On the Phenomenon of Right-Wing Western Buddhism

Having left behind what is loved and what is unloved, not taking up anything, not dependent at all, completely freed from fetters, rightly he would wander in the world.
He does not find any value in accumulations; he would dispel preference and passion for acquirements. He, independent, not to be led by another, rightly would he wander in the world.
Unobstructed in speech, thought, and action, rightly having understood the Way, having the state of blowing out [Nirvana] as his goal, rightly he would wander in the world.
Whatever mendicant would not be self-satisfied, thinking, “He pays respect to me,” and even if abused would not be resentful, and having got food from another would not be elated, rightly would he wander in the world.
—from the Sammāparibbājanīya Sutta, or the Discourse on Proper Wandering, from the Sutta Nipāta

     A couple of weeks ago the editor of a western Buddhist magazine contacted me and requested we do an interview, primarily on the issue of right-wing or conservative western Buddhism, and its apparent increase in recent years. I did participate in the interview, which went fairly well and was fairly interesting. We’ll have to wait and see how the article turns out.

     The Buddhist editor’s main question was a good one, and it caused me to think about this relatively new phenomenon of “anti-SJW” western Buddhism, and why it appears to be growing. It’s a question well worth looking into, and it strikes me as odd that I’d never really considered it before, so I’ve decided to write my own article on the same subject, from the point of view of one of those very same “anti-SJW” western Buddhists. I also did a video interview with Herr Brian Ruhe on this subject, a link to which is here.

     Right off the bat I may as well point out, and not for the first time on this blog, that there is no necessary reason why Buddhism, especially Theravada Buddhism, should be viewed as inherently politically leftist. Some aspects of traditional Buddhist ethics, like pacifism, may be more associated with the left; although other aspects, like the emphasis on individual sensual restraint, would be more associated with the political right. Most political conservatives in Burma are Buddhists, with the “progressives” often “progressing” to secular materialism, or maybe Christianity. Similarly, conservatives in the west, being rather traditionalistic, tend towards Christianity (or maybe Judaism), if they are religious at all. Thus the predominance of political leftism in western Buddhism is an artifact of circumstance, not a political, logical necessity.

     There are two main groups, as I see the situation, of right-wing western Buddhists. They are not necessarily related, and have different reasons for favoring Dhamma, although there is some overlap between them. For the sake of convenience I’ll discuss them separately.

     So, first we have the “hard right” white nationalists and other more or less fascistic types. (Whether actual fascism is really right-wing or not is very debatable, but for the sake of argument and convenience here, we can just assume that it is.) This type of western Buddhist tends to lean politically hard right first, and then later turns to Buddhism.

     Though most right-wingers tend to be conservative, and most conservatives in the west, especially if they are religious, follow their ancestral tradition of Christianity, these particular rightists do not. I assume this is partly due to plain old antisemitism, in the sense of not wanting to worship a deified Jew or to follow what is essentially a schismatic sect of Judaism. But I also assume that a major reason why white nationalist types turn to Buddhism is because they are searching for a more European, or at least Indo-European (“Aryan”), spiritual system more in harmony with the spirit of the race, or some such.

     By the same token there has been a surge in European paganism also, especially Odinism. This would obviously qualify as more distinctively European, if only northern European; but the problem with neo-paganism is that all the traditions and initiatory lineages went extinct long ago when Christianity became a kind of religious monopoly in the west. There may be some vestiges surviving in systems like Wicca, and valuable information can be gleaned from medieval Scandinavian texts, and so on, but still the new systems are a kind of replica rather than the original, and I suspect that a lot of the neo-paganism that is practiced is little more than LARPing. Also, I suspect that a revival of ancient polytheism in the west may not strike traction, considering how radically different our understandings of the world have become. Whatever new spiritual system arises should be more or less in harmony with scientific empiricism, and I’m not sure how worship of gods like Odin and Thor would harmonize.

     One dilemma for western culture is that Europe has produced no great spiritual figure, no great prophet or sage, that has founded a lasting religious system. There were some in the distant past, like maybe Socrates or Apollonius of Tyana (a Greek who lived mainly in Anatolia) or even the original Odin, but none who has been able to compete in the west with Christianity. The Arabs have their Prophet, the Chinese have their Confucius and Lao Tzu, the Indians have many great saints and founders of religions, but the Europeans have no obvious ones, aside from flashes in the pan and some great Christian saints—who, again, were followers of a schismatic sect of West Asian Judaism. (Maybe Karl Marx could be considered a prophet of a new system that rivals Christianity in the west as well as in the east, but Marxism too could be called a schismatic sect of Judaism. And anyway, it’s spiritually bankrupt.)

