Socially Engaged Buddhism

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby futerko » Wed Nov 07, 2012 6:27 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
futerko wrote:
Are you suggesting that if everyone limited their spending to what was strictly necessary rather than extravagancies it would have no impact?

What if people decided to not pay taxes on the basis that their money was being spent on weaponry that was being used to kill people in other countries, would that have no effect?

If you are "actively doing good" but are a cog in a machine which is promoting nothing but ego, fear, and greed, then aren't your efforts somewhat compromised?
You are right that whether one person wears sweatshop clothes or not is arbitrary, but the point is the degree to which we all choose to support such a system or not, which in many cases is not made explicit, but there is a direct connection there.


Sure it would have an impact, let's see if we can get all the people living in our material obsessed society to individually just stop doing that. Or, we could do something more practical and point out the conditions that have led us to this point, which are largely based on political and economic structures, not individual consumer decisions.


For sure, if people become more aware of those political and economic structures then that will have an effect on their consumer decisions, but it seems a lot wider than that…

From your previous reply to Huseng, the point about human rights is that they need to be enforced by the state precisely because people are disempowered and unable to protect themselves from one another, but more importantly from the state itself. Of course citizens are complicit in this, yes you are right to say that, "by nature being a consumer is a powerless position," but who is responsible for this situation in the first place? Who is it that chooses to be a consumer?

I'm not suggesting that by stopping active consumerism one will change the world, but by practising dharma one will change one's relationship to the world, maybe become indifferent to all the attachments and aversions that are touted as "reality" and thereby take back a degree of control on a psychic level if not totally on a material level.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Nov 07, 2012 6:37 pm

I guess this is the rub, when we talk about any kind of "good works" for social change, we HAVE to talk about material existence, and the ways in which people are effected by, and can effect it, and those that likely cannot.

I don't have any answers to this at all.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Thu Nov 08, 2012 2:02 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:How are citizens complicit in actions taken by the military industrial complex, much less citizens at "the bottom" such as plenty of those who would have been involved in civil rights struggle?


You pay taxes. The state uses this money to acquire weapons. The state can do so by virtue of the people's tacit consent. If they did not have legitimacy, they could not do such things.

The ugly reality is that military expenditures often pay dividends and the citizens benefit from it. For instance, Americans enjoy a quarter of the world's resources or thereabouts despite being only a fraction of the world's population. Such unequal economic arrangements are possible by having such a huge military. Client states with fealty to the USA get a share of the pie as well. This is why unpopular as huge military machines might be, they provide the country with a lot of material benefits.





You are ignoring the connection between struggles against racism, militarism, and human rights, and basically just putting it out there that the power structures of the world don't believe in human rights - this is undoubtedly true, but it is no reason for us not to believe in them. In fact it is all the more reason we should.


You can believe in them all you like, but ultimately it might prove futile to champion them and actively promote them instead of trying to liberate yourself from the causes for future rebirth.


We do not have a 'choice' in the matter really..well, if you have enough money you have some choice, but for the most part, global capitalism and it's power structures have made people's buying decisions for them. Buying from a "craftsperson" is doable, but quite expensive.



Yeah, them plantation owners with slave labour producing sugar in brutal tropical heat could've hired paid labour, but it would have been quite expensive.



Is opening people's eyes to aspects of Samsara the same thing as trying to "fix it"?


Political injustice and exploitation are inevitable. Most people are accessories to it. All the more reason to abandon the system altogether.




What do you think Buddhists should do about things in this world? Do you advocate them holding no opinions on social ills and doing nothing but activities directed towards the Dharma explicitly, with maybe a sprinkling of altruistic activities..or would you advocate something else?


As I have been saying all along, Buddhist institutions traditionally have directed their resources towards liberation from saṃsāra. Few will achieve this goal, but that goal is nevertheless the whole point of the project.

This is different from directing your resources toward progressive social movements and active involvement in society.

What this means is that in the traditional model the institution will still largely be a part of society, but with the goal of producing individuals who will transcend and ultimately abandon it altogether. This is different from socially engaged Buddhism which does not have this goal and instead hopes to produce individuals who will stay and actively help out in society.

I hope that distinction is clear.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Thus-gone » Thu Nov 08, 2012 4:14 pm

Your view seems to be very much that of the Deficient Vehicle. Those who have compassion for other beings, and whose practice is motivated by that compassion, cannot accept the total abandonment of society as a goal. It is very important to remember that traveling alone to the peak of the mountain is simply a transitional stage in one's practice.

