Thirteen prominent teachers explain why Buddhists need to be be politically engaged at this crucial time in the country’s history, in this statement published in Lion’s Roar magazine and co-signed by more than 140 Buddhist leaders.
As long as a society protects the vulnerable among them, they can be expected to prosper and not decline.
—The Buddha, in the Mahaparinirvana Sutta
Buddhism does not align itself with any party or ideology. But when great suffering is at stake, Buddhists must take a stand against it, with loving-kindness, wisdom, calm minds, and courage.
Committed to compassion, we follow the example of the bodhisattva Kwan Yin, “she who hears the cries of the world.” Like her, we listen to the cries of suffering people and do everything in our power to help and protect them.
In this time of crisis, we hear the cries of millions who will suffer from regressive policies of the new U.S. administration targeting our most vulnerable communities. We hear the cries of a nation whose democracy and social fabric are at risk. We join in solidarity with many others who are also hearing these cries, knowing that together we can be a remarkable force for transformation and liberation.
Religious leaders and practitioners have always played a vital role in movements for justice and social progress, contributing their wisdom, love, courage, and commitment to others. People of all faiths are needed on the front lines now, resisting policies that will cause harm and offering a new and positive vision for our country.
We believe that Buddhist teachers and practitioners should be among them, locking arms with all people of goodwill to protect the vulnerable, counter systemic violence and oppression, and work for a more just and caring society. Buddhism is respected around the world as a religion of compassion and peace. We are wanted and needed in this movement, and we have much to contribute.
Buddhism in the United States brings together people of many different backgrounds, interests, and views. Some Buddhists emphasize meditation practice, while others focus on study, community, or faith. Some are politically liberal and others conservative. Some prefer to keep their Buddhist practice separate from political and social issues, while others are deeply engaged.
Facing the reality of this suffering, we remember that peacefulness does not mean passiveness and nonattachment does not mean nonengagement.
Yet one thing binds us together: our commitment to ease the suffering of all beings. The dharma is not an excuse to turn away from the suffering of the world, nor is it a sedative to get us comfortably through painful times. It is a powerful teaching that frees and strengthens us to work diligently for the liberation of beings from suffering.
What is happening now strikes at the heart of this, our central commitment as Buddhists. It transcends our differences and calls us to action. If the policies of the new administration prevail, millions of people in vulnerable and less privileged communities will suffer. Hopes will be dashed. Undoubtedly, lives will be lost. International conflict will intensify and environmental destruction will worsen.
Facing the reality of this suffering, we remember that peacefulness does not mean passiveness and nonattachment does not mean nonengagement.
Today, we ask ourselves: What does it mean to be Kwan Yin in the modern world? What does it mean to be a bodhisattva-citizen, someone who is willing to engage with society to help protect and awaken others? Examining our deepest values as Buddhists, we discern through wisdom the most skillful ways to live and uphold them.
The wisdom teaching of inter-dependence is the bodhisattva-citizen’s guide to the web of causes and conditions that create suffering. While Buddhism has traditionally emphasized the personal causes of suffering, today we also discern how the three poisons of greed, aggression, and indifference operate through political, economic, and social systems to cause suffering on a vast scale.
While continuing to work with ego and the three poisons in our personal practice, the insight of interdependence calls us to address the societal causes of suffering as well. As we resist the heightened threat of many of the new administration’s policies, we also recognize that underrepresented and oppressed communities in the United States have long suffered from systemic greed, aggression, aversion, and indifference.
While some argue that the principle of nonduality suggests that Buddhists should not engage in or take sides on political or social issues, we believe the opposite is true. It is because we and others are not separate that we must act.
The wisdom of interdependence deepens and inspires our compassion. Understanding that none of us is separate, we know that the suffering of others is our suffering. While some argue that the principle of nonduality suggests that Buddhists should not engage in or take sides on political or social issues, we believe the opposite is true. It is because we and others are not separate that we must act.
Whatever our political perspective, now is the season to stand up for what matters. To stand against hate. To stand for respect. To stand for protection of the vulnerable. To care for the earth.
We can see clearly the work ahead of us. It is the work of love and wisdom in the face of racism, gender- and sexual orientation-based violence, xenophobia, economic injustice, war, and environmental degradation. We have to work together to shift the tide toward what will benefit our children, the natural world, and the future.
As Buddhists, we know that real change begins with ourselves. We must explore and expose our own privilege and areas of ignorance, and address racism, misogyny, class prejudice, and more in our communities. We can set an example for the broader society by creating safe, respectful, and inclusive sanghas.
Our Buddhist communities can become centers of protection and vision. This can take many forms. It can mean providing sanctuary for those in danger or skilfully confronting those whose actions would harm the vulnerable among us. It can be standing up for the environment or becoming an active ally for those targeted by hate and prejudice.
