Being a Buddhist doesn’t mean renouncing social engagement.

Surprisingly, a large number of the Buddhists I’ve spoken with in past few years take the position that engaging in ‘worldly’ issues is something that we, as Buddhists, should seek to renounce. Samsara is imperfect and it can’t be fixed, so why bother? Part of the reasoning for this is the Buddha’s discouragement of monks and nuns from discussing certain unsuitable or ‘bestial’ topics: i.e., “conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state; armies, alarms, & battles; food & drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, & scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women & heroes; the gossip of the street & the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity, the creation of the world & of the sea; talk of whether things exist or not” (AN 10.69).

If we live a worldly life, however, I think we, as ‘householders,’ have some responsibility to engage in worldly issues. While the Buddha clearly discouraged the monastic community from engaging in worldly activities such as politics, I think it’s a mistake for lay-followers not to be. For one, politics affects almost every aspect of our lives, and being engaged in our communities and being a part of the political discussion, not to mention being active in broader social and political movements, is what makes our society and political systems function more effectively, and how progress, however slow it may sometimes be, is made.

To these these kinds of activities and decisions solely in the hands of others, some of whom are slaves to their defilements, isn’t wise, in my opinion. And if we choose to live in the world, then I think we share some responsibility for shaping it; and it makes sense to have people motivated by things like non-greed, non-aversion, and non-delusion add their voices to the mix, not to mention helping do what they can to fix things like inequality and injustice as long as it’s done with a spirit of compassion and harmlessness. The greatest danger of the practice of renunciation, in my opinion, is the tendency of practitioners to ignore the world around them while seeking their own happiness (which is one of the things that give non-Buddhists the mistaken impression that Buddhism is a selfish religion).

All too often in my experience, Buddhists fall back on teachings like ‘all processes/conditioned things are inconstant, unsatisfactory, and not-self’ (AN 3.134) while neglecting teachings such as “I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir” (AN 5.57).

Moreover, just from a practical standpoint, not addressing many of the material conditions giving rise to and supporting society’s suffering ultimately serves to help maintain their continued existence (when this is, that is), which can negatively affect our practice, as well as that of others. If the society one lives in isn’t conducive to practicing Buddhism, for example, then it does matter what kind of society one lives, so we should naturally try to make it as conducive for ourselves and others as possible. As the Buddha said in Khp 5, “To reside in a suitable locality, to have done meritorious actions in the past and to set oneself in the right course — this is the greatest blessing.” To help illustrate what I mean here, I’ll give two example.

A general example is that a society that’s not only consumerist, but also politically and economically geared more towards the idea that greed and self-interest is the highest good, will potentially be less supportive culturally of monastic communities that live entirely in an economy of gifts (e.g., in comparing Eastern cultures, in which alms-giving and gift exchanges characteristic of ‘human economies’ regulated by custom and reputation and based more on co-operation have historically been more prevalent, to Western culture, where market-based economies based more on competition have been the norm, I noticed that Eastern monastics often receive more lay support as opposed to Western monastics, who often have to produce goods like beer, chocolate, coffee, wine, etc. to sell in order to support themselves).

A more specific example is the ecological impacts of logging in Thailand. The Buddha praised the wilderness and the benefits of practicing in the forest. The Thai Forest tradition grew out of a movement among monastics to return to this way of practice. In the past few decades, however, much of Thailand’s forests have disappeared, making this more difficult. Being involved in conservation efforts and trying to find better farming techniques and/or other ways of raising revenue is one way of trying to help preserve remaining forests in order to help keep this tradition alive.

The point is that, if the world is ruled by conditionality, doesn’t it make sense that working towards contributing positive conditions for the benefit of ourselves and others is a skillful thing for householders to do? It’d be great if everyone were free from greed, hatred, and delusion, and everyone treated everyone else with kindness, compassion, and generosity—if the world was free from all forms of exploitation, privation, and gross inequalities. But the world isn’t a perfect place, and we’re not all saints; and one of the ways we can help alleviate some of the world’s suffering is by trying to materially change it for the better. And from this point of view, it’s not about making Buddhism political, but about applying the ideals of Buddhism in all that we do, which for me includes being socially and politically active.

100 thoughts on “Being a Buddhist doesn’t mean renouncing social engagement.

  1. Thank you, Jason. For me, coming as I do from a Christian tradition of permanent social engagement, Buddhism became a viable option when I encountered the work of Joanna Macy and the Shanti AIDS movement in California - although at a distance. As you point out, some Buddhist societies not only value but also beautify the natural world around them. An abiding memory is of the shock of beauty from the gardens at the Norbulinka Institute in Himachal Pradech when compared with the desolate Indian landscape around.

    Thus, Buddhism, for me, invited me to a deeper engagement with ecology and the environment, including, above all, the human ecology. Working with those earliest HIV/AIDS patients reinforced my view that we must listen to and respond to the wounded and vulnerable - and that Buddhist practice enhances that ability to listen, hear and respond affirmatively and with compassion.

    Whilst not wishing to play down the importance that some Buddhist attach to their personal practice, it is my view that unless we engage with others and the world around us, we risk betraying the deep message of the moment that the Shakyamuni Buddha decided to go out into the world to teach the ending of dukkha.
  2. Nice essay @Jason. :)

    Like @Simonthepilgrim I come from a Christian background (way back). However, I still fall back on much of Jesus's teachings, some of which include getting out there to show compassion, render assistance, and as importantly, be a light to the world and set an example. There is the quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel, and when you have to, use words".
  3. "....Preach the gospel, and when you have to, use words".

