Aug 23, 2007

Bhikkhu Bodhi Challenges Buddhists

Buddhadhamma Quarterly is possibly the finest Buddhist magazine available, always presenting thoughtful in-depth articles by leading teachers and scholars. In the current issue, Fall 2007, there is a thought provoking essay by Bhikkhu Bodhi (best known as translator of large chunks of the Sutta Pitaka.) You can read a long excerpt on the Buddhadhamma website; A Challenge to Buddhists. The gist of the piece is that Buddhists need to find ways to actively involve themselves in relieving the horrendous suffering experienced on this planet. As the Bhante puts it;

Seeing the immensity of the world’s anguish has raised in my mind questions about the future prospects for Buddhism in the West. I’ve been struck by how seldom the theme of global suffering—the palpable suffering of real human beings—is thematically explored... It seems to me that we Western Buddhists tend to dwell in a cognitive space that defines the first noble truth largely against the background of our middle-class lifestyles: as the gnawing of discontent; the ennui of over-satiation; the pain of unfulfilling relationships...our focus on these aspects of dukkha has made us oblivious to the vast, catastrophic suffering that daily overwhelms three-fourths of the world’s population.
Ah yes, the complacency of the "Upper Middle Path." While seeing some merit in the Engaged Buddhist movement, Bhikkhu Bodhi also sees some limitations;

while some Engaged Buddhists seek fresh perspectives from the dharma, for many Buddhism simply provides spiritual practices to use while simultaneously espousing socio-political causes not much different from those of the mainstream Left.
He goes on, in the remainder of the essay not yet posted on-line, to note how much more effective some organizations with Christian and Jewish roots have been (he cites World Vision and the Jewish World Service) than the much smaller Buddhist efforts. His conclusion;

The special challenge facing Buddhism in our age is to stand up as an advocate for justice in the world, a voice of conscience for those victims of social, economic nad political injustice who cannot stand up for themselves....This is, in my view, a deeply moral challenge...I believe it also points in a direction that Buddhism should take if it is to share in the Buddha's ongoing mission to humanity.
Bhikkhu Bodhi's essay raises two questions in my mind; why haven't Buddhists been more engaged in social and political action to relieve suffering? And how can we do better?

Bhikkhu Bodhi's critique mostly involves western Buddhists, and in the quotes above he cites the mostly middle class base and it's concern with purely personal manifestations of dukkha. That is a valid observation; most of the first or second generation converts to Buddhism in North America are above average in income and educational level. This is not in itself surprising or negative; the Buddha's own converts were disproportionately from the higher strata of Indian society. However, it has created a mind-set which finds it easier to relate to the dukkha of post-modern angst than to the dukkha of hunger.

It is also true that most new Buddhists are primarily drawn to the religion for the meditation, as a vehicle of self-help. Back in the 'sixties and 'seventies when various strands of Buddhism were first being imported to mainstream America, there was a conscious effort to avoid what were called disparagingly "cultural trappings" and to present the teachings in a form pretty much stripped down just to meditation. This was a tactical move that may have helped the initial early spread of the teaching, but led unfortunately to an unbalanced approach. I get the feeling that this trend has been turning around for at least ten years and that many western buddhists are looking for more than just a self-help practice.

It's not that western Buddhists are apolitical, on the contrary many are passionately committed to various causes, it is just that in most cases there isn't much intersection between their spiritual and political lives. Nor is there much of either community social work or political action coming from Buddhist institutional structures.

Is there a doctrinal aspect of Buddhism that hinders action in the world? Possibly. There is the underlying sense that this conditioned realm is inherently flawed and will always be so. However, there is also a very great emphasis on compassion for all beings caught in it. And there are plenty of scriptural references to the Buddha advising on how to live a comfortable and decent life within this world, and even commenting on what we would relate to as social or political questions.

Turning to the second question, what can we do about it? There may be many practical ways we can help relieve suffering, and some Buddhist groups are doing great work - the Sri Lankan Sarvodaya organization is a sterling example; founded way back in 1958. In the western countries, Buddhists have been active in hospice and prison work.

On the political side, I think we have to be wary of any organized "Buddhist Party." These have not always turned out happily in Asian countries. Better, in my opinion, to bring our Buddhist sensibilities to bear through existing structures.

