Buddhism is anarchism, after all, for anarchism is love, trust, selflessness and all those good Buddhist virtues including a total lack of imposition on another. During the 19th and even early 20th century, European and then American anarchists occupied respected podiums on lecture circuits from Boston and New York and across the continent to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles At length that roster of distinguished speakers included the anarchist Har Dayal, author of The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Sanskrit Literature, an important text that belongs in all our libraries, who came to the American lecture circuits from India by way of London to edify our grandparents and their parents.

Today we’re up against the iron face of carefully crafted public opinion. From the Haymarket tragedy in 1886 to the trials of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1921, there was in the United States almost half century of concerted, bloody minded, and ultimately successful endeavor to erase anarchism and its devotees from civilized discourse. To this day, even in a gathering like our own, the very word “anarchist” evokes an unkempt foreigner with 10 a bomb about to go off in his back pocket. It might seem better to keep the two words in separate little boxes.

That doesn’t work. Go to Google, type in the words “Buddhist Anarchism,” and stand back. The number of hits will surprise you. Moreover, except for references to Gary Snyder’s article by that name in the first Journal for the Protection of All Beings back in1962, all the hits will be in Classical Buddhism, in the Buddha’s own words. Gary’s piece referred to the Huayan Sutra—well taken, but there is a world of other possible Mahayana references. The “Three Bodies of the Buddha,” for example. Everything really is empty, personally interconnected, and precious in itself. We don’t need some guy in saffron robes to tell us so. Apart from Google hits and from any kind of Buddhism, our ordinary common sense tells us so. Anarchism makes sense, for all the iron faces, for all the nooses of the Haymarket tragedy and all the subsequent ruthless persecutions and prosecutions and executions. The lonely, quavering voice of Lucy Parsons puts us to shame.

It’s time to put ourselves in a position where we have nothing to protect. No group ego. No name, no slogan. Like King Christian X of Denmark we can all wear the yellow star. We can all wave the black flag, no color and no design. It is design that does us in. There is only one thing that works in the face of the iron faces, and that is decency. By being decent, I don’t mean being nice. I mean Mahayana responsibility. It isn’t nice to block the doorway. Decent Mahayana conduct means behaving appropriately. It is surely appropriate in these days of justifying torture and white phosphorous as weapons, to hold up an inexorable mirror to the fiends who are raising hell in our name—and then following through with an essential agenda that is not necessarily legal, like smuggling medicine to Iraqi people—the program of Voices in the Wilderness until the situation became too dangerous—or setting up a half-way house for recently released prisoners, like the Olympia Zen Center, or feeding the poor, five days a week, week in and week out for years and years, like Catholic Worker houses across the country. The essential agenda is not a hobby, after all.

Robert Aitken

Full text can be found here http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Miscellaneous/Aitken_on_Responsibility.pdf

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