Most Americans—probably even most Buddhist Americans—think of Buddhism as a quietistic spirituality focused on either individual peace of mind or complete transcendence of the social and material worlds. The famous sociologist Max Weber called it a “specifically unpolitical and anti-political status religion,” and that’s the impression that has pretty much stuck ever since. So, it might surprise many people to learn just how preoccupied Buddhist texts are with at least one mundane, bread-and-butter public policy issue: taxes.
I tend to think of Buddhist practice as a way of cultivating a mind so stable that such storms leave it unscathed, and I often judge myself harshly when I fail to live up to that standard—when the storm breaks through my mental roof, leaking in toxic emotions, and I’m too exhausted, or cynical, or just plain lazy to apply the Buddha’s teachings. Suffering and delusion are always my suffering and delusion. They are always personal, always private, and always necessitate a private remedy. What I often forget, though, is just how much social, political, and economic structures really do effect our ability to practice the dharma.