Socially Engaged Buddhism

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Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 2:07 pm

Socially engaged Buddhism might be understood best as Buddhist institutions organized around humanitarian and charity work for the betterment and welfare of society in contrast to more traditional institutions which, at least on paper, chiefly direct their efforts towards liberation from saṃsāra with the tacit intent to eventually abandon society. This would mean to effectively isolate oneself from society and pursue enlightenment, perhaps with the intent of eventually being in an optimal position to liberate beings rather than providing care which is ultimately only temporary.

Socially engaged Buddhism would not ever think to abandon society as their primary activities are organized around being actively involved in society.

This new development makes for Buddhist organizations which are immediately relevant to the common person, modern and very much in the public sphere.

However, one concern is that within such an arrangement people, particularly monastics, are not really in a position to practice meditation or cultivate wisdom full-time. The counter argument is that humanitarian work nevertheless generates merit and with the right mindset constitutes a practice. Work can be a kind of practice.

Nevertheless, this is in stark contrast to a lot of classical thought which basically says that while you should be of benefit to innumerable beings, you are not really capable of being much help to them unless you have attainments and wisdom. To accomplish such things requires extensive experience in meditation and wisdom. This is why traditional institutions generally direct their energies towards transcending the world rather than being an active part in it.

One criticism against such thinking is that Buddhism can and sometimes has become socially irrelevant as a result of not being part of the public sphere.

So it begs the question what is best. Is devoting your resources to being a large part of the public sphere ultimately beneficial or is it better to focus on practice and liberation at the cost of being somewhat alienated from your host society?
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby muni » Sat Nov 03, 2012 2:39 pm

Huseng wrote:So
So it begs the question what is best. Is devoting your resources to being a large part of the public sphere ultimately beneficial or is it better to focus on practice and liberation at the cost of being somewhat alienated from your host society?


Interesting! :namaste: Practices can differ.

Questions arise. How can through nondual practice, action for welfare for all and everyone not be?

How can there not be engagements while not leaving practice at the same time?

Interdependency-emptiness? How to separate from society? Maybe to can recognize how all appears and is, but then by recognition, what should there be able to separate?
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 2:58 pm

muni wrote:Questions arise. How can through nondual practice, action for welfare for all and everyone not be?


The idea is that despite leaving society the yogi never forgets those they left behind and thus through this compassion they are driven to cultivate themselves.

Interdependency-emptiness? How to separate from society? Maybe to can recognize how all appears and is, but then by recognition, what should there be able to separate?


From a philosophical angle that might make sense, though on the ground in real life it isn't so easy.

If society is inherently evil, then to be an active part of it is to become tainted by it. A realized being would not be tainted, but human institutions are made up of flawed people. Institutions cannot avoid being tainted by the mire.

I say society is evil because social order and economic prosperity are achieved via violence and the threat of violence. A government maintains order by way of having a monopoly on violence. Economic prosperity, especially in the modern day, basically amounts to environmental destruction, which is violence against the ecosystem.

Even in a pre-modern setting it is much the same. Kings establish social order through laws which are enforced through violence. Borders are established through wars. Bureaucracies are organized through competition and class struggle. Someone at the bottom has to suffer to support those above them. Exploitation is how civilizations operate.

Basically, if you're actively involved in society you're tainted by evil just by virtue of how a society is established and functions.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby muni » Sat Nov 03, 2012 3:32 pm

Thank you Huseng.
Then in simple words I should say: our suffering mind involved in society, that mind can be label itself Buddhist as much as any other label, is unfortunately joining the harmful movie. A teaching said: avoid "evil friends" since this can destroy compassion and without compassion there is no practice at all, no Dharma at all.
Therefore one should be very carefull for influences and have a genuine guidance by a realized master.
He/she can the best advice us how to do in accordance with possibilities, capacities and so on.

Regarding ecology/economy I saw this useful consideration:

"Only after the last tree has fallen
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been cut
Only then Will we realize
That money cannot be eaten".
:namaste:
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 3:52 pm

muni wrote:A teaching said: avoid "evil friends" since this can destroy compassion and without compassion there is no practice at all, no Dharma at all.


