- Buddhism and Social Action: An Exploration
- Ken Jones
I am grateful to Mr. Paul Ingram who, as the then editor, published the
original, very much abbreviated, version of this paper in the Buddhist Society's journal
"The Middle Way" (Vol. 54, No. 2 Summer 1979, 85-88). My thanks are also due to
the Ven. Nyanaponika Mahathera who encouraged me to develop my ideas further. For these,
however, I must accept sole responsibility.
Part One: The Fundamentals
1.1 Buddhism and the new global society
It is the manifest suffering and folly in the world that invokes humane
and compassionate social action in its many different forms. For Buddhists this situation
raises fundamental and controversial questions. And here, also, Buddhism has implications
of some significance for Christians, humanists and other non-Buddhists.
By "social action" we mean the many different kinds of action
intended to benefit mankind. These range from simple individual acts of charity, teaching
and training, organized kinds of service, "Right Livelihood" in and outside the
helping professions, and through various kinds of community development as well as to
political activity in working for a better society.
Buddhism is a pragmatic teaching which starts from certain fundamental
propositions about how we experience the world and how we act in it. It teaches that it is
possible to transcend this sorrow-laden world of our experience and is concerned first and
last with ways of achieving that transcendence. What finally leads to such transcendence
is what we call Wisdom. The enormous literature of Buddhism is not a literature of
revelation and authority. Instead, it uses ethics and meditation, philosophy and science,
art and poetry to point a Way to this Wisdom. Similarly, Buddhist writing on social
action, unlike secular writings, makes finite proposals which must ultimately refer to
this Wisdom, but which also are arguable in terms of our common experience.
In the East, Buddhism developed different schools of
"traditions," serving the experiences of different cultures, ranging from Sri
Lanka through Tibet and Mongolia to Japan. Buddhism may thus appear variously as sublime
humanism, magical mysticism, poetic paradox and much else. These modes of expression,
however, all converge upon the fundamental teaching, the "perennial Buddhism."
This pamphlet is based upon the latter, drawing upon the different oriental traditions to
present the teachings in an attempt to relate them to our modern industrial society.
From the evidence of the Buddha's discourses, or suttas in the Digha
Nikaya, it is clear that early Buddhists were very much concerned with the creation of
social conditions favorable to the individual cultivation of Buddhist values. An
outstanding example of this, in later times, is the remarkable "welfare state"
created by the Buddhist emperor, Asoka (B.C. 274-236). Walpola Rahula stated the situation
-- perhaps at its strongest -- when he wrote that "Buddhism arose in India as a
spiritual force against social injustices, against degrading superstitious rites,
ceremonies and sacrifices; it denounced the tyranny of the caste system and advocated the
equality of all men; it emancipated woman and gave her complete spiritual freedom."
(Rahula, 1978). The Buddhist scriptures do indicate the general direction of Buddhist
social thinking, and to that extent they are suggestive for our own times.
Nevertheless it would be pedantic, and in some cases absurd, to apply directly to modern
industrial society social prescriptions detailed to meet the needs of social order which
flourished twenty-three centuries ago. The Buddhist householder of the Sigalovada Sutta  experienced a different way of life from that of a computer consultant
in Tokyo or an unemployed black youth in Liverpool. And the conditions which might favor
their cultivation of the Middle Way must be secured by correspondingly different -- and
more complex -- social, economic and political strategies.
It is thus essential to attempt to distinguish between perennial
Buddhism on the one hand and, on the other, the specific social prescriptions attributed
to the historical Buddha which related the basic, perennial teaching to the specific
conditions of his day. We believe that it is unscholarly to transfer the scriptural social
teaching uncritically and with careful qualification to modern societies, or to
proclaim that the Buddha was a democrat and an internationalist. The modern terms
"democracy" and "internationalism" did not exist in the sense in which
we understand them in the emergent feudal society in which the Buddha lived. Buddhism is
ill-served in the long run by such special pleading. On the other hand, it is arguable
that there are democratic and internationalist implications in the basic Buddhist
In the past two hundred years society in the West has undergone a more
fundamental transformation than at any period since Neolithic times, whether in terms of
technology or the world of ideas. And now in the East while this complex revolution is
undercutting traditional Buddhism, it is also stimulating oriental Buddhism; and in the
West it is creating problems and perceptions to which Buddhism seems particularly
relevant. Throughout its history Buddhism has been successfully reinterpreted in
accordance with different cultures, whilst at the same time preserving its inner truths.
Thus has Buddhism spread and survived. The historic task of Buddhists in both East and
West in the twenty-first century is to interpret perennial Buddhism in terms of the needs
of industrial man and woman in the social conditions of their time, and to demonstrate its
acute and urgent relevance to the ills of that society. To this great and difficult
enterprise Buddhists will bring their traditional boldness and humility. For certainly
this is no time for clinging to dogma and defensiveness.
1.2 Social action and the problem of suffering
In modern Western society, humanistic social action, in its bewildering
variety of forms, is seen both as the characteristic way of relieving suffering and
enhancing human well-being and, at the same time, as a noble ideal of service, of
self-sacrifice, by humanists of all faiths.
Buddhism, however, is a humanism in that it rejoices in the possibility
of a true freedom as something inherent in human nature. For Buddhism, the ultimate
freedom is to achieve full release from the root causes of all suffering: greed, hatred
and delusion, which clearly are also the root causes of all social evils. Their grossest
forms are those which are harmful to others. To weaken, and finally eliminate them in
oneself, and, as far as possible, in society, is the basis of Buddhist ethics. And here
Buddhist social action has its place.
The experience of suffering is the starting point of Buddhist teaching
and of any attempt to define a distinctively Buddhist social action. However,
misunderstanding can arise at the start, because the Pali word dukkha, which is
commonly translated simply as "suffering," has a much wider and more subtle
meaning. There is, of course, much gross, objective suffering in the world (dukkha-dukkha),
and much of this arises from poverty, war, oppression and other social conditions. We
cling to our good fortune and struggle at all costs to escape from our bad fortune.
This struggle may not be so desperate in certain countries which enjoy
a high material standard of living spread relatively evenly throughout the population.
Nevertheless, the material achievements of such societies appear somehow to have been
"bought" by social conditions which breed a profound sense of insecurity and
anxiety, of restlessness and inner confusion, in contrast to the relatively stable and
ordered society in which the Buddha taught.
Lonely, alienated industrial man has unprecedented opportunities for
living life "in the context of equipment," as the philosopher Martin Heidegger
so aptly put it. He has a highly valued freedom to make meaning of his life from a huge
variety of more or less readily available forms of consumption or achievement -- whether
career building, home making, shopping around for different world ideologies (such as
Buddhism), or dedicated social service. When material acquisition palls, there is the
collection of new experiences and the clocking up of new achievements. Indeed, for many
their vibrating busyness becomes itself a more important self-confirmation that the goals
to which it is ostensibly directed. In developing countries to live thus, "in the
context of equipment," has become the great goal for increasing numbers of people.
They are watched sadly by Westerners who have accumulated more experience of the
disillusion and frustration of perpetual non-arrival.
Thus, from the experience of social conditions there arises both
physical and psychological suffering. But more fundamental still is that profound sense of
unease, of anxiety or angst, which arises from the very transience (anicca)
of life (viparinama-dukkha). This angst, however conscious of it we may or may not
be, drives the restless search to establish a meaningful self-identity in the face of a
disturbing awareness of our insubstantiality (anatta). Ultimately, life is commonly
a struggle to give meaning to life -- and to death. This is so much the essence of the
ordinary human condition and we are so very much inside it, that for much of the
time we are scarcely aware of it. This existential suffering is the distillation of
all the various conditions to which we have referred above -- it is the human condition
Buddhism offers to the individual human being a religious practice, a
Way, leading to the transcendence of suffering. Buddhist social action arises from this
practice and contributes to it. From suffering arises desire to end suffering. The secular
humanistic activist sets himself the endless task of satisfying that desire, and
perhaps hopes to end social suffering by constructing utopias. The Buddhist, on the other
hand, is concerned ultimately with the transformation of desire. Hence he
contemplates and experiences social action in a fundamentally different way from the
secular activist. This way will not be readily comprehensible to the latter, and has
helped give rise to the erroneous belief that Buddhism is indifferent to human suffering.
One reason why the subject of this pamphlet is so important to Buddhists is that they will
have to start here if they are to begin to communicate effectively with non-Buddhist
social activists. We should add, however, that although such communication may not be easy
on the intellectual plane, at the level of feelings shared in compassionate social action
experience together, there may be little difficulty.
We have already suggested one source of the widespread belief that
Buddhism is fatalistic and is indifferent to humanistic social action. This belief also
appears to stem from a misunderstanding of the Buddhist law of Karma. In fact, there is no
justification for interpreting the Buddhist conception of karma as implying quietism and
fatalism. The word karma (Pali: kamma) mean volitional action in deeds, words and
thoughts, which may be morally good or bad. To be sure, our actions are conditioned
(more or less so), but they are not inescapably determined. Though human behavior
and thought are too often governed by deeply ingrained habits or powerful impulses, still
there is always the potentiality of freedom -- or, to be more exact, of a relative freedom
of choice. To widen the range of that freedom is the primary task of Buddhist mind
training and meditation.
