Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

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Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Zhen Li » Mon Feb 24, 2014 11:10 pm

I believe that the proposition that discussion of political topics is wrong speech is probably correct. Out of ignorance and dullness I have overlooked this, and am at fault with regards to each of the points I am going to make. For these I repent. I am sharing my thoughts in the hope that it may be of use to someone. I don't claim by any stretch to have the correct or a better realisation of right speech than I had before, or than anyone else, these are probably just dull illusory ramblings out of my ignorance. But maybe there's some sense in them, let me know your thoughts.
:anjali:
DN 2 wrote:"Whereas some brahmans and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to talking about lowly topics such as these — talking about kings, robbers, ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity [philosophical discussions of the past and future], the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not — he abstains from talking about lowly topics such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.

"Whereas some brahmans and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to debates such as these — 'You understand this doctrine and discipline? I'm the one who understands this doctrine and discipline. How could you understand this doctrine and discipline? You're practicing wrongly. I'm practicing rightly. I'm being consistent. You're not. What should be said first you said last. What should be said last you said first. What you took so long to think out has been refuted. Your doctrine has been overthrown. You're defeated. Go and try to salvage your doctrine; extricate yourself if you can!' — he abstains from debates such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue."

1. Discussion of political topics is almost always full of negativity, putting down others and their views, while arguing that oneself and one's own views are right, further perpetuating one's egotism. Even the most well-versed long-term Buddhists, who at the same time happen to hold political opinions on X matter or Y, invariably and apparently stoke their ego and become more arrogant than they would otherwise. The Dharma always promotes reducing the view of the self, sending love and compassion to all (including those who you disagree with), and giving the victory to the opponent.

2. Discussion of political topics is never perfectly informed, whenever you support a policy, while you may be well intentioned (which is admirable), you don't really know all of the possible unintended consequences, which not only means you are speaking with greater confidence than you should as a Buddhist, but you will certainly be blameable for supporting a negligent policy in some regard in the future. The Dharma on the otherhand is never blameworthy, and only produces positive results.

3. Discussion of political topics creates enemies out of neutral acquaintances, if you are a self-confessed conservative who meets a self-confessed liberal, or vice versa, you will be more inclined to pass immediate judgement on them. Since everyone tends to believe what they think is right, instinctively you will assume that the person in question holds a wrong view, and that they are thus either stupid or malicious. Moreover, you will tend not to trust the opposing position's information sources, and therefore will be informed according to your own, which will give a naturally biased exposition of the opposing position's views, making you less inclined to be compassionate upon meeting. The teaching of the Tathagatas on the other hand, can be summarised as the abandonment of all views - with no views, there is no opposition, no good and bad, no friend or foe - only pure compassion out of the recognition of the inherently awakened nature of the minds of all beings. The Dharma promotes a default humility and loving kindness, which politics undermines.

4. Discussion of political topics creates disturbing emotions, it is one of the clearest and most obvious expressions of the eight worldly dharmas: letting one's actions be governed by hope or fear for happiness or suffering, fame or insignificance, praise or blame, and gain or loss. It creates debates wherein participants arouse jealousy, which is fundamentally the desire for oneself to win and be seen as superior, and the other person in question to lose and be seen as inferior - it is presupposing that the opposing person does not deserve whatever merit they have. It generates and promotes hostility and sees injustice where it formerly would not have been promoted or seen without such discussion, for even the most insubstantial and abstract reasons, which we call ideology. I have seen some Buddhists who I initially thought were mindful, turn completely red in fits of rage trying to argue for a political position, or in favour of a certain policy. The Dharma promotes patience in the face of adversity, and should stand for nothing short of only praise, unless we are acting in the capacity of a master training someone.

5. Discussion of political topics is not relevant to anything the Buddha said about governance, political debate isn't really skilful, as we were raised to believe, and the Buddha's advice to kings was to them as individual actors who could choose right or wrong actions with their own fruits - political debate is not the same as making a choice in governing. It is also unfounded that there were any republics in the Buddha's time as Romila Thapar has argued, since if you follow her footnotes when she makes such claims, you will see that the sources she uses all rely upon the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, with regards to where the Buddha refers to the Vajjians, who are merely said to assemble and depart in harmony - but which does not say anything about debating political matters, which the Buddha still declared wrong speech, and certainly never results in departing in harmony, which would presuppose that political debate did not in fact occur. Ultimately, governing in accordance with the Dharma means enacting policies that you believe are ethically wholesome: which support the Dharma and the Sangha, which promotes non-violence, but security and not letting crime prevail (DN 26). He also argues that a king should never act out of anger or favouritism, hear all arguments and judge for himself, protect both poor and rich, promote harmony among one's own kingdom and others, and shun foolish and greedy ministers (Ja.V.109).


