Buddhists in Congress

By Razib Khan | January 5, 2007 1:03 pm

religion.jpgWith all the controversy around Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in Congress, no one seems to be publicizing the first two Buddhists in the House, Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Hank Johnson (Georgia).

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Comments (10)

  1. pconroy

    Yeah, it’s pretty interesting to see the new mix of people coming in.
    Also, I notice that Bush is nominating Zalmay Khalilzad, current US ambassador to Iraq, as the new US ambassador to the UN. Khalilzad is a Pashtun – same as most of the Taliban – and speaks Farsi/Dari, and so should be able to negotiate directly with the Iranians if the need should ever arise.

  2. bigTom

    So Richard Dawkins claim that you had to profess strong beleif in the God of Abraham, to be elected is now disproven!

  3. Mustafa Mond, FCD

    Hush! Don’t tell anyone that some Buddhists are actually A-T-H-E-I-S-T-S. It might cause people to feel uncomfortable, and we can’t have that.

  4. Brian X

    I think part of it is that Buddhism is completely alien to an Abrahamic faith, and to the extent anyone gives a damn about it in this country, it’s something followed mostly by New Agers and mentally retarded limousine liberals. At worst, it’s considered inoffensive, and more generally slightly positive due to the influence of people like the Dalai Lama. But I bet you not one in ten Americans really knows anything about it beyond the odd punchline (I’d have to consider myself in the better-informed part of the nine-out-of-ten myself, which is to say I know that there’s a difference between Therevada, Mahayana, and Zen, but I have no idea what it is).
    Keep in mind, Christianity, Judaism and Islam have been at each other’s throats for centuries. Eastern faiths like Buddhism, Hinduism, or Taoism have historically had very little effect on our culture at all beyond the popularity of martial arts and tai chi (at least out here on the East Coast — probably somewhat different on the West Coast).
    I dunno, does Buddhism make any sense without reincarnation? Maybe if I ever went back to being religious I should go that way…

  5. grigory

    Zen is a type of Mahayana, just so you know

  6. Is it just me, or does Hank Johnson look kind of serene and Buddha-like?
    Some Buddhist cosmology and even psychology is very scientific and objective, in that it encourages contemplating phenomena as somewhat arbitrary but self-perpetuating “aggregations” of matter and energy. Almost Darwinian.

  7. MJ Memphis

    Doctrinally speaking, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism are both essentially atheistic (the other big branch, Vajrayana, I don’t know much about). However, not all Buddhists follow the doctrines that closely. Personally, I’m both a Theravadin and an atheist, and I find the two complement each other nicely.
    Both of the new Buddhist reps are Mahayana; if we get a Theravadin rep one day, they will likely be from California, where most of the Thai immigrants end up.

  8. However, not all Buddhists follow the doctrines that closely
    you will find many atheistic buddhists in japan, where the buddhists are mostly nominal. in sri lanka or thailand, not so much. the idea that buddhism is atheistic or agnostic is a philosophical/elite perception (that doesn’t delegitimatize that perspective). see d. jason. slone’s work in theological incorrectness where he surveys the ethnological literature on sri lankan buddhism which shows how it is overwhelmingly theistic in the laiety.

  9. ken

    If you ask, “do Thai Buddhists pray to various supernatural beings?”, the answer is “yes”. Then again, these beings are often rather petty and provincial. Hell, they might just occupy the door frame. The laiety will pray to the Buddha…they’ll also pray to local super-monk, known for his meditative prowess, or to King Rama V.
    Turns out that Johnson is a Soka Gokkai Buddhist…the ones who basically repeat “namo ho rengye kyo” endlessly. That particular sect hasn’t existed more than a couple hundred years. Kinda disappointing…it would have been cool to hear him say he does 300 prostrations, visualizes Padmasambhava, and performs phowa before breakfast.

  10. ken

    The differences between Hinayana and Mahayana are fairly clear (existence of Bodhisattvas). There is no such clear doctrinal separation between the doctrines of “Vajrayana” and the other two, though, so a lot of scholarly types say that Vajrayana is merely a branch of Mahayana with some Tantric and Bonpo flavoring.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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