Created December 2009
GLENN: But teaching Buddhism isn’t the same thing as a “revolution,” necessarily. Buddhism tends to be regarded, in the United States, anyway, as a nice therapy, not a force for social change.
THURMAN: Well, you know, the Buddha was one of the few great religious leaders who was never persecuted or executed, because he knew the art of the possible, he was a very effective administrator and strategist. He was a prince, and in those days princes weren’t trained to be comparative literature professors, or poets; if he hadn’t gone over the wall, so to speak, he would have been a general. So he realized that he couldn’t just say, “We’re going to rule India according to the Buddhist ethic, and let’s give up our armies,” and so forth. He would have been crushed. Instead he founded the monastery, this very countercultural institution that exerted a slow and steady influence on many societies over the following centuries. And the sangha, the community, he founded was a sort of nation-within-a-nation in which the principles of individualism, nonviolence, personal evolutionism, simplicity, equal access to enlightenment, altruism, and pragmatism held sway. And if lots of people really started trying to live by these principles, we’d have a revolution on our hands.
Also, I want to point out that these ideals fit in very nicely with what we think of as “American” ideals of freedom, civility, pluralism, altruism, generosity, faith in human development, and individualism. We don’t need to call it a “Buddhist” movement, if that alienates people. The point of my book, which I’m writing all over again, by the way, is to say, look, given the fact that we live in an extremely free society, the idea that we can just sit on the sidelines and criticize everything “they” do is irresponsible, it’s unenlightened, and it’s un-Buddhist. There comes a time when you have to step in and take responsibility. We need to get up off our Zen pillows and mobilize active Buddhist participation in American politics. We need to speak out, we need to engage our opponents in dialogue, and we need to vote for the closest thing we can find to our principles. The Tibetan Buddhist movement in this country is only 15 or 20 years old, but I think it can become a very effective movement, and I think it’s very necessary right now.
Interesting Buddhist concepts:Read less