Socially Engaged Buddhism

No holds barred discussion on the Buddhadharma. Argue about rebirth, karma, commentarial interpretations etc. Be nice to each other.

Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sun Nov 04, 2012 2:55 am

lowlydog wrote: 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:


How bourgeois. Ignore the suffering of others, pretending all is right provided we remain calm and content.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sun Nov 04, 2012 3:08 am

futerko wrote: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.



You already have access to these things as a result of others being exploited. Your computer, or parts of it, was probably manufactured by low paid workers.





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.



If you agree that there will always be unfairness, then you just demonstrate my point that human society is evil.

You insist that evil must be be intentional, but nevertheless the collective self-interest of a group of people nevertheless reveals itself often to be one of exploitation and violence.




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.


That's fine, but your own comfortable lifestyle in the UK is largely a result of the previous British imperialism. The wealth the UK enjoys is largely due to wars and exploitation of past times. India used to be one of the wealthiest regions of the world, for example, but European powers, particularly the British Empire, exploited it and funnelled much of its precious metals away. You can't be blamed for that, I know, but nevertheless your local society's opulence and comforts were obtained via violence and exploitation.

My whole point is that any given human society is inherently corrupt and evil, and to see it any other way is to sink into the mire.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby catmoon » Sun Nov 04, 2012 3:32 am

Huseng wrote:My whole point is that any given human society is inherently corrupt and evil, and to see it any other way is to sink into the mire.


I think one of the other ways you can look at it is to follow Dharma, deny the existence of inherent properties of things and recognize there is nothing inherently evil about society at all. By so doing, we open our minds to the positive possibilities.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sun Nov 04, 2012 3:47 am

catmoon wrote:
Huseng wrote:My whole point is that any given human society is inherently corrupt and evil, and to see it any other way is to sink into the mire.


I think one of the other ways you can look at it is to follow Dharma, deny the existence of inherent properties of things and recognize there is nothing inherently evil about society at all. By so doing, we open our minds to the positive possibilities.


This is naive and lets people ignore their own part as accessories to evil.

I'm not talking the emptiness of phenomena. Such approaches have their utility, but we're discussing reality on the ground -- on the conventional level. Real life as experienced by sentient beings.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby PorkChop » Sun Nov 04, 2012 3:57 am

Today I heard something, I believe it was a talk by HH the Dalai Lama on the Lam Rim, during the Q&A section...
Something to the effect of "When doing acts of kindness, without a true understanding of emptiness, our Compassion becomes....inconsistent".
That was about the first time I think I understood the viewpoint of really renouncing society to work on ourselves before helping others.

Later, when handing out water bottles to the homeless at a park with some of my friends from the temple, I heard something else that got me thinking.
My friend (my boxing coach) noticed that I was feeling shy around other people.
Before I could explain that I'm shy around other people I don't know and that it has nothing to do with other people he hit me with "you could be challenged with the same problems these guys are facing in another lifetime".
That one hit home too, made me realize that any offer for help would be appreciated, whether I felt I could accept it or not.

Of course, I could just go with what the Buddha said...
Dhammapada verse 122, the story of Bilalapadaka
No matter how small a good deed you may get to
do, don’t think that it is not important, for if you habitually
do small deeds, in the long run they will become big ones.”
Do not think lightly of doing good, saying
“A little will not affect me.” just as a water
jar is filled up by falling rain, drop by drop,
the wise one is filled up with merit by accumulating it little by little.


EDIT:
As far as waiting to do good, given my current circumstances and my capacity for giving versus waiting until I become a true bodhisattva, I do believe Dhammapada verse 116 is applicable:
Dhammapada verse 116, the Story of Culla Ekasataka
In the manner of performing virtuous, meritorious actions, be alert and act quickly.
Guard the mind against evil.
If one were to perform meritorious actions hesitantly,
his mind will begin to take delight in evil things.
Last edited by PorkChop on Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:12 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby greentara » Sun Nov 04, 2012 3:58 am

Huseng, "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"

