A Challenge to Buddhists

Darrell, modified 6 Years ago at 9/18/15 9:09 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/18/15 9:09 PM

A Challenge to Buddhists

Posts: 143 Join Date: 2/22/15 Recent Posts
This may be old news by now, but for those who might not have seen it


A Challenge to Buddhists BY BHIKKHU BODHI| SEPTEMBER 1, 2007


Each morning, I check out a number of Internet news reports and commentaries on websites ranging from the BBC to Truthout. Reading about current events strongly reinforces for me the acuity of the Buddha’s words: “The world is grounded upon suffering.” Almost daily I am awed by the enormity of the suffering that assails human beings on every continent, and even more by the hard truth that so much of this suffering springs not from the vicissitudes of impersonal nature but from the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion raging in the human heart.Seeing the immensity of the world’s anguish has raised in my mind questions about the future prospects for Buddhism in the West. I’ve been struck by how seldom the theme of global suffering—the palpable suffering of real human beings—is thematically explored in the Buddhist journals and teachings with which I am acquainted. It seems to me that we Western Buddhists tend to dwell in a cognitive space that defines the first noble truth largely against the background of our middle-class lifestyles: as the gnawing of discontent; the ennui of over-satiation; the pain of unfulfilling relationships; or, with a bow to Buddhist theory, as bondage to the round of rebirths. Too often, I feel, our focus on these aspects ofdukkha has made us oblivious to the vast, catastrophic suffering that daily overwhelms three-fourths of the world’s population.An exception to this tendency may be found with the Engaged Buddhist movement. I believe this is a face of Buddhism that has great promise, but from my superficial readings in this area I am struck by two things. First, while some Engaged Buddhists seek fresh perspectives from the dharma, for many Buddhism simply provides spiritual practices to use while simultaneously espousing socio-political causes not much different from those of the mainstream Left. Second, Engaged Buddhism still remains tangential to the hard core of Western interest in Buddhism, which is the dharma as a path to inner peace and self-realization.If Buddhism in the West becomes solely a means to pursue personal spiritual growth, I am apprehensive that it may evolve in a one-sided way and thus fulfill only half its potential. Attracting the affluent and the educated, it will provide a congenial home for the intellectual and cultural elite, but it will risk turning the quest for enlightenment into an private journey that, in the face of the immense suffering which daily hounds countless human lives, can present only a resigned quietism.It is true that Buddhist meditation practice requires seclusion and inwardly focused depth. But wouldn’t the embodiment of dharma in the world be more complete by also reaching out and addressing the grinding miseries that are ailing humanity?I know we engage in lofty meditations on kindness and compassion and espouse beautiful ideals of love and peace. But note that we pursue them largely as inward, subjective experiences geared toward personal transformation. Too seldom does this type of compassion roll up its sleeves and step into the field. Too rarely does it translate into pragmatic programs of effective action realistically designed to diminish the actual sufferings of those battered by natural calamities or societal deprivation.By way of contrast, take Christian Aid and World Vision. These are not missionary movements aimed at proselytizing but relief organizations that provide relief and development aid while also tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Similarly, the American Jewish World Service doesn’t aspire to convert people to Judaism but to express Judaism’s commitment to social justice by alleviating “poverty, hunger, and disease among the people of the developing world regardless of race, religion, or nationality.” Why doesn’t Buddhism have anything like that? Surely we can find a supporting framework for this in Buddhist doctrine, ethical ideals, archetypes, legends, and historical precedents.I recognize that many individual Buddhists are actively engaged in social service and that a few larger Buddhist organizations work tirelessly to relieve human suffering around the globe. Their selfless dedication fully deserves our appreciation. Unfortunately, their appeal has as yet been limited.Buddhist teachers often say that the most effective way we can help protect the world is by purifying our own minds, or that before we engage in compassionate action we must attain realization of selflessness or emptiness. There may be some truth in such statements, but I think it is a partial truth. In these critical times, we also have an obligation to aid those immersed in the world who live on the brink of destitution and despair. The Buddha’s mission, the reason for his arising in the world, was to free beings from suffering by uprooting the evil roots of greed, hatred, and delusion. These sinister roots don’t exist only in our own minds. Today they have acquired a collective dimension and have spread out over whole countries and continents. To help free beings from suffering today therefore requires that we counter the systemic embodiments of greed, hatred, and delusion.In each historical period, the dharma finds new means to unfold its potentials in ways precisely linked to that era’s distinctive historical conditions. I believe that our own era provides the appropriate historical stage for the transcendent truth of the dharma to bend back upon the world and engage human suffering at multiple levels—even the lowest, harshest, and most degrading levels—not in mere contemplation but in effective, relief-granting action illuminated by its own world-transcending goal.The special challenge facing Buddhism in our age is to stand up as an advocate for justice in the world, a voice of conscience for those victims of social, economic, and political injustice who cannot stand up and speak for themselves. This, in my view, is a deeply moral challenge marking a watershed in the modern expression of Buddhism. I believe it also points in a direction that Buddhism should take if it is to share in the Buddha’s ongoing mission to humanity.
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CJMacie, modified 6 Years ago at 9/19/15 9:00 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/19/15 8:59 AM

RE: A Challenge to Buddhists

Posts: 856 Join Date: 8/17/14 Recent Posts
Complex issue --

Is this Buddhist brahmavihara practice or Judeo-Christian social activism ("modern expression of Buddhism")?

