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Lions Roar : May 2015
fixed agenda on the world. A practitioner of “Not Knowing” should distrust policy prescriptions that seek to force any par- ticular plan upon society, including his or her own prescriptions. But it isn’t just about distrusting the arrogance of power. It is also about fal- libility, understanding the weakness and limitations of government. “Not Know- ing” fits well with the conservative idea that people are fallible, that society is not perfectible through public policy, and that the coercive power of government is generally to be distrusted as a tool for social change. A corollary of “Not Knowing” is “Not Predicting,” since awareness of the frailty of our certainties should also make us suspicious of our ability to control future events in the complex idiosyncrasy of samsara. Buddhist con- servatives thus mistrust both the ability to “know” correctly and our capacity to implement this knowledge effectively, even if it did exist. This is not an inherently anti- government perspective. It is the hope of Mahayana practice to help others achieve enlightenment. Since such progress is affected by people’s external circumstances, there is some role for gov- ernment in preventing these conditions from becoming catastrophically bad. This fits well with classically liberal notions of governance. At the very least, it is neces- sary to preserve the commonweal against threats from without (i.e., national defense) and from within (i.e., law enforcement). These core roles preserve the basic existence of the social com- munity, and are a necessary condition for meaningful numbers of people to progress toward spiritual liberation. But “Not Knowing” counsels us to be careful about aspiring to too much beyond such core functions. This is a positive vision, not a negative one. It doesn’t infantilize people by assum- ing that they need a heavy- handed nanny state. It values and prizes what they can do if they are not over- encumbered by coercive state author- ity. I see compassion and generosity of spirit in such a posture: it puts its faith in people’s buddhanature and its capacity to express itself more fully and naturally as individuals and sanghas mature. I also don’t want to leave the impres- sion that Buddhist conservatism is just about political philosophy. I think Bud- dhist ideas of right conduct are consis- tent with some of the traditional social mores of Western culture—not least those of self-restraint, the respect for others that is encoded in good manners, the preservation of a quiet and somewhat Stoic personal dignity, and the practices of kindness, charity, honesty, sincerity, and probity. Look at the Ten Practices of the Zen Peacemaker Order—eschewing theft and dishonesty; treating others with respect and dignity; not dwelling on their faults; behaving with magnanim- ity, humility, and generosity; refusing to harbor anger and resentment; and cultivating a self-possession that seeks clarity and avoids deluded losses of con- trol—these are values long admired by conservatives too. As Buddhism matures as a trans- planted faith, one would expect greater diversity of opinion to develop. Whether liberal or conservative, ideological monocultures are unhealthy, breeding arrogance and the kind of “knowing” inconsistent with the precepts. I believe a bigger role for conservatives would enrich American Buddhism greatly, and that we need more dialogue across the aisle about “Buddhist” politics. Maybe next time you’ll just see a fellow practitioner at that party, rather than a unicorn. ♦ The views the author expresses here are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else in the U.S. government. • 70% of convert Buddhists are likely to vote Democratic and 15% Republican • 85% support access to abortion, 88% support gay rights, 82% support increased environmental protection, and 85% favour diplomacy over military action. • Professor Buster Smith found no statisti- cally significant difference in party affiliation between convert and cultural Buddhists (those born in Asian Buddhist families). • Cultural Buddhists are more conservative on social issues and foreign policy than convert Buddhists, but still more liberal than the overall population. • Political participation among cultural Buddhists is significantly lower than both convert Buddhists and Americans generally. Sources: Pew Research Center: U.S . Religious Landscape Survey; Buster G. Smith: American Buddhism: A Sociological Perspective. 23% 33% 27% 10% < BLUE STATE BUDDHISM Buddhist ideas of right conduct are consistent with some of the traditional values of Western culture. 23% of U.S. convert Buddhists (those born in a different religion) identify themselves as very liberal, 33% as liberal, and 27% as moderate. Fewer than 10% identify as conservative or very conservative. SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2015 14