In principle then we should be detached from society since most humans are naturally inclined towards misdeeds and ignoble things. Collectively it is even worse because of the amplified force thereof. As Aryadeva states,


Humans for the most part
Are involved in things ignoble.
Therefore, most ordinary beings
Will surely go to the miserable realms.


- Aryadeva in Four Hundred Stanzas
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby lowlydog » Sat Nov 03, 2012 3:55 pm

Hi huseng,

Anything we consider evil or turn into a war or fight against is doomed to failure.

From: A New Earth:

War is a mind-set, and all action that comes out of such a mind-set will either strengthen the enemy, the percieved evil, or, if the war is won, will create a new enemy, a new evil equal to and often worse than the one that was defeated. There is a deep interrelatedness between your state of consciousness and your external reality. When you are in the grip of a mind-set such as "war", your perceptions become completely selective as well as distorted. In other words, you will see only what you want to see and then misinterpret it. You can imagine what kind of action comes out of such a delusional system. Or, instead of imagining it, watch the news on TV tonight.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 4:03 pm

lowlydog wrote:Hi huseng,

Anything we consider evil or turn into a war or fight against is doomed to failure.


I'm not advocating any wars against society. Not at all.

I'm saying society is inherently evil because it is founded on violence, class struggle and exploitation. It might be a necessary evil, but it is still evil nevertheless.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby lowlydog » Sat Nov 03, 2012 4:15 pm

Evil is a perception, the root cause of all form is ignorance.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 4:32 pm

lowlydog wrote:Evil is a perception, the root cause of all form is ignorance.


That doesn't address any of the problems I've outlined above.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby futerko » Sat Nov 03, 2012 4:57 pm

I think the term "evil" is a bit too strong and polarised. I think "misguided" maybe a better way to view it.

Also, there isn't really such a thing as "society" - just a collection of individuals doing their thing - but it is a double-edged sword insofar as the more one perceives the social, the more one hears the call to conform. An example is the cosmetics industry, which tries to sell products on the basis that we all desire to appear beautiful, but unwittingly creates the idea that beauty is good and ugliness is bad - really it is the individual who heeds that message and perceives a demand from "society". The more that we heed that "demand" the more "real" it becomes - so to answer the point you raise - yes, I believe that as a Buddhist one must separate oneself from that discourse.

One thing that strikes me is the way that charities work in developed nations, which I see as the metaphorical equivalent of shooting someone and then several months later mailing them a band-aid as an afterthought. It addresses the symptom on a very superficial level to allow us to feel like we are doing something, while at the same time allowing us to ignore the fact that we are causing the problems in the first place with our lifestyle demands and aggressive economic policies towards them.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 5:12 pm

futerko wrote:I think the term "evil" is a bit too strong and polarised. I think "misguided" maybe a better way to view it.


I use the term "evil" as an antonym to "good" or "benevolent".

Society, being a complex tangle of human relationships and resource exchanges that generally benefits enough interested parties to justify its existence, is generally established via violence, class struggle and exploitation. Hence I call it evil. A necessary evil and one that pays nice dividends, but ultimately not an enterprise of benevolence and virtue.


Also, there isn't really such a thing as "society" - just a collection of individuals doing their thing - but it is a double-edged sword insofar as the more one perceives the social, the more one hears the call to conform.


There is such a thing as societies, though their complexity differs from place to place.

One thing that strikes me is the way that charities work in developed nations, which I see as the metaphorical equivalent of shooting someone and then several months later mailing them a band-aid as an afterthought. It addresses the symptom on a very superficial level to allow us to feel like we are doing something, while at the same time allowing us to ignore the fact that we are causing the problems in the first place with our lifestyle demands and aggressive economic policies towards them.


Back home there is something called the "Christmas Cheer Board" which distributes donated toys and frozen turkeys to low-income households. A lot of people feel sorry that maybe these poor kids might not get any toys for Christmas and/or be derived of a traditional turkey dinner, so a lot of resources and manpower are put into the program, yet the suffering inflicted by NATO on civilians (children) in Afghanistan and elsewhere escapes most people.

After being away from home and having lived for a bit in the third world I've really come to see how ####ing decadent and ignorant my home culture and its people are.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby lowlydog » Sat Nov 03, 2012 5:33 pm

Huseng wrote:
lowlydog wrote:Evil is a perception, the root cause of all form is ignorance.


