Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
#MilkTeaAlliance is my new Sangha. Many, if not the majority, of the MTA of Southeast Asia are not practicing Buddhists, but that doesn’t matter. What they love, live and die for is freedom, democracy, human rights, communal anarchism, mutual support, creativity, innovation, the future. That’s my dharma.
Buddhism is about the past, a mythical past that never was. It is eternally stuck in the past, and it can’t move forward. It cannot even imagine a future. Thank you, young people of the #MilkTeaAlliance, for showing me that there really is a life and a community after Buddhism, and especially, that there really is a future, if we create one.
Buddhist Futures: if there is one, it looks like the #MilkTeaAlliance. It’s my Buddhist future, if nothing else. These are the future Buddhists of the world. They don’t call themselves Buddhists. They don’t go to temples, light candles, burn incense or chant. They don’t even meditate. Well, maybe they do sometimes. They don’t care about enlightenment, or some guy from the 5th century BC and his hang-ups over reincarnation. They’re informed by Buddhist values, but more so, liberty, equality, fraternity, democracy. Ambedkar, you were so visionary, so far-reaching was your Democratic Buddhism. It was the Buddhism of the future, but nobody could see it at the time. They still don’t. Democracy should be the highest Buddhist value, but it will never be, because Buddhism is eternally stuck in the feudal past. Milk Tea and Democracy is the Buddhist Future, or maybe, it’s just my future.
The MTA Buddhists don’t even study Buddhism, or they don’t make a life-long project out of it. I’m fed up with Buddhist Academe that just reinforces traditional Buddhism. “This is the way it’s always been. We have to respect the tradition.” And so is Gen Z in Southeast Asia. Because it’s holding us all back. That’s why I’m backing the #MTA movement. Gen Z demands Democracy, a revolution. The Buddhist Intelligentsia fails to recognize that Gen Z is doing something entirely different than their parents and grandparents. They are reorganizing their community around a different set of shared values—democracy and diversity. I stand with the students: “You fucked with the wrong generation.”
I’ve come to yet another huge disappointment with Buddhism. After leaving behind most of what I’ve encountered in Buddhism because of its moribund rigidity and authoritarianism, my last hope was that Buddhist scholars could help us move forward with a new Buddhism that took into account present realities, and pointed the way to a new Buddhist future. But I’ve been disillusioned once again. The majority of Buddhist scholars I’ve read just “paper over” the present and reinforce the past, the traditional. They sometimes attempt to rehabilitate Buddhism by making it more inclusive, but only if it also reinforces its traditional doctrines and practices, and only if it reaffirms its authoritarian structures. Buddhist scholarship was my last hope, but no more. The Buddhist Intelligentsia is holding us all back. The whole project of trying to ‘reform’ Buddhism is a dead end. There are things to learn from Buddhist scholars, as there are things to learn from everyone. But it is no longer my hope of a more responsive and forward-looking Buddhist world view.
My only hope of a forward-looking Buddhism, of a possible Buddhist future, lies entirely with social movements for democracy, like the #MilkTeaAlliance.