    AMEN to that!
    *throws hand up*.....(having a church moment)
  4. People who say samsara can't be fixed - they take care of themselves - they eat when they're hungry, seek medical attention when sick, etc. They don't say, "Samsara is imperfect, so let me not worry about my health or wellbeing. It is futile anyway."

    Therefore, what applies to them as individuals will apply to the world at large.
  5. Trungpa Rinpoche evisioned an enlightened society where beings are educated in meditaiton and other mind training. He called it Shambhala. So I have to agree with @Jason's post. On the other hand we cannot fix samsara because of birth and death and all in between fosters ignorance and craving. We can feed and cloth the needy and that's great, but it does not liberate them from samsara. So I think we should follow a path of taming our mind so we feel better. But then we take on the Bodhisattva ideal and TRAIN the mind to help beings. The bodhisattva vows to save all beings even though that is impossible. We can give three types of gifts: material, fearlessness, and dharma teachings.
  6. Yes, a thousand times yes. A Buddhist who only cares about their own happiness, and doesn't give a damn about the world, is a selfish, borderline sociopathic Buddhist. That's an oxymoron. I'm surprised that some think that this is debatable.
  7. They're not Buddhist, period. I'm surprised you didn't actually consider that in your response........
  8. I find its not really a problem being in samsara as long as you're somewhat detached from it. If the train is late you could fly into a rage or accept that sometimes trains are late. You can only really minimise the impact of samsara anyway. The forest tradition as mentioned does this. Laypeople still come to these temples, food must be aquired, bills paid. As I said though, its attachment thats the problem and not the phenomena itself. All things are as they should be, though maybe not from our perspective.
  9. Being a Buddhist doesn't mean renouncing social engagement.

    Yes and no. For the lay practitioner, there is dana/generosity and sila/virtue. One can be a socially engaged Buddhist, Christian, Muslim or atheist.

    For the bhikkhus/monastics/serious practioners there is some form of disengagement from the world and things pertaining to the world. That is transcendence.

    That is the path that the noble ones walk on.
    A number of discourses (among them, SN 35.191; AN 6.63) make the point that the mind is fettered, not by things like the five aggregates or the objects of the six senses, but by the act of passion & delight for them. There are two ways to try to cut through this fetter. One is to focus on the drawbacks of passion & delight in & of themselves, seeing clearly the stress & suffering they engender in the mind. The other is to analyze the objects of passion & delight in such a way that they no longer seem worthy of interest. This second approach is the one recommended in this discourse: when the Buddha talks of "smashing, scattering, & demolishing form (etc.) and making it unfit for play," he is referring to the practice of analyzing form minutely into its component parts until it no longer seems a fit object for passion & delight. When all five aggregates can be treated in this way, the mind is left with no conditioned object to serve as a focal point for its passion, and so is released — at the very least — to the stage of Awakening called non-return.

    "Just as when boys or girls are playing with little sand castles:[4] as long as they are not free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for those little sand castles, that's how long they have fun with those sand castles, enjoy them, treasure them, feel possessive of them. But when they become free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for those little sand castles, then they smash them, scatter them, demolish them with their hands or feet and make them unfit for play.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn23/sn23.002.than.html
  10. I was (am?) passionately motiviated by progressive politics. When i began meditation and studying Buddhism this past year I wondered whether and how to create detachment from that interest. Politics in the USA can be divisive and emotionally charged and there were rifts in my own family due to it. I decided to put aside the "wrong path" aspects of being politically active - arguing, listening to talk radio, debating with my conservative family members - but continue with parts I saw as positive. Is it less exciting? Heck yes, and that is good. I feel now the hair-raising excitement of sneering and jeering at "the other side" was a sort of fix for the adrenaline junkie in me, a substitute for character. I hope I am well on my way to more skillful passion.

    Reading Thich Nhat Hanh was very useful in this redirection.

    Very good article Jason.
  11. @pegembra, it's hard to tell the difference between delight that is wholesome and delight that is unwholesome. Something as simple as a movie can give one delight. Should we analyze that delight and break it into pieces? Can you walk me through the movie example? A movie affects the emotions and people 'turn on' when they go through their emotions.
  12. This subject is one that I--to nobody's surprise, I am sure--have strong opinions about. First, I think social engagement is necessary if Buddhism is going to flourish in today's world. The structure of Buddhism hiding behind temple walls while the population is "officially Buddhist" and society supports the monks became obsolete when the world became connected enough that Buddhism has to compete with a multitude of religions and changing populations. The few outposts where people are trying to hang on to this are isolated and still having huge conflicts, such as the tragic Muslim-Buddhist conflict in Myanmar.

    The other point I need to make is, there is nothing special about the path of the monks when it comes to the Dharma. I reject the belief that it takes renouncing the world and moving into a temple to become a Buddha. The Forth Noble Truth doesn't say "The way to eliminate suffering is to renounce the world and become a monk". The 8-Fold Path almost requires a normal, mundane life. And after all, the problem is our mind, and we take that with us wherever we go. You think becoming a monk gives someone a special ticket out of the struggles we face raising a family? Monks only trade one job and family and set of worries for another. They get as attached to their temple and Master and station in the temple as any guy in a suit trying to make the quarterly profit.

  13. @Cinorjer
    It appears you and I have very similar thoughts on this... This is why I often find myself completely unimpressed when I hear about this monk or that monk living in self-imposed isolation in order to meditate 20 hrs a day. What does that really accomplish as far as living the Dharma and making the world a better place? Nothing.