The charge of fatalism is sometimes supported by reference to the
alleged "social backwardness" of Asia. But this ignores the fact that such
backwardness existed also in the West until comparatively recent times. Surely, this
backwardness and the alleged fatalistic acceptance of it stem from the specific social and
political conditions, which were too powerful for would-be reformers to contend with. But
apart from these historic facts, it must be stressed here that the Buddha's message of
compassion is certainly not indifferent to human suffering in any form; nor do Buddhists
think that social misery cannot be remedied, at least partly. Though Buddhist realism does
not believe in the Golden Age of a perfect society, nor in the permanence of social
conditions, yet Buddhism strongly believes that social imperfections can be reduced, by
the reduction of greed, hatred and ignorance, and by compassionate action guided by
From the many utterances of the Buddha, illustrative of our remarks,
two may be quoted here:
"He who has understanding and great wisdom does not think of harming himself or
another, nor of harming both alike. He rather thinks of his own welfare, of that of
others, of that of both, and of the welfare of the whole world. In that way one shows
understanding and great wisdom."
-- Anguttara Nikaya (Gradual Sayings) Fours, No. 186
"By protecting oneself (e.g., morally), one protects others; by protecting others,
one protects oneself."
-- Samyutta Nikaya (Kindred Sayings), 47; Satipatthana Samy., No. 19
In this section we have introduced the special and distinctive quality
of Buddhist social action. In the remainder of Part One we shall explore this quality
further, and show how it arises naturally and logically from Buddhist teaching and
1.3 The weight of social karma
Individual karmic behavior patterns are created by the struggles of the
individual human predicament. They condition the behavior of the individual and, in
traditional Buddhist teaching, the subsequent rounds of birth and rebirth. We suggest,
however, that this karmic inheritance is also expressed as social karma.
Specific to time and place, different social cultures arise, whether of a group, a
community, a social class or a civilization. The young are socialized to their inherited
culture. Consciously and unconsciously they assimilate the norms of the approved behavior
-- what is good, what is bad, and what is "the good life" for that culture.
The social karma -- the establishment of conditioned behavior patterns
-- of a particular culture is and is not the aggregate of the karma of the individuals who
comprise the culture. Individuals share common institutions and belief systems, but these
are the results of many different wills, both in the past and the present, rather than the
consequence of any single individual action. It is, however, individual karmic action that
links the individual to these institutions and belief systems. Each individual is a
light-reflecting jewel in Indra's net, at the points where time and space intersect. Each
reflects the light of all and all of each. This is the mysticism of sociology or the
sociology of mysticism!
Human societies, too, suffer the round of birth and rebirth, of
revolution and stability. Each age receives the collective karmic inheritance of the last,
is conditioned by it, and yet also struggles to refashion it. And within each human
society, institutions, social classes, and subcultures, as well as individuals, all
struggle to establish their identity and perpetuate their existence.
Capitalist industrial society has created conditions of extreme
impermanence, and the struggle with a conflict-creating mood of dissatisfaction and
frustration. It would be difficult to imagine any social order for which Buddhism is more
relevant and needed. In these conditions, egotistical enterprise, competitive conflict,
and the struggle for status become great social virtues, while, in fact, they illustrate
the import of the three root-causes of suffering -- greed, hatred, and delusion.
"These cravings," argues David Brandon, "have become
cemented into all forms of social structures and institutions. People who are relatively
successful at accumulating goods and social position wish to ensure that the remain
successful ... Both in intended and unintended ways they erect barriers of education,
finance and law to protect their property and other interests ... These structures and
their protective institutions continue to exacerbate and amplify the basic human
inequalities in housing, health care, education and income. They reward and encourage
greed, selfishness, and exploitation rather than love, sharing and compassion. Certain
people's life styles, characterized by greed and overconsumption, become dependent on the
deprivation of the many. The oppressors and oppressed fall into the same trap of continual
craving" (Brandon, 1976, 10-11). It should be added that communist revolution and
invasion have created conditions and social structures which no less, but differently,
discourage the spiritual search.
Thus we see that modern social organization may create conditions of
life which not only give rise to "objective," non-volitionally caused suffering,
but also tend to give rise to "subjective," volitionally caused karmic
suffering, because they are more likely to stimulate negative karmic action than do
other kinds of social organization. Thus, some of us are born into social conditions which
are more likely to lead us into following the Buddhist way than others. An unskilled woman
factory worker in a provincial factory town is, for example, less likely to follow the
Path than a professional person living in the university quarter of the capital city. A
property speculator, wheeling and dealing his samsaric livelihood anywhere is perhaps even
less likely than either of them to do so. However, all three may do so. Men
and women make their own history, but they make it under specific karmic conditions,
inherited from previous generations collectively, as well as individually. The
struggle is against nurture, as well as nature, manifested in the one consciousness.
"The present generation are living in this world under great pressure, under a very
complicated system, amidst confusion. Everybody talks about peace, justice, equality but
in practice it is very difficult. This is not because the individual person is bad but
because the overall environment, the pressures, the circumstances are so strong, so
influential" (Dalai Lama, 1976, p. 17).
In short, Buddhist social action is justified ultimately and above all
by the existence of social as well as individual karma. Immediately it is simply concerned
with relieving suffering; ultimately, in creating social conditions which will favor the
ending of suffering through the individual achievement of transcendent wisdom. But is it
enough, to take a beautiful little watering can to a flower dying in sandy, sterile soil?
This will satisfy only the waterer. But if we muster the necessary ploughs, wells,
irrigation systems and organized labor, what then will become of the spiritual life
amongst all this busyness and conflict? We must next consider this fundamental question.
1.4 Is not a Buddhist's prime task to work on him- or herself?
Answer: YES and NO
Buddhism is essentially pragmatic. Buddhism is, in one sense, something
that one does. It is a guide to the transformation of individual experience. In the
traditional Buddhist teaching, the individual sets out with a karmic inheritance of
established volitions, derived from his early life, from earlier lives and certainly from
his social environment, a part of his karmic inheritance. Nevertheless, the starting point
is the individual experiencing of life, here and now.
Our train of argument began with the anxiety, the profound sense of
unease felt by the individual in his naked experience of life in the world when not masked
by busyness, objectives, diversions and other confirmations and distractions. Buddhism
teaches that all suffering, whether it be anxiety, or more explicitly karmic,
brought-upon-ourselves-suffering, or "external" suffering, accidental and
inevitable through war, disease, old age and so on -- arise ultimately from the deluded
belief in a substantial and enduring self. In that case, what need has the individual
Buddhist for concern for other individuals, let alone for social action since his prime
task is to work on himself in order to dissolve this delusion? Can he only then
The answer to these questions is both yes and no. This does not mean
half-way between yes and no. It means yes and no. It means that the answer to these
fundamental questions of Buddhist social action cannot ultimately be logical or rational.
For the Buddhist Middle Way is not the middle between two extremes, but the Middle
Way which transcends the two extremes in a "higher" unity.
Different traditions of Buddhism offer different paths of spiritual
practice. But all depend ultimately upon the individual becoming more deeply aware of the
nature of his experience of the world, and especially of other people and hence of himself
and of the nature of the self. "To learn the way of the Buddha is to learn about
oneself. To learn about oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to experience
the world as pure object -- to let fall one's own mind and body and the self-other mind
and body" (Zen Master Dogen: Shobogenzo). Meditation both reveals and
ultimately calms and clarifies the choppy seas and terrifying depths of the underlying
emotional life. All the great traditions of spiritual practice, Buddhist -- and
non-Buddhist -- emphasize the importance of periods of withdrawal for meditation and
reflection. Their relative importance is not our present concern. However, in all Buddhist
traditions the training emphasizes a vigilant mindfulness of mental feelings in the course
of active daily life, as well as in periods of withdrawal. It all advocates the parallel
development of habitual forms of ethical behavior (sila).
"We need not regard life as worth [either] boycotting or indulging
in. Life situations are the food of awareness and mindfulness ... We wear out the shoe of samsara
by walking on it through the practice of meditation" (Chogyam Trungpa, 1976, p. 50).
The same message comes across forcefully in the Zen tradition: "For penetrating to
the depths of one's true nature ... nothing can surpass the practice of Zen in the midst
of activity ... The power or wisdom obtained by practicing Zen in the world of action is
like a rose that rises from the fire. It can never be destroyed. The rose that rises from
the midst of flames becomes all the more beautiful and fragrant the nearer the fire
rages" (Zen Master Hakuin, 1971, p. 34).
It is open to us, if we wish, to extend our active daily life to
include various possible forms of social action. This offers a strong immediate kind of
experience to which we can give our awareness practice. Less immediately, it serves to
fertilize our meditation -- "dung for the field of bodhi." Thirdly, it offers
wider opportunities for the cultivation of sila -- the habituation to a selfless
The above remarks are about taking social action. They refer to
the potential benefits of social action for individual practice. They are less
"reasons" for social action than reasons why a Buddhist should not desist from
social action. The mainspring of Buddhist social action lies elsewhere; it arises from the
heart of a ripening compassion, however flawed it still may be by ego needs. This is giving
social action, with which we shall be concerned in the next section.
Social action as a training in self-awareness (and compassionate
awareness of others) may be a discipline more appropriate to some individual temperaments,
and, indeed, to some cultures and times, than to others. We are not concerned with
advocating it for all Buddhists, but simply to suggesting its legitimacy for such as
choose to follow it. For Buddhism has always recognized the diversity of individual
temperaments and social cultures that exist, and has offered a corresponding diversity of
modes of practice.
1.5 Buddhist social action as heartfelt paradox
As we have noted, the significance of social action as mindfulness
training is, of course, incidental to that profound compassionate impulse which more -- or
less -- leads us to seek the relief of the suffering of others. Our motives may be mixed,
but to the extent that they are truly selfless they do manifest our potential for
Awakening and our relatedness to all beings.
Through our practice, both in the world and in withdrawn meditation,
the delusion of a struggling self becomes more and more transparent, and the conflicting
opposites of good and bad, pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty, oppression and freedom
are seen and understood in a Wisdom at once serene and vigilant. This Wisdom partakes of
the sensitivity of the heart as well as the clarity of thought.
