Can the members of the Sangha (Buddhist clergy) become candidates in a general election?
Answer by K Sri Dhammananda
At the outset, thank you for your query and greetings of peace, happiness and contentment to you through the Blessings of the Noble Triple Gem. Buddhist monks are members of a democratic society and can always perform their civic duties that are not prohibited by the Vinaya.
First, we must ask ourselves why the Buddha instituted the Sangha Order. It was not to enable them to improve worldly conditions but to help them concentrate on their spiritual development and to be free from rebirth in this world of suffering.
They were forbidden to handle money and they had to rely on the generosity of others to get their daily sustenance. Therefore, if monks get involved in politics they are actually getting further immersed in social problems and not concentrating on their spiritual development.
The two do not go together. Of course a monk (or nun) is obliged to care for the welfare of lay people and be concerned about their wellbeing. This means that if he sees people being oppressed by a cruel government, he must speak up. But this has to be done by teaching the Dhamma to influence their thinking.
The monk cannot incite the people to violence or to struggle. Deeply motivated by compassion for all parties, he has to strive to replace the ignorance that causes immoral behaviour with wisdom. He has to explain the Buddha's teaching on good governance as contained in the Mangala Sutta, the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, etc.
He can teach people about their constitutional rights but he himself cannot be involved in politics. There is nothing to stop him from disrobing and doing whatever he likes, but he cannot give the wrong impression about what the robe represents. He can of course serve society by getting devotees to be active in community service and to help themselves, but like the lotus, he must not be defiled by mundane concerns.