In Search of Moral Leadership in America: What We Can Learn from the Buddhist Leader Living Among Us

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Written by Steven Douglas Symms

Like most Americans watching this year’s primary season unfold, I am appalled by the lack of restraint in the political dialogue and the gulfs of rancor that appear to separate the candidates, even those of the same party. The erosion of comity and communality is abundantly evident in Congress as well where political advantage appears to outweigh the common good.

As the country moves away from the consensus of shared common values, the most fundamental of which is respect for the opinion of others, I fear for the future. A central role of political leadership should be to bring the country together by emphasizing those things upon which we agree and minimizing those on which we don’t.

We as a nation are in desperate need of moral leadership. I am reminded of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who while spearheading fundamental changes in American life did so not by driving a wedge between us but by bringing us together under the moral authority of our shared Judeo-Christian values.

Buddhists are well-known for great compassion, benevolent love, and self-reflection as well as empathy for human suffering and an appreciation for all living things.  In this sense, Buddhism as a religion is intrinsically tied to public service and the common good.

Among people living in North America who proclaim a religious affiliation, Buddhists are the second largest group, and His Holiness Dorje Chang Buddha III is one of their most revered leaders.

I have had the distinct privilege of knowing and working with His Holiness Dorje Chang Buddha III who came to these shores 17 years ago to avoid the religious tyranny of the communist regime in China.   He has provided exactly the type of leadership within the Buddhist community that we are so lacking today in America as a whole. His Holiness is, indeed, a moral icon and authority from which we can all learn.

His humanitarian works have been recognized countless times both here in the U.S. and internationally. He has received, among many others, the World Peace Prize, the Presidential Gold Medal as well as the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award.  Even the United States Senate passed a resolution in his honor.

His reaction to all those accolades has been one of humility and continued service to mankind. “I will bear all of the karmic offenses committed by living beings,” he said, “and I will give everyone all of the good karma and merit that I plant.” This is truly a moral leader of our times.


About the Author: Steven Douglas Symms represented the state of Idaho in the United States House of Representatives from 1973-1981 and in the United States Senate from 1981-1993.