     Many of the “hard right” Buddhists of the west have turned to Buddhism, at least in part, due to Julius Evola’s glowing praise of that philosophical/religious system. Evola, an Italian “superfascist,” considered Theravada Buddhism to be the most suitable religious tradition for the spiritual aristocracy of the west. He held this view because he considered archaic Buddhism to be austerely “virile,” aristocratic (in that the Sangha of monks were viewed as a kind of initiated spiritual elite), and of course, Aryan. Buddhism is not originally European of course, but at least it is very Indo-European, and comes about as close to a viable Indo-European or “Aryan” spiritual system still workable in the modern world. It appears not to be a perfect fit for fascistic spiritual seekers, however, as quite a few of them take issue with early Buddhism’s uncompromising pacifism, and also with the Buddhistic idea of anattā, or No Self. I may as well also add that, though the Buddha himself was probably ethnically Aryan, the philosophical roots of Buddhism are not purely so, but extend all the way back to the prehistoric non-Aryan Indus Valley Civilization. A religious system which comes closer to primordial, archetypal Indo-European religion would be something like an archaic form of Hinduism, such as may still be found in northern India, in which Brahmins still recite the Vedas and perform fire sacrifices to the gods. But pretty obviously, Buddhism fits modern and postmodern western society better than sacrificing to the gods for sons, cattle, and victory in battle.

     The second group of right-wing western Buddhists, to which group I personally belong, are more libertarian or classical liberal, insisting on freedom of thought and expression, and are repulsed by the cultish nature and hysteria, etc., of political correctness and cultural Marxism. Many of these, myself included, were Buddhist leftists, and then were driven away from the left, or just stayed in the same place as the left lurched further leftward and left them behind in the new Right. So unlike the first group, this group is much more likely to be Buddhist first, and only later to find themselves on the political right wing. Libertarian western Buddhists are often loners, being unable to abide the leftist virtue signaling, or just weak, sloppy Dharma, at elitist Dharma halls. Also, like the Buddhist white nationalists, they are mostly male. I may as well add that some right-wing western Buddhists have been politically moderate conservatives their entire adult life. They are attracted to Buddhist philosophy, ethics, and meditative practice because of some non-traditional circumstance, like a friend suggesting that they try a Goenka retreat, or marriage with a devout Buddhist Southeast Asian girl.

     Some overlap exists between this second, larger group and the first, partly due to some classical liberal western Buddhist types being so utterly revolted by elitist Starbucks Buddhism, and Social Justice in general, that they fling themselves as far right as possible just to get away from it. Also, the radicalism of the left and the right are not so different in some ways, especially if fascism is considered to be far right.

     In addition to some ideological overlap, and a predominance of maleness, both of the described groups of right-wing Buddhists have other qualities in common. Obviously both are emphatically anti-SJW and anti-Marxist, and both, largely as a result of the predominant maleness of both groups, prefer a more stereotypically masculine and head-oriented approach to Dharma practice. The effete west has become deeply antimasculine, which has resulted in a kind of masculinity crisis, especially among younger men. Some feel a deep need to be true to themselves as they seek purification of spirit, or whatever they choose to call their highest spiritual goal, and intuitively prefer the path of the “Divine Masculine,” the path of the spirit warrior, so to speak, requiring archetypal masculine virtues such as fearlessness, austerity, a thirst for freedom, an emphasis on head rather than heart, and on cessation of delusion more than cessation of suffering. The left has turned away from that, so some seekers find it on the right. They may also conveniently avoid troublesome feminists who view men as the Enemy via religious celibacy.

     As I say, I am of the second group, the classical liberal Buddhists driven rightwards by the neo-Marxism that has pervaded so-called “liberal” society; but I do interact with members of both groups. At any rate, the ranks of both groups appear to be growing, and that is good.


  1. May I ask which magazine it is you gave your interview to?

    1. I've deliberately avoided naming the publication, largely because I have no idea how it will turn out, or if it will turn out. If the article is published, though, I'll probably post the link.