Author, academic, Zen teacher David Loy has written and spoken on this issue.
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago at 9/19/15 11:03 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/19/15 11:03 AM

RE: A Challenge to Buddhists

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When you look at the date you can see it's just before the great recession. The middle class has weakened and many don't feel they are so comfortable. If they have a job they are afraid of losing it, or they already lost it and can't find a replacement. Much of the poor countries that have bigger problems there is an answer for. If they improve their politics and economics so that upward mobility and standards of living can increase then they will eventually hit our problems of boredom and stress which are leading causes of addiction for more affluent countries. To me the article is out of date and having a Buddhist Red Cross (which is fine BTW) doesn't see how many people are having trouble helping themselves. Most people who are Buddhists have enough on their plate to deal with. If someone is so rich and complacent then this challenge is for them.

I would be interested to see how Buddhists would want to solve causes and effects that make many countries a misery:
  • If dictators abuse their citizens and prevent their flourishing due to their own greed, hatred and delusion, then how do we defeat this cause and effect situation without some form of aggression (war, sanctions, protest, revolutions)?
Eva Nie, modified 6 Years ago at 9/19/15 11:32 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/19/15 11:32 PM

RE: A Challenge to Buddhists

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I see the state of the world as a natural outcome of the state of human consciousness in general.  IMO, if you want to improve the state of the world, then working on consciousness is getting at the root of the issue more than any other plan.  Plus there are already tons of other groups trying other plans, trying to fly food past corrupt govts so the starving actually get any of it, trying to lobby politicians to change their attitudes, etc. None of those tactics seem to be putting much of a dent in the problems either and many of those groups have very well established infrastructures and expertise.  The article seems to run on the assumption that if more Buddhist groups diverted resources in a different direction, they would maybe be able to put more of a dent in the problem sof the human condition than is currently happening, but that assumption is certainly debatable on many levels.
Darrell, modified 6 Years ago at 9/21/15 2:46 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/21/15 2:46 PM

RE: A Challenge to Buddhists

Posts: 143 Join Date: 2/22/15 Recent Posts
Chris,

At risk of revealing my ignorance, why Judeo-Christian specifically?
Darrell, modified 6 Years ago at 9/21/15 2:51 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/21/15 2:51 PM

RE: A Challenge to Buddhists

Posts: 143 Join Date: 2/22/15 Recent Posts
Richard,

I agree with you, mostly, that most people have enough on their plates, as you put it. Where I disagree, is that it isn't just Buddhists, it's most people. I think that your comment about the rich and complacent was probably the intended target. At least that's how it struck me, anyway.

I know it's an out of date article, but I felt it still has some relevance. Or so it appears to me. And in saying this, I have to be forthcoming. I have issues with the affluent, 3000.00 meditation retreat set. That's on me, of course, I am aware of that. so I have to think I was unconsciously striking out when I posted this.

Less than stellar motives, sadly.
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CJMacie, modified 6 Years ago at 9/21/15 3:40 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/21/15 3:38 PM

RE: A Challenge to Buddhists

Posts: 856 Join Date: 8/17/14 Recent Posts
Darrell:
Chris,
At risk of revealing my ignorance, why Judeo-Christian specifically?


That's the framework this author uses -- Eastern worldviews in contrast with Western "Abrahamic' religions" (what Christianity, Judeism, Islam have in common). Bhikku Bodhi's efforts (and others' in Western Buddhist activism) obviously fits that mold.

http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/self-transformation-social-transformation?print=yes

or among other articles / writings at:

http://www.davidloy.org/articles.html

http://www.davidloy.org/writing.html
Darrell, modified 6 Years ago at 9/21/15 9:49 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/21/15 9:49 PM

RE: A Challenge to Buddhists

Posts: 143 Join Date: 2/22/15 Recent Posts
Funny how it's always that sort of dichotomy.
Eva Nie, modified 6 Years ago at 9/21/15 11:43 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/21/15 11:43 PM

An

Posts: 831 Join Date: 3/23/14 Recent Posts
I suspect that as Buddhism becomes more popular, it becomes more popular in all it's aspects, poor people going it on the cheap, rich people going to fancier retreats, and everyone in between.  And there's always lots of ways to look at it.  You could complain those rich people should spend more money directly on charity or you could be glad that they are spending some money on Buddhist causes instead of no money like in the past.  And maybe with the influence of Buddhism, those rich people will spend a tad more on charity than they would have otherwise, who knows!  Anyway, I am not sure how much finger pointing and moralizing really changes behavior among the rich or even among people in general, although it may sometimes drive behavior underground a bit.  But realistically, the rich will likely continue to spend money on stuff they personally feel is fun for them, be it fancy Buddhist retreats, ferarris, or whatever. 

