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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 11 POLITICS IS ONE OF THOSE topics we tend to avoid in polite company. It’s the arena where people of divergent viewpoints are forced to deal with each other, and it’s not always pretty. Political discussions tend to tease out biases and emphasize how we dif- fer from each other: red state/blue state, rural/urban, conservative/liberal, and so on. We look to spiritual- ity, however, to bring us together, to inspire us to find out what we share, to discover what Rabbi Michael Lerner calls in this issue “the unity of all being.” As a result of this seeming dichotomy, some readers and letter writers have counseled the Shambhala Sun to stay away from politics. Some readers tell us there are plenty of other publi- cations where they can go to get a good dose of politics. The Shambhala Sun, they say, is where readers go for spirituality, something loftier and more nourishing. This assumes there is nothing unique that a Buddhist- inspired magazine can bring to the political arena. Yet, as the spiritual teachers and leaders in this issue make clear, the best kind of politics can take the profound viewpoints and virtues of spiritual practice and apply them in the public realm. They argue that if we don’t bring spiritual virtues to the public arena, we are des- tined to both a selfish kind of spirituality and a selfish kind of government, devoid of vision and meaning. Other people believe that Buddhists should steer clear of politics altogether, because Buddhism is about developing a non-biased and pure view, and politics is an impure, even base activity. But if we regard all life as sacred—and politics is part of life—then poli- tics must also be sacred. In this view, politics is not inherently unclean. It is simply about deciding how to live together peaceably while bringing together the wide variety of perspectives available in the human realm. It is necessary and creative. It only becomes dirty in the way that everything else becomes dirty: through lack of attention, through lack of mindful- ness, through ego. As John Tarrant argues in this is- sue, Buddhism has a real contribution to make in this regard. It asks us to get a little bit dirty and to look directly at how our mind manifests in all the activi- ties of life, including the political. Finally, some people complain that the Shambhala Sun simply follows the liberal line; they either don’t agree with it or do not want to be indoctrinated in the pages of the Sun. While it is true the vast majority of American Buddhists probably identify themselves as liberal, if we simply took a party line, we would not be doing our job. In fact, you can make a good case that the Sun actually takes a conservative view, in an older and perhaps truer sense of the word. The present-day liberal–conservative frame of ref- erence may be in the midst of a breakdown. For one thing, the current manifestation of conservatism has many elements that are not conservative at all. The notion of being conservative—even in the political sense—has long carried with it the idea of valuing long-term preservation over short-term gains or so- lutions. That’s what it means to conserve. So, ignor- ing environmental consequences or carrying out an adventurist foreign policy are not conservative in the true sense of the term. At the spiritual progressives conference I report on in this issue, many participants were trying to go be- yond bashing Bush-bashing and tub-thumping about a revival of liberalism. They want to develop some- thing far more helpful: a politics that speaks to our innermost aspirations for the world. Simply being on the winning side again was not their aim, because genuine politics is not merely about one side beating another. It is about finding ground that we can live on together. That’s something to which Buddhists, and the Shambhala Sun, can make a contribution. BARRY BOYCE, Senior Editor Editorial: Beyond Bush-Bashing