My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Alleviating worldly suffering along the way.

My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby Seeker of Wisdom » Thu Apr 17, 2014 2:40 pm

Below are some of my thoughts on engaged Buddhism. But before I begin, I have to confess that I have not read much about it. My understanding of engaged Buddhism comes from the little I have read and my involvement with a Taiwanese Buddhist organization called Tzu Chi. If my writing has offended the sensitivity of those who are passionate about this subject, I apologize in advance.

I feel that engaged Buddhism is a reaction and response to the turmoil of the early 20st century and the encroachment to Christianity. I think that while engaged Buddhism must have been motivated in a significant degree by the desire to alleviate human suffering, there is also a hidden, less noticeable influence of ego at work. In another word, and put it simply, Buddhists didn't want to be out-competed by Christians during the early 20st century. And to prevent such a fate from happening, they have decided to copy the Christian. If Christians build school, Buddhist should do the same. If Christians build hospitals, Buddhists should match it. If Catholic nuns brave the battlefields to save and tend to the wounded soldiers, Buddhists must out-do them. If Christians become ardent passionate political activists of a particular cause that is informed by their Biblical principles, Buddhists felt that they have to do the same and espouse some kind of environmental, social agenda that resonates with Buddhist teachings. And from this effort was born engaged Buddhism.

In business competition, we know that for a corporation to stay relevant, the corporation will have to offer a product/service that people will want. To do that, corporation have to identify a niche market. Whether or not this niche market is suitable for the corporation depends on whether or not this niche market is compatible to the nature of this corporation. In another word, does the corporation have the skills/infrastructure/ability/organization capacity/value to offer that will allow them to claim this niche market? If yes, then corporations should attack it. If not, give it up and move onto another potential niche market. The worst WORST thing that a corporation will want to do is to copy their competitor. SouthWest airline disrupted the airline industry with their innovative strategy. Incumbent airlines tried to adapt by mindlessly copying SouthWest's strategy, and the result is decades of continuing loss making which requires millions and millions of dollars subsidies paid for by us taxpayers.

Mindless copying, therefore, simply doesn't work! And this is the lesson that I think Buddhists have to remember. Just because Christians build schools and hospitals doesn't mean we have to match them to prove our worth. Whoever said that people of faith must serve the world by becoming doctors? Whoever said that the charitable actions of the Christians must be the standard by which all other religion should be judged?

I like to posit that Buddhists need to do a self reflection, and really examine exactly what is it that Buddhism has to offer to the world. Based on this examination, we can identify a "niche market" and work towards "occupying" it.

So, I think it is important to brainstorm on exactly what Buddhism has to offer.

In my opinion, Buddhism has much to offer to the world. The most important thing that Buddhism can offer to the world is the science of mind, consciousness, and the nature of reality. Buddhism has A LOT to teach to the world about development of emotional intelligence. Buddhism can also teach the world much about psychology and neurosciences. Buddhism has A LOT to teach about physics and the nature of reality. I am sure many of you have heard by now that physicists are beginning to discover new insights that Buddhists have proclaimed thousands of years ago already.

So the above are the knowledge that Buddhist can offer to the rest of the world. But how can that be translated into actual actions? Well, Buddhist organizations should team up with physicists, psychologists and neurologists to study the nature of human mind, emotions, consciousness and the nature of reality. Buddhists should all be encouraged to study physics, and psychology. Buddhists can has A LOT to offer to psychologists. In fact, in the future, maybe a hundred years from now, I won't be surprised if 80 percent of the psychologists in the world are all Buddhists. Buddhists should promote mindfulness meditation in schools so that a planet-ful of population of students are all educated in such training. Imagine what the implication is for all sentient beings on earth when all future stewards of earth have been doing mindfulness meditation since they are young! Buddhists should offer meditation trainings to prisoners and then build on that to promote prison reforms! I heard that the state of California cut back on budget for education so that more money can be channeled to expand prison capacity because of ever increasing number of criminals. That is absurd! What should be done is to get these prisoners to meditate so that as many of them as possible can go into parole and lead a productive life instead of being a drag on society's valuable resources. Buddhists should lobby to build farms on the prison so that prisoners spend half a day farming for their own food, while spending the rest of the time meditating. Buddhists can also launch training programs to try to purify capitalists and politicians of their heart so that these people of power can use their position in society to promote good. This can be done in a retreat sort of setting. Buddhists can also offer meditation classes to patients. I don't know much about cancer, but I read somewhere that most disease, including cancers, are actually caused by a mind not in balance, a mind/heart/body that is stressed out by the ordeals of life. Imagine what meditation can do for these patients if a sick mind is the cause of their disease?

