Conservative Buddhists Speak

We recently issued a call to conservative Buddhists so that their voices might be better represented. Here are some of the responses we’ve received.

Lion’s Roar
20 January 2017

On the front page of your website right now I see the following: “Lets Stand Up Together,” “Buddhists Take a Stand,” “The King We Need,” “Rev. angel Kyodo williams on why she’s hopeful about this moment in US politics,” “Buddhist Conservatives…,” and “A Plea for Animals.”

All of these are entirely about holding views. I hold this view on this, I hold that view on that. Well, what If I don’t hold your view that it’s an important part of Buddhism to maintain views on all of these things? The front page of your website is obviously crafted for a very select group of people who think this about that, with a slight inclusion for people who think the opposite of the thing that the select group of people think about that.

My stance for politics? Everyone is welcome at my center. I don’t need to take part in any debates, I don’t need to attend any marches, I don’t need to save any animals. Rather than fighting with the world (which you will never win), I include everything in my daily life. rather than fighting the power, Trump, Obama, whatever have you, anyone and everyone is welcome with me at any given time if they so choose. I think that is a much more appropriate response to these events than any I’ve seen populating your front page. —Chris Paul

I am a fiscal and constitutional conservative, although on some social issues I would more easily accept current liberal viewpoints.

I am 74 years of age and began life in the UK as a socialist with Communist leanings. I discovered along the way that leftists do not see themselves as political at all; they see their attitudes as apolitical or non-political. To them it is all “common sense” and is based primarily on emotional reactions. So my experience is that there is no possible discussion possible with leftists or with Buddhist leftists because they consider me political and Buddhists are supposed to be non-political.

Another thing I have discovered is that most leftists have good hearts and good, altruistic intentions (the unions and the leadership and activists are another matter), but good intentions do not justify blind acceptance of the same old failed policies generation after generation. Socialism and communism have never worked throughout history, and end up with everyone equally miserable — if they are lucky enough to be alive.

Capitalism between 1990 (the end of the USSR) and 2003 generated a billion new jobs worldwide and created more prosperity and a new middle class and since then another billion jobs have been created. This system has lifted more people out of poverty than all the aid to Third World countries combined. Yet this is the system the left wishes to dismantle.

I cannot speak my mind in sangha because it will create dissension amongst well intentioned people who ignore the disastrous results of their policies, and do not consider themselves political. I am a Vajrayana Buddhist and have worked as an interdenominational minister. My intention is to do the inner work, and fulfill my bodhisattva vows, so exterior political action is not my action of choice, but inner mind retraining is my choice. So the political scene is something I have put aside, and this fits in with my political alienation within the Buddhist community.

Thanks for listening. —Michael Simkin

I’ve only been a Buddhist for about three years, so I am still learning. I would consider myself in the Libertarian wing of the conservative movement, though labels are just that—labels. The following is really a brief philosophical discussion of libertarianism and how it relates to Buddhism.

The Nonaggression Principle: The nonaggression principle is a central tenet of Buddhism and libertarianism. When we discuss aggression or violence against individuals or marginalized groups, we often forget to include the state in the calculation. Government, by its very nature, is an instrument of aggression. Further, it is distinct among all other institutions in that it assumes upon itself a monopoly on aggression: It creates a legal structure codifying aggression and, subsequently, absolves itself of aggression’s inherent immorality.

Voluntarism: Buddhists and libertarians agree that interactions between individuals and groups should be voluntary and without the coercive threat of aggression.

Moral Transmutation: Moral transgressions like stealing, slavery, or killing are all prohibitions within Buddhist (Five Precepts) and libertarian philosophy. Libertarians, however, view these as immoral no matter who initiates them — individuals, groups, or government. This is a difficult point for liberal-leaning Buddhists to understand. By waving a magic wand, the government transmutes theft, slavery, and killing into taxation, conscription, and war.