In this Wisdom, in the words of R.H. Blyth, things are beautiful -- but
not desirable; ugly -- but not repulsive; false -- but not rejected. What is inevitable,
like death, is accepted without rage; what may not be, like war, is the subject of action
skillful and the more effective because, again, it is not powered and blinded by rage and
hate. We may recognize an oppressor and resolutely act to remove the oppression, but we do
not hate him. Absence of hatred, disgust, intolerance or righteous indignation within us
is itself a part of our growth towards enlightenment (bodhi).
Such freedom from negative emotions should not be mistaken for
indifference, passivity, compromise, loving our enemy instead of hating him, or any other
of these relativities. This Wisdom transcends the Relativities which toss us this way and
that. Instead, there is an awareness, alert and dispassionate, of an infinitely complex
reality, but always an awareness free of despair, of self-absorbing aggression, or of
blind dogma, an awareness free to act or not to act. Buddhists have their preferences, and
in the face of such social cataclysms as genocide and nuclear war, they are strong
preferences, but they are not repelled into quietism by them. What has been said above has
to be cultivated to perfection by one following the Bodhisattva ideal. We are inspired by
it, but very few of us can claim to live it. Yet we shall never attain the ideal by
turning our backs upon the world and denying the compassionate Buddha nature in us that
reaches out to suffering humanity, however stained by self love those feelings may be.
Only through slowly "Wearing out the shoe of samsara" in whatever way is
appropriate to us can we hope to achieve this ideal, and not through some process of
This Great Wisdom (prajna) exposes the delusion, the folly,
sometimes heroic, sometimes base, of human struggle in the face of many kinds of
suffering. This sense of folly fuses with the sense of shared humanity in the form of
compassion (karuna). Compassion is the everyday face of Wisdom.
In individual spiritual practice though, some will incline to a Way of
Compassion and others to a Way of Wisdom, but finally the two faculties need to be
balanced, each complementing and ripening the other.
He who clings to the Void
And neglects Compassion
Does not reach the highest stage.
But he who practices only Compassion
Does not gain release from the toils of existence.
-- (Saraha, 1954)
To summarize: Buddhist or non-Buddhist, it is our common humanity, our
"Buddha nature," that moves us to compassion and to action for the relief of
suffering. These stirrings arise from our underlying relatedness to all living things,
from being brothers and sisters one to another. Buddhist spiritual practice, whether at
work or in the meditation room, ripens alike the transcendental qualities of Compassion
Social action starkly confronts the actor with the sufferings of others
and also confronts him with his own strong feelings which commonly arise from such
experience, whether they be feelings of pity, guilt, angry partisanship or whatever.
Social action is thus a powerful potential practice for the follower of the Way, a
"skillful means" particularly relevant to modern society.
Finally, it is only some kind of social action that can be an
effective and relevant response to the weight of social karma which oppresses
humanity and which we all share.
Part Two: The Action
2.1 Giving and helping
All social action is an act of giving (dana), but there is a
direct act which we call charitable action, whether it be the UNESCO Relief Banker's Order
or out all night with the destitutes' soup kitchen. Is there anything about Buddhism that
should make it less concerned actively to maintain the caring society than is Christianity
or humanism? "Whoever nurses the sick serves me," said the Buddha. In our more
complex society does this not include the active advancement and defense of the principles
of a national health service?
The old phrase "as cold as charity" recalls numerous
possibilities for self-deception in giving to others and in helping them. Here is
opportunity to give out goodness in tangible form, both in our own eyes and those of the
world. It may also be a temptation to impose our own ideas and standards from a position
of patronage. David Brandon, who has written so well on the art of helping, reminds us
that "respect is seeing the Buddha nature in the other person. It means perceiving
the superficiality of positions of moral authority. The other person is as good as you.
However untidy, unhygienic, poor, illiterate and bloody-minded he may seem, he is worthy
of your respect. He also has autonomy and purpose. He is another form of nature"
(Brandon, 1976, p. 59).
There are many different ways in which individual Buddhists and their
organizations can give help and relieve suffering. However, "charity begins at
home." If a Buddhist group or society fails to provide human warmth and active caring
for all of its members in their occasional difficulties and troubles -- though always with
sensitivity and scrupulous respect for privacy -- where then is its Buddhism? Where is the
In our modern industrial society there has been on the one hand a
decline in personal and voluntary community care for those in need and, on the other, too
little active concern for the quality and quantity of institutional care financed from the
public purse that has to some extent taken its place. One facet of this which may be of
particular significance for Buddhists, is a failure to recognize adequately and provide
for the needs of the dying. In recent years there has been a growing awareness of this
problem in North America and Europe, and a small number of hospices have been established
by Christian and other groups for terminally ill people. However, only a start has been
made with the problem. The first Buddhist hospice in the West has yet to be opened. And,
less ambitiously, the support of regular visitors could help many lonely people to die
with a greater sense of dignity and independence in our general hospitals.
Teaching is, of course, also a form of giving and helping. Indeed, one
of the two prime offenses in the Mahayana code of discipline is that of withholding the
wealth of the Dharma from others. Moreover, teaching the Dharma is one of the most
valuable sources of learning open to a Buddhist.
Here we are concerned primarily with the teaching of the Dharma to
newcomers in Buddhism, and with the general publicizing of Buddhism among non-Buddhists.
Buddhism is by its very nature lacking in the aggressive evangelizing
spirit of Christianity or Islam. It is a pragmatic system of sustained and systematic
self-help practice, in which the teacher can do no more than point the way and, together
with fellow Buddhists, provide support, warmth and encouragement in a long and lonely
endeavor. There is here no tradition of instant conversion and forceful revelation for the
enlightenment experience, however sudden, depends upon a usually lengthy period of careful
cultivation. Moreover, there is a tolerant tradition of respect for the beliefs and
spiritual autonomy of non-Buddhists.
Nevertheless, a virtue may be cultivated to a fault. Do we not need to
find a middle way between proselytizing zeal and aloof indifference? Does not the world
cry out for a Noble Truth that "leads to the cessation of suffering"? The task
of teaching the Dharma also gives individual Buddhists an incentive to clarify their ideas
in concise, explicit everyday terms. And it requires them to respond positively to the
varied responses which their teaching will provoke in others.
It will be helpful to treat the problem on two overlapping levels, and
to distinguish between (a) publicizing the Dhamma, and (b) introductory teaching for
enquirers who interest has thus been awakened.
At both the above levels activity is desirable both by a central body
of some kind and by local groups (in many countries there will certainly be several
"central bodies," representing different traditions and tendencies). The central
body can cost-effectively produce for local use introductory texts and study guides,
speakers' notes, audiocassettes, slide presentations and "study kits" combining
all of these different types of material. It has the resources to develop correspondence
courses such as those run by the Buddhist Society in the United Kingdom which offer a
well-tried model. And it will perhaps have sufficient prestige to negotiate time on the
national radio and television network.
Particularly in Western countries there are strong arguments for
organizations representing the different Buddhist traditions and tendencies to set up a
representative Buddhist Information and Liaison Service for propagating fundamental
Buddhism and some first introductions to the different traditions and organizations. It
would also provide a general information clearing house for all the groups and
organizations represented. It could be financed and controlled through a representative
national Buddhist council which, with growing confidence between its members and between
the different Buddhist organizations which they represented, might in due course take on
additional functions. Certainly in the West there is the prospect of a great many
different Buddhist flowers blooming, whether oriental or new strains developed in the
local culture. This is to be welcomed, but the kind of body we propose will become a
necessity to avoid confusion for the outsider and to work against any tendency to
sectarianism of a kind from which Buddhism has been relatively free.
Local groups will be able to draw upon the publicity and teaching
resources of national centers and adapt these to the needs of local communities. Regular
meetings of such groups may amount to no more than half a dozen people meeting in a
private house. Sensitively handled it would be difficult to imagine a better way of
introducing a newcomer to the Dharma. Such meetings are worthy of wide local publicity. A
really strong local base exists where there is a resident Buddhist community of some kind,
with premises convenient for meetings and several highly committed workers. Unfortunately,
such communities will, understandably, represent a particular Buddhist tradition or
tendency, and this exclusiveness may be less helpful to the newcomer than a local group in
which he or she may have the opportunity to become acquainted with the different Buddhist
traditions represented in the membership and in the program of activity.
In many countries the schools provide brief introductions to the
world's great religions. Many teachers do not feel sufficiently knowledgeable about
introducing Buddhism to their pupils and may be unaware of suitable materials even where
these do exist. There may be opportunities here for local groups, and certainly the
Information Service suggested above would have work to do here.
Finally, the method of introductory teaching employed in some Buddhist
centers leaves much to be desired both on educational grounds and as Buddhist teaching.
The Buddha always adapted his teaching to the particular circumstances of the individual
learner; he sometimes opened with a question about the enquirer's occupation in life, and
built his teaching upon the answer to this and similar questions. True learning and
teaching has as its starting point a problem or experience posed by the learner, even if
this be no more than a certain ill-defined curiosity. It is there that teacher and learner
must begin. The teacher starts with the learner's thoughts and feelings and helps him or
her to develop understanding and awareness. This is, of course, more difficult than a
standard lecture which begins and ends with the teacher's thoughts and feelings, and which
may in more sense than one leave little space for the learner. It will exclude the teacher
from any learning.
It follows that unless the teacher is truly inspiring, the "Dharma
talk" is best used selectively: to introduce and stimulate discussion or to summarize
and consolidate what has been learned. Dharma teachers must master the arts of conducting
open discussion groups, in which learners can gain much from one another and can work
through an emotional learning situation beyond the acquisition of facts about Buddhism.