  2. I’m not very groupy, but if I’m in any group, it’s the one you are in. In England, from late-teens on (1950s), I knew many left-wingers, a lot of them extreme - some resorted to bombing, and machine-gunned the US Embassy in London – but I was never attracted to their views. I was perhaps of the sensible left, but over time the left became far less sensible and more extreme. In Australia, I worked for a very good Labor PM (Bob Hawke) and government, but the ALP went downhill post-Hawke and I ceased voting for them in the 1980s; they’ve gone further downhill since, and I’m most in tune with some rational right-of-centre people. I’m not a Buddhist but have practised Vipassana meditation since 1972, and this has of course informed my outlook on life and politics; but I have many (sadly-deluded!) leftist friends, including some meditators. I tend to see the West in general as being on a self-destructive path which will cede power and influence to dictatorial countries with far poorer policies and views on, and respect for, life. So while I’m not in the groups you discuss, I can see why they exist.

  3. Great write up!
    I can totally get the second group of "alt right" Buddhsits. I fall into this group as well. I was lucky to find Buddhism as a refuge. I started out with no direction immersed in the many ways and views of the west. It may be cliche but I felt a bit like a Kalama early on but once I got into Buddhism that was it. Been Buddhist ever since. For whatever reason I am wired libertarian with deep traditional conservative undertones. I venerate those with great restraint and who practice non transgression and/or (especially) those who are wise and refined.

    As for the white Nationalists. I feel kind of bad for them but also accept them. I actually feel like they are right on many points and think it is very possible that their views of recent history might be correct. BUT! They are (in my opinion) very deluded in their view on the Nature. They tend to lean too heavily on the materialistic side of things. They are obsessed with race or as they put it, "Blood and Soil". They would much rather follow some wheel turning monarch than a Buddha if you ask me. They don't heed the teachings on anicca, dukkha, and anatta enough. If they did and they applied those teachings they would not cling as they do. Even Evola seemed to come to his senses on this. Samsara goes round and round. Rise and fall rise and fall. Birth, growth, decay, death everywhere you go. Yet, they think at this stage that the west can be made again in the utopian image of Hitler? All things require work to be maintained. This is an aspect of dukkha. Maybe they can find some degree of separation somewhere and rebuild. I hope they can and that they can live happy but I feel they might be barking up the wrong tree. Take the Sakyan clan for example. How did it end for them? The Buddha preached the law to them and those with sense renounced. All the proud ones who stayed behind were sadly wiped out due to old grudges and old kamma.

    Oh yeah and SJW marxist stuff is total trash. This I agree with and I'd rather be in the company of Nazi's than any SJW. Especially if it's a cool Nazi like Brian Ruhe! 😄

  4. You seem to say that leftism in Buddhist communities is merely accidental. What if it is actually very much more deliberate, insidious, and sinister? The monks, lacking austerity and wandering as you point out, are forced to pander to the biggest donors for thier comfy livelihood, and this is what allows the leftist agendas to be injected into society, like a vaccine against awakening, yes, for that evil of an objective... That of preventing escape thru the valid and Aryan Dhamma-magga. They unironically want to prevent people from becoming saints, and enslave wagies, and cause people to fall into dugatim.

    1. I've met lots of western Buddhists, and as far as I can tell they were all sincere, even if they had some weird or sloppy ideas about Buddhism, and mixed their Dhamma with western fashion trends. Western monks aren't really "forced to pander to the biggest donors," although some may pander anyway, for all I know. Most big donors are either Asian Buddhists or else devout westerners with lots of money. The idea that western Buddhism is deliberately keeping people unenlightened is a rather extreme view relying on conspiracy theories that don't have much evidence backing them up. It may be, though, that some cultural Marxists in the 20th century endorsed western Buddhism much in the same way they endorsed feminism, gay rights, open borders, and rampant sensuality, as a way of destabilizing traditional western values and norms, but that's a far cry from seeing western Buddhism in general as some kind of insidious plot.

  5. Hey Bhante, could you please talk about how a layperson is supposed to defend himself from thieves and killers? Ordaining for me was "against the vinaya," and asking to stay as a layman then: "there's no room." So I invested in land far out in the country to be off grid where I literally get attacked by psychos. What am I supposed to do? All this after being driven from my home by a lying slanderous jew protected by corrupt court system. I swear all this is true. How do communties deal with this? I am very angry since monks in comparison are living like kings yet claim to be pacifist renunciates! This is also why the alt-right is justified, I am living proof.

