Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Discuss the application of the Dharma to situations of social, political, environmental and economic suffering and injustice.
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puravida
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Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Post by puravida »

I am reluctant to identify as anything, but I would probably be best described as a who tries to put the Buddha's teachings into practice.

Something has been bothering me. And that something is a concern that Buddhist's are disengaged. I know that seems contradictory given I'm posting in the engaged Buddhism portion of this forum. But here goes.

The conventional perception of Buddhism is a monk wearing a robe and living in a remote monastery in some idyllic natural setting. I get that one needs to work on rooting out all of the delusions, ignorance, etc through mindfulness, meditation, and following the 8 fold path and other teachings of the Buddha. That task in and of itself is hard enough without adding all the complexity of living in modern society with taxes, bills, jobs, etc. However, it seems to me that in some ways removing oneself away from all the complexities of the modern world permanently seems like a cop out. It's outside of the monastery where people live, and where the Buddha's teaching are desperately needed. Not to mention extending loving kindness and doing good in the world.

I am genuinely interested in the answer to how a typical monastic monk would handle the following scenario or should handle it according to the Buddha's teachings. Let's say a monk is practicing walking meditation along a path near his/her monastery and he observes a man raping a women. Would this serene monk intervene? Would the Buddha endorse getting involved? What if the rapist attacks the monk, should he defend himself - assume the monk would not be defending himself for his own sake, but to further protect and give aid to the women?

On a different note, should Buddhists living in modern society be involved in working to end racial injustice, further human rights, stop sex trafficking etc. 'All these complexities arise outside the monastery. And the robe wearing monk in the monastery seems completely removed from all the suffering in the world and the work in doing something about it.

I realize my wording above may come across as bashing monks residing in monasteries. That is not my intention. I also realize this perspective is arising out of my own ignorance, which is why I'm posting on this forum. But I have an issue with anyone of any faith sitting on the sidelines and not being actively involved in helping to relieve suffering in the world. I acknowledge that helping to relieve suffering in the world is aided by ending suffering in one's self, but can't people work toward both ends at the same time? If forsaking the world for the life of the monk is the ideal path, than how do those suffering in the world ever receive aid from those versed in the teachings and practice that can most help?

Thank you in advance for any replies.
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Wayfarer
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Re: Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Post by Wayfarer »

there are some monks who post here from time to time who may want to address your question. Myself, I am also simply a layman who is interested in and tries to practice Buddhist principles and meditation. So, philosophically speaking, there's a few different responses to this perceived dilemma. First is that original Buddhism was practiced in a culture in which renunciation of worldly and social life was an accepted practice. In fact the Buddha was a 'forest-dwelling ascetic' for the formative years of his mission, and often refers to himself in the Pali texts as 'the recluse, Gotama'. 'Forest dwelling' is a kind of symbol for rejection of society and civilization. Of course, that is a drastic or radical step, but recall this was in the earliest days of civilisation. (Speaking of civilisation, have a read of Civilisation and its Discontents by Sigmund Freud for another perspective on the question.)

However, and this is a big caveat, the advent of Mahayana Buddhism signalled a shift away from the ideal of the 'solitary arhat'. The whole point of the Bodhisattva ideal is concern for the salvation of the many, not simply with one's own. Furthermore the concept of the 'enlightened layman' and the role of the lay practitioner was greatly emphasized in Mahayana. There is a famous sutra called the Vimalakirti Sutra, which is an account of the activities and enlightenment of Vimalakirti who was a silk trader, married with children. It's a very, very deep study but worth mentioning.

For that matter, now I think of it, I actually have a book on the Buddha's advice for worldly prosperity, taken from the Pali sources (which I must admit to having bought but not read yet. :emb: ). Buddhism had a hugely civilising influence in the cultures in which it spread, and quite easily accomodated a balance between social and spiritual pursuits. There's a modern movement called Engaged Buddhism which has many illustrious advocates, not least Thich Naht Hanh.

So I think the notion of the 'world-denying monastic' is a bit of a caricature, or more kindly, an idealisation, in some respects. It's not without a basis, but it also ought not to be exaggerated.
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi
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LastLegend
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Re: Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Post by LastLegend »

puravida wrote: Wed Jun 03, 2020 4:47 am I am reluctant to identify as anything, but I would probably be best described as a who tries to put the Buddha's teachings into practice.