I agree with you Huseng but the enormous middle class in India and China are also riddled with decadence and gluttony, with even less interest in the environment as this is all new to them so shop, buy and consume is all they can think about.
Sure the poor in China are sadly being exploited but as the jobs in the West disappear, they slowly and inexorably go to third world countries ; unemployment grows in the West, people have absolutely no job security and heaps of resentment. Then you have the powerful Chinese developers move in and encroach on public space and parkland, building high density sky scrapers, hand in glove with 'the big end of town.' To use the word corruption is an understatement.....it's a free for all!
Anyone even faintly interested in a spiritual path would be living right on the edge/fringe of society.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby catmoon » Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:29 am

Huseng wrote:
catmoon wrote:
Huseng wrote:My whole point is that any given human society is inherently corrupt and evil, and to see it any other way is to sink into the mire.


I think one of the other ways you can look at it is to follow Dharma, deny the existence of inherent properties of things and recognize there is nothing inherently evil about society at all. By so doing, we open our minds to the positive possibilities.


This is naive and lets people ignore their own part as accessories to evil.

I'm not talking the emptiness of phenomena. Such approaches have their utility, but we're discussing reality on the ground -- on the conventional level. Real life as experienced by sentient beings.


I think this is one of those cases where the emptiness of phenomena applies directly to life as we live it and cannot be ignored.

It could be argued that naivete consists in this case, of taking such a simplistic and negative view of humanity that one completely loses sight of human potential for the common good. Buddhas arise from humanity, after all. Our troubles are not so much issues of intrinsic nature as they are all about a lack of education and enlightenment. These are solvable problems. The fourth Noble Truth says so.
Last edited by catmoon on Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:31 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby viniketa » Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:37 am

Huseng wrote:My whole point is that any given human society is inherently corrupt and evil, and to see it any other way is to sink into the mire.


Pfui. For human society to be inherently corrupt and evil, humans would have to be inherent corrupt and evil. So much for Tathāgatagarbha...

I don't know about poverty in Canada, but everywhere else in the world, all those in poverty are exploited by those whose Tathāgatagarbha is so cluttered as to be invisible.

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:41 am

viniketa wrote:
Huseng wrote:My whole point is that any given human society is inherently corrupt and evil, and to see it any other way is to sink into the mire.


Pfui. For human society to be inherently corrupt and evil, humans would have to be inherent corrupt and evil. So much for Tathāgatagarbha...

I don't know about poverty in Canada, but everywhere else in the world, all those in poverty are exploited by those whose Tathāgatagarbha is so cluttered as to be invisible.

:namaste:



I'm not talking metaphysics here.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby futerko » Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:43 am

Huseng wrote:
futerko wrote: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.



You already have access to these things as a result of others being exploited. Your computer, or parts of it, was probably manufactured by low paid workers.





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.



If you agree that there will always be unfairness, then you just demonstrate my point that human society is evil.

You insist that evil must be be intentional, but nevertheless the collective self-interest of a group of people nevertheless reveals itself often to be one of exploitation and violence.




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.


That's fine, but your own comfortable lifestyle in the UK is largely a result of the previous British imperialism. The wealth the UK enjoys is largely due to wars and exploitation of past times. India used to be one of the wealthiest regions of the world, for example, but European powers, particularly the British Empire, exploited it and funnelled much of its precious metals away. You can't be blamed for that, I know, but nevertheless your local society's opulence and comforts were obtained via violence and exploitation.

My whole point is that any given human society is inherently corrupt and evil, and to see it any other way is to sink into the mire.


Indeed, the wealth of my country was founded on the slave trade and colonial Imperialism and my whole way of life a result of that exploitation. Many of my neighbours are refugees from Angola, Uganda, the Balkans, Bangladesh, or children of people who not long ago were slaves. I'm very happy to live in such a diverse community.

Many of those people are also perfectly happy with exploitative behaviour, maybe as a result of being victim to it themselves, so it does self-perpetuate, but as for myself I try my best to not perpetuate that behaviour.

This is a different issue to the original that I was addressing, which was the individual's perception of "society", where people tend to justify (rationalise/normalise) their behaviour on the basis that "everyone does it". I think that we don't necessarily have to reject the system on a material level in order to extricate ourselves on an ideological level, mentally and emotionally.