6. Discussion of political topics is founded in ignorance as regards the Dharma Seals: Not knowing impermanence, people let their emotions about states of affairs at present, or conditions of nations at present, govern their actions, forgetting that from the perspective of kalpas, such states of affairs are insignificant trifles that will come and go like a bubble. It doesn't matter how much you think Obamacare, CO2 or Keystone XL are going to be the end of the world, they just aren't, they are so insignificant, and you will regret wasting time worrying about them when you could have been practising after you look back on your infinite lives when you're standing on the doorstep of Buddhahood. Not knowing suffering, people think that injuries against their egos are real problems, not keeping in mind the fact that real suffering is that of pain, change, and conditional states, all of which result from ignorance. Similarly, 'what suffers' is believed to be important and substantial, rather than the actual removal of ignorance, thus people discussing political matters do not know not-self; people think that what matters are injustices against their groups, ethnicity, nationality, gender, race, person, when what really matters are the injustices we constantly cause to ourselves by denying ourselves an accurate vision of reality. You may be able to talk about the Dharma Seals until you are blue in the face, you may know the history and scholarship behind them, but if you still have hang-ups that are irrelevant in the face of them, you haven't realised them.

7. But if you can't resist engaging in discussion of political topics, be aware that it comes along with downfalls, since we do need some politicians who can try their best to uphold Buddhist values. Sometimes we also must do what conventionally is considered wrong to practice the Bodhisattva path. A better world, even in the short term is not to be denigrated as a bad aim, but to give it greater importance than practice, or to let it guide your actions into doing anything that is in contradiction to the Dharma is a flaw. Being aware of this, one accumulates less demerit:
Miln III.7.8 wrote:The king asked: "Venerable Nagasena, for whom is the greater demerit, one who knowingly does evil, or one who does evil unknowingly?"
The elder replied: "Indeed, your majesty, for him who does evil not knowing is the greater demerit."
"In that case, venerable Nagasena, would we doubly punish one who is our prince or king's chief minister who not knowing does evil?"
"What do you think, your majesty, who would get burned more, one who knowing picks up a hot iron ball, ablaze and glowing, or one who not knowing picks it up?"
"Indeed, venerable sir, he who not knowing picks it up would get burned more."
"Indeed, your majesty, in the same way the greater demerit is for him who does evil not knowing."
"You are clever, venerable Nagasena."

:yinyang:
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby DiamondSutra » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:04 am

Great post!
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby seeker242 » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:08 am

What about people like Thich Nhat Hanh discussing politics to try to persuade people to stop killing each other, stop destroying the environment, etc, etc.?

[3] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

[6] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings."

— MN 58


If one's political speech actually does meet the above criteria, I think one can say it's right speech.

:namaste:
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:57 am

What about people like Thich Nhat Hanh discussing politics to try to persuade people to stop killing each other, stop destroying the environment, etc, etc.? ... If one's political speech actually does meet the above criteria, I think one can say it's right speech.

Good question Seeker.

I think it comes down to pointing out the faults of others. In which case, one isn't discussing politics if one is just encouraging people to uphold the 10 Good Deeds - that's universal, not political.

But when one starts naming names, pointing out faults, and creating opponents, then one slips into the unskilful territory of discussion of political topics (and wrong speech in general). This is why, except in his capacity as maintaining the discipline of his disciples, the Buddha doesn't directly reproach people, he asks them guiding questions in the form "what do you think?" His words are always kind and caring, considerate and compassionate.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Feb 25, 2014 3:58 am

Yeah..I think 90% of the time (at least) we don't discuss politics with anything resembling a good motivation.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Kim O'Hara » Tue Feb 25, 2014 4:16 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Yeah..I think 90% of the time (at least) we don't discuss politics with anything resembling a good motivation.

That depends a lot on who you want you "we" to apply to. Here on DW and elsewhere I try to avoid negativity, name-calling and the other pitfalls which Zhen Li describes, and I try to speak (write) for the benefit of others. And I do see many others here behaving in the same way - so much of the time that I'm sure it's deliberate.
:soapbox:
If people of good intention fail to speak up and speak out, the inevitable result is that people of bad intention will dominate the conversation by default. I think that's a far worse outcome - for everyone - than doing our best even though we know we will make mistakes.