But one thing I think would be very useful would be some attempt to formulate a coherent Buddhist vision of contemporary social issues and problems. (And we should acknowledge those who are working in that direction already, like the Buddhist Peace Fellowship)

Buddhism can have a lot to contribute to improving the dialogue. To begin with, we can try and transcend the us vs. them mentality that inflicts itself on so much political discourse, of the right and of the left. This is because the whole dichotomy of good and evil has no place in Buddhism. There is, instead, an analysis of actions into those which are skilful (relieving suffering) and unskilful (causing suffering.) This perspective alone, if widely disseminated, would improve both thought and action immensely.

The major issues of the early twenty-first century are the environment, war, poverty and liberty. All of these are closely related and need to be addressed holistically. Buddhism ultimately traces all of these problems to the three great roots of greed, hatred and delusion. This simple, but powerful, insight needs to be spun out and elaborated to define the various specific chains of causality, and to see where they can be effectively and compassionately addressed.

Hopefully I'll find time to spin out some of these ideas a bit more on this blog in the future. In the meanwhile, what do you think?

39 comments:

Social Subjects at St.Pauls said...

At last! I agree with Bhikkhu Bodhi. In my opinion the audience for western buddhism is largely educated middle class and the teaching is often treated as another consumer product which is ironically encouraging grotesque self absorption because it doesn't connect with the environment around it. In its favour is that it questions endless consumption as a response to dissatisfaction and gives people a way of being ok with rage. The way it is taught in the west is highly conceptual and presupposes a certain level of income, education and material means. The teachers often live clearly middle class lives in well-off surroundings and their concerns are speaking to a certain audience who can materially support that and 'get' their often - sadly - abstract teachings. It is a bit of 'private club' and sometimes quite dilettante and snooty in its general outlook. I am always struck by kids on G8 demos being completely unmoved by Buddhism because it is seen as another 'jam tomorrow' ideology more suited to middle class suburbanites and quite divorced from their concerns about the state of the planet and greedy murderous corporate capitalism. Buddhists in the west don't tend to do any sort of outreach work - and this especially true of the Forest Tradition (sorry no offence intended Bhante) and it is interesting that you will get more charitable work done among Mahayana traditions, maybe as a result of the 'bodhisattva ideal'.(?)Yet there is a fundamental contradiction between 'stepping beyond the personality view' and a self-regarding self-absorbed passivity in the face of widespread poverty and oil driven warfare. Any charity work that is done tends to aim at people in other countries. There is little or no work done with the socially excluded in our own western societies. That may because materially they can't contribute to some of the material wants of western monasteries. That in turn reinforces the sometimes snooty condescension one encounters in some western theravada circles which are basically exclusive clubs for middle class university educated grey haired suburbanites who like ethnic gee-gaws and esoteric ideas. In turn this tends to elevate the teachers and demote the adherents who are seen as the material supporters whereas in the Buddha's day many more lay supporters became arahants. It is not a matter of numbers but of the position of lay supporters per se. In monasteries where this is more apparent there tends to be a lot of moaning and complaining and requests for large scale capital investment which comes across like some land owner wanting more productivity from the serfs. These monasteries also are completely uninterested in outreach of any sort because materially they don't need to do it and they often have a current of aggressive inflated self importance in their teaching. It is an exclusive private world in effect and over the years I've noticed one that is less and less interested in anything beyond its own walls. Personally I am tired listening to Dhamma Talks from monks who spend half the year in exotic locations jetting about with their exclusive pals who premise their talks with complaints about being tired and bored - especially after I have completed a hard ten hour shift for a low wage!!!

glenn fitzgerald said...

"Buddhists need to find ways to actively involve themselves in relieving the horrendous suffering experienced on this planet."

Yes!!!

glenn fitzgerald said...

"It is also true that most new Buddhists are primarily drawn to the religion for the meditation, as a vehicle of self-help."

The word, "meditation," is another way of referring to a form of self-reflection that penetrates to the essence of one's real mind and identity----a "mind" and "identity" which springs from one's unity with all things.

One can easily see in this truth that as way of realizing one's true and real mind, meditation is not about the search for self-help or self-improvement. Rather, Meditation is ultimately about how we learn to see our inherent unity with the world around us.

Meditation, as the means through which we realize our greater unity with the world, also ought to lead to more actism rather than diminish it.

The other thing about meditation is that it is a totally natural aspect of being that DOES NOT REQUIRE RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE OF ANY KIND.

So, here are a few of my own ideas.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

The other thing about meditation is that it is a totally natural aspect of being that DOES NOT REQUIRE RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE OF ANY KIND.

glenn fitzgerald said...

"The other thing about meditation is that it is a totally natural aspect of being that DOES NOT REQUIRE RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE OF ANY KIND."

