of its first opportunities to fully participate in society and to implement its principles for the benefit of everyone.

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