That doesn't address any of the problems I've outlined above.


It addresses all of Samsara, from the subtlest most pleasant plane to its grossest most hellish.

We're here to develope mental calmness, composure and evenness of temper, in any difficult situation.

We're here to purify the mind.

If it was all sunshine and lollypops we would have no desire to practice.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby futerko » Sat Nov 03, 2012 5:38 pm

Huseng wrote:
futerko wrote:I think the term "evil" is a bit too strong and polarised. I think "misguided" maybe a better way to view it.


I use the term "evil" as an antonym to "good" or "benevolent".

Society, being a complex tangle of human relationships and resource exchanges that generally benefits enough interested parties to justify its existence, is generally established via violence, class struggle and exploitation. Hence I call it evil. A necessary evil and one that pays nice dividends, but ultimately not an enterprise of benevolence and virtue.


Yes, my point exactly, good versus evil is a totally dualistic way of looking at things. To me, the term evil suggests an intent to harm without benefit when it is more complex than that.

Huseng wrote:
futerko wrote:Also, there isn't really such a thing as "society" - just a collection of individuals doing their thing - but it is a double-edged sword insofar as the more one perceives the social, the more one hears the call to conform.


There is such a thing as societies, though their complexity differs from place to place.


Is it "society" itself that decides, or the collection of individuals? This "evil" that society does cannot really be attributed to an intention of the thing called "society" but rather seems to be a side-effect, like an unintended consequence - take for example the idea that anorexia is a result of the social demand for us to be thin, is that something which "society" has intended, or merely the result of certain general categories of thinking? Also, who is it that imposes this demand? Is it society that forces us to be that way, or is it the person who cares what "society" thinks that makes it into a rule?

Huseng wrote:
futerko wrote:One thing that strikes me is the way that charities work in developed nations, which I see as the metaphorical equivalent of shooting someone and then several months later mailing them a band-aid as an afterthought. It addresses the symptom on a very superficial level to allow us to feel like we are doing something, while at the same time allowing us to ignore the fact that we are causing the problems in the first place with our lifestyle demands and aggressive economic policies towards them.


Back home there is something called the "Christmas Cheer Board" which distributes donated toys and frozen turkeys to low-income households. A lot of people feel sorry that maybe these poor kids might not get any toys for Christmas and/or be derived of a traditional turkey dinner, so a lot of resources and manpower are put into the program...


Yes, no doubt some good is done here, but this raises certain issues. What is being done to help these people generally? Is it possible that the charity makes it appear as if some good is being done when really it is just the tip of the iceberg, and the fact that it is only at Christmas when anyone cares when the rest of the year they are forgotten or worse? Is it not the case that the people donating because they can afford it precisely an indication of the sustained inequality that created the poverty in the first place?
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 5:58 pm

futerko wrote:Yes, my point exactly, good versus evil is a totally dualistic way of looking at things. To me, the term evil suggests an intent to harm without benefit when it is more complex than that.


You can participate and support evil without knowing about it.

For instance buying an iPhone and giving it to a friend as a present is supporting a company and industry which brutalizes and exploits workers in China.

Unfortunately in saṃsāra you have to create negative karma just to survive, but be that as it may we should not rationalize it away as anything other than what it is. It might be hard to swallow, but we're all accessories to horrific suffering inflicted on fellow humans and sentient beings. I might think I'm more pure for not eating meat, but nevertheless how many bugs died in the production, processing and transportation of the rice and tofu in my bowl?



This "evil" that society does cannot really be attributed to an intention of the thing called "society" but rather seems to be a side-effect, like an unintended consequence - take for example the idea that anorexia is a result of the social demand for us to be thin, is that something which "society" has intended, or merely the result of certain general categories of thinking? Also, who is it that imposes this demand? Is it society that forces us to be that way, or is it the person who cares what "society" thinks that makes it into a rule?


Societies and civilization arise because of affliction. As I pointed out it is not so much that there is an intention to commit misdeeds in order to establish society, but just that for a society to exist there must be violence and exploitation, the results of which are quite handsome to enough parties to justify the disagreeable sides to the project.