    How difficult is it to live the Dharma when there is only you to worry about, only your stomach to feed, only your hut or cave to secure and have nothing else and no one else to consider- ever? Not very difficult.

    Show me a lay person who 'lives the Dharma' (as best they can) while dealing with spouse, children, work, bills, and other daily responsibilities of community life- and I'll show you someone who really works the Dharma!

    I appreciate what monks do, and yes, I even think they are still a necessity - as far as teaching the Dharma, and setting an example in the community. But there is room for improvement as well, and one thing I think would improve the community of monks (worldwide) would be to allow fully ordained female monks. (But that's another discussion).
  14. Different strokes for different folks: monks and lay people. A monk doesn't have to change and neither does a layperson.

  15. The Buddha taught both monastics and laity, but much of what has been passed down was preserved by monks, so what we have was primarily of interest to and directed at them. However, this fact doesn’t imply that only monastics can obtain total cessation of stress.

    I think there is much emphasis in speaking about things like interdependence but far less application in analysis. Both monastics and laity are of equal importance, as they are mutually dependent upon and supporting of one another. They aren’t enemies. They need each other. Both should be respected.
  16. @Cinorjer, would you say monks spend more time on the cushion? Do you think cushion time is important?
    I do think it's important. I came out of a Zen practice, and spent my share of time watching paint fade on the wall. However, over the years I came to see this obsession with sitting meditation as being unbalanced in a lot of practices. There's a time to sit, and a time to roll your sleeves up and earn a paycheck, and both are equally practicing the 8-Fold Path. Applying the insights we find in meditation to our daily lives is when you start being a Buddha.

    My first Zen teacher, Rev Young, liked to say "Trying to eliminate suffering by shutting yourself behind temple walls is like trying to avoid drowning by moving to the desert. It's better to learn how to swim."

    I have great respect for the monks I've been privileged to know, at least the ones who chose the life as a calling. As leaders of the Sangha and guardians of the Dharma, they have devoted their lives to a difficult and unending task. The good ones were too busy helping others to spend a lot of time on their own meditation practice, and maybe those were the ones who really "got it".
  17. Some people here might change their mind if they were the ones
    in need of help. Who here has been homeless? Who here has gone to
    sleep with an empty stomach? Who here has been cast away by society
    for whatever reasons and then on top of all that, has no civil rights.
    It's easy to say from a warm house, with food in the cupboard and a
    check coming in. Easy to say when your the 'right' color. Funny how
    interconnected only seems to apply to those who are comfortable. :rolleyes:

    I'm done.
  18. @Cinorjer, would you say monks spend more time on the cushion? Do you think cushion time is important?


    I do think it's important. I came out of a Zen practice, and spent my share of time watching paint fade on the wall. However, over the years I came to see this obsession with sitting meditation as being unbalanced in a lot of practices. There's a time to sit, and a time to roll your sleeves up and earn a paycheck, and both are equally practicing the 8-Fold Path. Applying the insights we find in meditation to our daily lives is when you start being a Buddha.

    My first Zen teacher, Rev Young, liked to say "Trying to eliminate suffering by shutting yourself behind temple walls is like trying to avoid drowning by moving to the desert. It's better to learn how to swim."

    I have great respect for the monks I've been privileged to know, at least the ones who chose the life as a calling. As leaders of the Sangha and guardians of the Dharma, they have devoted their lives to a difficult and unending task. The good ones were too busy helping others to spend a lot of time on their own meditation practice, and maybe those were the ones who really "got it".
    In the zen ox-herding pictures going back to the market is the last stage not the first. Remember the task is the unshakeable deliverence of the heart. Helping others is another path. Ayya Khem (sic?) says that the path of the heart is another path in addition to purification of the mind through meditation. I liked what you said in your last paragraph. It helped me to see that you are not poo pooing monks.
  19. You can't be of full use to beings until enlightenment. Until then you flounder in the poisons occasionally even making it worse for other beings. There is quite a spectrum going from a wife beater to a Buddha. Sure some of us are for the most part kind, reflective, generous people. But a Buddha has the wisdom to help beings as seen in the sutras such as the Pali Canon



    May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness;
    May all be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow;
    May all never be separated from the sacred happiness which is sorrowless;
    And may all live in equanimity, without too much attachment and too much aversion,
    And live believing in the equality of all that lives.
    traditional buddhist prayer
  20. Some people here might change their mind if they were the ones
    in need of help. Who here has been homeless? Who here has gone to
    sleep with an empty stomach? Who here has been cast away by society
    for whatever reasons and then on top of all that, has no civil rights.
    It's easy to say from a warm house, with food in the cupboard and a
    check coming in. Easy to say when your the 'right' color. Funny how
    interconnected only seems to apply to those who are comfortable. :rolleyes:

    I'm done.
    @Vastmind,
    I'm not sure who you were 'speaking to' regarding your comment...
    Are you saying it's easier to criticize monks from a vantage point of comfort and security (an average layperson's life)? Or are you saying the opposite?
    I'm confused... :eek2:

    By the way :: raises hand::: I have been homeless, twice. Both times with three kids. I have been hungry in order to make sure my kids were fed. And I have had my utilities turned off (several times) in the past and made do with a wood burning fireplace and extra blankets. I wasn't Buddhist at the time, so I wasn't practicing the Dharma then, but like I said, I'm confused and don't understand what you meant by your comment.....
  21. ^^^ Oh sorry...no...I was responding to Jeffrey...

