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?
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.