As the Buddha taught initially humanity was without ideas of property and ownership, but some men decided they wanted more rice than the others and from that people started demarcating land and property, which required kingship, laws and administration. The whole evolution of society arose from increasing afflictions in humanity. This is incidentally the principle behind kaliyuga: increasing afflictions in people means gradual degeneration.



Yes, no doubt some good is done here, but this raises certain issues. What is being done to help these people generally?


Most people back home, even the poor, consume countless times the amount of energy the rural poor in the Third World do. If they decide they don't want to work, the state gives them enough money to live on. Poor people in Canada are well-fed and many are obese. They don't need much more material aid.


Is it possible that the charity makes it appear as if some good is being done when really it is just the tip of the iceberg, and the fact that it is only at Christmas when anyone cares when the rest of the year they are forgotten or worse? Is it not the case that the people donating because they can afford it precisely an indication of the sustained inequality that created the poverty in the first place?


Most of the "poor" in Canada are not really poor. I say this as someone who grew up in the lower working class and thought for the longest time I was poor. In a country like Canada the poor are part of the global aristocracy, though they're unaware of it in their gilded cages. If they get sick, they have world class medical care available for free. If they need food but have no money, there are food banks. Without working a day in your life you can still have a comfortable heated apartment with fridge, hot shower and 24/7 electricity plus maybe air conditioning. That's considered poor where I come from, though elsewhere in the world it is what their upper middle-class get to enjoy.

It is within such decadence that mental illness arises and people fall into perpetual neurosis thinking they've got it rough while building a long narrative about how either society or their family failed them.

Meanwhile their government is responsible both directly and indirectly for murdering foreign nationals...
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby lowlydog » Sat Nov 03, 2012 6:27 pm

Husang said, "It is within such decadence that mental illness arises...."

Malarky! The poor and needy create the same drama.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 6:48 pm

lowlydog wrote:Husang said, "It is within such decadence that mental illness arises...."

Malarky! The poor and needy create the same drama.


In the First World we have diseases of affluence like heart disease and diabetes as a result of gluttony.

We also have neurosis from decadence.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby futerko » Sat Nov 03, 2012 7:00 pm

Huseng wrote:...For instance buying an iPhone and giving it to a friend as a present is supporting a company and industry which brutalizes and exploits workers in China...


This is the basis of my point. The way I see it, it would be preferable to not "buy in" in the first place, however we are born into it - Buddhism, among other things, gives us the tools to extract ourselves.

Huseng wrote:We also have neurosis from decadence.


I agree, and I think that is what drives this unchecked demand for progress, growth, and profit which has no clear goal other than to avoid the fate of those who lag behind.

To get back to the original question, I think it is preferable to become aware, help make others aware, and simply opt out rather than running around using up resources to try to band-aid the situation. I'm faily sure that the third-world would be able to stand on its own two feet if it wasn't kept in that position by developed countries' explotation.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 03, 2012 7:23 pm

futerko wrote:This is the basis of my point. The way I see it, it would be preferable to not "buy in" in the first place, however we are born into it - Buddhism, among other things, gives us the tools to extract ourselves.


This often means detaching yourself from society and coming to exist on the fringes of it.

Society is like a mire and the more you sink into it, the more you are soiled by it.

This begs the question then about socially engaged Buddhism.



To get back to the original question, I think it is preferable to become aware, help make others aware, and simply opt out rather than running around using up resources to try to band-aid the situation. I'm faily sure that the third-world would be able to stand on its own two feet if it wasn't kept in that position by developed countries' explotation.


But then to not exploit the Third World would mean a decreased standard of living for many others, and hence the political will is there to continue on business as usual.

This is how our present global society works. It is a socio-political arrangement where a hierarchy of people have greater access to unearned wealth than those below them. Even if it means the lower people being oppressed or worse, it doesn't really matter much to those above because self-interest dictates that the people above will either consciously or unconsciously work towards maintaining the wealth pump, because to do otherwise would mean losing their place in the pecking order and hence have less access to resources.

It really is an unfair arrangement, but that's how the world works. It is inherently flawed, evil and afflicted.

To preach equality and human rights in such a system while standing on the backs of those below you is akin to 18th century American slave owners saying, "Give me liberty or death!" Or perhaps the classical philosophers who discussed at length "justice" while depending on slave labour and aggressive conquests for their civilizations to function.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby lowlydog » Sat Nov 03, 2012 7:49 pm

Husang wrote, "In the First World we have diseases of affluence like heart disease and diabetes as a result of gluttony.
We also have neurosis from decadence."