Something has been bothering me. And that something is a concern that Buddhist's are disengaged. I know that seems contradictory given I'm posting in the engaged Buddhism portion of this forum. But here goes.

The conventional perception of Buddhism is a monk wearing a robe and living in a remote monastery in some idyllic natural setting. I get that one needs to work on rooting out all of the delusions, ignorance, etc through mindfulness, meditation, and following the 8 fold path and other teachings of the Buddha. That task in and of itself is hard enough without adding all the complexity of living in modern society with taxes, bills, jobs, etc. However, it seems to me that in some ways removing oneself away from all the complexities of the modern world permanently seems like a cop out. It's outside of the monastery where people live, and where the Buddha's teaching are desperately needed. Not to mention extending loving kindness and doing good in the world.

I am genuinely interested in the answer to how a typical monastic monk would handle the following scenario or should handle it according to the Buddha's teachings. Let's say a monk is practicing walking meditation along a path near his/her monastery and he observes a man raping a women. Would this serene monk intervene? Would the Buddha endorse getting involved? What if the rapist attacks the monk, should he defend himself - assume the monk would not be defending himself for his own sake, but to further protect and give aid to the women?

On a different note, should Buddhists living in modern society be involved in working to end racial injustice, further human rights, stop sex trafficking etc. 'All these complexities arise outside the monastery. And the robe wearing monk in the monastery seems completely removed from all the suffering in the world and the work in doing something about it.

I realize my wording above may come across as bashing monks residing in monasteries. That is not my intention. I also realize this perspective is arising out of my own ignorance, which is why I'm posting on this forum. But I have an issue with anyone of any faith sitting on the sidelines and not being actively involved in helping to relieve suffering in the world. I acknowledge that helping to relieve suffering in the world is aided by ending suffering in one's self, but can't people work toward both ends at the same time? If forsaking the world for the life of the monk is the ideal path, than how do those suffering in the world ever receive aid from those versed in the teachings and practice that can most help?

Thank you in advance for any replies.
The level of aide is temporary because we sentient beings continue to create karma, and this aide can be done on a general level you can’t literally help everyone. Highly enlightened beings can stop a war for example and that’s on the general level only treating the effects but the cause is up to sentient beings to change. Buddhas are following sentient beings to lead them towards liberation.
Make personal vows.

End of the day: I don’t know.
Varis
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Re: Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Post by Varis »

puravida wrote: Wed Jun 03, 2020 4:47 am However, it seems to me that in some ways removing oneself away from all the complexities of the modern world permanently seems like a cop out.
From a Mahāyāna POV, you're not really helping sentient beings by delaying the attainment of Buddhahood. Charity work and the like are great, and they generate merit. But the merit gained from practicing the Dharma is greater, and in the long term of better benefit to all sentient beings.
It's outside of the monastery where people live, and where the Buddha's teaching are desperately needed. Not to mention extending loving kindness and doing good in the world.
Those who lack the merit to recieve the teachings aren't going to, regardless of how much they need them. There's nothing we can do about that.
Let's say a monk is practicing walking meditation along a path near his/her monastery and he observes a man raping a women. Would this serene monk intervene? Would the Buddha endorse getting involved?
Yes. In one of his past lifetimes the Buddha killed a murderer who planned on committing mass murder on a boat. In doing so he saved the murderer from generating horrible karma, and saved the occupants of the boat from death.
What if the rapist attacks the monk, should he defend himself - assume the monk would not be defending himself for his own sake, but to further protect and give aid to the women?
Yes.
On a different note, should Buddhists living in modern society be involved in working to end racial injustice, further human rights, stop sex trafficking etc.
Sure.
'All these complexities arise outside the monastery. And the robe wearing monk in the monastery seems completely removed from all the suffering in the world and the work in doing something about it.
Buddhas are infinitely more capable of aiding suffering beings end their own suffering.
It's not at all removed from ending suffering, suffering will never cease until we have all exited saṃsāra.
puravida
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Re: Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Post by puravida »

Thank you so much Varis for your concise replies. I was wondering if you could unpack further how merit practicing Dharma is of greater longer term benefit to all sentient beings. How does this work? Why is the long run more important than meeting short term needs like someone starving due to inadequate food supply or depressed to be bordering on suicide? There is no long run if someone isn't around to live it. I'm not trying to argue, I'm just trying to understand.