It is true that our numbers are small, yet we can join with others who share our convictions and values. For those who are new to this, please remember that there are many people who have dedicated their lives to the work of social change. They have the useful skills of compassionate organizing and building sustainable movements. Find them, get involved, and learn from them.
More than ever, we have to be compassionate, brave, and engaged bodhisattvas.
While we share a common commitment to ease the suffering of sentient beings, that does not mean all Buddhists should or can respond in the same way. Some will march and engage in direct action. Others will support community well-being through clinics, gardens, criminal justice reform, or youth empowerment. Some will work in the next election, some will meditate more, and others will try to be kinder and more civil in their day-to-day interactions. Some manifestations of Kwan Yin have a thousand arms because there are many ways to serve others.
For now, we prepare to face challenging and stressful times. To prevail, we must hold fast to our timeless ideals of wisdom, love, compassion, and justice. We must maintain our faith that, while ignorance and hatred may at times be dominant, through concerted action patiently pursued we can create a society based on justice, love, and human unity.
More than ever, we have to be compassionate, brave, and engaged bodhisattvas. Like Kwan Yin, we hear the cries of a suffering world and, with wisdom and love, we respond.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Buddhist Global Relief
Myokei Caine-Barrett, Shonin, Nichiren Order of North America
Zoketsu Norman Fischer, Everyday Zen Foundation
Roshi Joan Halifax, Upaya Zen Center
Mushim Patricia Ikeda, East Bay Meditation Center
Jack Kornfield, Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Ethan Nichtern, Senior Teacher in Residence, New York Shambhala community, 2010-2018.
Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Village Zendo
Lama Rod Owens, Natural Dharma Fellowship
Gina Sharpe, New York Insight Meditation Center
Rev. Kosen Gregory Snyder, Brooklyn Zen Center
& Union Theological Seminary
Rev. angel Kyodo williams, newDharma Collective
Jan Willis, Agnes Scott College
Bhikkhu Analayo, Barre Center for Buddhist Studies
Tenshin Zenki, Reb Anderson, San Francisco Zen Center
Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Zen Center of NYC & Zen Mountain Monastery
Eiko Joshin Carolyn Atkinson, Everyday Dharma Zen Center
John Bailes, One Heart Zen
Kristin Barker, One Earth Sangha
Rev. Josh Jiun Bartok, Greater Boston Zen Center, Boundless Way Zen
Stephen Batchelor, Bodhi College
Eido Frances Carney, Olympia Zen Center
Jan Chozen Bays, Zen Community of Oregon
Hogen Bays, Zen Community of Oregon
Jenn Biehn, East Bay Meditation Center
Melissa Myozen Blacker, Roshi, Boundless Way Zen
Harrison Blum, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, Emerson College
Layla Smith Bockhorst, San Francisco Zen Center
Edward Espe Brown, Peaceful Sea Sangha
Joshin Brian Byrnes, Sensei, Upaya Zen Center
Sensei Robert Chodo Campbell, New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care
Konin Cardenas, Ekan Zen Study Center
Gyokuko Carlson, Abbot of Dharma Rain Zen Center, Portland, OR
Shokuchi Deirdre Carrigan, San Francisco Zen Center, Marin Interfaith Council
Kenshin Catherine Cascade, Bird Haven Zendo
Viveka Chen, Triratna Buddhist Order
Rupesh Chhagan, Appamada
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, Sravasti Abbey
Jundo Cohen, Treeleaf Sangha
Eijun Linda Cutts, San Francisco Zen Center
Lama Surya Das, Dzogchen Center
Osho Fugan Dineen, Hyannis Zendo
Frank Seisho Diaz (Hoshi), Resident Teacher at Open Mind Zen Bloomington
Rev. Maia Duerr, Upaya Zen Center
Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison, New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care
Linda Galijan, San Francisco Zen Center
Roshi Bernie Glassman, Founder of Zen Peacemakers
Zenshin Greg Fain, Tassajara Zen Mountain Center
Acharya Gaylon Ferguson, Shambhala
Rev. Chris Fortin, Everyday Zen, Dharma Heart Zen
Rev. Bruce Fortin, Occidental Laguna Sangha
Leora Fridman, Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Rev. James Ishmael Ford, Blue Cliff Zen Sangha & Boundless Way Zen
Gil Fronsdal, Insight Meditation Center
