I was thinking about Zen Buddhism and politics following this recent post by the Venerable Warner. He said:
I also feel like Zen should not be politicized. I really hated it in the early 80s when all the televangelists used their position to push the Reagan agenda. These days I see a lot of Buddhist organizations using their positions to push left-wing politics, which I think is a similar abuse. Because I've said this some people imagine I must be a neo-Nazi. Because in certain circles the view seems to be that anyone who doesn't shout the praises of liberalism from the rooftops at every opportunity has to be a neo-Nazi. But I promise you I'm not. I just don't think Buddhism ought to get mixed up in such matters.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the come-back. "What if the fascists come back in power??? What if your neighbors are being rounded up and sent to re-education camps???" I'll worry about that if it actually happens. For now, there's no good reason to mix the two.
It's like vegetarianism. I've been a vegetarian longer than I've been a Buddhist and I'm pretty committed to it. Yet I try very hard not to use my position as a sort-of-but-not-really-very famous Buddhist teacher-thing to push vegetarianism. This came up at one of the talks in Germany, where someone asked if it was necessary to stop eating meat to be a good Buddhist. I told him "no."
Now if you're asking me or Brad Warner what political stripes you should have or what you should eat in order to be a good Buddhist you could be a better Buddhist simply by not asking that question.
But I want to point out that what I think Warner's trying to say is that Zen Buddhism is not representative of a single political philosophy any more than say, tennis or violin playing is in itself. Can you use tennis or the violin or Zen Buddhism to reinforce certain political acts and aspirations? Of course. Should you?
This is where I must part company with the Venerable Warner: with the practice of Zen "we become more us," that is, we function more in harmony and in synch with our environment and those around us. To those of us who are more political animals than others, our Zen will inform our political acts. The good teacher will know when to teach, but his words will not necessarily have the baggage of Zen buzzwords intermixed with them. The good parent will coax the children out of the burning house without religious appeals.
But it will all be Zen