:namaste:
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Indrajala » Tue Feb 25, 2014 4:17 am

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” - Plato
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Indrajala » Tue Feb 25, 2014 4:21 am

If you're a bodhisattva aspirant, then being actively engaged with the world is part of the practice. If, on the other hand, your aspirations are towards arhatship, then political engagement is unwise.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Kim O'Hara » Tue Feb 25, 2014 5:02 am

Indrajala wrote:If you're a bodhisattva aspirant, then being actively engaged with the world is part of the practice. If, on the other hand, your aspirations are towards arhatship, then political engagement is unwise.

I will take your word for that.
I have no great aspirations to either of those exalted achievements but I will be happy enough if I can maintain a good lay Buddhist life. What do you think that means for political engagement?

:namaste:
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Indrajala » Tue Feb 25, 2014 5:09 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:I have no great aspirations to either of those exalted achievements but I will be happy enough if I can maintain a good lay Buddhist life. What do you think that means for political engagement?

:namaste:
Kim


Your level of participation is up to you to decide.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby BrianG » Tue Feb 25, 2014 7:47 am

Indrajala wrote:If you're a bodhisattva aspirant, then being actively engaged with the world is part of the practice. If, on the other hand, your aspirations are towards arhatship, then political engagement is unwise.


This statement seems somewhat backwards. Someone interested in personal liberation only, doesn't have the same responsibility to sentient beings that someone on the Bodhisattva path does. Currently there is a monk in Thailand who is in charge of one of the protest sites in Bangkok, and for people on the other side of the political divide, I don't see how that could do anything other than weaken their faith.

There are instances where monks, such as Thich Naht Hahn during the Vietnam War, skillfully promote peace and dialogue, which I think is positive. However, even doing that requires picking sides.

Buddhists engaging in politics just reinforces faith in superheroes, e.g. Some politician, party, or system, is just going to swoop down from the sky and fix everyone's problems.

I think political speech is characterized as idle speech for good reason, it's not going to help anyone attain liberation, personal or otherwise.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby muni » Tue Feb 25, 2014 9:58 am

Interesting sharing. :smile:
Zen Dude: "Buddhists engaging in politics just reinforces faith in superheroes..." Worldly power. :namaste:

:soapbox: I should say as long as misperception is the ruler of our mind we should be careful; not to get more entangled by our opinions about others. It is killing our mindfulness by training the dual clinging mind; believing all phenomena are really permanent and we must talk/(do?) something about that. Critics on others can smoothly keep the joy of our suffering turning (aspect of samsara), to satisfy emotional-cognetive obscurations.

Buddha wasn’t involved and didn’t fixate his mind on the many wrong appearing ones (he didn’t percieve such), he remained watching own Mind. By wisdom compassion never loses. But in case we as simple beings can help those, involved in a political case then I think, we should not neglect.

The awaken ones, I am sure they can freely dig into political games in order to help, without doubts. Like pulling the dust from inside, to help to clean the wound from inside out.

:smile:
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Sherab Dorje » Tue Feb 25, 2014 10:33 am

First of all the teaching is in regards to Brahmins and contemplatives (and here, I believe the term contemplatives is referring to shramaneras / monks / ascetics)

Secondly, the Buddha himself advised ministers, kings, etc... so obviously he was not anti-political.

I think that it is obvious that motivation is the key factor. For example, one may cite the above quote in order to quell and silence political opposition (in a Buddhist country). One may use it in order to tacitly support existing political/economic conditions (citing the existing conditions as the "natural order", the way things are and always have been).

Worldly circumstances are important, as they provide the conditions for practice. Let's say you live in a peaceful, democratic country with freedom of religious practice and somebody comes along that uses political means to impose their will and restrict freedom of religious practice (your practice, for example), or to persecute a specific ethnic group in society (which may impinge upon your access to teachers and teachings). Would it be wrong speech to oppose their plans? And here I am giving an example from a purely ego-centered perspective. There is also the Bodhisattva perspective where one may oppose, or question, certain political decisions since they obviously cause an increase in the suffering of sentient beings.

So I am going to have to disagree with your view that political discussion is wrong speech. It can be wrong speech. But at the same time the suppression of political discussion can also be antithetical to liberation.
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Kim O'Hara » Tue Feb 25, 2014 12:30 pm

Indrajala wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:I have no great aspirations to either of those exalted achievements but I will be happy enough if I can maintain a good lay Buddhist life. What do you think that means for political engagement?

:namaste:
Kim

Your level of participation is up to you to decide.