Thank you in advance. : )
Varis wrote: Tue Jun 09, 2020 7:11 am
From a Mahāyāna POV, you're not really helping sentient beings by delaying the attainment of Buddhahood. Charity work and the like are great, and they generate merit. But the merit gained from practicing the Dharma is greater, and in the long term of better benefit to all sentient beings.
Varis
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Re: Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Post by Varis »

puravida wrote: Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:23 pm Thank you so much Varis for your concise replies. I was wondering if you could unpack further how merit practicing Dharma is of greater longer term benefit to all sentient beings. How does this work? Why is the long run more important than meeting short term needs like someone starving due to inadequate food supply or depressed to be bordering on suicide? There is no long run if someone isn't around to live it. I'm not trying to argue, I'm just trying to understand.

Thank you in advance. : )
You better help sentient beings end their suffering as a Buddha than as an ordinary person. I'm certainly not saying to abandon those people, you should help them if you can. It's a possible way to practice right livelihood if you start a career doing charity, therapy, social work, etc.
We've all been reincarnating since beginningless time, enduring all sorts of horrible misfortunes lifetime after lifetime. To end that we need to achieve liberation.

No problem, take care!
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Grigoris
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Re: Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Post by Grigoris »

Ummm... The Engaged Buddhism "movement" was started by monastics...


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Re: Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

I think it’s really hard to say what one would do in any specifically described situation, but generally speaking, I think Buddhists who wish to engage in solving the problems of the world can do so, and should do so in ways which are not rooted, as a tree, you might say, on a dualistic outlook, even though it’s leaves might end up providing more shade on one side than the other.

I think where aspiring bodhisattvas really shine when hoping to liberate those in the “political-beings realm” of samsara, is in returning to, focusing on, and emphasizing a basic humanity, the commonalities that everyone on both sides share. I have seen it done and have participated in it.

This is really difficult to do. One of the challenges has to do a lot with identity. I’m not talking about “identity politics”, but rather in understanding that while identity may be central to the cause of suffering for a particular group of people, ultimately, that identity is not the pivotal point of the solution. Another way of saying this is that each person’s suffering is totally different, but nobody’s suffering is unique.

Any example in which people are oppressed can be used, but I will use the extreme example of the Holocaust.
Jews in Europe were murdered and put into ovens. This is a terrible and horrendous fact. They were treated like this specifically for being Jewish, but being Jewish isn’t the reason why gassing people and burning them in ovens is wrong. Black peoples were sold into slavery, but skin color doesn’t have anything to do with why slavery is wrong. Both the specifics of the oppression and the reasons why the oppression is wrong need to be identified, of course. But, while the issue, the problem is mainly of concern to whatever specific group is being oppressed, regardless of how that group is defined, women, minorities, who experience that specific type of suffering that others may not ever experience, the desire for freedom from that suffering isn’t specific to any group. It’s universal. I think this has always been HH Dalai Lama’s focus, the shared need all beings have to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

Of course, this is a very difficult position to take. It’s rather lofty. You can’t just float around on some altruistic cloud in the middle of a violent conflict being all peacy- peacy, let’s all hold hands. But when the fighting dies down and the need for solid solutions is on the agenda, I think, a solid foundation can be found in this universal view. I don’t know who, besides Buddhists, would take such an approach. And, you can see, when compassionate acts do cross barriers, the impact it has on everything and everybody. Sometimes the photos of cops and demonstrators hugging are bullshit. When the cameras are turned off, the tear gas starts. But sometimes there is something real there, and ultimately there HAS to be reconciliation.

That’s my two cents worth.