Buddhists and Buddhist teachings have MUCH to offer to the world. But we need to offer what we are good at offering instead of trying to copy Christians and Catholics and try to outcompete them in building schools and hospitals. But to do this requires an honest examination of our own religion, its teachings, and what they can do for the world. In my opinion, this is how engaged Buddhism should move forward. Mindless copying simply does NOT work!
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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby Qianxi » Thu Apr 17, 2014 3:36 pm

Have you found that the schools or hospitals that Tzu Chi builds are not needed because the market is already flooded with Christian hospitals and schools? That'd be interesting if that were the case.
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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby Gwenn Dana » Thu Apr 17, 2014 4:14 pm

What Buddhism has to offer to the material world? Niche market? Competition? Marketing? Purify capitalists? Is this some sort of preaching? Omm-Crusades?

Who are you and what are you talking about?
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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby kirtu » Thu Apr 17, 2014 4:34 pm

Well first and foremost, Buddhism has lovingkindness and compassion as a way of life to offer a compassionless and hostile world. As part of this Buddhists and Buddhist groups can offer material aid to the world.

Then it can offer taming the mind to restrain negativities and to begin purifying the mind.

I was somewhat disappointed with Tzu Chi in the Washington DC area in an attempt to get help for two homeless men that I undertook in 2010. Basically we were divided by concepts. The people that I spoke with explicitly saw themselves as a "Chinese charity" and said so. They wanted to know why I had called them. I had similarly unhappy experiences with a Zen group that is known for helping homeless people (although they were a long shot since they weren't located in the DC area). The reality is that there are very few Buddhist charitable organizations and in general they cannot respond to the background radiation of the crisis of need in poverty stricken USA. Some groups can respond very locally. Most groups are set up to respond to big events in specific areas because they get donors for those events and can get volunteers for that as well.

Buddhist groups in the US are just not equipped to respond to everyday crises. In dominate Buddhist populations they may be able to do so.

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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby yan kong » Thu Apr 17, 2014 5:48 pm

That's one rather cynical way to view things. Why couldn't Buddhists have been "inspired" by this sort of compassion in the Christian community?
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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:05 pm

Just remember that people get into Buddhism usually to practice a religion, not necessarily to do charity work or neurology.
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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby kirtu » Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:18 pm

Indrajala wrote:Just remember that people get into Buddhism usually to practice a religion, not necessarily to do charity work or neurology.


But people volunteer or work at charities to help the suffering world. Unfortunately at the moment in the West, Buddhist groups generally do not have the resources yet to actively help alleviate suffering except in some emergencies or some specific cases.

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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby pemachophel » Thu Apr 17, 2014 7:50 pm

In Boulder, CO, Buddhists from various Sanghas prepare dinner and feed the homeless at a local (Christian) church once a month. This started after some of the Christian churches involved in relief activities asked, "Where are the Buddhists?"

Lama Surya Das has taught that His students should meditate every day, do at least one retreat per year, and volunteer for some (multi-day) charitable work at least once per year. Not sure how many of His students heed this advice, but at least He gives this teaching.

Back in the early 1970s, my Tibetan Teachers in NYC had us hand out sandwiches to the homeless on the Bowery at least once per month (as well as releasing fish from Fulton Fish Market once a month).

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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby Kim O'Hara » Fri Apr 18, 2014 3:23 am

Hi, SoW,
An interesting post. :smile:
Seeker of Wisdom wrote:Below are some of my thoughts on engaged Buddhism. But before I begin, I have to confess that I have not read much about it.

Can I say, as kindly as possible, that that is not a good start?
Seeker of Wisdom wrote: My understanding of engaged Buddhism comes from the little I have read and my involvement with a Taiwanese Buddhist organization called Tzu Chi.

In Taiwan? Or somewhere else?
It does make a difference, since (as other posts have implied) the role of a Buddhist charity in a non-Buddhist country is going to be quite different from its role in a Buddhist country.
Seeker of Wisdom wrote:In my opinion, Buddhism has much to offer to the world. The most important thing that Buddhism can offer to the world is the science of mind, consciousness, and the nature of reality. Buddhism has A LOT to teach to the world about development of emotional intelligence. Buddhism can also teach the world much about psychology and neurosciences. Buddhism has A LOT to teach about physics and the nature of reality. I am sure many of you have heard by now that physicists are beginning to discover new insights that Buddhists have proclaimed thousands of years ago already.

I will go along with two of these three, but not with physics. Buddhism can't engage with modern physical sciences on their own ground because its fundamental assumptions are so different, and it also carries a lot of baggage in the form of ancient cosmologies. At most, it can inspire scientists to explore new paradigms - but it can't then contribute to the hard work of justifying them in scientific terms.

