The premise of this chôsan is a film, The Venerable W, about a Burmese monk who encourages racism towards Islam.
I have reservations about engaged Buddhism that shifts towards politics. That monk, pointing the finger at crimes committed by radical Muslims, appears to be defending a just and noble cause, but he is motivated by hatred, aversion and ignorance. What is happening in Burma is the worst thing that can happen to Buddhism.
Buddha means the Awakened One. But every time I see engaged Buddhism, I see people who forego the essence of this practice. A person who does not practise awakening but who allegedly promotes Buddhist values is an impostor.
Politicians, philosophers and many others speak in favour of Buddhist values, but they don’t practise them. They ask us to share, to love one another, to welcome others, but when we look at their life, that’s not what we see. They tell us to give; ok, but how can we give when we hang on to what should be given? People think about that all life long: how can we have a clear conscience without practising? When people talk to Trump about CO2 emissions, he replies: “America first!” Me first. That is what we all do! That’s what we see, more and more: acting like experts, giving advice, judging, accusing, without realizing that this is just thoughts, just mental productions. That is why Buddha condemns all “isms”: marxism, communism, capitalism. These people take an idea, a value – sharing, freedom… – and make it theirs, without calling their ego into question. When we try to promote a value without being awakened, unbeknownst to us, very often it’s our ego that is at work.
Politics is a necessary means to manage egos – the selfish employer’s interests, the selfish worker’s interests – but without ever questioning those egos. We try to put boundaries and laws into place to compensate for the lack of awakening and make sure the weakest are not slaughtered, but we should all think about our human condition and understand that every human being has a karma. It’s up to the citizen to awaken, to develop a holistic, comprehensive dimension, and to see that his happiness depends on the happiness of others. As long as he doesn’t get this, politicians will have to set rules. That is how the world goes! And that’s what a monk has to do.
Sometimes, people ask me: “What do you do for the world?” I tell them: “For the world, 24/7, I try to bring the Buddha Way. When I speak with someone, when I drive my car, when I give a lecture, when I go to the bathroom, all the time, I engage the Buddhist practice into my whole life.”
Desiring good, spreading good, touching the heart of men, awakening that thread of kindness which exists in all beings, is not something you do with speeches or orders. You do it by giving yourself to the situation for the good of all, as it must be done – with wisdom, with the others in mind, seeing the others, without expecting anything in return. One day, someone asked me: “Why don’t Buddhists give blessings?” When you live alongside someone who lives without hatred, without aversion, without anger, without greed, without stupidity, automatically it is a blessing to be next to that person. That is why Master Eno said: “The practice of concentration, without a selfish goal in mind, is great kindness.” When we act in this way, automatically, we awake in others that thread of kindness. That’s how good can spread in the world. It’s a blessing to have a friend, a child, a relative, a neighbour who lives like that.
Shantideva says that all human beings without exception have in their heart a love of wisdom, a yearning for true compassion. It’s very difficult to make it real, but that dimension exists in every human being. It’s not something that we need to invent or create. But, says Shantideva, this yearning for compassion, for wisdom, becomes real only with Buddha’s help, which means that we must become Buddha, we must have a practice which brings us to Buddhahood.
Doing things wholeheartedly, the way they must be done, without expecting anything for ourself, is the best way to transmit Buddhism. It’s the true practice, the true commitment.