That is not to say, however, that religion can't help create more ideal conditions for self-reflection---sometimes referred to as, "meditation."

I can certainly recall, for example, the way in which the religious atmosphere of Arrow River aided "meditation." As one sat in the stillness of a meditative posture, Arrow River's meditation room infused one with this keen sense of having merged with reality's aspect of a river---a river without beginning or end.

Perhaps that sense arouse from the candles and the drifting scent of incense. Or perhaps, through some mysterious process of osmosis where the realization of beings past seeped into the room from it's past impressions of their enlightenment

And one could easily imagine that after having drifted for eons, that the river had brought one to this latest incarnation of self---had brought one to this particular moment in time. And I'm certain that many who had sat there before had been visited by the fleeting traces of past memories from long ago.

So, the religious atmosphere of Arrow River had a curiously positive effect on deep self-reflection.


Glenn Fitzgerald

Social Subjects at St.Pauls said...

jesus christ

Ben 8) said...

"jesus christ"
hmmm, Latin for 'help to anoint'.
Help anoint what?

Replace it with a synonym:
smear
daub
rub
smooth
massage

You want someone else to show the path. That is the easy, errr, eastern way.

glenn fitzgerald said...

"Personally I am tired listening to Dhamma Talks from monks who spend half the year in exotic locations jetting about with their exclusive pals who premise their talks with complaints about being tired and bored - especially after I have completed a hard ten hour shift for a low wage!!!"


Social subjects at st.pauls:

You don't know that those monks, "premise their talks about being tired and bored."

So, that aspect of your critique represents pure and uninformed conjecture.

You also can't just assume that monks jet around solely for the sake of hanging around with their exclusive pals. So there's another point of conjecture.

But I still see some merit to your point about the wondering monks.

The only way religious institutions can become sustainable, I believe, is through the creation of links with the communities they exist in. And it is here that the social activism ought to also begin---that is within the context of people we know and whose suffering we can directly relate to.

In other words, acts of compassion ought to ideally become concrete rather than abstract expressions. I guess that idea points to the old adage about how, "charity begins at home."

It's a lot easier to drop ten bucks in a collection box than deal with the needs of real people adjacent to you.

Glenn Fitzgerald

John Billingsly said...

I don't know where all this hostility toward the middle- and upper-middle classes is coming from. The problem with such a post and the article it cites is that both take the tone of a scold. Who would listen? Besides, isn't the unadulterated narcissism one complains of suffering, too?

I don't believe in comparing suffering. It's the sort of talk that makes some people's suffering "special" and diminishes others'. Such thinking ultimately leads to, say, the occupation of of Palestine or America's use of 9/11 to stomp on everyone else, to cite just to examples.

Buddhism lags Christianity and Judaism--and indeed, Islam--when it comes to aiding the poor because it has no collective tradition of doing so. Asoka is often cited to create roots for Buddhist social action, but the roots don't run deep; in fact, they are fictitious. The Bhikkhu rightly suggests that we aid organizations already in existence. No need to brand anything Buddhist.

Bhikkhu Bodhi has done a great service to all of us with his countless translations. But his "Challenge to Buddhists" is little more than a long whine that people aren't getting Buddhism right. I often hear complaints that Buddhism isn't practiced properly, that we're missing the point. As if all forms of Buddhism were in accord with one another.

As for the spanking we're getting: What are most monks doing to help the poor aside from exhorting the rest of us to?

And the implication that Mahayanists are more likely to aid the poor: We'll have to look for a Mahayanist Ghosananda. Thich Nhat Hanh won't do--Plum Village and the popular books he's written are just too, well, a part of the Upper Middle Way, to bring this full circle.

Social Subjects at St.Pauls said...
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Social Subjects at St.Pauls said...
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Social Subjects at St.Pauls said...
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Lotus_in_the_hills said...
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Lotus_in_the_hills said...

Are we to follow Christian models of creating modern aid organizations? Which, for me, begs the question, when did Christianity become "socially involved"? It might be argued that aiding the poor was part of Christianity and Islam from the early stages of those religions, and a similar concern for social welfare can be seen in Buddhist history (Asoka's edicts attest to this). But when did the modern denominational aid agency come about? Was it mainly a Christian phenomenon? What models were they drawing on?

I guess the main question is, are groups like Tzu Chi and Sarvodaya simply to be the Christian model transposed whole into Buddhism? What's wrong/right with that?

Is this just another call for Buddhism to "modernize"? With no centralized seat of authority like the Vatican, how can any effort at modernization be implemented and coordinated?

John Billingsly said...
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John Billingsly said...