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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby Seeker of Wisdom » Fri Apr 18, 2014 3:45 am

pemachophel wrote:In Boulder, CO, Buddhists from various Sanghas prepare dinner and feed the homeless at a local (Christian) church once a month. This started after some of the Christian churches involved in relief activities asked, "Where are the Buddhists?"

Lama Surya Das has taught that His students should meditate every day, do at least one retreat per year, and volunteer for some (multi-day) charitable work at least once per year. Not sure how many of His students heed this advice, but at least He gives this teaching.

Back in the early 1970s, my Tibetan Teachers in NYC had us hand out sandwiches to the homeless on the Bowery at least once per month (as well as releasing fish from Fulton Fish Market once a month).

:namaste:


This is exactly what I am talking about. Did the Buddhists in the Sanghas started to feed the homeless in reaction to the challenge that came from the Christians churches when they asked "where are the Buddhists"? If yes, what motivated the Buddhists to respond? Was it a genuine wake up call on the part of the Buddhists that they should do charitable work? Was it motivated by genuine compassion? Or was it simply motivated by some egoistical desire not to be seen as a cool hearted religion? I think this is an very important question to examine if engaged Buddhism is to move forward in a productive way.

Why don't Buddhist have a tradition of charitable work like Christians do? Or rather, why did Buddhist tradition of charitable work not emerge on its own? Why did it wait until Christian's charitable work appear on the scene before Buddhist started to do it too? Is it because there's something about the nature of Buddhism that is different from Christianity?

Christianity is an outward and extrovert religion that is bend on converting people. It is a religion that believes in an external savior (Jesus). Buddhism is opposite, believing in self liberation through turning within and meditate. It is an introvert religion. Buddhists also realize, unlike the Christians, that nothing in the world is permanent. The futility of feeding homeless once a month doesn't do these homeless any good. It doesn't cut the root of suffering. Could this be why Buddhists doesn't have a tradition of charitable work until they encountered what the Christians are doing? Again, this is a question that we have to examine honestly in order to find a role for engaged Buddhism, one where we can contribute to society in a way that is based on what our own religion can offer to the world, instead of mindlessly copying what people of other faith are doing.

I am not against charitable work at all. I think its great that Buddhists are doing that. But I believe that the best charitable work Buddhists can do for the world is educating the world in meditation. Promote it in education, in work place, among the police, in prison, in hospitals, among the psychologists, promote it everywhere!

But perhaps the problem is that promoting meditation is something that is best done by those who have practiced meditation for a long time. So yes, what the Buddhists can offer to the rest of the world is meditation, but there isn't enough qualified teachers for it. The rest of us who call ourselves Buddhists realize that we are not qualified to do so, yet we feel the need to contribute to society. So we decide that we should do charitable work like the Christians. Again that's really great. But while you continue to do charitable work, please continue to meditate. Make it an aspiration to take your meditation to an advanced level so that you can wonder share your experience with others, so that you can teach, so that you can promote meditation in schools, in prisons, everywhere! We Buddhists have the potential to offer a lot to the world by doing charitable work, but we have the potential to do every MORE by promoting meditation.

All I am asking is that we examine closely and honestly what we can offer to the world given the nature and teaching of Buddhism, instead of reacting to the challenges of Christians and feeling compelled to do chairtable work just because people of other faith are doing it too, and so we feel we should do them too.
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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Fri Apr 18, 2014 6:17 am

kirtu wrote:But people volunteer or work at charities to help the suffering world. Unfortunately at the moment in the West, Buddhist groups generally do not have the resources yet to actively help alleviate suffering except in some emergencies or some specific cases.

Kirt


I don't see that changing anytime soon. Most Buddhists in the west don't put much money into Dharma institutions to begin with.
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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby rory » Fri Apr 18, 2014 7:38 am

You all sound like Christians to me with your charitable work, maybe because I have a Jewish background and we give for things: hospitals, universities, we don't approve of soup kitchen charity.

Anyway as a Buddhist, the best thing you can do is spread the Dharma and Buddhist values that's the quickest way to end suffering by putting someone on the path to Buddhahood. And I disagree,especially for Nichiren Buddhists its pretty easy to spread the Dharma and we chant; it costs $0 and is a lay practice.

So what to my mind is a genuinely Buddhist charity (and lets not forget that in the old days monks would build bridges, roads for people and preach the dharma on them to the poor and prisoners). Well roads and infrastructure, education and preaching the Dharma.

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Re: My thoughts on engaged Buddhism

Postby Gwenn Dana » Fri Apr 18, 2014 8:53 am

If somebody is hungry, then give him some food. He cannot eat words, and starvation is one of the reasons one should not have to go to hospital for.

Denying hungry people food while building an environment where they cannot find their own is pure sadism. A disease of capital accumulation.
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