The Problem of spiritual Leaders and Expert Political Commentary:
It has been a very common practice among people at different levels of achievement in the spiritual community to give advice on all manner of global political and economic situations to the people who follow them. These forms of advice can come in the form of virtually any opinion ranging from calling for peace to calling for all out genocide, and the voice box of these leaders may be as small as a few hundred people or as great as being in the hundreds of millions. Spiritual leaders are looked to within their own communities as speaking divine truth and are often widely respected outside their communities as being experts on all things from the spiritual to the mundane.
It is very common to see world spiritual leaders talking about peace and prosperity and what problems are making it difficult for humanity to achieve these wonderful principles. They speak in vast and generous terms about how some members of society are treated unfairly and how others are in a role of responsibility to try to help them, but there is a very important question that we should ask ourselves when we are confronted with these fantastical diatribes.
Are they really qualified to know whether what they are saying is true or not?
Starting with a simple example, regarding spiritual leaders who advise violence in the name of religion, it is almost always certain that violence taken up against others for the cause of belief is destructive to humanity and causes great suffering. It should be very obvious to those who are not indoctrinated by these people that these forms of radical rhetoric are not legitimate to the cause of advancing humanity. If religion is to be the tool of alleviation from suffering, then surely any religious leader calling for the mass murder of populations of people from outside of their own belief systems must be seen as heretical to the very most basic cause of spiritual practice, the reduction of human suffering.
What about people who propose reasons for many of the terrible inequalities and sufferings in our world, and how they may be overcome?
Usually, these leaders have very simple and direct messages which make us feel vindicated and justified in our desire to help others and to identify what aspects of our own behaviours are holding others down unfairly, but the fact of the matter is that their rhetoric, while perhaps not being as directly destructive as the calls of genocide committed by some leaders, are indirectly harmful to society and also extremely short sighted and irresponsible.
Something we must consider in regard to the words of spiritual teachers is that they are only experts in the field of their respective doctrines, and almost none of the major leaders of spirituality have any direct involvement in governing countries, regulating economic systems, or engaging in the very delicate affairs of international relations.
Most of these people are also beholden to a specific religious world view which places peace on earth above all other causes, except perhaps for the expansion of their own ideologies.
Whether it is the Dalai Lama insisting that all war is wrong, or the Pope insisting that all violent terroristic acts in Europe are perpetrated due to economic injustices, rather than religious zeal, it should be the domain of all sensible people to consider whether or not these statements have any empirical basis in reality, or whether they are speaking according to their own dogmatic world view and personal bias.
When we consider the typical Buddhist message of peace above all other causes, this concept certainly holds true regarding non violent reaction to common frustrations such as insult, economic pressure, and the day to day difficulties of interpersonal relationships, but it did not do much to protect the countless Buddhist monks who were murdered and persecuted during the cultural revolution, nor would it help if one global superpower were to direct nuclear weapons toward another under threat of total annihilation if they failed to capitulate.
Considering the recent statement of Pope Francis, it should be carefully considered as to weather his words hold any merit, or whether they are simply a way to gain the admiration and support of people with political opinions which are similar to his. The fact of the matter is that regardless of the economic conditions of terrorists, violent, murderous outbursts are not to be accepted and it is not sufficient to simply pin the blame for these problems on economic inequality.
The reason why I claim that these attitudes are not responsible is because they essentially aim to shut down negative reaction to the real and imminent threats we face in the world today. When we choose to ignore these threats, we are not doing humanity any favours, and a sense of compassion, while admirable, is only beneficial if it prevents people from suffering. From the perspective of a spiritual leader, there is one quality more important than compassion, and that quality is wisdom. Given the degree of political chaos and division currently existing in Western society today, any calls for peace on the part of spiritual leaders should be thought out extremely carefully before they are uttered to tens of millions of perspective followers.
Taking on polarized political opinions and privileging certain perspectives which are attractive to the agendas of these leaders in gaining popularity and changing the world according to their own aims does not show that they are nice, enlightened old men, it shows that the emperor is wearing no clothes, and that they have not escaped their karmic attachment to polemics and self serving rhetoric.
When we consider real and present political situations, we should not seek to understand them based on hearsay evidence and emotional reaction, we should try as much as possible to judge them based on the empirical evidence available to us on the subject of why events happen in the way we do. The Pope standing in front of an Audience of thousands and proclaiming that inequalities in wealth are the cause of social violence in Europe is not evidenced by any relevant information as proof, and is an obvious appeal to the trust and admiration of his believers, thus furthering the already clear evidence that religious leaders do not have any moral or intellectual superiority over the common people. They are equally susceptible to personal biases, vanity, and all of the other ugly phenomenon that go along with being viewed as an expert by other people.
Their unbalanced political statements truly show us the value of their spiritual beliefs in action, and the resulting miasma of antipathy surrounding their statements is underwhelming to say the least.
The central point that I wish to press forward in this article is that although spiritual leaders may possess very high levels of compassion and expertise in their respective fields, they are not experts on geo-politics, and their statements are not valid replacements for your own research into understanding the complex underpinnings of the social and political climate in the world today. Research for yourself and form your own opinions. No expert, not even one who is sanctified by a religious tradition is beyond falling prey to their own biases and vanity.