In Mahayana, it is recognized that the Sangha is not comprised solely of monks, and it is not necessary that every practitioner abandon society. While it is very important to have those who practice full-time without any distractions, it is equally important to have a constituent of lay practitioners who bring the Dharma to others.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Thu Nov 08, 2012 4:43 pm

Thus-gone wrote:Your view seems to be very much that of the Deficient Vehicle. Those who have compassion for other beings, and whose practice is motivated by that compassion, cannot accept the total abandonment of society as a goal.


Well, the arhat ultimately abandons the world altogether.

The bodhisattva, on the other hand, motivated by compassion abandons society and when in a real position to aid others (i.e., freed of the countless afflictions and the lack of wisdom which keeps normal beings in bondage) returns.

Ultimately it must be done before you can be of true benefit to others.


In Mahayana, it is recognized that the Sangha is not comprised solely of monks, and it is not necessary that every practitioner abandon society. While it is very important to have those who practice full-time without any distractions, it is equally important to have a constituent of lay practitioners who bring the Dharma to others.


As I have already said it is really only a few individuals who will abandon society. The goal should be thus despite few ever actively pursuing it.

Those who achieve liberation and attain wisdom are then in an optimal position to teach and bring Dharma to others. Ordinary people with their noble intentions can only do so much...
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Thus-gone » Thu Nov 08, 2012 5:21 pm

Huseng wrote:As I have already said it is really only a few individuals who will abandon society. The goal should be thus despite few ever actively pursuing it.


I agree, but this doesn't seem to negate the idea of Engaged Buddhism. Either you have a few home-leavers and a large lay community, in which case social activism is both viable and effective as a form of practice. Or you have a large amount of home-leavers and few lay practitioners, in which case there will be ultimately more awakened people who can come down the mountain and transform society from that position.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Thu Nov 08, 2012 7:08 pm

Huseng,

I'm the last person you need to convince about the ugly nature of present society, especially regarding America's place in the world. At least on a basic level, I agree with your view of how America (as one example) pretty much operates in the world,

Your model of exploitation is not what i'm taking issue with, it's this weird concept that you seem to have that (for instance) an ordinary American citizen who is indirectly participating in genocide by what they buy or similar is somehow in the same position of power or complicity as the owner of a slave plantation. Failing to make a distinction between the powerless and the powerful when looking at oppression makes no sense. Further, it seems like you fail to acknowledge that there is any possibility of currents in any society working against the power structures that create these conditions, because of this vague notion of "everyone" sharing the same amount of culpability, whereas in fact, individual people living in societies who are not in positions of power have a limited number of choices. Arguably even the powerful do..that is why real social change is about pushing to alter the whole structure in one way or another, rather than asking people to make individual choices, and expecting that this is adequate.

If we take a totalitarian society, then we can hardly accuse people of 'endorsing' government action as they face the real threat of violence and state repression for not going along with it. The difference in a 'democratic' society is the method of controlling people is different, rather than the threat of violence it involves framing and teaching a worldview that only allows certain possibilities, only allowing choices that on some level have already been made by the powerful - it is the powerful, and not the powerless making those choices. The most banal obvious example being something like electoral politics - only being able to vote for essentially slightly different versions of the same imperial policies. While there is much less of a threat of external, state-sponsored violence, the walls that keep people doing what they are "supposed" to are every bit as high as those put up in the totalitarian societies..they are just harder to for the citizenry to...that is the whole point of them.

Again this is getting away from Buddhism..so more to the point:

I'd be interested to know if you have read The Broken Buddha by S. Dhammika that I posted earlier, and if so..what do you have to say about it?
It seems to speak volumes about he dangers of having a Buddhism that is structured simply to support a culture of people whose sole "job" is to seek enlightenment. It really seems like you are advocating a model that already exists in Theravedin countries..aren't you?
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Zealot » Fri Nov 09, 2012 7:57 pm

Johnny, I believe that if you see your choices as limited, you limit yourself as such. In reality, we consent to participate in society and the evils it brings regardless of our ignorance, we are part of the cogs that will continue to create suffering. However, some cogs cannot be turned by one man. It takes a hundred of us in agreement to keep a local store funded by our business; it takes a thousand of us in agreement to overturn a law we feel is unjust; and it takes a million of us in agreement to change the foundation of our government. The powers that be bank (literally and figuratively) on keeping us divided. We have to make the changes one by one, little by little, participating in the evil with the right effort. I don't think it takes an enlightened person to change society; just one who sees the bad and makes a conscious effort to do less evil, purge the evil that exists, and encourage other to do the same. However, by the same token, we will only be completely free of defilement if we purge our entire society. I see your dilemma, Huseng. But your attitude seems negative, and as such I think you will continue to focus on the negative without a paradigm shift. Wishing you the best!