    '... We can feed and cloth the needy and that's great, but it does not liberate them from samsara. '

    Feeding and clothing people addresses their suffering. A state of suffering we
    all could easily be in. It sure liberates them from feelings and states that alot
    of middle class white westerners don't know about.

    I do think there is a purpose for Monks....but I also think Buddhism is full
    of people who are only worried about their own suffering and liberation.
    I'm shocked at how people discuss compassion and being empty...yet
    getting their hands dirty or participating in social change is just not on
    their agenda... <<< This part not directed at Jeffrey.
    Just people in general Buddhism who can talk the talk but
    can't walk the walk. :grumble:



  22. ^^ Aaaah. Gotcha.
    And yes, I agree re: "but I also think Buddhism is full
    of people who are only worried about their own suffering and liberation.
    I'm shocked at how people discuss compassion and being empty...yet
    getting their hands dirty or participating in social change is just not on
    their agenda... "
  23. As I said previously there are only 3 gifts: materials, fearlessness, and dharma. If I donate money to the cub scouts and you donate money to the red cross we are both doing good things. We need not write essays to each other why Green Peace is more important than the Salvation Army.

    No we each donate as we have a feeling for. I donate to NAMI (national association of the mentally ill) because it is true to my heart. My Dad donates to the food pantry. I don't have to figure out if food is more important to sanity because I am doing what I am called to do.

    Similarly some people are called to give dharma teachings and some people materials or fearlessness.

    Peace with each step. Each being contributing in the way that they openly give generosity. No force to donate only freely given. We are all on the same team but we have different callings.
  24. @Jeffrey... I agree with that. I don't believe I was saying different.
    :)
    I wasn't comparing the engagement...I was calling out those who don't
    engage at all. (second part of my post)
  25. @Cinorjer, would you say monks spend more time on the cushion? Do you think cushion time is important?


    I do think it's important. I came out of a Zen practice, and spent my share of time watching paint fade on the wall. However, over the years I came to see this obsession with sitting meditation as being unbalanced in a lot of practices. There's a time to sit, and a time to roll your sleeves up and earn a paycheck, and both are equally practicing the 8-Fold Path. Applying the insights we find in meditation to our daily lives is when you start being a Buddha.

    My first Zen teacher, Rev Young, liked to say "Trying to eliminate suffering by shutting yourself behind temple walls is like trying to avoid drowning by moving to the desert. It's better to learn how to swim."

    I have great respect for the monks I've been privileged to know, at least the ones who chose the life as a calling. As leaders of the Sangha and guardians of the Dharma, they have devoted their lives to a difficult and unending task. The good ones were too busy helping others to spend a lot of time on their own meditation practice, and maybe those were the ones who really "got it".


    In the zen ox-herding pictures going back to the market is the last stage not the first. Remember the task is the unshakeable deliverence of the heart. Helping others is another path. Ayya Khem (sic?) says that the path of the heart is another path in addition to purification of the mind through meditation. I liked what you said in your last paragraph. It helped me to see that you are not poo pooing monks.
    Yes, I only go in circles when people ask me if I would follow a different practice if I had to do it again. Maybe what I needed at the time was the discipline of those hours sitting. Maybe I'm missing out on something now, by not putting zazen meditation in the forefront of my current practice. How would I know? That was me then and this is me now. Thanks for reminding me of the ox-herding pictures. I suppose the only thing I can say to anyone is, whatever your practice, do it with all your effort and faith. And if it seems wrong, find another path. Doesn't mean it's wrong, just maybe wrong for who you are right now.
  26. When I started to practice Buddhism, I had a hard time with the Mahayana ideas of "saving all sentient beings" and being an "engaged Buddhist," as TNH and Tzu Chi promote. But at the same time, it felt very wrong to me to simply practice for my own benefit.

    I eventually came across the concept of one's Circle of Influence/Concern, and I believe it's very helpful regarding how one should approach social engagement. I think I've brought this up before, so apologies if I sound like a broken record, but it's really great!

    image

    I think many of us sometimes feel overwhelmed when we look at samsara and think about how to relieve the suffering of others. The Circle of Influence/Concern suggests that we just work on what we can in our current state of influence/power... grasping for a higher goal is unnecessary and even unadvised, as it would perpetuate suffering. Eventually, our Circle of Influence will grow and we can address more of the things in our Circle of Concern.

    As @Jeffrey mentioned about the Ten Oxherding Pictures, helping others comes at the end. Our Circle of Influence starts with ourselves.
  27. @Jeffrey... I agree with that. I don't believe I was saying different.
    :)
    I wasn't comparing the engagement...I was calling out those who don't
    engage at all. (second part of my post)
    what of those who want to engage but cant (due to circumstances, inertia, etc.)?
  28. ^^ Aaaah. Gotcha.
    And yes, I agree re: "but I also think Buddhism is full
    of people who are only worried about their own suffering and liberation.
    That hasn't been my experience, if anything the reverse. And if people get involved in Buddhism and start doing practices like metta bhavana and tonglen, then it's likely they'll be more aware of the suffering of others and more likely to want to help.

  29. Show me a lay person who 'lives the Dharma' (as best they can) while dealing with spouse, children, work, bills, and other daily responsibilities of community life- and I'll show you someone who really works the Dharma!
    We all have such challenges, but they vary according to the lifestyle we have chosen.