Libertarians believe in voluntary community engagement because we understand that centralized power structures are a very bad thing. The reason why Buddhists are concerned about Trump — and rightly so — is because of what he could do with the established power structure. If Trump, or the government for that matter, didn’t have all-encompassing power, then the occupant of the White House would be of no concern.

The problem isn’t who is on the throne. Rather, the problem is that a throne exists. You simply cannot build a bonfire and hope the wind doesn’t change.  It is an illusion of control. Impermanence tells us that nothing remains constant.

Libertarians will continue working cooperatively with any group of people who are targeted for state aggression by Trump or any other occupant of the White House. I only ask that my fellow Buddhists examine what I’ve outlined and at least understand where us few libertarian Buddhists are coming from.

Lion’s Roar, and Shambhala Sun before it, have been wonderful in my and my wife’s spiritual journey. We only wish it were a monthly magazine. —Rick Wood

I consider myself a moderate liberal and/or moderate conservative. I follow the “middle path” as Buddhism seems to portray.

Your editor-in-chief Melvin McLeod writes, “While Lion’s Roar does not take a partisan political stance, it is natural that many of the articles we publish and the activities we cover will reflect liberal views and values. We do not apologize for this…” It appears that the magazine has already made up its mind to exclude “conservative Buddhists” from the conversation without even discussing the issue. It seems that “liberal Buddhists” are better and more compassionate people with better ideas and values. There are many Buddhist sects with different interpretations of the Dharma. Many different people following different paths to reach the common goal to become better Buddhas and help humanity. Isn’t this the ultimate goal?

I’m disappointed to hear a Buddhist magazine has such a closed-minded view. It appears that liberal Buddhism has become “better” or is more superior (more holy), and has taken the steps to exclude fellow Buddhas just because of their political views. Isn’t this one of the main reasons many Christians/Catholics leave their religion based upon this ideology and come to Buddhism for its value of accepting everyone regardless of who you are? As Rev. Ron Miyamura of the Midwest Buddhist Temple says, “Come as you are….” No need to elaborate on this short reference. It is simple, yet explains everything.

Conservative Buddhas should not be excluded just because we have different political ideology than our fellow Buddhas. Liberal Buddhas should not feel they are better Buddhas than other just because of their liberal views in politics. Whether we eat meat, drink alcohol, etc., we are still Buddhas following one of the ten thousand paths to the main common goal, which is to be more compassionate people.

Your magazine should not “shame” fellow conservative Buddhists. In fact, your magazine should not be taking sides. If you continue leaning to one side, you are no better than people who are like President-Elect Trump. You become a bully, a holy roller,  that alienates people just based upon their political views.

I am not a perfect Buddha by far. However, I do what I can each and every day by being a good human being and accepting and helping others without questioning their political views. A Buddha should help everyone regardless of who they are, voted for, or their view on a particular political issue. Isn’t that the main purpose of Buddhas helping others ….. to make a better world?  If not, what’s the point? We all have a family member or friend like Donald Trump, yet they are still part of the family. We do not push them out of our lives. We love them and accept them for who they are… even if they are obnoxious. Because in the end, it’s what they do that matters…. not what they say. Action speaks louder than words.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not make distinctions or alienate whites who marched along him and others for a great cause. No, he accepted everyone. The speeches were not meant for just Blacks, but for everyone because only love can heal…. only love and acceptance can drive out hate. Lions Roar, don’t keep out conservative Buddhists.

Remember, One Dharma Many Paths. —Juan A. Torres

Thank you for this opportunity. I am a white, male septuagenarian who has been practicing Dharma since 2000. My primary practice is Zen (Korean-style, Kwan Um School). I also have a strong vipassana practice with a local group, and have done numerous retreats in both traditions, including the 90-day winter Kyol Che retreat at the Providence Zen Center in 2014.

I am also a political conservative, meaning that I embrace such principles as personal freedom, individual responsibility, the value of tradition, incremental change, and the economic efficacy of private enterprise in a free and competitive marketplace. I find a great deal of support for these principles in Zen teaching.