Discussion groups have become an important feature of many lay Buddhist and social action
organizations in different parts of the world. They are the heart, for example, of the
Japanese mass organization Rissho Kosei Kai, which explores problems of work, the family
and social and economic problems.
2.3 Political action: the conversion of energy
Political power may manifest and sustain social and economic structures
which breed both material deprivation and spiritual degradation for millions of men and
women. In many parts of the world it oppresses a wide range of social groupings --
national and racial minorities, women, the poor, homosexuals, liberal dissidents, and
religious groups. Ultimately, political power finds its most terrible expression in war,
which reaches now to the possibility of global annihilation.
For both the oppressors and the oppressed, whether in social strife or
embattled nations, karmic delusion is deepened. Each group or nation emphasizes its
differences, distinguishing them from its opponents; each projects its own short-comings
upon them, makes them the repository of all evil, and rallies round its own vivid
illusions and blood-warming hates. Collective hating, whether it be the raised fist, or
prejudice concealed in a quiet community, is a heady liquor. Allied with an ideology, hate
in any form will not depart tomorrow or next year. Crowned with delusive idealism, it is
an awesome and murderous folly. And even when victory is achieved, the victors are still
more deeply poisoned by the hate that carried them to victory. Both the revolution and the
counter-revolution consume their own children. Buddhism's "Three Fires" of
delusion (moha), hatred and ill-will (dosa), and greed and grasping, (lobha),
surely burn nowhere more fiercely.
Contrariwise, political power may be used to fashion and sustain a
society whose citizens are free to live in dignity and harmony and mutual respect, free of
the degradation of poverty and war. In such a society of good heart all men and
women find encouragement and support in making, if they will, the best use of their human
condition in the practice of wisdom and compassion. This is the land of good karma -- not
the end of human suffering, but the beginning of the end, the bodhisattva-land, the social
embodiment of sila.
This is not to be confused with the belief common among the socially
and politically oppressed that if power could be seized (commonly by an elite claiming to
represent them), then personal, individual, "ideological" change will inevitably
follow. This absolutely deterministic view of conditioning (which Marx called "vulgar
Marxism"), is as one-sided as the idea of a society of "individuals" each
struggling with only his own personal karma in a private bubble hermetically sealed off
from history and from other people.
Political action thus involves the Buddhist ideal of approaching each
situation without prejudice but with deserved circumspection in questions of power and
conflict, social oppression and social justice. These social and political conflicts are
the great public samsaric driving energies of our life to which an individual responds
with both aggression and self-repression. The Buddha Dharma offers the possibility of
transmuting the energies of the individual into Wisdom and Compassion. At the very least,
in faith and with good heart, a start can be made.
Buddhists are thus concerned with political action, first, in the
direct relief of non-volitionally caused suffering now and in the future, and, secondly,
with the creation of social karmic conditions favorable to the following of the Way that
leads to the cessation also of volitionally-caused suffering, the creation of a society of
a kind which tends to the ripening of wisdom and compassion rather than the withering of
them. In the third place, political action, turbulent and ambiguous, is perhaps the most
potent of the "action meditations."
It is perhaps because of this potency that some Buddhist organizations
ban political discussion of any kind, even at a scholarly level, and especially any
discussion of social action. There are circumstances in which this may be a sound policy.
Some organizations and some individuals may not wish to handle such an emotionally
powerful experience which may prove to be divisive and stir up bad feeling which cannot be
worked upon in any positive way. This division would particularly tend to apply to
"party politics." On the other hand, such a discussion may give an incomparable
opportunity to work through conflict to a shared wisdom. Different circumstances suggest
different "skillful means," but a dogmatic policy of total exclusion is likely
to be ultimately unhelpful.
In this connection it is worth noting that any kind of social activity
which leads to the exercise of power or conflict may stir up "the fires" in the
same way as overtly political activity. Conflict within a Buddhist organization is cut
from the same cloth as conflict in a political assembly and may be just as heady, but the
Buddhist context could make such an activity a much more difficult and delusive meditation
subject. The danger of dishonest collusion may be greater than that of honest collusion
(to borrow one of the Ven. Sangharakshita's aphorisms). The dogmatism and vehemence with
which some Buddhists denounce and proscribe all political involvement is the same sad
attitude as the dogmatism and vehemence of the politicians which they so rightly denounce.
To be lost in revolution or reform or conservatism is to be lost in samsara
and the realm of the angry warrior, deluded by his power and his self-righteousness. To
turn one's back upon all this is to be lost in an equally false idea of nirvana --
the realm of the gods no less deluded by spiritual power and righteousness, "You do
not truly speak of fire if your mouth does not get burnt."
Effective social action on any but the smallest scale will soon involve
the Buddhist in situations of power and conflict, of "political" power. It may
be the power of office in a Buddhist organization. It may be the unsought for leadership
of an action group protesting against the closing of an old people's day care center. It
may be the organizing of a fund-raising movement to build a Buddhist hospice for care of
the dying. It may be membership of a local government council with substantial welfare
funds. It may be joining an illegal dissident group. In all these cases the Buddhist takes
the tiger -- his own tiger -- by the tail. Some of the above tigers are bigger than
others, but all are just as fierce. Hence a Buddhist must be mindful of the strong animal
smell of political power and be able to contain and convert the valuable energy which
power calls up. A sharp cutting edge is given into his hands. Its use we must explore in
the sections which follow.
2.4 Buddhist political theory and policy
Buddhism and politics meet at two levels -- theory and practice.
Buddhism has no explicit body of social and political theory comparable to its psychology
or metaphysics. Nevertheless, a Buddhist political theory can be deduced primarily from
basic Buddhism, from Dharma. Secondly, it can be deduced from the general orientation of
scriptures which refer explicitly to a bygone time. We have already argued, however, that
this can be done only in a limited and qualified way.
Whatever form it may take, Buddhist political theory like other
Buddhist "theory" is just another theory. As it stands in print, it stands in
the world of the conditioned; it is of samsara. It is its potential, its spiritual
implications, which make it different from "secular" theory. When skillfully
practiced, it becomes a spiritual practice. As always, Buddhist "theory" is like
a label on a bottle describing the contents which sometimes is mistaken for the contents
by zealous label-readers. In that way we can end up with a lot of politics and very little
This is not to decry the value of a Buddhist social and political
theory -- only its misuse. We have only begun to apply Buddhism as a catalyst to the
general body of Western social science and most of the work so far has been in psychology.
Such work in allied fields could be extremely helpful to Buddhists and non-Buddhists
The writings of some Buddhists from Sri Lanka, Burma and elsewhere
offer interesting examples of attempts to relate Buddhism to nationalism and Marxism (not
to be confused with communism). Earlier in the century Anagarika Dharmapala stressed the
social teaching of the Buddha and its value in liberating people from materialistic
preoccupations. U Nu, the eminent Burmese Buddhist statesman, argued that socialism
follows naturally from the ethical and social teachings of the Buddha, and another Burmese
leader, U Ba Swe, held that Marxism is relative truth, Buddhism absolute truth. This theme
has been explored more recently in Trevor Ling's book "Buddha, Marx and God,"
(2nd ed., Macmillan, London 1979) and Michal Edwarde's "In the Blowing out of a
Flame" (Allen & Unwin 1976). Both are stimulating and controversial books. E.F.
Schumacher's celebrated book "Small is Beautiful" (Blond & Briggs, London
1973) has introduced what he terms "Buddhist economics" and its urgent relevance
to the modern world to many thousand of non-Buddhists. Of this we shall say more in a
later section on the Buddhist "good society."
Buddhist social and political theory and policy can only be mentioned
in passing in this pamphlet, although we have earlier introduced the idea of "social
karma" as of central importance. We are, instead, concerned here with problems and
questions arising in the practice of social and political work by Buddhists and the nature
of that work.
2.5 Conflict and partisanship
The Buddhist faced with political thought, let alone political action,
is straightaway plunged in the turbulent stream of conflict and partisanship and right and
Let the reader, perhaps prompted by the morning newspaper, select and
hold in his mind some particular controversial public issue or public figure. Now, how
does your Buddhism feel, please? (No, not what does your Buddhism think!)
How does it feel when, again, some deeply held conviction is roughly handled at a Buddhist
meeting or in a Buddhist journal? "The tears and anguish that follow arguments and
quarrels," said the Buddha, "the arrogance and pride and the grudges and insults
that go with them are all the result of one thing. They come from having preferences, from
holding things precious and dear. Insults are born out of arguments and grudges are
inseparable with quarrels." (Kalahavivada-sutta, trans. H. Saddhatissa, 1978, para.
2) Similarly, in the words of one of the Zen patriarchs: "The conflict between
longing and loathing is the mind's worse disease" (Seng Ts'an, 1954).
In all our relationships as Buddhists we seek to cultivate a spirit of
openness, cooperation, goodwill and equality. Nonetheless, we may not agree with another's
opinions, and, in the final analysis, this divergence could have to do even with matters
of life and death. But hopefully we shall be mindful and honest about how we think and,
with what we feel, and how our opponent thinks and feels. In such controversies, are we
each to confirm our own ego? Or each to benefit from the other in the search for wise
judgment? Moreover, in the words of the Dalai Lama, "when a person criticizes you and
exposes your faults, only then are you able to discover your faults and make amends. So
your enemy is your greatest friend because he is the person who gives you the test you
need for your inner strength, your tolerance, your respect for others... Instead of
feeling angry with or hatred towards such a person, one should respect him and be grateful
to him" (Dalai Lama, 1976, p. 9). We are one with our adversary in our common
humanity; we are two in our divisive conflict. We should be deluded if we were to deny
either -- if we were to rush either to compromise or to uncompromising struggle. Our
conflict and our humanity may be confirmed or denied at any point along that line of
possibilities which links the extremes, but ultimately it will be resolved in some other,
less explicit sense. Sangharakshita expresses this paradox in his observation that
"it is not enough to sympathize with something to such an extent that one agrees with
it. If necessary, one must sympathize to such an extent that one disagrees"
(Sangharakshita, 1979, p. 60).