Thanks. I do make my own choices as I go along but it's nice to have your permission. :smile:
It would also be nice to know your own views and the reasons behind them ...

:coffee:
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby seeker242 » Tue Feb 25, 2014 12:59 pm

Zhen Li wrote:
What about people like Thich Nhat Hanh discussing politics to try to persuade people to stop killing each other, stop destroying the environment, etc, etc.? ... If one's political speech actually does meet the above criteria, I think one can say it's right speech.

Good question Seeker.

I think it comes down to pointing out the faults of others. In which case, one isn't discussing politics if one is just encouraging people to uphold the 10 Good Deeds - that's universal, not political.

But when one starts naming names, pointing out faults, and creating opponents, then one slips into the unskilful territory of discussion of political topics (and wrong speech in general). This is why, except in his capacity as maintaining the discipline of his disciples, the Buddha doesn't directly reproach people, he asks them guiding questions in the form "what do you think?" His words are always kind and caring, considerate and compassionate.
:anjali:


Yes, many people get way too upset and personal when it comes to politics! Although, I would not go so far as to say political speech is inherently wrong. Thich Nhat Hanh's "Engaged Buddhism" ideas is a good example of that IMO. It encourages people to engage in political speech but only to do so in a caring, considerate and compassionate way. And the purpose of such speech is to help others and alleviate suffering.

"I hate those people!" is definitely not part of it. But of course, "I hate those people!", is definitely part of politics for many people, which is quite unfortunate. If all you are doing is expressing hate and ill will, most definitely wrong speech!

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One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:04 pm

Zen Dude wrote:Buddhists engaging in politics just reinforces faith in superheroes, e.g. Some politician, party, or system, is just going to swoop down from the sky and fix everyone's problems.

I think political speech is characterized as idle speech for good reason, it's not going to help anyone attain liberation, personal or otherwise.

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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby theanarchist » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:15 pm

Zhen Li wrote:But when one starts naming names, pointing out faults, and creating opponents:



What is wrong with pointing out proceedings that harm sentient beings, exposing opinions that would result in such harm as wrong and opposing to the proponents of such attitudes in order to prevent this harm to happen.

If your political activity is helping to prevent harm to sentient beings it will definitely be a source for merit, something every practitioner needs on the way to enlightenemnt, even if the political work itself is not contributing to enlightenment.

Also, opposing a harmful political opinion does not automatically mean that you lose respect of the persons who are advocate those harmful opinions. It all depends on your inner attitude.

For example a nazi may have very harmful opinions and it's really neccessary to oppose this kind of thought to prevent harm and the further spread of the ideology. But that does not mean that you automatically give up compassion toward those nazis.

I live in a country where political ideologies got completely out of hand and millions and millions have died and suffered.
Not speaking up against all the evils in this wold is cowardice. Shame on everyone who keeps silent in the face of suffering just to not spoil his or her own egotistical "spiritual development" agenda.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby theanarchist » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:26 pm

Zhen Li wrote:6. Discussion of political topics is founded in ignorance as regards the Dharma Seals: Not knowing impermanence, people let their emotions about states of affairs at present, or conditions of nations at present, govern their actions, forgetting that from the perspective of kalpas, such states of affairs are insignificant trifles:



If you have a toothache, let's not try to treat it, because eventually impermanence will take care of it anyway.

To think the suffering of beings due to a political system is insignificant because this suffering is impermanent anyway. Wow, that's really cynical.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:30 pm

theanarchist, I think if you read everything that I wrote carefully, you may find that I have discussed those concerns.
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Re: Discussion of Political Topics is Wrong Speech

Postby Rickpa » Tue Feb 25, 2014 2:47 pm

Discussing politics is probably fine up to a point. That point would be engaging in politics in order to advance what one wishes for, and in opposition to what other people wish for. When we allow our mind and speech to cast persons or groups of people as worthy of our compassion, and others as worthy of the heels our feet; When we grow resentment against people who have enjoyed success and gain; When we celebrate the bad qualities of those that we have chosen to dislike, without actually knowing these people; When we celebrate the good qualities of those whom we have chosen to champion, without actually knowing them; When we actively engage in conflicts between persons, groups, and factions.... These things being the case, we are probably not only failing to engage in the Dharma, but are actually in full service of our kleshas, and worldly dharmas to such an extent that we have separated from even the benefits of the hearers, let alone Mahayana.

If you can discuss political topics with equanimity, perhaps you can be helpful. I just know that I am at my worst when I cling to views. Their only benefit is seeing how views nullify benefits.
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