Socially Engaged Buddhism

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon Nov 05, 2012 1:10 am

viniketa wrote:
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:


Right. Cooperate to kill your rivals and subjugate those under you.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby viniketa » Mon Nov 05, 2012 1:13 am

Huseng wrote:Right. Cooperate to kill your rivals and subjugate those under you.


You are confusing society with power-conflict institutions such as governance and politics.

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby futerko » Mon Nov 05, 2012 1:45 am

Huseng wrote: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.


I agree that there is something violent about the foundation of society. The Old Testament is a great example of this. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is inherent or evil, its as empty as any other phenomena we might witness.
All socialisation is somehow subtley violent - we take a partial view and develop a self - this is a necessary minimum for survival, children need to learn to divide the world up conceptually so they don't go eating poison berries or whatever...

I also agree with the idea that, "You really help people by transcending the world," however once you have really transcended surely you can freely mingle without "contamination"...

The reason that socially engaged Buddhism fails for me is not because the world will "taint" you, but because it also takes a partial view rather than the transcendence you mention.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Huifeng » Mon Nov 05, 2012 2:16 am

The arya-sangha, comprised of those who are freed from violence, and freed from the views of self upon which class, caste, etc. are founded, is, by definition, a kind of "society" (ie. a sangha).

While violence, oppression, etc. may be found in many societies, this does not mean that they are intrinsic to them, or even necessary.

If violence, exploitation, etc. were inherent, then I do not think that the Bhagavan would have established any kind of sangha at all. But, he did.

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby undefineable » Mon Nov 05, 2012 2:40 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.

I'm still unconvinced that failing to make the attempt doesn't welcome in the almost inevitable gathering of horrendous negative karma.
futerko wrote:I also agree with the idea that, "You really help people by transcending the world," however once you have really transcended surely you can freely mingle without "contamination"...

The reason that socially engaged Buddhism fails for me is not because the world will "taint" you, but because it also takes a partial view rather than the transcendence you mention.

Also, the unacknowledged assumption -implicit in much of what I've read and heard 'Engaged Buddhists' saying- seems to be that a samsaric world-system can be perfected without the enlightenment of its entire population (like in Oddiyana) :rolleye: .

As to transcending the world, assuming this happens, it's is a world away from running away (inside yourself) from the world, with which it could easily be confused. The term 'transcend' implies first going 'in' to something, and -given anatman- I can't see how being on the outside of anything is helpful in and of itself - See the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, pages 83-85:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=tH09AAAAIAAJ
Huifeng wrote:While violence, oppression, etc. may be found in many societies, this does not mean that they are intrinsic to them, or even necessary

I wouldn't go so far the other way_ So far in History, no peaceful, freedom-loving civilisation has evolved except from violent and oppressive building blocks. We owe our comforts to the torments of our forbears - as well as (to a lesser extent) our cousins in other regions - Let's at least make that all worth something before we start our 3-year retreats or what have you :soapbox:
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Huifeng » Mon Nov 05, 2012 2:56 am

For the last point, my example was explicitly the arya-sangha. :smile:
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon Nov 05, 2012 3:07 am

viniketa wrote:
Huseng wrote:Right. Cooperate to kill your rivals and subjugate those under you.


You are confusing society with power-conflict institutions such as governance and politics.

:namaste:


They all go hand in hand.

Authority, which is necessary for social stability in complex human groups, is derived from violence and the threat thereof. The government, which pays dividends in benefits albeit is subject to the law of diminishing returns, possesses a monopoly on violence and hence can enforce laws and coerce those who refuse to cooperate.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon Nov 05, 2012 3:14 am

Huifeng wrote:The arya-sangha, comprised of those who are freed from violence, and freed from the views of self upon which class, caste, etc. are founded, is, by definition, a kind of "society" (ie. a sangha).


Yes and no. The society I'm referring to here is not the Buddhist sangha, but the larger human society which is host to the sangha.

While violence, oppression, etc. may be found in many societies, this does not mean that they are intrinsic to them, or even necessary.


I disagree with this. As the Buddha taught, laws, kings and private property arose as a result of people's greed and afflictions. Organized society came to exist as a result of negative, not positive, causes.

Most human societies of notable complexity depend on violence, subjugation of at least some members of the community (in many cases it is women), and exploitation of other beings like animals.