  30. Show me a lay person who 'lives the Dharma' (as best they can) while dealing with spouse, children, work, bills, and other daily responsibilities of community life- and I'll show you someone who really works the Dharma!


    We all have such challenges, but they vary according to the lifestyle we have chosen.
    Of course they vary... no one is arguing that point.
    However, I think the original line of thinking here was that some of us find no 'admiration' for those whose entire Buddhist 'practice' is enclosed in a bubble of meditation and seclusion... like those monks whose claim to fame is living in a cave for 10 years, or on a mountaintop for decades chanting and meditating. Or the Buddhist lay person who seems totally self-involved in making sure they sit the cushion 4-6 hrs a day in order to 'free themselves from suffering' and find enlightenment, but haven't a clue what kind of suffering is going on right outside their front door. Those were the comparisons I was referring to and agreeing with.







  31. @Jeffrey... I agree with that. I don't believe I was saying different.
    :)
    I wasn't comparing the engagement...I was calling out those who don't
    engage at all. (second part of my post)


    what of those who want to engage but cant (due to circumstances, inertia, etc.)?
    You can't get blood from a turnip....I'm not asking/talking about people
    who can't through no control of their own.....There are a ton of things
    I can't do. What CAN you do? Little droplets of water make a mighty
    ocean. :)

    I thought we were talking along the lines that MaryAnne described above..

    ^^ Aaaah. Gotcha.
    And yes, I agree re: "but I also think Buddhism is full
    of people who are only worried about their own suffering and liberation.


    That hasn't been my experience, if anything the reverse. And if people get involved in Buddhism and start doing practices like metta bhavana and tonglen, then it's likely they'll be more aware of the suffering of others and more likely to want to help.
    Good...I'm happy to hear that. I hope it makes people more aware...and yes, it's possible that they will be more likely to want to help.... To be real though.....tonglen doesn't put
    food in your belly.....some practices/engagements are excellent for
    mental support....once again...I thought we were discussing hands
    on engagement and social change stuff....now...I'm confused....I guess
    we all mean different things when we say 'engagement' and getting
    involved. IMO, Buddhism has been for the middle class here...and they
    seem fine with writing a check. Don't get me wrong...checks pay the
    bills....but it also adds to the separation and duality that dis-connects
    people. IMO. Looking someone in the eyes is harder to do from a
    comfty spot. IMO.

    It's hard to find volunteers....hard to find people to stick their neck out
    for others'....Let's get something started here then.
    Just a suggestion. I'm currently getting the projects together now
    for our Temple...I'll post it on the Sangha thread, if anyone is interested.
  32. Or the Buddhist lay person who seems totally self-involved in making sure they sit the cushion 4-6 hrs a day in order to 'free themselves from suffering' and find enlightenment, but haven't a clue what kind of suffering is going on right outside their front door.
    I can't recall having met anyone like that. I'd suggest also that somebody doing a lot of practice is more likely to be aware of the suffering around them, not less.
    Also, somebody coping with the demands of family and work life isn't going to have a lot of energy and time to do voluntary work, so I'm not sure of the point you're making.
  33. Many committed Buddhists that I know spend their lives helping others. Only when they reach 70, 80, or 90 years old that they retreat gradually from society to live a secluded life to devote full time to meditation to prepare for their transition from this world to Pure Land. This is my plan too. Until I reach 80 years old, I plan to be active and useful to all humans and animals.
  34. The OP was not just about helping the poor...what about getting involved in the political processes? Any one have thoughts on that?
    Changing the laws and bucking the system in the name of helping
    others? By the way everyone talks here....the protests and rallies should
    be full of Buddhists, hahaha
    This week our supreme court is STILL discussing whether state wide
    Christian prayer in government meetings should be the norm...also
    state voter ID? Just this week LGBT finally got a law passed that they
    couldn't be fired....even though they could get married in some states
    and could file taxes. In my state alone...TN has racial and LGBT issues...

    FYI...getting an SSI check and any benefits are from social change some
    people demanded and got passed for the benefit of the people.
    Disability? Yep, that too. These programs we hold dear.
    In Africa, your shit out of luck. No SSI check....for anything!
  35. Or the Buddhist lay person who seems totally self-involved in making sure they sit the cushion 4-6 hrs a day in order to 'free themselves from suffering' and find enlightenment, but haven't a clue what kind of suffering is going on right outside their front door.


    I can't recall having met anyone like that. I'd suggest also that somebody doing a lot of practice is
    more likely to be aware of the suffering around them, not less.
    Also, somebody coping with the demands of family and work life isn't going to have a lot of energy and time to do voluntary work, so I'm not sure of the point you're making.

    Well, honestly, I don't know anyone like that, in person, myself.
    However, I have certainly 'met' many Buddhists exactly like that - on forums like this, chat rooms and blogs who are always espousing the 'need to meditate' for hours a day, and how they (and others) should always keep in mind the goal of enlightenment, etc etc, ad nauseam.
    This is when Buddhism easily becomes a crutch of seclusion and self-absorption (IMO). Am I saying there is no point to meditation and spiritual goals for oneself? NO. I'm not saying that... I'm just saying there is a middle path, and too many people who claim to be 'devout' seem to be missing it. Again, YMMV.
  36. "Also, somebody coping with the demands of family and work life isn't going to have a lot of energy and time to do voluntary work, so I'm not sure of the point you're making."

    You are sort of mixing the two points... I said people who live the Dharma while surviving in a work-a-day world raising a family, paying bills, having responsibilities etc, are really living the Dharma - and it's HARD. But it can be done and it has a positive affect on everyone around those people...