I opposed the nomination and election of Donald Trump, and I voted for Hillary Clinton. I did so not as an endorsement of progressive principles but because I find Trump to be a self-centered, unstable, and unprincipled person who, I believe, has already degraded the office to which he was elected. He is not a conservative but an oligarch who seems to care only about power. His emotional instability puts our nation and human life on earth in danger; he will have access to destructive power beyond imagining.

To me, all political differences between myself and my progressive fellow citizens are unimportant compared to the danger posed by a Trump presidency.  If y’all can’t move toward me, I will move as far a necessary toward you to create a united front for the purpose of re-establishing political sanity. —Robert Lockridge, Chong Haeng Dharma Teacher, Kwan Um School of Zen, Vice Abbot and Head Dharma Teacher, Orlando Zen Center

I am a British and have practised in the Soto Zen tradition for three years. As ever when you start practise your mindset and worldview slowly but surely changes and ideas that you took for granted you start to see crumble as you see them for delusion. In my political views this has been no different.

I have always considered myself “Left Wing” which would be our equivalent to the US “Liberal.” My view was Conservatives are bad people interested only in greed, I am a generous left wing person who votes accordingly, I am moral and the world makes sense. Or does it?

I haven’t reached a point where I am Conservative but more that I realise the world and humanity is more complex than I thought and that no political one side has pure moral ownership. I feel that now I just judge each situation as best I can and vote as best I can.

If there was a General Election tomorrow in the UK I would on balance probably vote Conservative for the first time in my life because I’d feel right now here in 2017 they would be the party that would do the least harm. In five years time that situation might be different. —Stephen Wood

I call myself purple—not completely blue or red. The main issue is abortion, to avoid killing a living being, a human with its own DNA and heartbeat. Allowing abortion is not a law that I support. Close to sixty million beings have been dismembered in the United States thanks to “the right to choose.”

Unfortunately the right to life is supported by a party that doesn’t support the poor, those that need health coverage, and those that are handicapped, mentally ill, foreigners, and those of color. I truly believe until Roe v Wade is overturned Republicans will keep getting elected and so we shall continue to lose the middle class through trickle-down policies. —Dana McFarland

I think it’s important for Buddhist communities to focus on being inclusive and tolerant.  That includes making room for differing opinions and not seeing “Buddhism” conflated with “Liberal” or “Progressive” political opinions.  I think most Buddhists would buy into the underpinning ideas of Democratic government, i.e., “The greatest good for the greatest number of people.” We all hope to alleviate external (worldly) and internal suffering, as a general principle. Whether liberal economic policies, bloated bureaucracies, and staggering levels of government indebtedness serve that purpose is *highly* debatable. Given that reasonable people can differ on these issues, we as Buddhists should not look like an insular bloc of people marching in leftist lockstep.

As a businessman and technologist, I have found precious few other people in any sangha who are similar to my educational or occupational profile. I find this to be odd and unfortunate. It seems most Buddhists are government workers, teachers, therapists, etc. These are typical liberal breeding grounds. Strangely enough, it was my children who rebelled against the idea of attending any Buddhist groups — at all. This was in part due to the lack of balance in perspective and lifestyle; “Dad, these people aren’t like us. In spite of their posturing, they aren’t particularly friendly.”

The result of this is that my wife and I practice and study Buddhism independently, and sew our efforts and financial contributions into various worthy charities. My kids have pretty well written off Buddhism because of the people involved. Mark Twain said once of Christianity; “If Christ were alive today, he wouldn’t be a Christian.” One wonders what the Buddha might say if he were with us today.

Thanks for broaching the subject. —Greg Evans

Lion's Roar

Lion’s Roar

Lion’s Roar is the website of Lion’s Roar magazine (formerly the Shambhala Sun) and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, with exclusive Buddhist news, teachings, art, and commentary. Sign up for the Lion’s Roar weekly newsletter and follow Lion’s Roar on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.