Most human communities depend on violence as a deterrent against aggression. Those that lose this are quickly subjugated by neighboring societies.

Society is not a good thing, though it is necessary for our survival in the present age. It is a necessary evil, but evil nevertheless.


If violence, exploitation, etc. were inherent, then I do not think that the Bhagavan would have established any kind of sangha at all. But, he did.


The original sangha seems to have existed on the fringes of Magadha society. The idea was that while it could draw on the good charity and resources of mainstream society, at the end of the day the whole goal was to transcend the world and eventually abandon it altogether. The sangha, as it were, was a means to an end.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby greentara » Mon Nov 05, 2012 3:33 am

Vineketa, "You are confusing society with power-conflict institutions such as governance and politics"
I think power-conflict is found right through all strata of society.The law is also structured to protect the wealthy and the privileged and the poor are left to fend for themselves.I recently read an interesting book set in the slums of Bombay. The [poor never blamed the middle class or the rich for their difficult plight but instead were vicious to the other poor people and families in their midst.
Perhaps the only way out of this is to distance oneself from the consumerism, inequality and the cut and thrust of society. That doesn't mean if you come across someone in trouble that you don't stop and offer help but becoming a professional do-gooder will just reinforce the ego.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby viniketa » Mon Nov 05, 2012 3:34 am

Huseng wrote:Organized society came to exist as a result of negative, not positive, causes... Society is not a good thing, though it is necessary for our survival in the present age. It is a necessary evil, but evil nevertheless.


What an extreme, negative, ahistorical view.

Quite sad.

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon Nov 05, 2012 3:46 am

viniketa wrote:
Huseng wrote:Organized society came to exist as a result of negative, not positive, causes... Society is not a good thing, though it is necessary for our survival in the present age. It is a necessary evil, but evil nevertheless.


What an extreme, negative, ahistorical view.

Quite sad.

:namaste:


Try to prove me wrong.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby viniketa » Mon Nov 05, 2012 4:50 am

Huseng wrote:
viniketa wrote:
Huseng wrote:Organized society came to exist as a result of negative, not positive, causes... Society is not a good thing, though it is necessary for our survival in the present age. It is a necessary evil, but evil nevertheless.


What an extreme, negative, ahistorical view.

Quite sad.

:namaste:


Try to prove me wrong.


Try to prove me wrong...

A waste of both our time. You have a "view". If you are truly interested in changing it, here are some reading lists:

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~axe/rese ... graphy.htm

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/su ... 1.131.1394

http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTS ... WPS-05.pdf

:namaste:
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon Nov 05, 2012 5:36 am

viniketa wrote:A waste of both our time. You have a "view". If you are truly interested in changing it, here are some reading lists:


Replying with a bunch of links doesn't refute anything I've asserted.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Thus-gone » Mon Nov 05, 2012 6:00 am

Your point, Huseng, seems to rely on the premise that human society is inherently evil - in other words, that any association of humans large enough to constitute a society is evil by definition. If you had said that human society tends toward evil, then that would imply that positive virtues could manifest in society given the right conditions, and therefore that social work (being the process of materially bringing about those conditions) is meaningful. So let's be clear: the whole basis of your argument is that society is evil by definition.

Now, I hope you realise that this is not the kind of argument that you throw around with a few grumbles about iPads and bourgeois culture. It is a very big statement and demands extensive justification. Would you care to give a cogent argument for this specific point - that society is intrinsically evil? Or would you perhaps like to qualify it before attempting to defend it?

As a side note, you should realise that the viewpoint of bourgeois, clear-your-mind indifference that you've called out in others is not fundamentally different from your own position: "society is evil, so I have no obligation to invest myself in the struggles of the underprivileged." You're not necessarily wrong, but you are absolutely speaking from a socially/economically privileged position.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby muni » Mon Nov 05, 2012 8:27 am

Let say a society is a created bunch by grasping minds based on habitual tendencies by misperception (to survive in our dreams :smile: )
There is a real truly existence....see appaerances are cristalizing! In that way we must indeed take care for its influences!
Samsara's group-rival forming, discriminations, corruptions, dominations, surpressions....
It all start by grasping ego and those belonging to it! Societies are groups within one is home...but if we want to find ourselves lets look in our mind, not in the society. :alien: :spy:
If you allow me, again I should say up to us to watch own mind since if we ourselves are grasping; even the Precious Jewels; like our best tradition Sangha and so on, sorry, that is no insight for me but another form of grasping. Subtle. (Can be mistaken seen as honest trust). I reject that! Lol!