Zen Master Dogen advised that "when you say something to someone
he may not accept it, but do not try to make him understand it rationally. Don't argue
with him; just listen to his objections, until he himself finds something wrong with
them." Certainly we shall need much time and space for such wisdom and compassion as
may inform us in such situations. If we do fight, may our wisdom and compassion honor both
our adversary and ourselves, whether in compromise, victory or defeat.
"On how to sing
The frog school and the skylark school
-- (Shiki, 1958, p. 169)
2.6 Ambiguity, complexity, uncertainty
Our "Small Mind" clings to delusions of security and
permanence. It finds neither of these in the world where, on the contrary, it experiences
a sense of ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty which it finds intolerable, and which
make it very angry when it is obliged to confront them. Small Mind prefers to see social,
economic and political phenomena in terms of black and white, or "Left and
Right." It likes to take sides, and it clings to social dogmas both sophisticated and
simple. ("The rich/poor are always selfish/idle.")
To the extent that we have achieved "Big Mind" we perceive
with equanimity what Small Mind recoils from as intolerable. We are freer to see the
world as it is in all the many colors of the rainbow, each merging imperceptibly into
the next. In place of clinging to a few black, white and grey compartments, scrutiny is
freed, encouraged by the Buddha's discriminating and differentiating attitude.
(Vibhajjavada; see Wheel: No. 238/240, Anguttara Anthology, Part II, pp. 59 ff.)
We shall not be surprised then that the personal map which guides the
Wise through social and political realities may turn out to be disturbingly
unconventional. Their reluctance readily to "take sides" arises not from
quietism or an attachment to a compromise or a belief in the "unreality" of
conflict, as is variously the case with those guided by mere rules. On the contrary, they
may not even sit quietly, throwing soothing generalizations into the ring, as is expected
of the religious. This seemingly uncomfortable, seemingly marginal stance simply reflects
a reality which is experienced with equanimity.
However, it does not require much equanimity to discover the deeper
truths which underlie many current conventional truths. Conventional politics, for
example, run from "left," to "right," from radicals through liberals
and conservatives to fascists. Some radicals are, for example, as dogmatic and
authoritarian in practice as fascists, and to their ultimate detriment they hate no less
mightily. And, again, some conservatives are equally dogmatic because of an awareness of
the subtle, organic nature of society and hence the danger of attempts at
Similarly an ideology such as Marxism may be highly complex but has
been conveniently oversimplified even by quite well educated partisans, both those
"for" and those "against" the theory. The present Dalai Lama is one of
those who have attempted to disentangle "an authentic Marxism" which he believes
is not without relevance to the problems of a feudal theocracy of the kind that existed in
Tibet, from "the sort one sees in countless countries claiming to be Marxist,"
but which are "mixing up Marxism and their national political interests and also
their thirst for world hegemony" (Dalai Lama, 1979).
The Wise person sees clearly because he does not obscure his own light;
he does not cast the shadow of himself over the situation. However, even an honest
perception of complexity commonly paralyzes action with, "Yes, that's all very well,
but...," "On the other hand it is also true that... ." Contemplative wisdom
is a precious thing, but true Wisdom reveals itself in positive action -- or
"in-action." Though a person may, through Clear Comprehension of Purpose (satthaka-sampajanna),
keep loyal to the social ideal, his Clear Comprehension of (presently absent) Suitability
may counsel in-action, or just "waiting."
In a social action situation the complexity and ambiguity to which we
refer is strongly felt as ethical quandary, uncertainty as to what might be the best
course of action. Even in small organizations all power is potentially corrupting; the
power wielded is soon lost in a thicket of relative ethics, of means and ends confused, of
greater and lesser evils, of long term and short term goals. This is not a
"game." It is the terrible reality of power, wealth and suffering in the world,
and the confusing of good and delusion. It cannot be escaped; it can only be suffered
through. We cannot refuse life's most difficult problems because we have not yet attained
to Wisdom. We simply have to do our mindful and vigilant best, without guilt or blame.
That is all we have to do.
2.7 Violence and non-violence
The First Precept of Buddhism is to abstain from taking life. But it
must be made clear that the Buddhist "Precepts" are not commandments; they are
"good resolutions," sincere aspirations voluntarily undertaken. They are
signposts. They suggest to us how the truly Wise behave, beyond any sense of self and
Evil springs from delusion about our true nature as human beings, and
it takes the characteristic forms of hatred, aggression and driving acquisitiveness. These
behaviors feed upon themselves and become strongly rooted, not only in individuals but in
whole cultures. Total war is no more than their most spectacular and bloody expression. In
Buddhism the cultivation of sila (habitual morality) by attempting to follow the
Precepts is an aspiration toward breaking this karmic cycle. It is a first step towards
dissolving the egocentricity of headstrong willfulness, and cultivating heartfelt
awareness of others. The Precepts invite us to loosen the grip, unclench the fist, and to
aspire to open-handedness and open-heartedness. Whether, and to what extent, he keeps the
Precepts is the responsibility of each individual. But he needs to be fully aware of what
he is doing.
The karmic force of violent behavior will be affected by the
circumstances in which it occurs. For example, a "diminished responsibility" may
be argued in the case of conscripts forced to kill by an aggressive government. And there
is surely a difference between wars of conquest and wars of defense. Ven. Walpola Rahula
described a war of national independence in Sri Lanka in the 2nd century BC conducted
under the slogan "Not for kingdom but for Buddhism," and concludes that "to
fight against a foreign invader for national independence became an established Buddhist
tradition, since freedom was essential to the spiritual as well as the material progress
of the community" (Rahula, 1978, p. 117). We may deplore the historic destruction of
the great Indian Buddhist heritage in the middle-ages, undefended against the Mongol and
Muslim invaders. It is important to note, however, that "according to Buddhism there
is nothing that can be called a 'just war' -- which is only a false term coined and put
into circulation to justify and excuse hatred, cruelty, violence and massacre"
(Rahula, 1967, 84).
It is an unfortunate fact, well documented by eminent scholars such as
Edward Conze and Trevor Ling, that not only have avowedly Buddhist rulers undertaken
violence and killing, but also monks of all traditions in Buddhism. Nonetheless, Buddhism
has no history of specifically religious wars, that is, wars fought to impose
Buddhism upon reluctant believers.
Violence and killing are deeply corrupting in their effect upon all
involved, and Buddhists will therefore try to avoid direct involvement in violent action
or in earning their living in a way that, directly or indirectly, does violence. The
Buddha specifically mentioned the trade in arms, in living beings and flesh.
The problem is whether, in today's "global village" we are
not all in some degree responsible for war and violence to the extent that we refrain from
any effort to diminish them. Can we refrain from killing a garden slug and yet refrain,
for fear of "political involvement," from raising a voice against the nuclear
arms race or the systematic torture of prisoners of conscience in many parts of the world?
These are questions which are disturbing to some of those Buddhists who
have a sensitive social and moral conscience. This is understandable. Yet, a well-informed
Buddhist must not forget that moral responsibility, or karmic guilt, originate from a
volitional and voluntary act affirming the harmful character of the act. If that
affirmation is absent, neither the responsibility for the act, not karmic guilt, rest with
those who, through some form of pressure, participate in it. A slight guilt, however,
might be involved if such participants yield too easily even to moderate pressure or do
not make use of "escape routes" existing in these situations. But failure to
protest publicly against injustice or wrong-doings does not necessarily constitute a
participation in evil. Voices of protest should be raised when there is a chance that they
are heard. But "voices in the wilderness" are futile, and silence, instead, is
the better choice. It is futile, indeed, if a few well-meaning heads try to run against
walls of rock stone that may yield only to bulldozers. It is a sad fact that there are
untold millions of our fellow-humans who do affirm violence and use it for a great variety
of reasons (though not "reasonable reasons"!). They are unlikely to be moved by
our protests or preachings, being entirely obsessed by divers fanaticisms or power urges.
This has to be accepted as an aspect of existential suffering. Yet there are still today
some opportunities and nations where a Buddhist can and should work for the cause of peace
and reducing violence in human life. No efforts should be spared to convince people that
violence does not solve problems or conflicts.
The great evil of violence is its separation unto death of us and them,
of "my" righteousness and "your" evil. If you counter violence with
violence you will deepen that separation through thoughts of bitterness and revenge. The
Dhammapada says: "Never by hatred is hatred appeased, but it is appeased by kindness.
This is an eternal truth" (I, 5) Buddhist non-violent social action (avihimsa,
ahimsa) seeks to communicate, persuade and startle by moral example. "One should
conquer anger through kindness, wickedness through goodness, selfishness through charity,
and falsehood through truthfulness" (Dhammapada, XVII, 3).
The Buddha intervened personally on the field of battle, as in the
dispute between the Sakyas and Koliyas over the waters of the Rohini. Since that time,
history has provided us with a host of examples of religiously inspired non-violent social
action, skillfully adapted to particular situations. These are worthy of deep
Well known is Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent struggle against religious
intolerance and British rule in India, and also the Rev. Martin Luther King's black
people's civil rights movement in the United States. A familiar situation for many people
today is the mass demonstration against authority, which may be conducted either
peacefully or violently. As Robert Aitken Roshi has observed, "the point of
disagreement, even the most fundamental disagreement, is still more superficial than the
place of our common life." He recalls the case of a friend who organized an
anti-nuclear demonstration at a naval base passing through a small town in which virtually
every household had at least one person who gained his livelihood by working at the base.
