August 12, 2009

Metta Sutta Politics

As with many other concerned newswatchers, I was dismayed to hear that the Burmese government banned numerous monasteries from reciting the Metta Sutta on the past full moon day. It is a shame that the words of Lord Buddha have become so politicized. In response, Rev. Danny Fisher posted a YouTube video of himself reading the Karaniya Metta Sutta. His act of solidarity with the Burmese monastic community was publicized on Shambhala SunSpcace, Barbara’s Buddhism blog, Precious Metal, Go Beyond Words, and Bodhipaksa also recorded himself reading the Metta Sutta. But I worry that this act comes as a reaction to the Burmese junta, that we might be a little too trigger happy when it comes to dragging religion into defining political boundaries. After all, this sutta belongs to all of us. I certainly encourage you to recite the Metta Sutta every day, but when we chant in solidarity with the Burmese monks and nuns, we should also be emanating goodwill toward the very military dictatorship that oppresses them. We should wish them happiness, freedom from stress and suffering, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression, freedom from trouble, and that they may take care of themselves with ease. When we recite words of loving kindness, it should be with the goal of emanating sincere loving kindness. We should be wary of hijacking Buddhism for the sake of political backlash.

4 comments :

  1. I certainly encourage you to recite the Metta Sutta every day, but when we chant in solidarity with the Burmese monks and nuns, we should also be emanating goodwill toward the very military dictatorship that oppresses them.

    I didn't suggest that we shouldn't. And I think the text speaks for itself and is easy to interpret: "all beings" would obviously include the junta.

    Also, I think "solidarity with the monks and nuns" encompasses many things, including sharing their goal of "emanating sincere loving kindness." I think the politics of the monastics in Burma are not "politics as usual," if that makes sense.

    We should be wary of hijacking Buddhism for the sake of political backlash.

    A good point generally, but I think that's an awfully narrow and uncharitable characterization of what I'm suggesting with this campaign. My hopes for it are not so base as that. (See my last point above.)

    Does activism always equal "political backlash"? I'm not so sure about that. At the grave risk of making far too grandiose and inappropriate a comparison, would you call up-turning begging bowls merely the hijacking of Buddhism for political backlash?

    As always, I appreciate your thoughtful critiques of what's out there in Buddhoblogosphere...even when it's me being critiqued! ; )

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  2. When I posted, I anticipated the comment about up-turned begging bowls, but I was surprised to see you write it! Yes, my words form a narrow and uncharitable characterization of your efforts. While I understand that you may not intend it as such, the fruit of even your best intentions cannot be judged independently of their context. On a personal level, I deeply appreciate your work, but as I explain here, I also feel very conflicted. Stay tuned on Dharma Folk :)

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  3. Good points. I think you would agree that just because something's a popular cause doesn't mean that the popular, obvious "Buddhist" position (e.g., "Free Tibet!") is necessarily really in comfority with Buddhist notions of non-attachment, and overcoming greed, hatred and ignorance.

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  4. Hi Arun,
    I appreciate your call for Buddhadharma not to be politicized.
    However, in the words of the sutta itself, and as many of us have posted along with the videos, it is for the benefit of all beings, implicitly including the military junta.
    I do not think that it is exclusionary to recite this sutta in solidarity with members of the sangha who are being oppressed.
    Your point is well taken that it should not get hijacked by ego or be done punitively against anyone, and all I can speak for is myself, but those are not my intents.
    Best wishes,
    Nick

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