Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why America Needs Buddhism

This is the title of a book I want to write. If there's one thing that Republicans and Democrats agree on, it's that the U.S. is in desperate need of repair. Environmentally, economically, morally, educationally--you name it, practically in every arena you can imagine, we're on the brink of a crisis.

As naive as it may sound, I honestly think that Buddhism is the solution. If the definition of madness (or stupidity) is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then sanity is having the wisdom to awaken from this mindless cycle and try something new.

For me, that's Buddhism.

2,500 years ago the Buddha identified the roots of human suffering--greed, hatred, and ignorance. Take one look at the New York Times headlines and you'll see that this diagnosis is just as relevant today as it was two and a half millennia ago. Our current predicament stems from a variety of causes and conditions, but at the heart of them lies the three poisons. Which is why Buddhism is the perfect antidote--its primary focus is on transcending/transforming/transmuting these fetters and awakening to a reality not governed by greed, hatred, and ignorance.

This doesn't mean that Buddhism has to (or can) do it on its own. I don't expect some kind of radical Buddhist revolution--monasteries springing up along the American countryside!, or mass jettisoning of American culture. This isn't about trading Western culture (with all of its benefits) for Eastern culture. The grass is always greener on the other side, and the fact of the matter is that grass is only grass; it's not medicine. I'm not so deluded as to believe that the East is a panacea; they have just as many problems as we do. Materialism, decadence, and moral nihilism don't recognize national borders.

Competitive sectarianism, whether it be political or religious, is not the solution. I'm not talking about exchanging one religion for another. That's just more of the same ideological tug of war that dominates the American political and religious scene. In my mind, it's part of the very problem. The antidote to ultra-conservatism is not liberalism, nor is the answer to the far left to be found in religious fundamentalism.

We need something new--the Middle Way. This is not to be confused with a mere mid-point, the mere product of political or religious equilibrium, but rather a radical shift in cultural values. From religious dogmatism to humanitarianism, from materialism to an understanding that greed and ignorance are destructive to everyone, from pettiness to nobility.

It's about healing a sick world, about responding with wisdom rather than divisive cynicism. And I honestly don't think there's any practice that's better equipped to doing this than Buddhism.

That's why I want to write the book. I considered calling it Why America Needs a Buddhist President, but felt that that suggested I didn't approve of our current Commander in Chief. That's not my intention, although I think this title has a niftier ring to it and would be easier to write.

Just something to think about this 4th of July weekend. Best wishes to everyone for a safe and peaceful holiday.


Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: jayKayEss.


  1. I've thought about that too, not the book writing, but the idea of Buddhism in America.
    Great post, if you write it, I'd love to read it.


  2. JAY BHIM,
    Todays whole world live under the terror,if we follow the way of lord buddha,we will get rid of our daily problems. the way of buddha to teach us live for others welfare. but todays people are far long from buddha's teaching is the huge tragedy. we must follow the way of buddha.
    with metta.