Christian social action wasn't drawing on a particular "model." For the Christian, helping the poor shoots straight from the canon. Its organizational models arose from the very culture out of which modern Christianity arose--Western culture.

Christians do not argue among themselves whether social action is a fit with their faith, although they do argue about what course to take and which issues to address. For instance, the Fundamentalist Christian takes on abortion rights, while other Christian churches took on civil rights long before the American government did. No one wondered whether Martin Luther King, Jr.'s actions were in keeping with those of a minister.

Among Buddhists, there are still plenty who argue that the business of Buddhism is enlightenment and that politics and social action amount to little more than trying to fix samsara. Plenty of Bhikkhus look askance at their peers who do engage. Such an argument is not possible among Christians or Muslims or Jews.

For Buddhists, the verdict is still out. Even if you want to cite Asoka--who was a benevolent despot--at best he's anomolous and his edicts are the stuff of fairy tales. As Bhikkhu Bodhi so often points out, we seize upon those teachings that suit us at the expense of the depth and breadth of dharma.

Social Subjects at St.Pauls said...

Never has a religion been so beset by own ‘supporters’ as ‘western Buddhism’ – it is chock full of pseudo-intellectuals, self-appointed experts, quoter’s of scriptural exegesis, self-reverential pontificators, self satisfied naysayer’s, contrary windbags each and every one who for not one moment manage to get beyond their gargantuan egos but with sanctimonious vanity deliver voluminous tired purple prose that actually has nothing to say short of telling others what they can or cannot do according to their inflated ridiculous opinion. I think you are part of a sickness endemic in ‘western buddhism’ which thinks being a self-involved windbag is liberation.

Let’s make it simple for you – you either help others or you don’t and we don’t need anymore silliness to plough through to get to the point: just do the right thing!

Just do it!

And to save anymore stupid posts from the above let me assure them that this will be my final post because I finally consider it a fruitless waste of my time ploughing through the self important fraudulent crap you write.

bro's blog said...

I would opt for more social action by Buddhists. But I plead to do this as unorganized as possible. The kind of worldly wisdom needed (to say fight poverty) is already cause of much debate.
What is the right model for economic development?
Is there a sutra on this? There isn't.

We only have abstract ideas about helping people to help themselves. And how to deal cultural and religious diversity that causes so much hatred world wide? We can continue to 'be nice' to everybody, but how should we intervene in non-Buddhist countries? As much as Christian charities can be praised they are also questioned and despised. Buddhists have many friends and a good image world wide, but we've always taken care not to get our hands dirty.

Want to do something against poverty? Then you have to speak out on issues as birth control, womens rights, economical policies - in other words, get your hands dirty. We can only make deductions here from what 'Buddha might have done'. But usually we are carrying a pile of cultural baggage.
Maybe we know: he wisely shut up.

It seems to me that individuals should follow there compassionate hearts and aid whatever (secular) charity they feel like. Why do we need Buddhist charity? How are reflections on emptiness going to aid the poor? The other way round I surely believe that outspoken ideas on family planning, politics and economics are going to hurt the image of Buddhism.

Lotus_in_the_hills said...

"Buddhism lags Christianity and Judaism--and indeed, Islam--when it comes to aiding the poor because it has no collective tradition of doing so."

Well...I'm not entirely convinced...the Buddha always praised giving (danakatha, remember?) and not just to monks. Have a look here for a discussion on the topic if you haven't already:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/various/wheel367.html

Bhikkhu Bodhi himself contributes to this issue of the Wheel.

"As Bhikkhu Bodhi so often points out, we seize upon those teachings that suit us at the expense of the depth and breadth of dharma."

On the matter of dana, I don't think one can say that those who say that giving and generosity is a big part of Buddhism are guilty of a selective interpretation of texts. At least in the Theravada tradition, dana is there, and in a big way (whether it can be considered as "politics and social action" I'm not sure). Unfortunately, I can't go back to ancient India to see if such an expansive understanding of dana was ever put into practice. But I can choose, here and now, where I will follow it or not.

"It seems to me that individuals should follow there compassionate hearts and aid whatever (secular) charity they feel like. Why do we need Buddhist charity?"

I agree, secular aid organizations are incredibly important and the very idea of a denominational aid agency is open to criticism. But if a group like Tzu Chi or Sarvodaya wants to organize call itself a Buddhist aid organization, I for one would not stand in their way.