Never forget our dependency-emptiness.

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon Nov 05, 2012 9:02 am

Thus-gone wrote:Your point, Huseng, seems to rely on the premise that human society is inherently evil - in other words, that any association of humans large enough to constitute a society is evil by definition.



That is correct. It is largely a result of akuśala-karma. The complex social relationships among humans which constitute a given society are largely supported by akuśala-karma. Border defenses require violence or at least the threat thereof. Internal policing likewise. There is also the matter of taxation under duress. Food production to sustain the population requires intentional killing of beings from insect pests to livestock for their flesh. The stability, nutritional sufficiency and economic prosperity for all this requires vast amounts of akuśala-karma.




If you had said that human society tends toward evil, then that would imply that positive virtues could manifest in society given the right conditions, and therefore that social work (being the process of materially bringing about those conditions) is meaningful. So let's be clear: the whole basis of your argument is that society is evil by definition.


Fish do not thrive in clear water. This is something of an oddity in Buddhist thought: you don't get anywhere in overly easy conditions, which is why the gods are generally lost in their pleasures until their merit expires and they fall into the lower realms. Aside from that, though, in our ordinary human world you don't get anywhere with your practice and cultivation of compassion without facing gruesome reality.

Social work is beneficial and to be praised, but ultimately the capacity for social work depends upon activities which are by definition negative and evil. The state security apparatus, for example, requires violence. If you don't have security, then you probably won't have any realistic means of having organized charity work. In our present modern age this is especially so.




Now, I hope you realise that this is not the kind of argument that you throw around with a few grumbles about iPads and bourgeois culture. It is a very big statement and demands extensive justification. Would you care to give a cogent argument for this specific point - that society is intrinsically evil? Or would you perhaps like to qualify it before attempting to defend it?



See above.

Also, for there to be order in society there must be authority whose power is derived ultimately from violence and other coercive measures. Democracies don't escape this because even as a voting citizen you are still forced to do things under duress. The state might not physically harm you for not paying your taxes, but they can ensure financial damage and even jail time to make you cooperate, both of which are just as mentally painful as being flogged.



As a side note, you should realise that the viewpoint of bourgeois, clear-your-mind indifference that you've called out in others is not fundamentally different from your own position: "society is evil, so I have no obligation to invest myself in the struggles of the underprivileged." You're not necessarily wrong, but you are absolutely speaking from a socially/economically privileged position.


I agree. I'm typing this from a computer probably manufactured by slave labor. My education was possible because of environmental exploitation that allows for a surplus of resources that gave me the ability to go to school instead of having to produce food myself. For every kilogram of grain I eat, how many insects have been killed from planting to transportation?

As an element of society I am tainted by it and in effect evil as the conditioned and mortal flesh and blood being that I am.

This, however, is why transcendence is necessary. By transcending, i.e., abandoning, society and conditioned existence we are no longer tainted by them. Liberation effectively means leaving society. The bodhisattva ultimately returns, but is no longer tainted by the mire of society. They're enlightened and noble (ārya) and are thus capable of operating in saṃsāra without being dragged into it. That doesn't apply to me or all too human institutions.

This is why I wonder whether or not socially engaged Buddhism is really viable. You might make merit, but is liberation from saṃsāra really possible through being a public institution working for the betterment of society through education and social work? If your goal is the latter two, then will practitioners not lack the opportunities for serious practice which leads to liberation and consequently being in a real position to aid beings beyond the mundane basics? If social work is your main task, then supporting people to do extended several year retreats will not be on the agenda, though to really help people you probably need to have the wisdom obtained through such long extended periods of practice.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby muni » Mon Nov 05, 2012 9:10 am

The Paramitas are a help.
:namaste:
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby viniketa » Mon Nov 05, 2012 2:30 pm

Huseng wrote:Also, for there to be order in society there must be authority whose power is derived ultimately from violence and other coercive measures.