As you hinted at yourself in regard to harvesting crops which kills insects - there is no totally pure position which we can take with a totally clear conscience, however the notion of "liberal guilt" strikes me as particularly ineffective and useless. Personally I try to be conscious and aware of inequalities and past power differentials which have shaped the world we live in, living relatively frugally - it is possible to make good use of certain privileges without being triumphalist about them or perpetuating further abuses.

I don't agree that unfairness and exploitation is inherently evil, although there certainly have been evils perpetrated due to such a system and I think it needs to evolve, but I think that we cannot really impose such change and to be effective it does need to come from the realisation of individuals rather than expecting policy changes to make a huge difference.

This realisation of individuals stems from developing integrity, extricating ourselves from the mire that "society thinks" we should do this or that.

For me, "the mire" is not that I occasionally use a car which burns fuel - if I forego having 4 cars and making unnecessary trips alone then theoretically everyone in the world can potentially have access to a car (or food, shelter, etc.) - "the mire" is the way of thinking that says "society approves of this", which then leads me to go to extremes which I then justify with reference to social approval rather than acting in accord with my own heart.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby catmoon » Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:52 am

Huseng wrote:

I'm not talking metaphysics here.


You can't just divorce the deepest teachings of Buddhism from a practical situation simply becuase it's a practical situation. Well, you can, but I would not recommend it. Buddha did not teach emptiness because it is an elegant idea surrounded by lots of pretty arguments. He taught it because it is a teaching that tends towards the cessation of suffering, the accomplishment of Dharma, and the ending of the round of samsara.

While it is true that a certain amount of suffering is intrinsic to samsara, that doesn't mean it has to be endlessly horrendously awful. That is the fate of the lower realms. And it doesn't mean that evil is intrinsic to people. As pointed out above, no Buddhas or bodhisattvas could arise in such an environment.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby viniketa » Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:53 am

Huseng wrote:I'm not talking metaphysics here.


When you use word such as "inherently", you enter the realm of metaphysics whether intended or not.

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby PorkChop » Sun Nov 04, 2012 7:07 am

catmoon wrote:While it is true that a certain amount of suffering is intrinsic to samsara, that doesn't mean it has to be endlessly horrendously awful. That is the fate of the lower realms. And it doesn't mean that evil is intrinsic to people. As pointed out above, no Buddhas or bodhisattvas could arise in such an environment.


If nobody minds, here's my take.
The nature of Samsara is to corrupt.
Society is a Samsaric construct.
Sentient beings become corrupt if they cling to Samsara, but all have the same Buddha-potential.
Engaged Buddhism is not about helping society itself, that is not the main goal.
It's about trying to relieve the pains & sufferings of sentient beings.
On a large scale, this requires interacting with society.
This shouldn't be confused with trying to perpetuate a Samsaric existence.
If history has shown us anything it is that people do not revolt when the chains of oppression are heaviest, it's when they are granted enough freedom to see their situation for what it is. I heard this said in reference to the French Revolution, but I'm sure there are plenty of other examples.
The hope would be that with a helping hand, sentient beings would see an opportunity to improve their conditions.
By Engaged Buddhism putting their face out there, they advertise the Dharma and show people that there are options for improving themselves.
At the very least they put some good energy out there and maybe it will cause a ripple effect.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby muni » Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:55 am

Huseng wrote:
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


The need/support of the Master, The Buddha, The Dharma, the Sangha.

Yes completely agree, detachment is the key. But not the society is the problem rather practicioners' own clinging mind. It is good to take care with "bad friends" ( leading mind in more or another clinging ) till we can remain aware of that. While our minds' reactions can learn us to see where we fall back into our hidden habits.

Own mind is the field to clean in order to help all beings. Like we clean our mirror to see good how to comb our hair ( if there is some) and we don't clean/delete that sleepy face so that we don't have to comb its hair anymore. Mind need investigation, not remaining in focus on phenomena, also in daily life. Life is impermanent, and Dharma in daily life should not be separate.