I wonder what out blogging bhikkhu has to say on all these matters :)

Special note to Social Subjects at St.Pauls,

Yes, posting to blogs and wandering around the internet can be a horrendous waste of time, depending on how you approach it. I wonder if people would be so acrimonious if they realized that internet arguments and internet prestige from winning said arguments don't really amount to much and vanish once you turn off your computer.

Lotus_in_the_hills said...
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John Billingsly said...

My apologies to anyone who was deeply offended by what I guess are unskillful posts. And a special apology to Soc. Subs. at St. Paul's.

I have nothing against anyone who wants to organise the way Buddhist Peace Fellowship does. I support their efforts with donations but I understand why many Buddhists do not. I also admire thinkers like Amartya Sen, who includes Buddhist thinking in his economic models without throwing out Western ones. It's thinkers like him who help me to figure out how to participate in in a way that is consistent with my own values, learned mostly from my own upbringing and my Buddhist teachers.

There are plenty of ways to go about it and I guess over time later generations will pick out what works and what doesn't. But it seems to me that anyone who imagines Western Buddhists are not doing enough, or are epsecially narcissistic, is mistaken. Anecdotally I'd say Western Buddhists are among the most engaged politically and socially in their respective countries, and seem to share a liberal bias (I include myself here). Note that many Thai Buddhists in America are of an entirely different political stripe. It gets complicated.

I agree with St. Paul that we just need to help others and I do my best like everyone else. But I don't think we act as Buddhists so much as human beings. We don't need to do any marketing, although I understand no one here has suggested that we do.

And I agree with Lotus's remarks about dana. I'm just not finding anything in Buddhism that advocates the social and political engagement we're used to in Western countries. Later democratic movements in Buddhist countries can find justification in dhamma teachings but they more closely resemble contemporary models than they do the ancient republics of the sort the Buddha came from. I've been esepcially interested in the Buddha's dialogues with King Pasenadi, which tell me something about how the Buddha addressed political issues--or sometimes didn't.

Not that we Buddhists can't figure out how to act in a way that best expresses our beliefs, however varied, but that I doubt it will be "Buddhist" per se.

Sorry if my writing style offends. With practice perhaps purple will fade to black and white, but I have to admit, either I'm color blind or I'm just not seeing purple. Either way, I'll consider all that's said and make an effort not to offend again. It won't be the first time I've had a tough time with right speech.

clyde said...

I read the excerpt of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s article and your post. I plead guilty: I may be identified as a middle-aged, upper-middle class, white American and a Buddhist sympathizer. It may also be said that my understanding of the nature and role of suffering, and the path and goal of Buddhism has evolved over time from a more internalized view to a view which recognizes the pervasiveness of suffering and the interdependence of all things. I believe that Buddhism leads one to “Right Living”. As for what we can do, I cannot answer that question for anyone but myself. I promote the simple message “do no harm” ( http://www.donoharm.us ). I have no pretensions about the effort, except that I know it has touched me.

Dhamma81 said...

I agree that there is immense suffering in the world and that there are things that can and should be done to help alleviate it, however, I don't think it has to come with the label of "Buddhism." Politics are dangerous, and in my opinion should be approached with caution if at all by serious buddhists.The left and right hardly accord with Dhamma in and of themselves. Is there ever any electoral candidate that really even exemplifies the five precepts? Is any political system ever really going to end suffering? It is true that samsara can never give a sense of satisfaction and that all worlds are swept away. We can only do what we can through our practice and through our thoughts words and deeds. We don't need a Buddhist Charity to commit acts of kindness. In the end our goodness towards others is really our own, and doesn't need to be on display for others to see. I used to be so involved with the ups and downs of politics but as I have tried to mature in my practice I have been turning away from it all. We can only purify our own actions and then do what we can for others.

Dhamma81 said...

In regards to such things as abortion, the Buddha forbade it, and as "Bro's Blog" said, maybe the Buddha was wise not to answer certain things. In the end we practice the Dhamma to trancend the world and be free of endless births and deaths. There will never be any economic system that will solve the worlds problems. The world keeps getting more and more crowded and greed, hatred and delusion reign supreme in the hearts of most of us. I think when he pointed to suffering and the way to the end of suffering as being all that he taught he really meant it. Dabbling in partisan politics or trying to change the world is never going to come to any state of completion or lead to any lasting state of affairs. The reason he taught the Dhamma is because the world was not much different 2600 years ago as it is today, it was still a mass of suffering within and without. If you keep doing good in whatever way you can than there is sure to be good results. I still really am wary of propping up Buddhism as a force for massive social change, as he taught us to free our own hearts and minds of the defilements and not the hearts and minds of others. If everyone made their own thoughts words and deeds pure we'd have the answers to all social problems anyway.

glenn fitzgerald said...