...
EMPTIFUL.
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PeterC
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Re: Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Post by PeterC »

puravida wrote: Wed Jun 03, 2020 4:47 am The conventional perception of Buddhism is a monk wearing a robe and living in a remote monastery in some idyllic natural setting.
This is far, far removed from the reality of being a monk. How much time have you actually spent with them on a personal level?
I get that one needs to work on rooting out all of the delusions, ignorance, etc through mindfulness, meditation, and following the 8 fold path and other teachings of the Buddha. That task in and of itself is hard enough without adding all the complexity of living in modern society with taxes, bills, jobs, etc. However, it seems to me that in some ways removing oneself away from all the complexities of the modern world permanently seems like a cop out. It's outside of the monastery where people live, and where the Buddha's teaching are desperately needed. Not to mention extending loving kindness and doing good in the world.
The Dharma is needed wherever people suffer, which can be in any place or time.

However you seem to imply that the purpose of the Dharma is to make this life easier. It is not.
I am genuinely interested in the answer to how a typical monastic monk would handle the following scenario or should handle it according to the Buddha's teachings. Let's say a monk is practicing walking meditation along a path near his/her monastery and he observes a man raping a women. Would this serene monk intervene? Would the Buddha endorse getting involved? What if the rapist attacks the monk, should he defend himself - assume the monk would not be defending himself for his own sake, but to further protect and give aid to the women?
I cannot think of one monk I've met who would serenely walk past absorbed in his samadhi. It's an absurd hypothetical.
On a different note, should Buddhists living in modern society be involved in working to end racial injustice, further human rights, stop sex trafficking etc. 'All these complexities arise outside the monastery. And the robe wearing monk in the monastery seems completely removed from all the suffering in the world and the work in doing something about it.
First, practicing the Dharma is hard. It takes time and effort. It usually requires devoting a certain amount of time to just practice and nothing else. The person who ordains with the intention of doing this benefits other beings. The most important part of their benefit to other beings is around helping them achieve liberation, not through addressing societal problems.

Second, would you go to a medical student, an engineering student, someone doing scientific research of some kind and say - you're wasting time studying, people need your help, go and help them now? Of course not.

Third, there really aren't that many ordained/serious Dharma practitioners in the first place. There are countless lay people. The ordained sangha are essential for the upholding and preservation of the Dharma. Of course they could get into politics or do social work. But is that a good use of their time, vs. the time of laypeople? Would the world have been better off if the young Chatral Rinpoche had decided to spend his time feeding the hungry instead of doing retreat? If Mingyur Rinpoche had fundraised for a new hospital instead of doing his wandering retreat?
I realize my wording above may come across as bashing monks residing in monasteries. That is not my intention. I also realize this perspective is arising out of my own ignorance, which is why I'm posting on this forum. But I have an issue with anyone of any faith sitting on the sidelines and not being actively involved in helping to relieve suffering in the world. I acknowledge that helping to relieve suffering in the world is aided by ending suffering in one's self, but can't people work toward both ends at the same time? If forsaking the world for the life of the monk is the ideal path, than how do those suffering in the world ever receive aid from those versed in the teachings and practice that can most help?

Thank you in advance for any replies.
There's a difference between suffering and the causes of suffering. You're focusing way too much on the former.
Crazywisdom
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Re: Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Post by Crazywisdom »

One thing comes to mind is maybe the world is copping out and the monks are engaged, because the world is into pointless activities, ever trying to pull others into their quicksand?, "oh come and do X with us;" but monks have realized the conditions for a good life.
SilenceMonkey
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Re: Engaged Buddhism and Monastics

Post by SilenceMonkey »

I think it's up to the practitioner. And the karma depends on the motivation.

If a monk is meditating and witnesses someone getting raped, perhaps a wave of compassion would overcome him. Perhaps wrathful compassion. To act from this place would be very virtuous, I think. If the monk is overcome with a deep sense of renunciation, perhaps letting the situation pass would deepen his detachment for the affairs of the world. Perhaps the monk might naturally see these events as a dream.

But this is from the perspective of cultivating qualities within one's heart. Perhaps the monk would want to sacrifice his practice in order to help this woman. Perhaps intervention might be messy, but it might do more good than bad. And maybe the monk might not be able to live with himself afterwards, knowing that he didn't do anything. (This is how I would feel... but I'm not a monk.)
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