    Someone sitting in a freakin' cave in the wilderness meditating and chanting doesn't have anything else to really 'challenge' his living the Dharma.... and who does it help, besides himself? No one really.

    I wasn't including volunteering or charity work in either scenario
  37. @SpinyNorman
    Job and family? Check. Got that. I work for Uncle Sam.
    Hubby works out of town. No family help here. I also attend
    temple and have started regular
    trips to the monastery.
    I take my children. How else would they learn?
    My 17 yr old is now doing it on her own. 4-5 days
    a month. My youngest two are already running fundraisers.

    Look, I'm not trying to showboat here...but...
    'Isn't going to have alot of energy'?.....

    It's about setting priorities.....
    or about remaining comfty.....
  38. @MaryAnne :
    "Also, somebody coping with the demands of family and work life isn't going to have a lot of energy and time to do voluntary work, so I'm not sure of the point you're making."

    You are sort of mixing the two points... I said people who live the Dharma while surviving in a work-a-day world raising a family, paying bills, having responsibilities etc, are really living the Dharma - and it's HARD. But it can be done and it has a positive affect on everyone around those people...

    Someone sitting in a freakin' cave in the wilderness meditating and chanting doesn't have anything else to really 'challenge' his living the Dharma.... and who does it help, besides himself? No one really.
    Why judge someone who is in a cave? Release from suffering is the highest goal. Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. As I have already said twice there are multiple ways to be generous: materials, fearlessness, and dharma teachings.

    The diamond sutra:
    "Subhuti, I will declare a truth to you. If a good man or a good woman filled over ten thousand galaxies of worlds with the seven treasures for each grain of sand in all those Ganges rivers, and gave it all away for the purpose of compassion, charity and giving alms, would this man or woman not gain great merit and spread much happiness?"

    Subhuti replied, "Very much so, Most Honored One."

    "Subhuti, if after studying and observing even a single stanza of this Sutra, another person were to explain it to others, the happiness and merit that would result from this virtuous act would be far greater."

    Being enlightened develops all of the skillful qualities of mind. Generosity is one of the paramitas of the Mahayana. There is no inherent barrier for students to refrain from helping others. The sangha is about dharma teachings and humanitarian aid is not prioritized. Instead the students find their causes on their own. The sangha works on the students heart and then if the (awakening) heart is illuminated it will send rays of compassion to other beings. The rays are the first five paramitas: generosity, ethics, patience, forbearance, joyful energy, and samadhi/concentration. The sun is the wisdom of emptiness to rid one of the afflictions of body/form, feeling (judging good/bad neutral), perception, sankhara/will/formations, and consciousness (5 senses and mind)

    I don't think you are wrong @MaryAnne. Actually what you are saying is distorted aspirational bodhicitta of the bodhisattva path. We cannot be happy unless all beings are happy. I just don't think you understand the reason for living in a cave. Just think of it as they are becoming a dharma super hero (where's @lobster to explain this).. and going in the cave makes you have stronger dharma powers to give mindtraining to beings.

    Giving a fish is not enough. We vow to save all beings from birth and death.

  39. @Jeffrey

    I'm not exactly 'judging' someone who sits in a cave and meditates for 10 yrs.
    I'm evaluating the 'good' that it does for society or the world at large compared to someone who is out there, amongst people, living the Dharma, helping others and setting examples. IMO, one (the cave dweller) is a very self-centered endeavor, and the other much less so.

    You said: " Actually what you are saying is distorted aspirational bodhicitta of the bodhisattva path."

    Actually, I don't subscribe to the paths or traditions of Buddhism that 'mystifies' certain (questionably acceptable) behaviors as more spiritual than others. I'm a secular Buddhist, not concerned with religious callings, rewards or awards offered to the spiritually devout or 'elite' amongst Buddhists.

    I'm not claiming that's all either right or wrong, only that it's not part of my practical vision of the worldly 'good' Buddhism can do.

    Now if the cave dweller comes out of the cave and spends the rest of his life actually doing things for people, in his community and for society... that's a different story. But too often they remain secluded, behind temple walls, or within their own walls, all wrapped up in avoiding the world around them in order to "maintain" that inner peace, etc.

    ::: shrugs :::
  40. Ok. Then: i SEE your compassionate secular practice as distorted aspirational bodhicitta.

    I don't understand why liberation from suffering is not a good thing? It is also good from society as mind training develops all the good qualities and removes the 3 poisons (greed, anger, and delusion). How are you going to be of help in the community if you are greedy, angry, and deluded? You missed my points about mind training helping good works. The man/woman who has conquered their own minds has more power to help other beings rather than less.

    Oh and you are judging the cave dweller as selfish.
  41. Once again, you are using the word selfish, not me. I'm just saying how I observe and understand it. I'm not judging. I'm comparing the RESULTS of these two types of actions from two types of Buddhists.
    I have much more admiration for the one who goes out and teaches the Dharma through good works and example, and little admiration for the Buddhist who sits the cushion behind closed doors and does nothing else.
    More admiration for one, does not necessarily mean disdain or judgment for the other.

    Because I choose chocolate over peanut butter, doesn't mean I 'hate' peanut butter. :)
  42. If one is a bodhisattva their aspiration is very vast. Imagine all of these qualities in one person as reflected in the bodhisattva vows. This should refute that the highly developed being can give great benefit to the community.