"In the end we practice the Dhamma to trancend the world and be free of endless births and deaths."

Isn't that a form of "greed."

Glenn Fitzgerald.

Dhamma81 said...

I guess it might be considered a form of greed depending on how you look at it. In truth I don't have an answer for that one. I will have to ask someone much more versed in Dhamma and understanding to get an answer for that. If all we do is keep trying to patch up the world and make it a better place it'll just be an endless task with no completion. The Buddha pointed out that liberation was possible for each of us if we practice in line with the Dhamma, he never said that we could fix the world and all of its problems. We have to start individually, otherwise how will we be of benefit to anyone else? Wars, environmental destruction,overpopulation and greed are never going to stop on a global scale, but each of us can do our part not to contribute to those things. As for the greed thing, i'll get back to you on that one if I ever find the answer.

bro's blog said...

="In the end we practice the Dhamma to transcend the world and be free of endless births and deaths."

Isn't that a form of "greed."=

I really don't think that is a form of greed. I think it is play with words. Easily enough we apply some distorted Darwinism or overly rationalized models to explain any human behavior as egoistic. But if we look in our hearts we can see our real motivation simply lying there. No matter what kind of mental chatter there may be to tell us otherwise.
Science tells us the more simple and direct theory often gives the better explanation. If we meditate for the sake of beings (so we can learn to display meaningful behavior towards them), that is what we do. To tell yourself that you actually just want to be happy yourself only and don't care about others but just tell yourself that you are noble but that's just so you can feel good about being good so that in the end it is egoistic anyway... That's obviously the more complicated theory. I'm not a teacher, but I would qualify it as 'confusion' and 'distraction' or 'mental chatter'.

Dhamma81 said...

Glenn-


I told you I'd ask someone about the whole issue of self liberation and greed and I did. He is the Ajahn of a temple in the American midwest and he told me that if it wasn't for the Buddha looking for an end to birth and death than there wouldn't be Buddhism.He then said if the search for an end to suffering in the round of births an deaths is greed than the Buddha was greedy because that is what he did. His search for enlightenment may have been motivated by a desire to free himself but remember, he did end up teaching the Dhamma after his enlightenment. He(The Buddha) also cautioned against people trying to help others too much until they have helped themselves. The Ajahn pointed out that one enlightened person can do more for the world than a lot of unenlightened ones. Another thing he brought up was the fact that "Wisdom and Right view change everyone you come into contact with." I suppose wisdom and right view probably change how one relates to others in profound ways as well. Hope this helps answer your question. Best of luck to you in your practice and in your life.

Jon said...

Just adding my voice to those concerned about the tension between political engagement on the one hand and detachment on the other. Are we trying to let go of ego-driven views and opinions? M. O'C. Walshe had interesting things to say about political causes and detachment in "the Buddhist Layman" His point is that if we examine engagement in causes we often find that the cause is a vehicle for unskillful passions such as anger and hatred. Joan Didion says much the same thing in her essay "On Morality" in Slouching Toward Bethlehem, only she sees public causes as vehicles for assuaging personal anxiety and guilt. Political opinions, including anger at and even hatred for certain politicians, are very hard to let go of. No offence intended to the Bhante, but his post strikes me as quite opinionated. I share his opinions, but I know of decent people who don't. I've read that when issues like politics arise the question to ask is whether one's response leads to binding or unbinding. Isn't activism by its nature more binding than not? This leaves me sympathetic to bourgeois self-help types who use Buddhism when it suits them but aren't serious about approaching nibbana.

SusMita Barua said...

Hello I am a little lonesome engaged Buddhist transplanted here from kolkata, India, wanting to connect with fellow engaged Buddhist near and far to share my ideas on "Deep Conscious capitalism".

I feel socially engaged Buddhist are in a unique position to apply discriminating wisdom, knowledge and compassionate skillful action to relieve the sufferings of those less fortunate than us.

My humble regards and gratitude for your attention.

http://conscious-capitalism.blogspot.com

BodhiYou said...

One aspect of Western Buddhism that is overlooked is Renunciation. The largely "middle class" practitioners want their cake (material goods and higher life style of false comforts) and to eat it too. The comforts ranging from cars, homes, high tech gadgets and in general keeping up with what Wall Street and Madison Ave. advertising campagins, only fuel the defilements of greed, aversion and delusion. So now we have world wide greed, aversion and delusion.

Starting with renunciation and living a humble and quiet life while also following the basic Five Precepts would right the course of our planetary woes overnight.

