There is no such thing as “disengaged” Buddhism, or Buddhism divorced from a life of responsibility and connection. There can be no such thing as a purely transcendental Buddhism. The teachings of the Buddha are by their very nature concerned with interconnection, responsibility, causes and results.
A core assumption, and one that makes Buddhist teachings revolutionary to this day, is that all things and all beings are interconnected, and that everything we do has significance and impact.
Buddhists engage with the world, and are active participants in social, economic, and political reality. It is inescapable. The choice is whether we support exploitation, suffering, and oppression through commission or omission, or promote well-being, happiness, and liberation.
However, we must not seek to impose our views through force. The union of political power and religious authority is pernicious. There is a powerful reason why the Buddha Shakyamuni chose to be our Teacher, rather than our King
Although in the West we tend to think mostly about the past and present influence of the Christian churches on the state, we have seen this unholy mix among Buddhists since the times of the Indian Emperor Ashoka.
The impulse to theocratic rule has been accompanied by intolerance for dissent and persecution of minorities, whether in Tibet, Japan, Burma, Sri Lanka, or Thailand. One cannot exercise religious authority and political power simultaneously, as one will place the former in the service of the latter.
The separation of church and state (including the Buddhist “Church”) is not only a social imperative; it is a spiritual necessity.