Consequently, when the friend visited every single house before the demonstration he
hardly expected to win the people over to his cause. But he did convince them that he was
a human being who was willing to listen to them and who had faith in them as human beings.
"We finally had our demonstration, with four thousand people walking through this
tiny community, nobody resisted us, nobody threw rocks. They just stood and watched" (The
Ten Directions, Los Angeles Zen Center, 1 (3) September 1980, p. 6).
And yet again, situations may arise in which folly is mutually
conditioned, but where we must in some sense take sides in establishing the ultimate
responsibility. If we do not speak out then, we bow only to the conditioned and accept the
endlessness of suffering and the perpetuation of evil karma. The following lines were
written a few days after Archbishop Oscar Romero, of the Central American republic of El
Salvador, had been shot dead on the steps of his chapel. Romero had roundly condemned the
armed leftist rebel factions for their daily killings and extortions. However, he also
pointed out that these were the reactions of the common people being used as "a
production force under the management of a privileged society... The gap between poverty
and wealth is the main cause of our trouble... And sometimes it goes further: It is the
hatred in the heart of the worker for his employer... If I did not denounce the killings
and the way the army removes people and ransacks peasants' homes I should be acquiescing
in the violence" (Observer newspaper (London), March 30, 1980).
Finally there is the type of situation in which the truly massive folly
of the conflict and of the contrasting evils may leave nothing to work with and there is
space left only for personal sacrifice to bear witness to that folly. Such was the choice
of the Buddhist monks who burnt themselves to death in the Vietnam war -- surely one of
the most savage and despairing conflicts of modern times, in which an heroic group of
Buddhists had for some time struggled in vain to establish an alternative "third
2.8 The good society
The social order to which Buddhist social action is ultimately directed
must be one that minimizes non-volitionally caused suffering, whether in mind or body, and
which also offers encouraging conditions for its citizens to see more clearly into their
true nature and overcome their karmic inheritance. The Buddhist way is, with its
compassion, its equanimity, its tolerance, its concern for self-reliance and individual
responsibility, the most promising of all the models for the New Society which are an on
What is needed are political and economic relations and a technology
(a) Help people to overcome ego-centeredness, through
co-operation with others, in place of either subordination and exploitation or the
consequent sense of "righteous" struggle against all things.
(b) Offer to each a freedom which is conditional only upon the
freedom and dignity of others, so that individuals may develop a self-reliant
responsibility rather than being the conditioned animals of institutions and ideologies.
(See "Buddhism and Democracy," Bodhi Leaves No. B. 17)
The emphasis should be on the undogmatic acceptance of a diversity of
tolerably compatible material and mental "ways," whether of individuals or of
whole communities. There are no short cuts to utopia, whether by "social
engineering" or theocracy. The good society towards which we should aim should simply
provide a means, an environment, in which different "ways," appropriate to
different kinds of people, may be cultivated in mutual tolerance and understanding. A
prescriptive commonwealth of saints is totally alien to Buddhism.
(c) The good society will concern itself primarily with the
material and social conditions for personal growth, and only secondarily and dependently
with material production. It is noteworthy that the 14th Dalai Lama, on his visit to the
West in 1973, saw "nothing wrong with material progress provided man takes precedence
over progress. In fact it has been my firm belief that in order to solve human problems in
all their dimensions we must be able to combine and harmonize external material progress
with inner mental development." The Dalai Lama contrasted the "many problems
like poverty and disease, lack of education" in the East with the West, in which
"the living standard is remarkably high, which is very important, very good."
Yet he notes that despite these achievements there is "mental unrest,"
pollution, overcrowding, and other problems. "Our very life itself is a paradox,
contradictory in many senses; whenever you have too much of one thing you have problems
created by that. You always have extremes and therefore it is important to try and find
the middle way, to balance the two" (Dalai Lama, 1976, pp. 10, 14, 29).
(d) E.F. Schumacher has concisely expressed the essence of
Buddhist economics as follows:
"While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly
interested in liberation. But Buddhism is 'The Middle Way' and therefore in no way
antagonistic to physical well-being... The keynote of Buddhist economics is simplicity and
non-violence. From an economist's point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life is
the utter rationality of its pattern -- amazingly small means leading to extraordinarily
satisfying results" (Schumacher, 1973, p. 52).
Schumacher then outlines a "Buddhist economics" in which
production would be based on a middle range technology yielding on the one hand an
adequate range of material goods (and no more), and on the other a harmony with the
natural environment and its resources. (See also Dr. Padmasiri de Silva's pamphlet The
Search for a Buddhist Economics, in the series, Bodhi Leaves, No. B. 69)
The above principles suggest some kind of diverse and politically
decentralized society, with co-operative management and ownership of productive wealth. It
would be conceived on a human scale, whether in terms of size and complexity of
organization or of environmental planning, and would use modern technology selectively
rather than being used by it in the service of selfish interests. In Schumacher's words,
"It is a question of finding the right path of development, the Middle Way, between
materialist heedlessness and traditionalist immobility, in short, of finding 'Right
Clearly, all the above must ultimately be conceived on a world scale.
"Today we have become so interdependent and so closely connected with each other that
without a sense of universal responsibility, irrespective of different ideologies and
faiths, our very existence or survival would be difficult" (Dalai Lama, 1976, pp. 5,
28). This statement underlines the importance of Buddhist internationalism and of social
policy and social action conceived on a world scale.
The above is not offered as some kind of blueprint for utopia. Progress
would be as conflict-ridden as the spiritual path of the ordinary Buddhist -- and the
world may never get there anyway. However, Buddhism is a very practical and pragmatic kind
of idealism, and there is, as always, really no alternative but to try.
2.9 Organizing social action
A systematic review of the different kinds of Buddhist organization for
social action which have appeared in different parts of the world is beyond the scope of
this pamphlet. Some considerable research would be required, and the results would merit
at least a separate pamphlet.
Later we shall introduce three contrasting movements which are in some
sense or others examples of Buddhist social action. Each is related more or less strongly
to the particular social culture in which it originated, and all should therefore be
studied as illustrative examples-in-context and not necessarily as export models for other
countries. They are, however, very suggestive, and two of the three have spread beyond
their country of origin.
2.9a Maintaining balance
Social action needs to be organized and practiced in such a way as to
build upon its potential for spiritual practice and to guard against its seductions.
Collective labor with fellow-Buddhists raises creative energy, encourages positive
attitudes and engenders a strong spirit of fellowship. The conflicts, disagreements,
obstacles, and discouragements which will certainly be met along the way offer rich
meditation experiences and opportunity for personal growth, so long as scrupulous
mindfulness is sustained.
The meditator will learn as much about himself in a contentious meeting
as he will in the meditation hall. Both kinds of experience are needed, and they
complement one another. Social action is a great ripener of compassion (for self as well
as for others), out of the bitterness of the experiences which it commonly offers. Yet,
like nothing else, it can stir up the partisan emotions and powerfully exult the
opinionated ego. The busy, patronizing evangelist not only gives an undercover boost to
his own ego; he also steals another person's responsibility for himself. However, these
dangers are, comparatively speaking, gross and tangible when set against the no less
ego-enhancing seduction of Other-Worldliness and dharma-ridden pietism. Such
"spiritual materialism," as Chogyam Trungpa calls it, has long been recognized
as the ultimate and most elusive kind of self-deception which threatens the follower of
the spiritual path.
The seduction lies in being carried away by our good works, in becoming
subtly attached to the new goals and enterprises we have set ourselves, so that no space
is left in our busily structured hours in which some saving strength of the spirit can
abide. Here is opportunity to learn how to dance with time -- "the river in which we
go fishing," as Thoreau called it, instead of neatly packaging away our lives in it,
or letting it dictate us. And in committee lies the opportunity of slowly turning the hot,
lusty partisanship of self-opinionated confirmation into the kind of space and dialogue in
which we can communicate, and can even learn to love our most implacable opponents.
It is therefore important that both the individual and the group set
aside regular periods for meditation, with periods of retreat at longer intervals. It is
important also that experience and the feel of the social action project should as far as
possible be shared openly within the Buddhist group.
In our view, the first social action of the isolated Buddhist is not to
withhold the Dharma from the community in which he or she lives. However modest one's own
understanding of the Dharma, there is always some first step that can be taken and
something to be learned from taking that step. Even two or three can be a greater light to
one another, and many forms of help are often available from outside such as working
together through a correspondence course, for example, or listening to borrowed
For the reasons given earlier it is important that social action
projects should, where possible, be undertaken by a Buddhist group rather than each
individual "doing his own thing." And since the Buddhist group will, in most
Western countries, be small and isolated, it is important that the work be undertaken in
co-operation with like-minded non-Buddhists. This will both use energies to better effect
since social action can be very time- and energy-consuming, and create an even better
learning situation for all involved. Forms of social action which are high on explicit
giving of service and low on conflict and power situations will obviously be easier to
handle and to "give" oneself to, though still difficult in other respects. For
example, organizing and participating in a rota of visits to lonely, long-stay hospital
patients would contrast, in this respect, with involvement in any kind of local community
2.9b Spiritual centers: example and outreach
In this section we are concerned with the significance of Buddhist
residential communities both as manifestations and examples of the "good
society" and as centers of social outreach (mainly, though not solely, in the form of
teaching the Dharma). We may distinguish four possible kinds of activity here.