We are feeding this image of self and the planet, wars, and economy and global warming reflect the greed, aversion and delusion that is underneath the careless and ignorant actions of self promotion.

Practicing and following with closer attention and responsibility as expressed in the Pali Canon and Theravada Buddhism would steer the world to a more thoughtful and responsible mind set.

We are each responsible for our thoughts and actions, so start with your own greed, aversion and delusion which now in our time of global communciation, is spreading like wild fire across the planet and infecting everyone and everything.

Robert Stone said...

"The special challenge facing Buddhism in our age is to stand up as an advocate for justice in the world, a voice of conscience for those victims of social, economic, and political injustice who cannot stand up and speak for themselves."

The difficulties are definition of injustice, and where to start. Some are legitimately oppressed while others are victims of their own chronic poor decision-making. Whenever I think about these problems I just feel overwhelmed.

sreedhar said...

It is amazing to scan and experience the spectrum of a wide range of thoughts about thoghtlessness.

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felicia said...

Hi, Ven Sirs, Bros & Sis in the Dhamma,

Re: Bikkunis Ordination in Perth

With noble respect, may i humbly be allowed to blog here (pls pardon me if my views are not agreeable, it is ok, as everyone is entitled to one's opinion, it is just for gentle sharing).

Oh God! I don't know what have got into these 4 Bikkunis & the 2 Ajarns in this Aust. bikkunis ordination issue that has caused so much controversy.

From my understanding, all monks & nuns (ordained or not) belong to one united noble blissful family known as the "Sangha".

I was thinking, if i was one of the 4 Bikkunis, i would not have asked for the ordination or even if it was given to me i would reject, when i knew it would cause disharmony & harm to the Sangha community. I should not be self-centered and selfish as i was well aware that there were objections to this issue, being from a theravada tradition and it was a sensitive issue that would cause a stir/split in the Sangha. I would be sensitive to others' feelings and would put this on hold until i got clearance from the Theravada Sangha, at the least.

Under the tradition (from my knowledge), if one member of the Sangha objects, nothing moves. In this case, all of them defied advices not only by the WPP (their lineage) but also some very senior monks from the West like Ajarn Sumedho etc not to proceed.

Generally, all must abide by the Vinaya and also respect each country's conventions or rules. For eg, the West accepts homosexual, that doesn't mean the other countries esp the Asian countries had also to accept as it is debated that it is not stated in the Vinaya. In this case, although it is in the Vinaya about the 4-fold sangha, that doesn't mean we ignore other principles and conventions including culture and traditions of other countries.

If the Ajahns B & S had consulted or informed their senior monks both in Thai & West that despite objections(as a matter of courtesy), they would still wish to proceed, then it was more open and amicable and no one could stop all these adults from doing what they thought were right for them. Then, perhaps those seniors would give them their blessings and could even advise them on the procedures and timing.

According to the Chinese and most Asians culture/tradition/belief/myth, the time to choose to carry out an auspicious event is very important. In this case, it is understood from the web, that the ordination took place around 7pm to 9pm Aust time and to most of the Asians it is not an auspicious time. Even date & day are also crucial. Most Asians would carry out their auspicious events/ceremony preferably in the morning(sunrise) before noon.

Any inspiring Bikkuni should not be excited to be ordained.They have to ensure that all are happy with their ordination and both Sangha & lay community rejoice in their ordination and not get ordained in a harsh harsh manner (during the night) with no proper Sangha or lay support's presence. In the Aust episode (from the video posted), it was just an internal ordination with no members of Sangha or lay community to rejoice it. To make matter worse, all 4 bikkunis were ordained at the same time, including the younger 2 bikkunis. It looked like a rush quiet job in the nite, to avoid attention & publicity. How could they cover such a thing? Everyone in the sangha would eventually know about it. That was one big mistake (in my opinion). We are saddened. We hope they apologize to the Sangha & lay community to reconcile.

If the Bikkunis care for the Sangha & Dhamma, they should not provoke others and their ordination should be a harmonious one with the blessings of their elders. What is the use of the ordination if it caused more problems to oneself and others and do more harm than good? What is your opinion on this?

Sokhihotu.

carole said...