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Nov 09, 2012 8:18 pm

This just is not reality, human beings do not, and have never operated by changing society as individuals simply by abstaining from behavior as individuals, they have done so by connecting, acting collectively and in many cases altering the status quo of the times. Even in the case of effective boycotts, this is a collective abstaining - that is what makes it effective, as an individual gesture it might have great merit, but socially something like an individual boycott is meaningless.

It does not matter if that is a "Buddhist answer" or not, because any time you endeavor to change society you have to acknowledge what can affect it and what cannot by our current knowledge, and to some degree that has to be based on a rational analysis of what has been so far in human societies. I'd suggest that if one can't accept this, then one doesn't need to bother trying to change the world anyway, it is perfectly fine to go the route Huseng is advocating and not really try to change it...but don't call it "engaged" if you are doing that, being "engaged" means exactly what it sounds like - and that might include ditching some Buddhist dogmatism about interaction with political position, and ceasing to rely on naive notions of the individual as agent of change IMO.

it might very well be that Huseng is right and there is simply no real way to do this and connect it directly to Buddhist practice, without losing the Buddhist practice somewhat, for instance it is very hard to do this and maintain a sense of equanimity towards those you are "against", or to avoid "othering" them somehow.. but I hope not, and in either case I don't think there is a point in trying to change things unless you actually intend to change things, and for that frankly you sometimes have to look outside Buddhism to examples of groups that actually have succeeded.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby PorkChop » Sat Nov 10, 2012 3:54 am

Huseng wrote:
PorkChop wrote:may as well try to make a positive difference.


I don't deny this, but before you can really remedy the suffering of others you need to be a qualified physician. That means you're not in much of a position to help others be liberated unless you yourself are liberated.

Few might achieve this in our present day, but that should be the goal of institutions (which entails some members of the community abandoning society altogether) rather than trying to fix saṃsāra.


My first post on this thread addresses this directly, specifically the quote on how if we don't develop the proper wisdom of emptiness, our compassion is inconsistent.
I've been thinking about this thread a lot.
I don't deny that there's wisdom that needs to be developed before I can hope to liberate others and that I'm nowhere near that yet.
I will say that my biggest "illness" of the mind is anger.
From what I've heard on teachings of the Lam Rim & Lam Rim Chen Mo, the remedy targeted for the illness of anger is loving compassion.
So for me, I think if I can develop more loving compassion, I can directly counter my biggest affliction of the mind.

On other threads, there have been questions on whether or not Westerners can really follow the Dharma, or if any of us truly think we can reach enlightenment in this lifetime.
My opinion on this is changing daily, because I'm still new.
I agree renunciation is required for higher attainments.
But there are a lot of teachings of the Buddha that can be applied by householders in their daily lives to address the causes & conditions of their suffering; hopefully setting up the causes & conditions for attainments later on and make a life of renunciation more possible.

I don't thing the situation of householders should be minimized or dismissed, instead merely seen as stages in the path.
In his talks on the mythologies of the East, Joseph Campbell talks about how in India, men of a certain age when their responsibilities as householders were finished, would renounce, go off into the forest, and seek moksha. The implication was that a life of renunciation was something more common among men over a certain age and not so common among the young - even though there are plenty of examples of young renunciates throughout the history of India (in the Pali scriptures as well as people like Adi Shankara).
The point for mentioning this being that until one can renounce, that they should use their position in society as householders in order to help others, especially those who are capable of renunciation.

I can understand the argument that if one is renouncing, then engaging society is probably not ideal.
However, for those practitioners still engaged with society, helping others should be encouraged.
Institutions tend to be led and/or supported by those still engaged with society.

People in the US have done great evil, but others have also done a lot of good. The monk at my temple (an expatriot from Vietnam) seems to think Americans have it so good because they have embraced the ideals of service to others and charity. Americans who are out there trying to make a difference in the world for the better are not trying to perpetuate evil. They are trying their best to not let themselves and their culture be defined by those who do great evil. People who do great evil tend to be ambitious and will further their own ends by any means necessary. Any call to people to provide a counter to that should be encouraged.

