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A Buddhist Approach to Political Wisdom

by Peter Carlson

Group, we have been talking about how Buddhist principles and practices are useful in sorting through the negative and exaggerated language witnessed during recent months. How can we talk with each other in ways that are respectful and through which our political culture can move forward towards increasing peace and prosperity for all participants? I want to share some of my thoughts


developed over the course of these discussions. (You can review what was recorded at Orlandoinsightmeditation. org.) A primary goal for Buddhist practice is to cultivate a benevolent intention regarding all relationships, to foster a “growing closer” process. A Buddhist wisdom saying is “Hatred is not resolved through more hatred—only love can bring resolution.” These talks combined traditional Buddhist wisdom with modern psychological insights regarding the differences between liberal and conservative philosophical and psychological personality characteristics. Most people associate conservative views only with Republicans and liberal views with Democrats, and this is largely a mistaken belief. Conservatism as a personality

characteristic is a dysfunctional reaction to fear, causing a person to become rigid in one’s thinking process. This rigidity becomes associated with individualistic approaches to social concerns, defensiveness, adherence to rules, and fear of complexity. In the extreme, this mindset characterizes a “true believer,” excluding any diversion from the norm, and can lead to authoritarian control, a “strong father who has the answers.” This is contrasted with psychological liberalism, also in response to fear, but more tolerant of diversity and complexity. It is more egalitarian, with the ability to


his political season has been the most contentious of my lifetime. In the Orlando Insight Meditation

creatively adapt to changes, promoting a more empathic and socially inclusive mindset. A person with these views is interested in how individuals can participate in cooperative social efforts to address economic or personal insecurity. There are registered Democrats who are psychologically conservative, that is, intolerant of any view of social organization that doesn’t fi t into their preconceived notions. Also, there are registered Republicans who are psychologically liberal, that is, tolerant of diversity and complexity and also sensitive to views other than his or her own. The continuity of our democratic republic depends upon collective actions of millions of individuals, to cultivate enough political wisdom to promote leadership who can address the multiple and complex challenges we face today.

Central Florida natural awakenings

Buddhism promotes an ethical concern for what emerges into conscious awareness. In politics, this guides how we speak, that is, respectful listening with a mind freed from preconceived notions, making comments that are truthful, supported by facts rather than hardened opinions and stated with compassion. Behaviors are guided by kindness and a willingness to consider other points of view without lashing out aggressively or mindlessly agreeing. This practice cultivates a lifestyle capable of truly productive political discourse, which is sorely needed during these trying times. Peter Carlson is the founding teacher of the Orlando Insight Meditation Group, a nonprofi t organization since 1993, and understands Buddhism as a profoundly spiritual psychology. He has been teaching Central Floridians mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation for over 25 years. He is also is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in private practice in Winter Park. The next introductory course, offered by the Orlando Insight Mediation Group and taught by Peter, focuses on The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, a Buddhist system for creating a balanced and loving life. It will be at the Winter Park Women’s Club (intersection of Interlachen and Fairbanks, across from the Rollins College campus) from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, beginning September 12. Series is 4 Mondays: 9/12-10/3. For more information, go to


Mondays, Sept 12 - Oct 3: Introductory “Mindfulness of Breathing Meditation” course

“The Psychology of Awakening,” taught by Peter Carlson.

Fri-Sun, Sept 30 - Oct 2:

Led by Peter Carlson, register for the weekend Mindfulness of Breathing Residential Meditation Retreat “A Peaceful Abiding,” at the Franciscan Center in Tampa.

For more information on both group events, visit

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