If you focus on things like this, or corporate gluttony, you will have fallen into a trap, one of many on this Noble 8-fold path. Don't make these things into a problem, fight, or war.

We all experience irritation and disharmony with our surroundings from time to time, and when we suffer from these we make misery our companion, and the atmosphere around us becomes unhappy, and all those who come in contact with us are affected.

Work to purify the mind, pure mind has no problems, no enemies. Pure mind is happy. :smile:
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby futerko » Sat Nov 03, 2012 8:47 pm

Huseng wrote:
futerko wrote:This is the basis of my point. The way I see it, it would be preferable to not "buy in" in the first place, however we are born into it - Buddhism, among other things, gives us the tools to extract ourselves.


This often means detaching yourself from society and coming to exist on the fringes of it.

Society is like a mire and the more you sink into it, the more you are soiled by it.

This begs the question then about socially engaged Buddhism.


Technology can be very useful, I like having a computer, mobile phone, carbon framed bicycle, and access to a car, but I don't feel the need to get a new one every 6 months just to play one-upmanship with "society" by viewing these things as status symbols or fashion accessories.

Of course industries want us to buy their stuff and they push that, but that does not then entail that "society" dictates we should act in that way.

Families also push us to conform to their expectations, but ultimately it is up to us how much control we let them have.

I don't see these things as inherently bad or evil, but there are "traps" that are easy to fall into which can lead to abuse. Ultimately I think it is up to us as individuals to become aware.


Huseng wrote:
futerko wrote:To get back to the original question, I think it is preferable to become aware, help make others aware, and simply opt out rather than running around using up resources to try to band-aid the situation. I'm faily sure that the third-world would be able to stand on its own two feet if it wasn't kept in that position by developed countries' explotation.


But then to not exploit the Third World would mean a decreased standard of living for many others, and hence the political will is there to continue on business as usual.

This is how our present global society works. It is a socio-political arrangement where a hierarchy of people have greater access to unearned wealth than those below them. Even if it means the lower people being oppressed or worse, it doesn't really matter much to those above because self-interest dictates that the people above will either consciously or unconsciously work towards maintaining the wealth pump, because to do otherwise would mean losing their place in the pecking order and hence have less access to resources.

It really is an unfair arrangement, but that's how the world works. It is inherently flawed, evil and afflicted.

To preach equality and human rights in such a system while standing on the backs of those below you is akin to 18th century American slave owners saying, "Give me liberty or death!" Or perhaps the classical philosophers who discussed at length "justice" while depending on slave labour and aggressive conquests for their civilizations to function.


I don't think that it necessarily entails a huge decrease in standards of living, as my example above of replacing one's car less often, but it does require a serious rethink.
There will always be a degree of unfairness which is open to exploitation, there is no organisation or "conspiracy" here, it is not "society" or the "system" controlling these variables, I can remember cases where corporations have pulled out of third-world factories because of bad PR and those societies have suffered because of that. Of course industries will seek out the cheapest way to produce their goods, it is taking advantage of inequality and is unfair, but that doesn’t make it evil.

The problem as I see it is that the values of profit and growth are not balanced in any way.

In the U.K. we had a problem of riots not long ago. There was much talk afterwards of treating the symptoms rather than the cause. Obviously addressing the issue with policing, law, and prisons etc., while maintaining the status quo is not a real solution. The issue as I see it is between the "haves" and the "have-nots", with an increasing divide between rich and poor, and with the perception that those in power have themselves got there through illegitimate means. In other words, the value of profit, gain, and growth is in no way counterbalanced with any notion of integrity, so they set a pretty poor example, but this begs the question - just because they are selling out to be grasping, greedy, and power hungry, does that mean that everyone else should too?

One issue here is that the people who are poor and disenfranchised actually want what the others have rather than turning away from such a system. My own experience of this suggests there are 3 stages; at first you try to play the game and aspire to be like those you envy, then you reject them as evil and exploitative and rebel against the "system", but finally you find your own value system and ignore what others are chasing after and discover your own integrity.
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