    46 secondary downfalls:
    The Forty-Six Secondary Downfalls

    1. not making offerings every day to the Three Jewels

    2. acting out of desire because of discontent

    3. not paying respect to those senior in ordination and in taking the Bodhisattva vows

    4. not answering others’ questions out of negligence though one is capable of doing so

    5. selfishly not accepting invitations due to pride, the wish to hurt other’s feelings or anger or laziness

    6. not accepting others’ gift out of jealousy, anger etc or simply to hurt others

    7. not giving the Dharma teaching to those who wish to learn

    8. ignoring and insulting someone who has committed any of the five heinous crimes or defiled his or her vows of individual liberation, or treating him or her with contempt

    9. not observing the precepts of moral conduct because one wishes to ingratiate oneself with others

    10. complying with the minor precepts when the situation demands one's disregard of them for the better benefit of others

    11. not committing one of the seven negative actions of body, speech and mind when universal love and compassion deem it necessary in the particular instance

    12. accepting things that are acquired through one of the five wrong livelihoods

    13. wasting time on frivolous actions such as carelessness, lack of pure morality, dancing, playing music just for fun, gossiping and also distracting others in meditation

    14. misconceiving that bodhisattvas do not attempt to attain liberation and failing to view delusions as things to be eliminated

    15. not living up to one's precepts

    16. not correcting others who are motivated by delusions

    17. parting from the four noble disciplines

    18. neglecting those who are angry with you

    19. refusing to accept the apologies of others

    20. acting out thoughts of anger

    21. gathering circles of disciples out of desire for respect and material gain

    22. wasting time and energy on trivial matters

    23. being addicted to frivolous talk

    24. not seeking the means to develop concentration

    25. not abandoning the five obscurations which hinder meditative stabilisations

    26. being addicted to the joy of meditative absorbtion

    27. abandoning the path of Theravada as unnecessary for one following the Mahayana

    28. exerting effort principally in another system of practice while neglecting the Mahayana teachings that one already has

    29. without good reason exerting effort to learn or practise the treaties of non-Buddhists which are not the proper object of one's endeavour

    30. beginning to favour and take delight in the treaties of non-Buddhists although studying them for a good reason

    31. abandoning any part of the Mahayana by thinking it is uninteresting or unpleasant

    32. praising oneself and belittling others because of pride and anger

    33. not going to Dharma gatherings or teachings

    34. disparaging the spiritual master

    35. not helping those who are in need

    36. not helping people who are sick

    37. not alleviating the suffering of others

    38. not explaining what is the proper conduct to those who are reckless

    39. not benefiting in return those who have benefited oneself

    40 not relieving the sorrow of others

    41. not giving material possessions to those in need

    42. not working for the welfare of one’s circles of friends, students, employees, helpers

    43. not acting in accordance with the wishes of others if doing so does not bring harm to oneself or others

    44. not praising those who have good qualities

    45. not acting with whatever means are necessary according to the circumstances to stop someone who is doing harmful action

    46. not using miraculous powers, if one possesses this ability, in order to stop others from doing unwholesome actions
  43. Jeffrey, love, with all due respect and no lack of gentleness--
    you are thumping the Buddhist Book at someone who doesn't believe in the religious/magical-thinking aspect of Buddhism.
    You may as well be thumping the Torah or the Bible for all the good it will do to change my mind! :)
  44. Once again, you are using the word selfish, not me. I'm just saying how I observe and understand it. I'm not judging. I'm comparing the RESULTS of these two types of actions from two types of Buddhists.
    I have much more admiration for the one who goes out and teaches the Dharma through good works and example, and little admiration for the Buddhist who sits the cushion behind closed doors and does nothing else.
    More admiration for one, does not necessarily mean disdain or judgment for the other.

    Because I choose chocolate over peanut butter, doesn't mean I 'hate' peanut butter. :)
    I agree then. I don't have the hubris to tell you what type of Buddhist to love. I was just thinking you were slamming 'lazy' 'selfish' yogis. You must agree that edit:self-centered is a critical word. Also I made a point that wisdom of emptiness goes hand in hand with generosity. The two wings of a being in Mahayana are compassion and wisdom. If there is wisdom without compassion then there is not wisdom. And vice versa! If there is compassion with no wisdom there is no compassion. An example in my life was when I had an alcoholic down and out girl friend. I bought her cigarettes and alcohol everyday because I thought she needed them. Then when I eventually left her (because I couldn't handle her), she eventually hit bottom and went to recovery. So I had great love for her, but I wasn't helping her other than the good feeling of having a friend.

    Most of the bodhisattva vows I bolded the number on are NOT mystical.
  45. @MaryAnne, what parts of Buddhism do attract you? I am asking because if a yogi is self-centered then doesn't that invalidate the teachings in the sutras which are our record of Buddhism. Buddha gave a path including meditaton that he says leads to liberation rather than 'self-centered', didn't he? Self liberation was a mind realization rather than a result of volunteering or whatever you try to do.
  46. @Jeffrey

    I'm not exactly 'judging' someone who sits in a cave and meditates for 10 yrs.
    I'm evaluating the 'good' that it does for society or the world at large compared to someone who is out there, amongst people, living the Dharma, helping others and setting examples. IMO, one (the cave dweller) is a very self-centered endeavor, and the other much less so.

    You said: " Actually what you are saying is distorted aspirational bodhicitta of the bodhisattva path."

    Actually, I don't subscribe to the paths or traditions of Buddhism that 'mystifies' certain (questionably acceptable) behaviors as more spiritual than others. I'm a secular Buddhist, not concerned with religious callings, rewards or awards offered to the spiritually devout or 'elite' amongst Buddhists.