I keep thinking of the example of Richard Gere. Say what you want about him being the face of "pop culture Buddhism", the guy has done a lot of good for the refuges from Tibet. If he'd given up his acting career to go off into the mountains, who would've helped raise so much money for those refuges?
On top of that, how many people have gained an interest in Buddhism from the projects he's been involved with? ie films like Little Buddha, the documentary on the life of the Buddha, and the Discovering Buddhism videos from the FPMT. I, for one, can definitely say that his work has influenced me and helped me start out on the path.

Societies are a mess, no disagreement there. The history of the US is not a rosy picture, I do not deny this. If Kshitigarbha can journey into the hells to try to make a difference there, then how can we not try to live up to his example in this Saha world?
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby viniketa » Sat Nov 10, 2012 4:36 am

PorkChop wrote:If Kshitigarbha can journey into the hells to try to make a difference there, then how can we not try to live up to his example in this Saha world?


Well said, PorkChop. :bow:

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 10, 2012 5:59 am

PorkChop wrote:On other threads, there have been questions on whether or not Westerners can really follow the Dharma, or if any of us truly think we can reach enlightenment in this lifetime.
My opinion on this is changing daily, because I'm still new.
I agree renunciation is required for higher attainments.
But there are a lot of teachings of the Buddha that can be applied by householders in their daily lives to address the causes & conditions of their suffering; hopefully setting up the causes & conditions for attainments later on and make a life of renunciation more possible.



As I have said, there is the ultimate aim (which entails abandoning the world altogether), which is unavailable to most people, and then what most of us can work with in our ordinary lives. If we can't live up to the ideal, then we still need not change the ideal to suit our own limitations, thus rendering mediocrity a false attainment.

The point for mentioning this being that until one can renounce, that they should use their position in society as householders in order to help others, especially those who are capable of renunciation.


I agree, but the ultimate aim should still be transcending the world. If in this lifetime that isn't possible, the causes for it can be fostered for future lives.


People in the US have done great evil, but others have also done a lot of good. The monk at my temple (an expatriot from Vietnam) seems to think Americans have it so good because they have embraced the ideals of service to others and charity.


Enjoying a quarter of the world's resources while having the largest military machine on the planet should also be factored into his conclusions.

The fact that people can get into their SUVs and burn a litre of gasoline to go buy a litre of milk, and that this is normal, is not because Americans have ideals about service and charity.

Americans who are out there trying to make a difference in the world for the better are not trying to perpetuate evil.


Sure, but the system behind them enables that charity to be possible via violence and exploitation of the environment. Consider the source of billions of dollars of foreign aid (exactly how did the west get so much wealth to splash around anyway?). Consider how modern healthcare professionals are intent on curing and helping as many people as possible, which has resulted in extreme overpopulation that will not only harm billions of humans, but also damage the environment, harming countless species and driving them to extinction. This is already happening. You cure many people of their physical suffering and the end result is devastation to the planet and the many miseries that are accompanying overpopulation.

This is saṃsāra. You can't fix it. It will always go wrong. Worldly intentions are prone to produce unforeseen and often disagreeable results. This is why we dedicate merit towards transcendental aims, i.e., transcending saṃsāra.


On top of that, how many people have gained an interest in Buddhism from the projects he's been involved with? ie films like Little Buddha, the documentary on the life of the Buddha, and the Discovering Buddhism videos from the FPMT. I, for one, can definitely say that his work has influenced me and helped me start out on the path.



That's fine, but his case isn't applicable to most people. His causes and conditions in his present life favoured that direction. We can't all realistically emulate him.

I'm not condemning noble and benevolent intentions. I rejoice in good deeds. As I've been saying all along, worldly activities only go so far. Good deeds alone do not enable liberation from saṃsāra.


If Kshitigarbha can journey into the hells to try to make a difference there, then how can we not try to live up to his example in this Saha world?


Because most of us are quite fallible and degenerate sentient beings bound for the lower realms sooner or later.


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


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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby PorkChop » Sat Nov 10, 2012 6:32 am

Huseng wrote:I agree, but the ultimate aim should still be transcending the world. If in this lifetime that isn't possible, the causes for it can be fostered for future lives.

That means the rest of us still have to try to do what we can to engender those causes.

Huseng wrote:The fact that people can get into their SUVs and burn a litre of gasoline to go buy a litre of milk, and that this is normal, is not because Americans have ideals about service and charity.