There is a saying, you catch more flies with honey!  IMO, the fancy Buddhist retreats are a spectacular idea.  The rich who run the world are exactly who it would be a great idea to lure in and hope they can become even a few percent better people on this Earth.  So yeah, why not make the environment comfortable for them, let the sangha in charge make a few extra dollars, and hope the rich also expand their horizons a bit, seems like a win win situation to me.  ;-P 
-Eva
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CJMacie, modified 6 Years ago at 9/22/15 5:53 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/22/15 5:40 AM

RE: A Challenge to Buddhists

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Darrell:
Funny how it's always that sort of dichotomy.

I was just pointing out there is a noticeable association of social activism and part of (at least American) Insight/Vipassana-Movement modernist Buddhism. Bhikkhu Bodhi spoke a couple of times over the last several years at a local meditation group ( IMSB ). 1st time talking strictly Dhamma (great talk!). Then last time he came it was a formal presentation of Global Buddhist Relief, with slide show, appeal for donations, etc. It was s/w surprising. Then a bit later, guest speaker at the same meditation group was David Loy, on this topic of the cultural-historical overview of such phenomena. I was also s/w surprised, tho from my background in historical studies, he presented a good case.

Just yesterday (Sunday), I was attending the meditation and talk (by guest speaker Thanissaro Bhikkhu – that's why I was there) at IMC (Redwood City, CA); among the string of opening announcments was one about some upcoming event in San Fransicso, with Arinna Weisman and concerning activism with respect to racism, sexism, etc., etc. By this point, I wasn't so surprised.

About 10 years ago, the Taliban (Islamic) in Afghanistan blew-up 80-foot high ancient Buddha statues. Just last week, ISIS blew-up 2000-year old Summarian temples. Various Christian sects are always trying to save the world. Calvinist sects centuries ago (in Switzerland, Germany, Flemish lands, England, the Puritans in the USA,…) destroyed statues, stained-glass windows, musical instruments in churches (and ruined English cusine for centuries by outlawing making it tasty). Extremists, with a strong foothold in the current government, in Israel are systematically squeezing out Palistinians out of Jerusalem and the West Bank…

– all picture-perfect illustrations of unending karma and rebirth at work, I guess.

On the other hand, Buddhism played a major role in ancient Indian political culture (in the Mauyran reign of Ashoka who converted to Buddhism, all religious sects were tolerated, encouraged to get along together), and in medieval China (the great fourishing of culture and tolerance under Buddhist influence in the Tang Dynasty). Actually these not unlike that uinque period in Western culture when the Muslims, Jews, and Christians all got along well in the great cultural flourish in Corbodian Spain. As Alec Guiness, as Prince Faisal, in that memorable scene in 'Lawrence of Arabia' – sighs "Ah, the gardens of Córdoba".

Win some, lose some – history marches on…
Darrell, modified 6 Years ago at 9/24/15 2:54 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/24/15 2:54 PM

RE: A Challenge to Buddhists

Posts: 143 Join Date: 2/22/15 Recent Posts
Chris,

I don't know if this is what you're driving at or not, but reading your reply, it seems there is a great deal of wisdom in leaving Buddhism to do what it does best. And allow the changes in awareness and consciousness, as mentioned by Eva, to be the force that affects change. I'm reminded of some family I have who are members of Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A. has a set of principles that are designed to keep A.A. intact for those who need it. And as I understand it, basically it boils down to doing what they are intended to do, and what they do best, and leave outside issues, well, outside.

And as you point out, history marches on. In a world of interconnected and interdependent cause and effect, these things take their own trajectory, lamenting over them is ultimately an attachement, and a source of pain and suffering.
Darrell, modified 6 Years ago at 9/24/15 2:57 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 9/24/15 2:57 PM

RE: An

Posts: 143 Join Date: 2/22/15 Recent Posts
It would be difficult to argue those points with you, Eva. Even if I wanted to. It really boils down to self/selfishness and jealousy on my part. I wish I could have access to those places, those retreats and (some, but not all of) those teachers.

First I post an article that is outdated, then I show my butt by revealing a childish move based on self centeredness. Not one of my better moments.

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