In the first place, any healthy spiritual community does, by its
very existence, offer to the world a living example not only of the Good Life but also of
the Good Society. Certain spiritual values are made manifest in its organization and
practice in a way not possible in print or in talk. On the other hand, the purely
contemplative and highly exclusive community can do this only in some limited, special and
In the second place, where the members of such a community
undertake work as a community economically ("Right Livelihood"), then to that
extent the community becomes a more realistic microcosm of what has to be done in the
wider world and a more realistic model and example of how it might best be done.
Thirdly, such communities are commonly teaching and training
communities. This may be so in formal terms, in that they offer classes and short courses
and also longer periods of training in residence, in which the trainees become veritable
community members. And it may be true in terms of the "openness" of the
community to outsiders who wish for the present to open up their communication with the
community through some participation in work, ritual, teaching, meditation.
Fourthly, the community might involve itself in various kinds of
outside community service, development or action beyond that of teaching, and beyond the
necessarily commercial services which may sustain the community's "Right
Livelihood." Examples might be running a hospice for the terminally ill, providing an
information and advice center on a wide range of personal and social problems for the
people of the local community, and assisting -- and maybe leading -- in various aspects of
a socially deprived local community. The spiritual community thus becomes more strongly a
community within a community. In this kind of situation would the spiritual community draw
strength from its service to the social, the "lay" community, creating an upward
spiral of energy? Or would the whole scheme founder through the progressive impoverishment
and corruption of the spiritual community in a vicious downward spiral?
In the Eastern Buddhist monastic tradition the first and third aspects
(above) are present. In contrast to Christian monasticism, monks are not necessarily
expected to be monks for life, and the monasteries may have an important function as
seminaries and as long and short stay teaching and training centers. On the other hand,
economically such communities are commonly strongly sustained by what is predominantly
Buddhist society. In the West there are now similar communities in all the main Buddhist
traditions. Although these are to some extent sustained also by lay Buddhist
contributions, their income from training and teaching fees may be important. And whether
it is or not, it is clear that their actual and potential training and teaching role is
likely to be very important in non-Buddhist societies in which there is a growing interest
in Buddhism. A good example is the Manjusri Institute in the United Kingdom, which is now
seeking official recognition for the qualifications which it awards, and which could
eventually become as much part of the national education system as, say, a Christian
theological college. Such an integration of Buddhist activity into the pattern of national
life in the West is, of course, most welcome, and opens up many new opportunities for
making the Dharma more widely understood.
The above developments may be compared with the communities which form
the basis of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO). In these, our second aspect
(above), that of Right Livelihood, is found, in addition to the first and third.
The FWBO was founded in 1967 in the United Kingdom by the Ven. Maha
Sthavira Sangharakshita, a Londoner who spent twenty years in India as a Buddhist monk and
returned with the conviction that the perennial Buddhism always expresses itself anew in
each new age and culture. The FWBO is concerned with building what it calls the "New
Society" in the minds and practice of its members. Opening the FWBO's London Buddhist
Center, Ven. Sangharakshita was reported as saying that the New Society was a spiritual
community composed of individuals who are "truly human beings: self-aware,
emotionally positive people whose energies flow freely and spontaneously, who accept
responsibility for their own growth and development, in particular by providing three
things: firstly, a residential spiritual community; secondly, a co-operative Right
Livelihood situation; and thirdly a public center, offering classes, especially in
meditation" (Marichi, 1979).
The FWBO does in fact follow a traditional Mahayana spiritual practice,
but within this framework it does have, as the quotation above suggests, a strong Western
flavor. This owes much to the eleven co-operatives by which many of the eighteen
autonomous urban communities support themselves. These businesses are run by teams of
community members as a means of personal and group development. They include a printing
press, graphic design business, photographic and film studio, metalwork forge, and shops
Membership of the communities (which are usually single sex), varies
between four and thirty people, and often the community members pool their earnings in a
"common purse." The FWBO comprises Order members, Mitras (who have made some
initial commitment) and Friends (supporters in regular contact). Each community is
autonomous and has its own distinctive character. Attached to communities are seven
Centers, through which the public are offered talks, courses and instruction in
meditation. Regular meetings of Chairmen of Centers and other senior Order members,
supported by three central secretariats, are planned for the future, but it is not
intended to abridge the autonomy of the constituent communities, each of which is a
separately registered legal body.
The FWBO is growing very rapidly, not only in the United Kingdom but
also overseas, with branches in Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, the USA,
and, interestingly, in India, where a sustained effort is being made to establish centers.
2.9c Community services and development
We refer in this section to the fourth aspect distinguished early in
the previous section 2.9b, namely, various possible kinds of service and support which may
be given by organized Buddhists to the local community in which they live. The FWBO does
not undertake this kind of activity (see previous section for examples), and in fact there
do not appear to be any major examples of it in the West.
Arguably if this kind of work is undertaken at all, it might more
likely be initiated by a non-residential "lay" Buddhist group, whose members as
householders and local workers may have strong roots in their town or neighborhood. As an
example of what can be achieved by a relatively small group of this kind, we quote the
following (from The Middle Way, 54 (3) Autumn 1979, p. 193):
"The Harlow Buddhist Society have recently opened Dana House, a practical attempt
to become involved with the ordinary people of the town and their problems. The new center
... has four regular groups using it. The first is an after-care service for those who
have been mentally or emotionally ill. The center is there for those in need of friendship
and understanding. The second group is a psychotherapy one, for those with more evident
emotional problems. It is run by an experienced group leader and a psychologist who can be
consulted privately. The third group is a beginners' meditation class based on the concept
of 'Right Understanding.' The fourth group is the Buddhist group, which is not attached to
any particular school of Buddhism.
"Peter Donahoe writes: 'We have endeavored to provide a center which can function
in relation to a whole range of different needs, a place of charity and compassion, where
all are welcomed regardless of race, colour, sex or creed, welcomed to come to terms with
their suffering in a way which is relative to each individual.'"
However, on the whole, it is only in the East, in societies in which
Buddhist culture is predominant or important, that there are sufficiently committed
Buddhists to play a part in extensive community service and development projects. For
example, in Japan there are several such movements and we shall refer in the next section
to one example -- Soka Gakkai, a movement which also plays a number of other roles. We
must first, however, turn our attention to a pre-eminent example of a Buddhist-inspired
movement for community development, the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka.
"Sarvodaya" means "awakening of all" and
"Shramadana" means "sharing of labor," making a gift of time, thought
and energy. This well describes what is basically a village self-help movement, inspired
by Buddhist principles and founded in 1958 as part of a general national awakening. It is
now by far the largest non-governmental, voluntary organization in Sri Lanka.
The Movement learned in its earlier days how very important
non-economic factors are in community development, and its projects combine
spiritual-cultural with socioeconomic development. "One important element that cannot
be improved upon in Buddhist villages in particular is the unique place of the temple and
the Buddhist monk, the one as the meeting place, the other as the chief exponent of this
entire process." (All quotations are from the pamphlet Ethos and Work Plan,
published by the Movement.) Founded on traditional culture, Sarvodaya Shramadana is
ultimately "a nonviolent revolutionary movement for changing man and society."
At the same time it aims to retain the best in the traditional social and cultural fabric
of the community.
Village development projects are undertaken on the initiative of the
villagers themselves. To begin with the community is made aware of the historic causes
that led to the impoverishment and disintegration of the community and of its cultural and
traditional values. Economic regeneration is only possible if there is a restoration of
social values within the village. It is emphasized that the community itself must take the
initiative in removing obstacles to development and in learning the new skills needed to
carry through a change of program. The volunteers brought in to help serve only as a
catalyst. Action is focused initially on Shramadana Camps in which villagers and outside
volunteers work together upon some community project such as a road or irrigation channel.
The experience of such Camps helps to develop a sense of community. Local leaders, working
through village groups of farmers, of youth, of mothers and others, emerge to take
increasing responsibility for a more or less comprehensive development program. This may
include pre-school care for the under-fives, informal education for adults, health care
programs, and community kitchens, with co-operation with State agencies as appropriate. By
1980, Sarvodaya was reaching 3,500 villages and was running 1,185 pre-schools.
Essential to these community development programs in Sarvodaya
Shramadana's system of Development Education programs, operating through six Institutes
and through the Gramodaya centers each of which co-ordinates development work in some
twenty to thirty villages. The movement also provides training in self-employment for the
youth who compose the largest sector of the unemployed. Although the main thrust of
activity has been in rural areas, the Movement is also interested in urban community
development where conditions are favorable and there is local interest.
The main material support for the movement comes from the villagers
themselves, although financial and material assistance has also been received from
It is argued that the basic principles of Sarvodaya Shramadana can be
adapted to developed as well as developing countries, and Sarvodaya groups are already
active in West Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and Thailand. "The rich countries also
have to helped to change their purely materialistic outlook and strike a balance, with
spiritual values added to the materialistic values of their own communities so that
together all can build a new One World social order."
2.9d Political action and mass movements
Although there may be exceptional circumstances in certain countries,
as a general rule there are strong arguments against Buddhist groups explicitly aligning
themselves with any political party. It is not just that to do so would be irrelevantly
divisive. As we have noted in section 2.6 (above), there are deeper, underlying social and
political realities which cross-cut the conventional political spectrum of left, right and
Nevertheless, Buddhism, like other great religious systems, inevitably
has political implications. To some extent these seem to be relatively clear, and in other
senses they are arguable and controversial. Religion has its own contribution to make to
politics and, ultimately, it is the only contribution to politics that really matters. It
has failed both politically and as religion it falls either into the extreme of being
debased by politics or of rejecting any kind of political involvement as a kind of fearful
taboo. The fear of creating dissension among fellow Buddhists is understandable, but if
Buddhists cannot handle conflict in a positive and creative way, then who can?
