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We Can not Ignore Buddhist Extremism


If we don’t permit our observe to incorporate the political, asks Brenna Artinger, then how can we stand as much as those that do?

Photograph by David Underland.

It’s the Worldwide Western Dharma Academics Gathering, and within the feedback of the stay panel, a participant has simply written the phrase “stunning!” My cowriter Dr. Ann Gleig and I are giving a keynote on right-wing Buddhist reactions to variety, fairness, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. In all equity, to some extent, our analysis is “stunning,” as we define the usually bigoted and typically violent views of our topics. However in some ways, it isn’t—with notable examples of alt-right and extremist acts rising in North America, together with the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge by anti-vax Canadian truckers earlier this yr, extremist perception programs throughout the U.S. have been rising in recent times, fueled by misinformation, conspiracy theories, and alt-right fringe teams. However it’s not the extremist a part of our discuss that has our members involved; it’s the truth that they’re Buddhist extremists, the rising subcommunity of Western Buddhists that establish as each right-wing ideologues and Buddhist practitioners.

Whereas Buddhist texts themselves might not be political, the observe of Buddhism together with speech and motion actually may be.

The handful of occasions Ann and I’ve introduced our paper, we’ve been met with shock and solidarity, however hardly ever a willingness to interact additional on the subject or an curiosity in exploring such concepts independently. And except for teams such because the Buddhist Motion Coalition, a New York Metropolis–primarily based social motion community that’s working to deal with social justice points, the silence from Buddhist practitioners and communities general has been deafening. What we see as a substitute of engagement is a quiet response from involved people unwilling to skirt the road of Buddhist political neutrality, whereas alt-right and right-wing Buddhists proceed to voice their opinions on blogs, podcasts, YouTube, and social media.

The response to our analysis has revealed a deep unwillingness and unreadiness for Buddhist practitioners to deal with the intersection of Buddhism and extremism. Such resistance, I imagine, stems from discomfort with the concept that there may be Buddhist extremists in any respect. The very concept that Buddhist observe can coexist with concepts of antidemocracy, bigotry, racism, and non secular phobia (significantly towards Jews and Muslims) is deeply discouraging and stunning for these practitioners who’re working towards inclusion and who embody the values of harmlessness and proper speech.

This unwillingness to interact additionally reveals a disjunction between views of Buddhist religiosity and political perception, which individuals assume are impartial and must be ostracized from one another. From Buddhists of all political viewpoints, I hear that Buddhism shouldn’t be political or that it’s apolitical; as one Reddit consumer wrote on a thread in r/Buddhism (the primary Buddhist sub-Reddit), “In my view, Buddhism actually does don’t have anything to do with politics, in any method in anyway. The methods of the world are to be let go in the end, and holding onto political opinions is just holding onto samsara.” Nevertheless, whereas Buddhist texts themselves might not be political, the observe of Buddhism together with speech and motion actually may be. From the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar to participation in marches to fight local weather change, Buddhism (as a spiritual observe) carries with it the political leanings of its members. Even those that are thought-about politically “impartial,” reminiscent of monastics, are collaborating politically after they interact with points that actively have an effect on different individuals.

Asserting the neutrality of Buddhism is not going to make alt-right and extremist Buddhist worldviews go away. What is required as a substitute is for there to be dialogue amongst Buddhist communities to acknowledge the values they want to uphold—and, importantly, to make clear the values that go towards the Buddha’s teachings.

The silence that has pervaded Buddhist communities in response to extremism is indicative of an unwillingness to talk not solely about uncomfortable points, but additionally of the work that also must be finished with a purpose to assist these harmed by alt-right and extremist Buddhist voices. As Buddhism continues to develop within the West, we should make vital selections about inclusion, equity, and harmlessness, and the way such values inform the methods by which we confront those that select to trigger hurt. How will we defend the marginalized and susceptible in our sanghas? And the way will we stand as much as hurt in ways in which espouse the Buddha’s teachings and create paths of discernment and dutifulness for one another—not just for our personal finish to struggling, but additionally for these round us?

These are questions that must be requested by Buddhists of all traditions, each individually and in group. As Khin Mai Aung has written regarding Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar, “We will solely cease this cycle of persecution by dealing with spiritual nationalism head-on and calling it out for what it’s.” Buddhist extremism within the West, too, have to be confronted head-on. In any other case, extremist and alt-right narratives will solely develop, additional weaponizing Buddhism and undermining teachings meant to broaden our sympathy for others, not diminish it.

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