Photo: Siddha Masque, by Shaun Bartone
I’ve often said that Buddhists can do other things at protests besides sit and meditate. We can stand up, march and vocally protest, speak out, engage in street theatre. But as a Buddhist, where is the spiritual justiﬁcation for that kind of confrontational action? I’m suggesting that it’s in the lineage of the siddhas, whose ascetic practice involved acting insane in public and courting dishonour.
The siddha performs a sacred ritual of provocation, by representing that which is despised, oppressed, banished and forgotten. The Siddha performs the abject, bringing repressed issues to the attention of people in the public square. Siddha deliberately act in such a way as to bring ridicule and scorn upon themselves, thereby expiating karma for themselves and for those who participate in the ritual. This strikes me as a profoundly compassionate act. It could be done in such a way as not to provoke a violent reaction, but to raise consciousness, a critical mindfulness, of witnesses and the wider public.
In this work, siddhas are noted for their capacity to “sing truth”(siddha saccam anuga yanti)—that is, perform acts of truth (saccakiriya). By the power of their truth statements, siddhas make the rain fall, cause ﬁre (the god Agni) to be turned back in its course, and even transform the dreadful Halahala poison—which stained blue the throat of Siva himself—into a medicinal antidote. —R. M. Davidson, Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement.
The sacred performance of the siddha could be incorporated into the practice of engaged Buddhism, into street theatre, singing truth, speaking truth, dancing truth, performing ritual ‘magic’ to engage witnesses in the enactment of the truth.
A tantric approach to engaged Buddhism sings truth, performs truth as a deﬁant act that provokes critical mindfulness, and thereby transforms the poison of oppression into the medicine of justice, healing and peace.
from Outcastes as Activists: A Tantric Approach to Engaged Buddhism by Shaun Bartone