On closer examination we shall find that it is not "politics"
that requires our vigilance so much as the problems of power and conflict inherent in
politics. Indeed, a better use of the term "political" would be to describe any
kind of power and conflict situation. In this sense a Buddhist organization may be more
intensely and unhappily "political" in managing its spiritual and practical
affairs than if and when its members are discussing such an "outside" matter as
conventional politics. Indeed, any such discussion of social and political questions may
be banned by a Buddhist society which may be in fact intensely political in terms of
underlying power and conflict with which its members have not really come to terms. All
kinds of organizations have problems of power and conflict and derive their positive
dynamism from the good management of these, but the dangers of self-delusion seem to be
greater in religious bodies.
When we meet Buddhists and get to know them, we find that even when
they do not express explicit opinions on political and social matters, it is clear from
other things they say that some are inclined to a conservative "establishment"
stance, some are of a radical inclination, and others more dissident still. Since the
diversities of THIS and THAT exist everywhere else in the conditioned world, even
Buddhists cannot pretend to exclude themselves from such disturbing distinctions. This is
not really in question. What is in question is their ability to handle their differences openly
and with Buddhist maturity. And, as we have tried to show earlier, this maturity implies a
progressive diminution of emotional attachment to views of THIS and THAT, so that we no
longer need either in order to sustain our identity in the world and have in some sense
transcended our clinging by a higher understanding. We still carry THIS or THAT, but
lightly and transparently and manageably -- without ego-weight. If we did not still carry
them, how could we feel the Compassion for samsara, for ourselves as well as
Alan Watts wrote a suitably controversial little pamphlet on this
subject, entitled Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen (City Lights Books, San Francisco,
1959). The following passage may be found helpful to our present discussion; what the
author has to say about Zen is surely no less applicable to Buddhism as a whole. Watts
argues that the Westerner who wishes to understand Zen deeply "must understand his
own culture so thoroughly that he is no longer swayed by its premises unconsciously. He
must really have come to terms with the Lord God Jehovah and with his Hebrew-Christian
conscience so he can take it or leave it without fear or rebellion. He must be free of the
itch to justify himself. Lacking this, his Zen will be either 'beat' or 'square,' either a
revolt from the culture and social order or a new form of stuffiness and respectability.
For Zen is above all the liberation of the mind from conventional thought and this is
something utterly different from rebellion against convention, on the one hand, or
adapting foreign conventions, on the other."
In the West, individual Buddhists have been particularly attracted to
pacifist, disarmament, and environmentalist movements and parties. These movements have
profound concerns, which, arguably, undercut the expediencies of conventional party
politics. On the other hand, are they not made the more attractive by a certain political
innocence, as yet uncorrupted and unblessed by the realities of power? And do they not
also underestimate the karma of power and property?
However, in Western and other non-Buddhist countries Buddhist political
action of any kind is little more than speculative. Buddhists are few in number, and their
energies are necessarily fully occupied with learning and teaching. Teaching is the major
form of social action and we have already discussed certain social action implications of
the spiritual community. Social action at most verges upon certain possible kinds of
service to the wider community or even participation in community development. We have
already suggested the merit of such enterprises. But as to politics, using the word
conventionally, in the West and at the present time, that can be no more than a matter for
discussion in Buddhist groups. As always, individual Buddhists and perhaps informal
groups will decide for themselves about political action or inaction.
However, in countries where there are strong Buddhist movements, well
rooted in society, some kind of political stance and action seems unavoidable and, indeed,
logical and natural, though conventional party political alignments may generally be
For example, Sarvodaya Shramadana's success at the higher levels of
village self-development depends on "the extent that unjust economic arrangements
such as ownership of means of production, e.g., land in the hands of a few, administrative
system and political power structures, are changed in such a way that the village masses
become the true masters of their own selves and their environment. That the present
government has gone very far in this direction is amply demonstrated when one examines the
radical measures that have already been taken" (Sarvodaya Shramadana pamphlet Ethos
and Work Plan, p. 31).
For large and explicitly Buddhist movements filing a variety of
different roles, from the devotional to the so-called "New Religions" which have
become particularly important in Japan in the post-war period. (Some mention has already
been made of the small discussion groups which are a notable feature of Rissho-Kosei-Kai
-- The "Society for Establishing Righteousness and Family Relations".) With
their strong emphasis on pacifism, brotherly love, and mutual aid, these organizations
have done much to assist the recovery of the Japanese people from the trauma of military
aggression and the nuclear explosions which terminated it.
Soka Gakkai (literally, "Value Creation Society") is perhaps
the most striking of these Japanese Buddhist socio-political movements. It is a lay
Buddhist organization with over fifteen million adherents, associated with the
Soka Gakkai has an ambitious education and cultural program, and has
founded its own university, high school and hospital. It also has a political party,
Komeito -- the "Clean Government Party," which as early as 1967 returned
twenty-five parliamentary candidates to the Japanese lower house, elected with five
percent of the national vote. The party has continued to play an important part in
Japanese political life, basing itself on "the principles of Buddhist democracy"
and opposition to rearmament. Soka Gakkai is a populist movement, militant, evangelical
and well organized, pledged to "stand forever on the side of the people" and to
"devote itself to carrying out the movement for the human revolution" (President
Daisaku Ikeda). More specifically, its political achievements have included a successful
confrontation with the mineowners of Hokkaido.
Attitudes to Soka Gakkai understandably differ widely. It has been
criticized by some for its radicalism and by others for its conservatism; certainly it has
been criticized on the grounds of dogmatism and aggressiveness. Certainly it is imbued
with the nationalist fervor of Nichiren, the 13th century Buddhist monk who inspired it.
Although it has some claims to missionary work in other countries, Soka Gakkai appears to
have a more distinctive national flavor than the other social action groups we have looked
at and to be less suitable for export.
2.9e "Universal Responsibility and the Good Heart"
Elsewhere we have already quoted the words of the Dalai Lama
emphasizing the active global responsibility of Buddhists, and the importance above all of
what he calls "Universal Responsibility and the Good Heart." In all countries
will be found non-Buddhists, whether religionists or humanists, who share with us a
non-violent, non-dogmatic and non-sectarian approach to community and world problems, and
with whom Buddhists can work in close cooperation and with mutual respect. This is part of
the "Good Heart" to which the Dalai Lama refers. "I believe that the
embracing of a particular religion like Buddhism does not mean the rejection of another
religion or one's own community. In fact it is important that those of you who have
embraced Buddhism should not cut yourself off from your own society; you should continue
to live within your own community and with its members. This is not only for your sake but
for others' also, because by rejecting your community you obviously cannot benefit others,
which actually is the basic aim of religion" (Dalai Lama, 1976).
Mr. Emilios Bouratinos and his colleagues of the Buddhist Society of
Greece have framed certain farsighted proposals for the "rehumanization of
society" which have Buddhist inspiration but which seek to involve non-Buddhist
ideological groups with the aim of reaching some common ground with them on the
organization of society. Mr. Bouratinos argues that Buddhists should address themselves
"to all people somehow inspired from within -- whether they be religionists or not.
This is indispensable, for we Buddhists are a tiny minority in the West and yet we must
touch the hearts of many if this world is to survive in some meaningful fashion"
(Letter to the author, 15 May 1980).
Certainly in the West many Buddhists will maintain that it is necessary
to take one step at a time, and that for the present our individual and collective action
must go into the inner strengthening of our faith and practice. They would doubtless agree
on the importance of teaching the Dharma, which we have characterized as one of the
important forms of social action, but they would argue that the seduction of other kinds
of social action, and the drain of energy, are greater than the opportunities which it can
afford for "wearing out the shoe of samsara." They would argue that the
best way to help other people is by personal example.
This pamphlet concedes some possible truth to the above position but
also offers a wide range of evidence to the contrary, to which in retrospect the reader
may now wish to return. Whatever we may feel about it, certainly the debate is a
worthwhile one since, as we have seen, it points to the very heart of Buddhism -- the
harmony, or creative equilibrium, of Wisdom and Compassion. And as in all worthwhile
debates, the disagreement, and, still more, the possible sense of disagreeableness which
it engenders, offers each of us a valuable meditation.
The needs and aptitudes of individual differ, and our debate will also
appear differently to readers in different countries with different cultural backgrounds.
Though we are brothers and sisters to one another, as Buddhists each must light his or her
own way. To the enquiring reader who has little knowledge of Buddhism and yet who has
managed to stay with me to the end, I offer my apologies if I have sometimes seemed to
forget him and if my explanations have proved inadequate. For
"This is where words fail: for what can words tell
Of things that have no yesterday, tomorrow or today?"
-- Tseng Ts'an
To a world knotted in hatreds and aggression and a host of follies,
grand and mean, heroic and base, Buddhism offers a unique combination of unshakable
equanimity and a deeply compassionate practical concern. And so may we tread lightly
through restless experience, riding out defeats and discouragements, aware always of the
peace at the heart of things, of the freedom that is free of nothing.
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Kegan Paul, 1976.
Chogyam Trungpa, "The Myth of freedom and the way of
meditation," Shambhala, 1976.
Chuang Tzu, "The Way of Chuang Tzu," trans. Thomas Merton,
Unwin Books, 1970.
Conze, Edward, "Buddhism," 2nd ed., Cassirer, 1974.
Dalai Lama, H.H.XIV, "Universal responsibility and the good
heart," Dharamsala (Library of Tibetan works), 1976.
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Marichi, "Authority and the individual," FWBO Newsletter No.
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Rahula, Walpola, "What the Buddha Taught," 2nd ed., Gordon
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Gordon Fraser, 1978.
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people mattered," Blond & Briggs, 1973.
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"Buddhist Texts," Cassirer, 1954 (trans. Arthur Waley).
Shiki, Haiku, in Henderson, Harold, "An introduction to Haiku," Doubleday,