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Barbara O'Brien

Hank Johnson, Congressman and Buddhist

By December 14, 2009

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Rep. Hank Johnson, a U.S. Congressman from Georgia and long-time member of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), is profiled by Bob Keefe in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In "Hank Johnson Won't Back Down," [link fixed] Keefe writes that the Congressman is "a Buddhist who serves on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, strives for world peace but doesn't shy away from a fight."

The Congressman says he is driven by the middle way.

"I don't get carried [away] when things are going great‚ and don't get carried [away] when things are going badly, because both of those things are going to happen," he said. "So, therefore, the middle path is the best place to be."

Comments
December 15, 2009 at 12:38 am
(1) TFitz says:

OK, the ‘middle way’ has nothing to do with not getting excited and I doubt SG has incorporated the viewpoint which is a product of the Tibetan schools.
Again, it has nothing to do with ‘moderation’.

December 15, 2009 at 8:18 am
(2) Barbara O'Brien says:

The “middle way” doctrine wasn’t invented in Tibet. In much of the early Pali literature “middle way” refers to a path between extremes. In some contexts this can be understood to be about moderation, and in other contexts it is about a path between extremes in doctrine — between affirmation and negation, for example, which leads you into Madhyamika philosophy, which wasn’t invented in Tibet either.

December 15, 2009 at 1:00 am
(3) TFitz says:

OK, here’s Rev.Barnett from a couple of posts ago.
“The Buddha’s point was not to deny the conventional self, the model, but not to be deceived by it or enslaved to it.”

I doubt that the Revs’ denomination has incorporated the Tibetan viewpoint but he none the less expresses it nicely.
The question the ‘middle way’ answers is this. ‘do things actually exist?’. It is in response to the yogacara school that posits that there is something about ‘mind’ that is permanent and unchanging. They answer that nothing can be said to truly exist in that form but conventionally the universe can be said to have existence in that we obviously observe and experience it. What the reverend said about the self is a good extrapolation of that.
The two truths arise from this as well.

December 15, 2009 at 7:52 am
(4) Sunlight says:

Regarding your thread about Manicheism on the other blog. You totally misread my comment but the real argument belongs in this forum. As a former staffer at Brookings and CBO, I saw the writing on Obama’s wall very quickly. But as I ALSO said in my post, Obama’s craven nature would never lead me to leave the Democratic Party, and I would never vote for Nader.

Reality says, Obama is not the progressive many of us would wish. But of course he has Buddha Nature. More to the point — the Buddha Nature of our political system resides in the ideals of our Constitution (which Obama needlessly and gratuitously trashed when he helped enact the FISA Amendments of 2008).

When I do politics, I do it because it feels like the right thing to do, not because I repose my hope in any one leader. As Sri Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita: we do what is right as a matter of selfless service, as an offering to God, not because we hope for a particular result. And we continue doing selfless service, partially because it encourages others, sends out a vibration that is beneficial.

The meditator does not repose his or her hope in a particular individual personality, or on today’s side of a political controversy. It reposes ever undamaged in the Buddha Dharma, in the Paramatman.

December 15, 2009 at 8:44 am
(5) Barbara O'Brien says:

Sunlight — I’d prefer to keep political discussion elsewhere.

The meditator does not repose his or her hope in a particular individual personality, or on today’s side of a political controversy.

Exactly my point. Demonizing people because they disappoint you is another form of “reposing hope.” It’s an attachment. Flipping from one extreme to another is attachment.

December 15, 2009 at 8:55 am
(6) Jaime McLeod says:

The link to the actual article is broken. I found it again here: http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/hank-johnson-wont-back-240704.html

December 15, 2009 at 12:25 pm
(7) TFitz says:

I have found an equivalent in the tipitaka for many mahayana concepts and don’t care who came up with what but the Madyamika viewpoint was from Tibet as a response to the yogacara. Chinese vajra still contained the yogacara viewpoint which was then deposited in Japan by Saicho and Kukai,@ 600 ad.

Following Barbara here from the political blog is very bad form but you shouldn’t maybe have brought the congressman here either. The smell must have attracted your friend since he is obviously deaf.

December 15, 2009 at 1:16 pm
(8) Barbara O'Brien says:

the Madyamika viewpoint was from Tibet as a response to the yogacara

No, Madhyamika philosophy is attributed to the Indian sage Nagarjuna, who probably lived in the 2nd century CE. Tibetan Buddhism didn’t exist before the 7th century CE. Nagarjuna is a patriarch of all of Mahayana, and he is also part of the pre-Bodhidharma Zen lineage (between Kapimala and Kanadeva; see Transmission of the Light). The Chinese Ch’an school enjoyed a big influence of Madhyamika from its beginning in the 6th century, which still beats the Tibetans. Yogacara was developed a century or two after Madhyamika as a response to Madhyamika, not the other way around. Both Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism eventually managed to incorporate elements of both Madhyamika and Yogacara, which is why Zen can seem very like Vajrayana sometimes.

My understanding is that the first mention of “middle way” comes out of the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment, when he decided that going to extremes of asceticism would not lead to Enlightenment. That middle way in that context refers to a moderate path between asceticism and indulgence. It came to mean a middle way between any extremes, such as between attraction and aversion (see “equanimity”). The congressman’s use of “middle way” is not Madhyamika, but it’s not wrong, either.

December 15, 2009 at 12:32 pm
(9) TFitz says:

An interesting quote from the congressman on his wiki entry:

“In 2009, Johnson demanded censure of Rep. Joe Wilson’s “you lie” remark, arguing that the comment had an unseen racial undertone and that, if Wilson was not formally rebuked, “We will have people with white hoods running through the countryside again.”

Interesting extrapolation of that situation from a practitioner of the “middle way”.

December 15, 2009 at 12:49 pm
(10) TFitz says:

OK, given the congressmans undergoing that treatment and its’ horrendous side effects I fully understand that he might tend to get a little overly emotional. Some people never recover from the treatment.

December 17, 2009 at 9:35 pm
(11) David says:

All I can say is, I did not even know we had a Buddhist in Congress, and I am tickled pink to hear it.

December 21, 2009 at 8:32 am
(12) JoeBuddha says:

We lean towards T’ien T’ai (Chi-i)’s interpretation of the Lotus Sutra. As the Ch’an sect has their lineage, we have our own which we trace back through Nagarjuna (whose translation of the Lotus Sutra is the main scripture we refer to). AFAIK, our strand of the teachings has had no contact with Tibetan Buddhism up until modern times, but Nichiren was no stranger to the Middle Way.

December 21, 2009 at 8:37 am
(13) JoeBuddha says:

Oops, should have read the above comments a little more closely before commenting. My only excuse is that my study of Buddhism has been a bit light on the historical side…

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