11 April 2008

Buddhism and Politics

Paul Harrison, a professor of Buddhist studies at Stanford University, discusses Buddhist teachings and the acceptable role of monks in politics. “Direct involvement in political activity, strictly speaking, is not sanctioned,” he says. Although non-violence is a primary tenet of Buddhism, Harrison says there has been an emergence of militancy among the religion’s followers since the beginning of the twentieth century.

While some believe it is the proper duty of the members of the order to engage in social activity in order to improve the lot of the people, he says, others hold on to the traditional idea of strict abstinence from such activities. One of the major challenges faced by religion going forward, he says, will be the status of the Buddhist order in society. Previously, he says, the religion had great prestige as well as a lot of resources, but that is “no longer to be assumed.”

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