    1. Even a Buddhist monk is allowed to strike out in self defense, or to run and hide, or to allow himself to be robbed or murdered. But to deliberately try to kill one's assailant would still be murder and wrong. Being angry also is unskillful kamma. Ultimately from the perspective of Buddhist ethics, anything pleasant or painful that befalls you is the fruition of your own kamma, your own mental states, so ultimately you would have brought it upon yourself. But the thing that interests me is your claim that ordaining you would be "against the vinaya."

    2. To respond to this would take a small book but I will cover crucial points. First of all, the so called Sangha has failed at being a refuge. I've have to throw my life away over and over to keep the damn basic precepts then there is no room at the monastery either!! Then I get robbed when I live with less than the extravagant monks who worship the buffet with live in women cooks! What kind of karma do you think they are making! They are making themselves a magnet for thieves! 17 years a student and they turn me away and I didnt nothing wrong and there is still room there for jews from others countries! And they do an evil ritual of throwing out thier white rice! Then you tell me anger is evil?! A man can only endure so much! Anger is not malice, and to tell people to not get angry is common among cults! Are you some schism of jew only monks?? It's the dhammayut order that did this to me, chalking it up to the vague intetpretation of "any major illness." i wonfer if he checks if they are eunuchs first. A more elder monk Bhante G said he disagreed with his view of dhamma. I say they should recognize individual differences, and not turn someone away who did nothing wrong! You seem to think lay life is so easy! You ought to assume people are dying in war for you to have your peaceful bubble, and chant the simile of the saw to remind yourself! Plus suttas say a monk should not strike back even if hit with a knife! You guys then do other vinaya all willy nilly. Artwork of people was banned for monks for example. Yet you all bow down to them! I hope your gay and lame shrines and buddharupas are fucking smashed and stolen! Youre not even supposed to look at or talk to women and they get to live there as laypeople and I cant! Fake refuge! Fuck you! Now send me fucking metta asshole cult cryptokike!

    3. Your angry, derogatory, and dysfunctional attitude while typing this is a good indication of why you were refused ordination.

    4. I am sorry for anonymous. But remember. While being ordained is great. While having a community of Monks is great. The act of renunciation is far greater. Nobody can take that or deny renunciation from you. Now, if you do renounce in a radical fashion extreme emotions will not have proper conditions to manifest. Atta Hi Attano Natho...

  6. > and intuitively prefer the path of the “Divine Masculine,” the path of the spirit warrior, so to speak, requiring archetypal masculine virtues such as fearlessness, austerity, a thirst for freedom, an emphasis on head rather than heart, and on cessation of delusion more than cessation of suffering.

    You can see elitist Buddhism going in completely the opposite direction.
    Chogyam Trungpa talked about ideas, about the delusive notions which guide our thinking.
    His most famous student, the widely published Pema Chodron, talks about how things feel, about emotional life and our "lived experience".

    I had a teacher from one tradition, at a retreat, try to get me to not say "I think". I was to replace it with "I feel", and focus on my emotions instead of logic and reason. His entire goal was to make me an emotional, illogical creature.

    While we do need to properly acknowledge, understand and process our emotions - they can't be given primacy. That is the way of the woman, and is not suitable for men.

  7. Thank you for writing this article. I identify so much with it and it's greatly therapeutic. I especially liked your description of us as '...seeking the cessation of delusion.'

  8. This is interesting to me. I am a US territory citizen. I am an ethnic Thai, so I grew up with a mix of Western influence in the culture, the parochialism of the island nation, and my parents fairly mainline Buddhist practices (I wouldn't even name a particular sect as we didn't have much opportunity to interact with a tradition, so it was just vaguely Buddhist). I remain Buddhist but not very religious or spiritual. I take Buddhism seriously as a philosophy and life path, and a cultural tie, but I don't even think Buddha was a historical person, much less believe in literal magical places and life energy in the universe, etc. My political and social views are a mix of radical right and radical libertarian, I tend to favor authoritarian, patriarchal but highly decentralized systems with little to no state intervention in the individual, family or community life. So I am one of these right wing Western Buddhists, though in my case I became more right wing the more I studied things and my Buddhism is inherited (though I probably take it more seriously than my parents).


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