Buddhism’s Middle Path Between Refuge and Political Action…

Buddhism should be a refuge from politics, economics, and life’s daily struggles (but not a refuge for criminals or haters). And it is just that, I think, for me at least, despite the tendency of many eastern Buddhists to shine the jackboots of dictators, and the efforts of still others, mostly western, to drag the word ‘Buddhism’ emblazoned on flags and pennants through the streets, as if to justify their positions, as if the Buddha really had an opinion on the subject at hand, with 2500 years of foresight.

And he may very well have, of course, but he never wore it on his sleeve, and neither should we, I don’t think. To drag the Buddha into the protests so common in the Western world would be to destroy it, I think, so of course the Middle Path is almost always the best, the Middle Path between passivity and excessive agitation, in this case.

One reason I avoided Buddhism for so many years was that I noticed that in Thailand, where I’ve spent many years, that the culture was extremely passive, and that Buddhism was likely a major cause of that. At the same time sons of the rich, famous, and powerful would commit grievous crimes, and then simply disappear into a monastery for an unspecified period of time, after which they would re-emerge somehow purified. Unfortunately this avenue of purification is usually not available to the unwashed masses.

Of course implicit in the Buddhist Eight Noble Truths is the invocation to ‘Right Action,’ samma kammanta, not ‘no action,’ so the problem is in the delivery, not the intent. And there is little doubt that early Buddhism must have received much official endorsement from rulers who desired a docile and devoted populace over which to rule, with little or no resistance.

But that was then, and this is now. The world which once needed lots of action with which to ‘go forth and multiply,’ and then develop itself accordingly, now needs nothing so much as to chill, literally, cool off, and that is the only way to defeat global warming, and incessant warfare, and the runaway capitalism that reduces have-nots to the state of endemic poverty.

So Buddhism may very well have been the best Middle Path between the Vedism and Jainism that were the contemporary options in 500 BCE India, but the time wasn’t right for the West, i.e. Europe, which was hardly even developed at the time, certainly not in comparison to India and China. For even in the Buddha’s day, India and China collectively had a larger percentage of the world’s population than now.

So what was right for Rome was not necessarily right for Pataliputra and Chang’an. We live in a world that came to fruition at different rates at different times and different places, and now we have to make sense of it all. Buddhism is not a battle cry. It is a way of life: peace not violence, conciliation not dispute, silence not noise, less not more…