Detachment, yes, then we can help. :thumbsup:
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby lowlydog » Sun Nov 04, 2012 12:19 pm

Huseng wrote:
lowlydog wrote: 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:


How bourgeois. Ignore the suffering of others, pretending all is right provided we remain calm and content.



I never suggested Ignoring our surroundings, just don't make them into a problem. Try to live an exemplary life, as the buddha did, and others will follow your lead.

Be happy :smile:
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby undefineable » Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:15 pm

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

Conversely, if you withdraw from active involvement in society you commit evil by omission just by virtue of withdrawing the contribution you previously made to the happiness of your fellow citizens. In a functioning capitalist system, the evolved fine-tuning of the structure (within which one acts) ensures that even the most selfish acts indirectly add to the well-being of many, often in a way that makes the actor feel smug that his actions bear positive fruits that weren't even his intention. We haven't really seen this in full since 2006-8, but the principle still stands.
Huseng wrote:in saṃsāra you have to create negative karma just to survive.

But you can also create positive karma by arousing positive motivation in the work that you do, yes?

I don't expect to be able to be right in samsara - After all, it's guiding principle is effectively 'one against infinity' _ _ On the other hand, I think most normal successful people would rather just render their immediate rivals comatose, benefit themselves, and win accolades from the rest of the world for the indirect consequences of so doing. We all know (intellectually atleast) that the first interest of normal adults is in 'Number 1', rather than in going out to get you.

Futerko, :cheers: for some nifty unraveling of the typical left-wing "society wants x" bull****ting - I couldn't have said it better myself, except perhaps where you mention the '3'rd world' - My impression was that '3-rd-world aid' just distorts the economies of the host nations to the point at which they rely wholly on the aid rather than on their own activities. As to what would happen to them otherwise, never under-estimate the power of envy -coupled with a few crumbs from the table of the 'envied' such as guns or beer- to destroy lives and nations {Look at the native cultures of the US and Australia!} As to exploitation, I'm well aware that the minerals in my PC (and many other 'essentials') are extracted by enslaved miners in countries like the DRC, I don't wish for it to be so and regret that it is. Moreover, I don't see how such exploitation prevents such countries from 'standing on their own two feet'. Also, less-developed countries are effectively on less-brutal versions of stages in the course of history taken by the west in its recent past, and are thereby (in the case of populous countries like India) clearly emerging from it, yet you as well as Huseng seem to imply that this will bring death to one and all throughout the world, seemingly regardless of climate change - Maybe you could provide a link?
futerko wrote: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.

Given that most who 'heed the call' would be young, I can't help fearing that the negative karma aroused by 'opting out' (of the mental sophistication and discipline that participation in society brings) would more than counterbalance whatever 'karmic savings' they might make.

I may be misunderstanding how karma works - For starters, I fail to see how the mental development needed to forge a place in society can fail to seep down to the 'very subtle' mind or the 'body of karma' in some form. Surely, though, we all see the self-destructive effect that 'opting' to effectively remain children had on diehard hippies? I guess that's where Huseng's comment on 'access to unearned wealth' comes in - I wish the US 'Tea Party' movement luck in their ambition to abolish all 'welfare' and thus make starvation the natural consequence of all personal failure (which is simply the unfettered working-out of karma to my mind), although I suspect they couldn't have picked a worse time in terms of social mobility and income.

On the other hand, starting a new society (as opposed to a sangha, opium den, or any other unstructured commune) from scratch would of course be more challenging than remaining within the ones we've got. It's just the idea of leaving society that raises alarm bells in my way of thinking, because all the positive things we're doing that sharpen and clarify our minds -most of which benefit others more than they harm them- disappear down the plughole as a result, and I'm not even talking about meditation.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby viniketa » Sun Nov 04, 2012 5:39 pm

undefineable wrote:In a functioning capitalist system, the evolved fine-tuning of the structure (within which one acts) ensures that even the most selfish acts indirectly add to the well-being of many, often in a way that makes the actor feel smug that his actions bear positive fruits that weren't even his intention. We haven't really seen this in full since 2006-8, but the principle still stands.