Setsuan Gaelyn Godwin, Abbot, Houston Zen Center
Natalie Goldberg, Upaya Zen Center
Joseph Goldstein, Insight Meditation Society
Myocho Tova Green, San Francisco Zen Center
Guo Gu, Tallahassee Chan Center
Robert Kaku Gunn, Village Zendo
Rev. Myo-O Marilyn Habermas-Scher, Hokyoji Zen Practice Community
Brother Phap Hai, Plum Village International
Paul Haller, San Francisco Zen Center
Dawn Haney, Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Peter Harris, Treetop Zen Community Oakland Maine
Sensei Jules Shuzen Harris, Soji Zen Center
Rev. Jerry Hirano, Buddhist Churches of America
Rev. Joan Hogetsu Hoeberichts, Abbot, Heart Circle Sangha
Funie Hsu, Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Myoko Sara Hunsaker, Soto Priest and Teacher, Monterey Bay Zen Center
Art Jolly, East Bay Meditation Center
Pema Khandro Rinpoche, Buddhist Yogis Sangha
Rev. Sumi Loundon Kim, Buddhist Chaplain, Duke University & Buddhist Families of Durham
Ruth King, Mindful Members Insight Community of Charlotte
Rev. Ronald Kobata, Buddhist Church of San Francisco
Josh Korda, DharmaPunx NYC
Busshō M. Lahn, Minnesota Zen Meditation Center
Rev. Mark Lancaster, Generous Heart Mountain Sangha
Jack Lawlor, Lakeside Buddha Sangha
Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton, Ancient Dragon Zen Gate
Yo-on Jeremy Levie, San Francisco Zen Center
Noah Levine, Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society
Peter Levitt, Salt Spring Zen Circle, British Columbia
Rebecca Li, Dharma Drum Chan Community
Narayan Liebenson, Cambridge Insight Meditation Center
Kaira Jewel Lingo, Dharmacharya, Order of Interbeing
Acharya Adam Lobel, Shambhala
Katie Loncke, Buddhist Peace Fellowship
David Loy, Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center
Arlene Lueck, San Francisco Zen Center
Barry Magid, Ordinary Mind Zendo
Vimalasara (Valerie) Mason-John, Triratna Vancouver Buddhist Center
Acharya Fleet Maull
Myoshin Kate McCandless, Mountain Rain Zen Community
Heiku Jaime McLeod, Treetop Zen Community Oakland Maine
Karen Maezen Miller, Hazy Moon Zen Center
Lama Willa Miller, Natural Dharma Fellowship
Mary Mocine, Abbess, Vallejo Zen Center
Kimi Mojica, East Bay Meditation Center
Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao
Shinmon Michael Newton, resident teacher of Mountain Rain Zen Community, Vancouver BC
Zesho Susan O’Connell, San Francisco Zen Center
Barbara Joshin O’Hara, Sensei, Village Zendo
Sarwang Parikh, East Bay Meditation Center
Lila Parrish, Appamada
Deirdre Eisho Peterson, Village Zendo & Red Rocks Zendo
Mitchell Ratner, Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center
Zuiko Redding, Resident Teacher, Cedar Rapids Zen Center
Betsy Rose, Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Larry Rosenberg, Cambridge Insight Meditation Center
Donald Rothberg, Member, Teachers Council and Guiding Teachers Council, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Teacher, East Bay Meditation Center
Sensei Steve Aishi Sarian
Ed Sattizahn, San Francisco Zen Center
Grace Schireson, Central Valley Zen
Hozan Alan Senauke
Rev. Keiryu Liên Shutt, Guiding Teacher of Awake-in-Life Sangha
Koshin Flint Sparks, Appamada
Anka Rick Spencer, Puerto Compasivo
Shodo Spring, Sansuiji and Mountains and Waters Alliance
Reverend Myogen Kathryn Stark, Sonoma Valley Zen Group
Peter van der Sterre, 7th Street Zendo, Boise ID
Kōan Peg Syverson, Appamada
John Tarrant, Pacific Zen Institute
Sensei Myoko Terestman, Village Zendo
Ryushin Andrea Thach, Whatcom and Red Cedar Zen
Thanissara, Sacred Mountain Sangha
Sensei Shinryu Thomson, Village Zendo & Centro Zen Phajjsi Qollut Jalsu
Rev. Allan Jo An Tibbett, Provincetown Zen Center
Lama Tsomo, Namchak Foundation
Karma Lekshe Tsomo
Laura del Valle, Mar de Jade Center at Chacala, Nayarit
LiZhen Wang, Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Steve Weintraub, Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, San Francisco Zen Center
Andrew JiYu Weiss, Abbot, Open Path Sangha
Sojun Mel Weitsman, Berkeley Zen Center
Kate Lila Wheeler, Kilung Foundation & Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Jim Willems, East Bay Meditation Center
Laurie Winnette, Appamada
Doshin Nathan Woods, Sweetwater Zen Center
Larry Yang, Spirit Rock Meditation Center & East Bay Meditation Center
Pamela Ayo Yetunde
Kanzan David Zimmerman, San Francisco Zen Center