Societies which involve such totalitarian political control are the most unstable. The most stable have always been those based in legitimate (non-coercive) authority. We have social order because we want social order. The vast majority of people in a society follow, on a daily basis, social customs, mores, norms, and laws because they want to. I recommend reading Jürgen Habermas: Theory of Communicative Action (1981); The Inclusion of the Other (1996); Truth and Justification (1998); The Future of Human Nature (2003).

Huseng wrote:Liberation effectively means leaving society.


So we must all abandon home and family and live as solitary individuals in the forest? All 7 billion of us? Do we meet once a year or so to procreate, or do we just let human beings die-out?

Huseng wrote:You might make merit, but is liberation from saṃsāra really possible through being a public institution working for the betterment of society through education and social work?


One's personal liberation? No. Creating conditions under which others are more likely to accomplish liberation? Absolutely.

muni wrote:The Paramitas are a help.


One would hope so, yes.

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Thus-gone » Mon Nov 05, 2012 8:34 pm

Huseng wrote:That is correct. It is largely a result of akuśala-karma. The complex social relationships among humans which constitute a given society are largely supported by akuśala-karma. Border defenses require violence or at least the threat thereof. Internal policing likewise. There is also the matter of taxation under duress. Food production to sustain the population requires intentional killing of beings from insect pests to livestock for their flesh. The stability, nutritional sufficiency and economic prosperity for all this requires vast amounts of akuśala-karma.


However, you have not shown that these social conditions are intrinsic to the idea of human society. This question may help: given entirely different historical/material conditions, could a utopian society exist? If so, society could not be called inherently evil.
Fish do not thrive in clear water. This is something of an oddity in Buddhist thought: you don't get anywhere in overly easy conditions, which is why the gods are generally lost in their pleasures until their merit expires and they fall into the lower realms. Aside from that, though, in our ordinary human world you don't get anywhere with your practice and cultivation of compassion without facing gruesome reality.


And yet you advocate leaving society precisely because it is gruesome. What you're saying here is exactly the argument I would make to defend social activism as a viable form of practice.
Social work is beneficial and to be praised, but ultimately the capacity for social work depends upon activities which are by definition negative and evil. The state security apparatus, for example, requires violence. If you don't have security, then you probably won't have any realistic means of having organized charity work. In our present modern age this is especially so.


This applies to institutional activism. What about anti-institutional - or spiritual - activism? In my view, social work as a form of Buddhist practice should manifest in a much different way than simple charity. It should, like Buddhism itself, radically question the basis of society and its functioning.
Also, for there to be order in society there must be authority whose power is derived ultimately from violence and other coercive measures. Democracies don't escape this because even as a voting citizen you are still forced to do things under duress. The state might not physically harm you for not paying your taxes, but they can ensure financial damage and even jail time to make you cooperate, both of which are just as mentally painful as being flogged.



You have not shown that (irrational/violent) authority is a necessary component of society. What about anti-authoritarian activism?
This is why I wonder whether or not socially engaged Buddhism is really viable. You might make merit, but is liberation from saṃsāra really possible through being a public institution working for the betterment of society through education and social work? If your goal is the latter two, then will practitioners not lack the opportunities for serious practice which leads to liberation and consequently being in a real position to aid beings beyond the mundane basics? If social work is your main task, then supporting people to do extended several year retreats will not be on the agenda, though to really help people you probably need to have the wisdom obtained through such long extended periods of practice.


Engaged Buddhism need not manifest as petty, liberal charity institutions. In my opinion, it should manifest as a radically anti-authoritarian and democratic movement. Furthermore, this kind of work is not in itself the vehicle to liberation. If you follow a direct teaching on enlightenment, however, you can absolutely find liberation in the midst of all this activity. Hence... the Mahayana.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Jikan » Mon Nov 05, 2012 9:54 pm

Thus-gone wrote:
This applies to institutional activism. What about anti-institutional - or spiritual - activism? In my view, social work as a form of Buddhist practice should manifest in a much different way than simple charity. It should, like Buddhism itself, radically question the basis of society and its functioning.

<snip>

Engaged Buddhism need not manifest as petty, liberal charity institutions. In my opinion, it should manifest as a radically anti-authoritarian and democratic movement. Furthermore, this kind of work is not in itself the vehicle to liberation. If you follow a direct teaching on enlightenment, however, you can absolutely find liberation in the midst of all this activity. Hence... the Mahayana.


:good: (especially these bits)
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