Most Ven Sir,humbly,our lay Buddhists point of view:
In the latest controversy over the Bikkunis ordination in Bodhiyana Monastery, may we be permitted to make a few comments,with due respect to others' opinions.
1. To some, the Vinaya is more important, whereas to some other to uphold wholesome
beliefs/traditions/lineage inheritance are equally important
2. With our little knowledge of the Vinaya, we feel that, to the Forest Sangha or Thai theravada tradition, the golden rule (of non-Bikkunis ordination preserved for centuries) is the jewel of their hearts and to them is sacred (beyond human rationale) to maintain its purity without being "stained" and the continuity of this preservation or legacy that is close to their hearts is their responsibility and pride and not to change it to fit the world is not any inferior or irrelevant or not in accord with the Vinaya.
-Is there in the Suttas where Buddha mentioned the cause /kamma/unwholesomeness/weakness for one to be reborn as women.
-In the suttas, the Buddha only have men in His Sangha and most of the suttas in particular, Satipattana Sutta, Buddha addressed only to Bikkus "O Monks".
-Some say that Buddhism lifespan would be shorten with the existence of Bikkunis (not sure if this is mentioned in any of the Suttas or holds water).
-Although the 4-fold Sangha is mentioned in the Vinaya, did Buddha mention when there would be Bikkunis? Which era? Are our present conditions ripen for Bikkunis now? In Buddha's time,why is it there were no Bikkunis (except for one pleaded by Ananda)in His Sangha? Could it be He is referring to the future and not now, as now there is still some resistance in the Sangha. Being compassionate, He would not approve to have Bikkunis when the culture/tradition /conventions /conditions are not condusive yet.Having said the above, we agree that women should be siladharas and not a Bikkuni in the Sangha at least for now. Women need to perfect their silas in view that all past Buddhas were men & future Buddha and all Dhamma Protectors were men (there must be a reason why women could not be).In this respect, why is Ajarn Br pushing new legislation for Bikkunis ordination(in the Theravada tradition who are the original protector of the Dhamma & Suttas) and challenged the Forest Sangh & WPP on the Vinaya?Surely there is a Sangha Council for new legislation to be passed.We hope Ajarn Br would not next legislate same sex marriage across the board, as some Asian countries strictly do not permit this Western culture.(In his talk, he approved of same sex marriage and he said he would give blessings to that out of compassion for
beings,hopefully this idea would not infect the other more conservative countries or many Asian countries with laws opposing this culture. Hope he would not impose on others and refer it to the Vinaya to champion his causes).
Btw,are homosexuals allowable to be ordained in the Theravada monastics (According to Aj Br, a few of his monk in Bodhiyana are homos,soon Dhammasara could have lesbians Bikkunis too(are these mentioned in the Vinayas?, Ven Sirs? Pray not, otherwise serious problems esp for the Asian countries.) Oh, what kind of world we have evolved.
As we see it, as each monk belongs to the Sangha, the Sangha should not only fulfil the wishes of the Vinaya but also the wishes of all members of the Sangha. We hope Ven Sir could address these issues, with the hope that the Buddha's Dhamma-Vinaya would be preserved & prolonged for the future.Anumodana.

cylob said...

The Dalai Lama is a communist. It's a nice idea to think people could coordinate the world to a better place, even a small slice of the world. Somebody needs to protect the face you had before you were born, because the present state of america begins to slaughter it pretty quick. There's no defense. So, yeah, I'm with you on this.

David Conway said...

To get back to the original post, I think the whole "Western" thing is a red herring. The traditional Theravada "merit making" culture encourages self-centredness and the ignoring of the suffering of others. The laity are encouraged to do a few rituals at the temple and give dana to monks to get a better future life for themselves and to give the monks a free lunch in the process. They are not taught the eightfold path, sila, samadhi and panna.

There are organisations like Tzu Chi (admittedly Mahayana) and some Theravada monks like Bhikkhu Bodhi and some Theravada laypeople who have been swimming against the stream of institutionalised selfishness, but it's hard work.

Sujato's blog has a good piece on this: http://sujato.wordpress.com/2010/01/31/my-experiences-with-ignorance-and-poverty-and-how-our-effort-can-make-a-change/

With reference to young girls being sold by their parents into the sex trade, it quotes some Thai monks as saying “It is their Karma (i.e., fate in this context), we have nothing to do with that” and refusing to teach their laity to act differently.

The nuns seem to have a better attitude, but then we all know how much the Theravada listens to women ...

Philip Shube said...

Thank you very much Bhikkhu. It so happens that I have to live by the brand name 'Christian' in this present life and I see that our ministers are just manifesting another form of the 'high middle path' in their so called preaching, homilies and exhortations. Leaving the exorbitance of clerical lifestyle aside, there is just much talking than doing. We are losing the essence of Christianity...Positive action with a spiritual focus; not spiritual talk with a negative action.