Buddhism is Very Democratic

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wThe Buddha

We hear much wailing and lamentations these days over “our democracy,” which we do not have. We have a republic that a bunch of elitist, property owning, white men created, so it should be no surprise that making it more democratic is not easy.

But the zeal for “democracy” in the United States is apparently a legacy of the African American civil rights movement, which made our republic notably more democratic by demanding effective respect for their right to vote, so the claim deserves respect on those grounds.

Buddhism is very democratic. The Buddha was the son of a king, who hoped the Buddha would take over his political role, but the Buddha threw all of that over after he noticed that old age, sickness, and death are the lot of all humans, and went on a quest to find a way out, which he ultimately did. He spent the rests of his life teaching. He was very clear that anyone can achieve what he achieved — complete awakening to the reality of human existence, which would allow one to escape the otherwise endless round of death and rebirth.

The Buddha did refuse to allow women to join the ranks of his monks at first, but he got over that, and never denied that women are as capable of awakening as anyone else. There was no obvious racial hierarchy in the Buddha’s time like the one we’re stuck with in the United States, but again, the Buddha was very clear that anyone can achieve full awakening, which admits of no racial distinctions, and modern Buddhists make none.

Christianity, by contrast, is hierarchical and inherently elitist. It posits an omnipotent deity that makes all the rules and punishes us humans for violations. A central character is Jesus, supposedly “the only begotten son” of this omnipotent deity. Christians should aspire to be as Christlike as possible, but there is only one Jesus, and you’re not it. Christianity distinguishes sharply between the saved and the damned, and historical evidence indicates that the saved feel quite free to do as they wish with the damned.

The Buddha said, in effect, that all humans have the same quality that he had that allowed him to awaken. We are all buddhas, we just don’t realize it.

Buddhism is better for democracy.

Please help spread the word.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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