I do not understand. Perhaps you could give an example of "a functioning capitalist system" and the principle to which you refer.

undefineable wrote:I may be misunderstanding how karma works... I wish the US 'Tea Party' movement luck in their ambition to abolish all 'welfare' and thus make starvation the natural consequence of all personal failure (which is simply the unfettered working-out of karma to my mind), although I suspect they couldn't have picked a worse time in terms of social mobility and income.


Not only do you not seem to understand karma, you do not seem to understand the 'Tea Party'. Are you located in the U.S.?

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby undefineable » Sun Nov 04, 2012 6:18 pm

viniketa wrote:
undefineable wrote:In a functioning capitalist system, the evolved fine-tuning of the structure (within which one acts) ensures that even the most selfish acts indirectly add to the well-being of many, often in a way that makes the actor feel smug that his actions bear positive fruits that weren't even his intention. We haven't really seen this in full since 2006-8, but the principle still stands.


I do not understand. Perhaps you could give an example of "a functioning capitalist system" and the principle to which you refer.


Selfish person gets job, say, as manager in a gas company---Selfish person becomes necessary 'cog in the wheel' of keeping people keep warm in winter. Yes, it's a bit naive and simplistic, but from my experience it appears so commonsense -as an overview- as to put the onus on you to explain how it ain't so :tongue: - I'm also running out of time to reply ;)

undefineable wrote:Not only do you not seem to understand karma, you do not seem to understand the 'Tea Party'. Are you located in the U.S.?


Well I've always lived in the UK -a country whose culture has diverged unprecedentedly from that of the US (in its many forms) in the last 20 years or so- and I made the comment I made more as an example in theory than as a simple statement of fact. I confess I got carried away and rushed that part of my post :emb: - I feel the old system of charitable donation to 'the deserving poor' (~those who've tried and failed) and not to 'the undeserving poor' (~those who've failed to try) is a far better way of optimally shaping societies and individual characters than either 'welfare' or nothing at all, as well as being more what most 'Tea Party' supporters actually have in mind. Even this assumes there's some form of meritocracy in place (in which people are able to rise according to the degree of positive karma encoded within them by their genes and early environment-?! :roll: ), and I realise more and more that a perfect meritocracy has not only never existed, but never can exist :thinking: .

It's also true that I don't understand karma - I've written before on Dharmawheel that I don't understand why it's not those actions that benefit oneself -whether or not they harm or even destroy others- that are rewarded by karma. I was ignored because I've yet to create or reply to a topic where this question wouldn't be off-topic, because even if I did create such a topic I would likely be ignored as a "newbie who can't understand dharma yet", and because I come across as presumptive -rather than investigative- even while my intention is usually the latter. {Besides this, I didn't want to upset ppl!} I think it's fair atleast to compare different understandings of karma on this thread, though, as the OP is about which course of action is better from that point of view.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon Nov 05, 2012 1:00 am

It seems people have misunderstood my original thesis.

I'm saying that since society is established via violence, class struggle and exploitation, it is inherently evil and thus any attempt to engage with it as a collective institution of flawed unenlightened humans is futile.

You really help people by transcending the world, not being a part of it. Even if an institution is intent on this yet still works within the world to some degree, their goal nevertheless is transcendence and this will be reflected in their doctrine and activities. For instance, they won't discourage someone from going into long-term retreat, whereas socially engaged Buddhism would see such an act as selfish.

Socially engaged Buddhism which, as an institution, is intent on transforming society for the betterment of all. The intention is benevolent, but given the nature of society, to actively be a part of it is to become tainted by its corruption. This is unavoidable because society only exists because of violence and exploitation. This is why you need to transcend the world in order to help it.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby viniketa » Mon Nov 05, 2012 1:05 am

Huseng wrote:I'm saying that since society is established via violence, class struggle and exploitation, it is inherently evil and thus any attempt to engage with it as a collective institution of flawed unenlightened humans is futile.


An incorrect assumption from the beginning. Society is only possible through cooperation, which is only possible through compassion.

:namaste:
If they can sever like and dislike, along with greed, anger, and delusion, regardless of their difference in nature, they will all accomplish the Buddha Path.. ~ Sutra of Complete Enlightenment
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