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An Open Letter to Brad Warner

Hello Brad,

We have never met personally, but I'm a big fan of your work.  In fact, your book Hardcore Zen was instrumental in me choosing to follow the Buddhist path.  

I enjoyed your honesty, and the way you presented Zen as more of a tool than some kind of mystical gateway to inner peace.  As I read it, I was actually shocked by how much we have in common.

I grew up in Cleveland, a 20-minute drive from your hometown of Akron.  And while I was a few years too late for the Punk scene that you often write about, I did spend several years as a raver.  So I know what its like to be part of an alternative music scene.  Sometimes I miss those days, and sometimes I don't.

But you probably guessed that I'm not writing to you so that we can reminisce.  I want to talk about politics.  

After the 2016 election when it seemed like Civil War 2 was about to kick off, you wrote some posts that I didn't like.  

Essentially, you kept saying that Trump voters were worthy of love and respect just like everyone else; that we can disagree with people without belittling them.  You also suggested that the Dharma and politics should remain separate.

Like I said, those articles did not make me happy.  I actually stopped reading your blog for a while as a result.  I was filled with a lot of anger at the time, and I just didn't want to hear anything that you had to say.

But that changed when I took part in an action a year ago that got a little crazy.  There was a pro-Trump rally taking place, so some friends and I went to counter protest.  I won't go  into details, but suffice it to say that I did not behave like a Buddhist that day.  To this day, I feel deeply ashamed of my actions.

I think politics are a naturally corrupting force.  They only work if people have a certain amount of attachment to their views; enough to enforce those views through politicians and laws.  But attachment leads to desire, and desire leads to suffering.  

As a Buddhist, I vowed to help end suffering, not cause it.

So, I've spent the last year working with organizations that I support instead of fighting organizations that I don't.  I teach meditation and mindfulness to activists.  I give Dharma talks about faith and compassion, and I try to help people work from a place of peace, not anger.

It's a good middle ground, I feel like it's more in keeping with my vows.  But I'm worried that it won't be enough. 

Recently, I watched a video where a Western monastic was standing on a street corner, speaking into a bullhorn.  But he wasn't talking about meditation or the 4-Noble Truths.  He was ranting about wealth disparities.  It was horrifying.

To be clear, I agreed with his message.  I just didn't like seeing a monastic standing on a street corner, speaking into a bullhorn, surrounded by people who looked like they were ready to "burn it all down".  That can't be what the Buddha had in mind when he started this whole thing 2,600 years ago.

Is that what Buddhism is going to become; just another tool of the political elite to sway the masses to their cause?  It certainly seems that way.  

So, I thought I would write you this letter, and let you know that I appreciate your message.  I appreciate that someone tried to keep the Dharma pure, even when numb skulls like me didn't listen.


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  1. Really thoughtful and honest letter. Thank you. I struggle too at times to balance my (imperfect) Buddhist practice and the desire to strike back at the politicians and their supporters who are so openly hostile to the immigrant, the LGBTQ movement, the planet, etc. Each day brings fresh horrors, and the Dharma can seem sweetly naive and underpowered to help us deal effectively with what's at hand. But, too, as the Buddha figured out, world events (whether shocking or sublime) come and go, come and go, and only when we can get beneath and behind it all to the deeper rhythms of existence can we be free.

  2. Just got done reading the Cakkavattisihanada Sutta, and it could be seen as a political statement. It shows that the B-Man wasn't totally disinclined to comment on social issues. In that Sutta, he traces all of a nation's problems to poverty, and claims that poverty is the result of immoral and incompetent rulers. It's definitely difficult to prevent worldly desire and aversion from creeping in when we're trying to do something about the leadership, but helping to eliminate poverty seems like a great fit for Buddhists, and I know you've been helping the impoverished for quite awhile. I heard a cliche once that kind of inspired me: Instead of working against what you hate, work for what you love. Like we've been taught since Buddhism 101: intention is everything. Gassho.

  3. i love the form of a letter...and I appreciate your response, to " working with organizations that I support instead of fighting organizations that I don't." We say at our sangha take no shit but do no harm - its guides us for the most part - there are times when even that is challenging -

  4. Glad I wasn't the only one. I'm still angry with Brad. I'm all for compassion, but he's been making apologist arguments for all the terrible things done by the current administration. Constantly displaying a lack of knowledge or care for what's happening. Encouraging his followers to be apolitical. I feel like a lot of America's issues come from civic illiteracy, too many disengaged, apolitical citizens. I guess my question is, can democracy and Buddhism coexist? How can one organize politically without attachment or the desire for change?

  5. I appreciate your piece here. So interesting how we learn.

    To make it clear ahead of time, the following response is not in favor of any form of aggression, but it does cut through some gaps in logic. (But don't take my word for it haha!)

    1. You did behave like a Buddhist that day. How else can a Buddhist behave?
    2. That monastic behaved as a Buddhist for the same reason.
    3. Prince Siddhartha is said to have fled his wife and infant son. One may say, 'he wasn't Buddhist yet,' but that is a mistake. It's not about what he wasn't. He WAS a human being in a human situation (historically, as they say), depressed. I had a ticket to India in hand when my wife said, "I'm pregnant." I stayed right where I was, and am. I was about to go to Sikkim and study near the Karmapa - a dream for many. I gave it up. Does it make me better than Siddhartha? Haha - yes! Lol (do you see the mistake?)
    4. Buddha never defined Buddhism. Buddha never even called himself Buddha, from what anyone knows. He referred to himself in the third person as Tathagata (the 'thus' or 'such' one - or something like that). Such-ness is the crux!

    So, I say with utmost confidence that there are infinite Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, each one seemingly unique. Who is the Buddha of aggression? There is one, I know it. Who is the Buddha of mistakes? I've met that one!

    5. '...another tool of the political elite to sway the masses to their cause?' - Yes! You've got it! All you're lacking is the understanding that this belongs. There is no one who fails to cast a shadow. Buddhism is, by definition, whatever you want it to be. Buddha said over and over and over again that we have to decide for ourselves. Sure, he and all 'masters' throw admonitions around. Buddhists tend to do that in general. That's ok. It just 'is.'

    All the best to you!

  6. When you take a political position, you are assuming that you fully understand all the prevailing conditions and know the best course of action, you know how the world should be. How can you be so certain? (see My Zen, Your Zen at Facebook.)

  7. This is the reason I am a fan of Sam Harris and no longer consider myself a Buddhist. It seems to me you are stuck in the religion of Buddhism and that is not a fun place to be. ( The evidence speaks for itself in the posts ). I am so thankful for my time in the monastery and even more thankful I escaped the trappings of religion


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