Buddhism and Social Action
1. The Fundamentals
2. The Actions
11.1 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
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 teachings.
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
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 itself.
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 wisdom.
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.
"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 practice.
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
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,
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 plows, 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-
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
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 help others?
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
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 incubation.
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
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 and Wisdom.
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.
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 Sangha?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Buddhism.
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 alike.
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
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 wrong.
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
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 gray 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
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 "instant" restructuring.
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
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 other.
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 contemplation.
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 a heroic group of Buddhists had for some time struggled in
vain to establish an alternative "third force."
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 offer.
What is needed are political and economic relations
and a technology which will:
(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
(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
(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 Livelihood.'"
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
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 audiocassettes.
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 development project.
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 arguable sense.
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,
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
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,
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 and cafes.
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
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, color, sex or creed, welcomed to
come to terms with their suffering in a way which is relative to
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
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
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 overseas.
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 center.
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 others?
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 avoided.
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 Nichiren-Sho-Shu sect.
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
2.9e "Universal Responsibility and the Good
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
From "Clearing ,
Insti tate University. Published
in Vajra Bodhi Sea: A Monthly Journal of Orthodox Buddhism, Feb., 1999,