In order to understand the social applications of Dhamma,
we should examine how they are directly grounded in the theoretical
foundations of Buddhist social thought.
The concept of Dhamma
The word Dhamma means "that which sustains, that
which upholds." In its broadest sense it signifies
the cosmic law which supports all phenomena, the law of dependent
origination, the Four Noble Truths, the three characteristics
of existence, etc. The concept of Dhamma also has an ethical
dimension; it is the law of righteousness, the principle
of virtue or moral truth. Dhamma here is the moral law
which protects us,
which upholds and safeguards us from spiritual degeneration
and from a fall into lower states of existence. So the
word Dhamma combines these two ideas — the law of reality
and virtue. Later we will see the particular applications
of the concept of Dhamma to different types of human
The Four Noble Truths
We return again to the Four Noble Truths, which are a foundation
for Buddhist social thought, particularly the second noble
truth that craving becomes the source of suffering and
misery in our social existence.
The Buddha says:
All of this, the Buddha says,comes about from craving for
sense enjoyments. Alas in the modern world their is ample testimony
If craving is eliminated, all of these will be eliminated.
For all the social problems come from the basic cause
Buddhism teaches that the idea of self is the root of suffering,
for it lies at the base of all our selfish emotions and defilements.
To get free from the social turmoil that comes from the
defilements we have to uproot this sense of selfhood by beginning
to act in ways which contribute to diminishing the grip
of the self idea.
Ultimately the eradication of self comes through the wisdom
that arises from meditation, but meditation cannot be
sealed off in a compartment of its own separate from
the rest of human life.
The four sublime states (the Brahma-Viharas)
These are four ethical attitudes, developed in meditation,
can come to expression in concrete action in the social economic
and political spheres. These qualities are to be extended immeasurably
to al beings, and so they are referre to as "the immeasurables."
Loving kindness — metta The wish for the welfare and happiness of others.
As an ethical attitude and as a meditative state, it is to
be developed to an immeasurable extent until it embraces
all living beings.
Compassion — karuna
The feeling of empathy with others, the quality that makes
the heart tremble with the suffering of others. This qualtity
makes us identify with others and feel their suffering
as our own. Compassion arouses the desire to alleviate
the suffering of others; to take away the causes of misery.
Sympathetic joy — mudita Rejoicing in the happiness and good fortune of others.
This quality tends to removes envy and jealousy .
Equanimity — upekkha An attitude of impartial neutrality, non-discrimination
between agreeable and disagreeable situations and persons.
We tend to favor those we like and to dislike those we think
threaten us. With upekkha we cultivate a mind that doesn’t
discimiate, which looks with equal friendliness on everyone.
These four ethical atttitudes are first developed in meditation
but then can reach expression in concrete action in the social,
economic and political spheres.
Ashoka offers a course on the brahma-viharas,
taught by Sharon Salzberg, guiding teacher of
Insight Meditation Society. You can enroll for
this course at the Ashoka