This can also be accomplished by less than 10% of a charge for an electrically-powered vehicle.
Advancements are being made in ways that will enable a less destructive lifestyle.

Huseng wrote:(exactly how did the west get so much wealth to splash around anyway?).

By largely positive causes and conditions.

Huseng wrote:This is saṃsāra. You can't fix it. It will always go wrong. Worldly intentions are prone to produce unforeseen and often disagreeable results. This is why we dedicate merit towards transcendental aims, i.e., transcending saṃsāra.

Nothing was said about "fixing it", only trying to make the best of a bad situation and hoping in the future causes and conditions will provide an opportunity to transcend.

Huseng wrote:I'm not condemning noble and benevolent intentions. I rejoice in good deeds. As I've been saying all along, worldly activities only go so far. Good deeds alone do not enable liberation from saṃsāra.

I do not disagree with this one bit. Good deeds merely enable us the causes and conditions required for liberation.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby catmoon » Sat Nov 10, 2012 1:48 pm

Huseng wrote:

As I have said, there is the ultimate aim (which entails abandoning the world altogether), which is unavailable to most people, and then what most of us can work with in our ordinary lives.



There seems to be a conflict between -abandoning the world altogether- and the bodhisattva path. If this were the ultimate goal, then surely all the bodhisattvas would never be heard from again.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Sherlock » Sat Nov 10, 2012 2:06 pm

catmoon wrote:
Huseng wrote:

As I have said, there is the ultimate aim (which entails abandoning the world altogether), which is unavailable to most people, and then what most of us can work with in our ordinary lives.



There seems to be a conflict between -abandoning the world altogether- and the bodhisattva path. If this were the ultimate goal, then surely all the bodhisattvas would never be heard from again.


They might not be heard of again within their lifetimes as hermits but once they are fully enlightened, they manifest in many different ways.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby muni » Sat Nov 10, 2012 2:14 pm

I think to understand Huseng in a way that while being part of the society with our mind engaged in all stuff/phenomena, there is not much time for practice. It asks strenght/diligence/discipline to practice without being taken away by coarse daily view.
Then here I see guidance for in society/job and so on.

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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 10, 2012 3:31 pm

catmoon wrote:There seems to be a conflict between -abandoning the world altogether- and the bodhisattva path. If this were the ultimate goal, then surely all the bodhisattvas would never be heard from again.


First you transcend the world and then you come back, free of being tainted by it again.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby Jnana » Tue Nov 20, 2012 2:16 am

Huseng wrote:
catmoon wrote:There seems to be a conflict between -abandoning the world altogether- and the bodhisattva path. If this were the ultimate goal, then surely all the bodhisattvas would never be heard from again.


First you transcend the world and then you come back, free of being tainted by it again.

Yes. According to the Ugraparipṛcchā Sūtra:

    For no bodhisattva who lives at home has ever attained supreme perfect enlightenment. Those who have done so have all gone forth from the household, and having done so, they have the thought of the wilderness; they have the wilderness as their goal. And having gone to the wilderness, there they have awakened to supreme perfect enlightenment.

    Household life is harmful and dusty; the renunciant life is praised by the buddhas and their disciples.
The sūtra then goes on to give a long list of contrasts (205 in the Tibetan version) between the household life and the renunciant life. For example:

    Household life abounds in faults and bad qualities; the renunciant life abounds in good qualities. Household life is constricted; the renunciant life is spacious. Household life is defiled by ownership; the renunciant life is liberation from ownership.
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby anjali » Tue Nov 20, 2012 2:55 am

Huseng wrote:
catmoon wrote:There seems to be a conflict between -abandoning the world altogether- and the bodhisattva path. If this were the ultimate goal, then surely all the bodhisattvas would never be heard from again.


First you transcend the world and then you come back, free of being tainted by it again.


This is certainly the model Shaykamuni Buddha followed. He had to be asked by a god to teach the dharma...
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Re: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Postby greentara » Tue Nov 20, 2012 3:21 am

In the grand scheme of things what difference can you really make if your working from an individual, egoic state... even if you believe your own intentions are good?
I think of Gandhi and he ended up dividing India. He worked from a sweeping view of austerity, back to village life and good works. The Mahatma was a charismatic man, a clever tactician, but he wasn't enlightened. Now Pakistan is India's great enemy. Bangladash is a basket case. So many people died when the sub continent was broken up, there were bloody massacres and for what purpose? The answer....what's the answer? It points towards don't meddle!
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