    I'm not claiming that's all either right or wrong, only that it's not part of my practical vision of the worldly 'good' Buddhism can do.

    Now if the cave dweller comes out of the cave and spends the rest of his life actually doing things for people, in his community and for society... that's a different story. But too often they remain secluded, behind temple walls, or within their own walls, all wrapped up in avoiding the world around them in order to "maintain" that inner peace, etc.

    ::: shrugs :::
    I tend to agree with this.

    One of the few criticisms I had about Thai Buddhist temples was the amount of just sitting around that monks did.

    And people would argue, but maybe they were meditating. No. I can tell the difference between someone who is sitting in a small group shooting the bull and someone meditating. I can tell the difference between someone laying on a reclining chair in the wiharn snoring and someone who is meditating.

    I don't believe that Buddha sat secluded in a cave most of his life. He went out and taught...which -- if he hadn't -- we wouldn't have his teachings.

    That's why I agree with MaryAnne's statement that: "I'm evaluating the 'good' that it does for society or the world at large compared to someone who is out there, amongst people, living the Dharma, helping others and setting examples. IMO, one (the cave dweller) is a very self-centered endeavor, and the other much less so."

    Now, of course, the individual monk has the right to walk either path. I just know which path I respect.

  47. @Jeffrey

    I'm glad you see my point, even if you don't fully agree. :) It might help you get what I was saying (as well as what others were saying) that lead up to my last couple of posts before you joined in, if you go back and re-read the thread from the start.....
  48. I think it's not Buddhism if liberation is not a mind training. We need some Pali Canon experts here such as @pegembra.

    Criticizing 'some' monks for relaxing is a faulty argument because you can also criticize secular humanist (or however you call 'engaged Buddhists) for relaxing. Most every humanoid relaxes.

    Yogis teach also. Pema Chodron said goin on retreat made your senses wide open rather than just slits. This was in an interview. Then she said that if she didn't come back to the marketplace that her retreat wasn't worth a hill of beans. My own teacher is on semi-retreat because the stress of managing the sangha was more than her body could handle; she also has cancer to battle.

    I make the claim that the wisdom from retreat makes the teachings given more powerful. The foundation of that claim is that the mind is clear, luminous, and unimpeded thus if there is a great samadhi (as in the Pali Canon) then there is access to insights that can help all beings.
  49. @MaryAnne, what parts of Buddhism do attract you? I am asking because if a yogi is self-centered then doesn't that invalidate the teachings in the sutras which are our record of Buddhism. Buddha gave a path including meditaton that he says leads to liberation rather than 'self-centered', didn't he? Self liberation was a mind realization rather than a result of volunteering or whatever you try to do.
    @Jeffrey,
    Again, you are taking the word self-centered and giving it a negative connotation. I said "self-centered endeavor" meaning it only revolved around that one person, excluding the outside world... that doesn't mean it's a 'negative' action. It is what it is, I have no desire to sit and worry about how individuals choose to walk their own personal path of Buddhism.
    Like I said, I was only comparing the end results of these very different "styles" as to how it impacts the community, etc. or not.

    As for my personal, secular Buddhist path?
    Well, I took refuge; I try to live the Dharma -as best as I can; I respect the (5) precepts, the 4 noble truths & the 8 fold path. I'm on the fence about reincarnation and rebirth, I do believe in Karma, but probably not the way it's presented in The Big Books of Buddhism.... as for hell realms, Bodhisattvas vs "regular" Buddhists, and all the other religious and mystical aspects of Buddhism, I prefer to ignore them.

  50. A Buddhist meditation practice that becomes a dissociative or isolating practice is better labeled as simply stepping off the path toward sufferings cessation.
    Such detours can occur as easily in caves as in the world.

    Calling the external conditions where one practices as the inherent cause for selfish, selfless or any practice mixture in between, simply empowers the ego like all other adversarial concepts will.

    This is one of the greatest hindrances to social engagement.


  51. @MaryAnne. One thing my teacher said that was interesting to me was that each person has a different view of words. For example my teachers mom used the word depression to excuse bad behaviour. I probably have that wrong but I am trying to make a point. So for my teacher depression is a bad word. All of the sudden she has depressed students. So she had to teach herself to view the word differently otherwise it would divide her from her students. In my family being self-centered is a no no. So we just have different word associations :)

    But we still disagree that mind training does or doesn't benefit the community. I think that everyone can become a Buddha. Even my dog. This motivates me to try to help people and be a kind supportive person. That is something I learned through mind training. If you will believe it I used to be a bully in school up until puberty where I was a weakling for awhile. My mind changed through my experiences to the point where I am totally transformed. I used to in elementary school sometimes have a lust for picking on the less popular. I didn't do it every day I am just hard on myself for maybe 10 incidents, but even 10 I had a lust to physically dominate others. I am totally reformed now through my experience. 'Change your mind and the rest will follow..." said a singing group some years ago.

    Am I wrong in guessing you don't meditate?? That is directly the concentration spoke of the eightfold path.

    Do you believe the eightfold path is just a very successful way to be happy or do you believe that you can be free from suffering 100%? Do you believe that you can achieve jhana through meditation which transforms the mind (though it shouldn't be the goal rather just a tool).
  52. @Jeffrey

    I used to meditate, almost daily, for many years.
    Since I chose this secular path (of Buddhism) a few years ago, I've only sat in meditation a few times.
    However, I do engage in intentional mindfulness, several times a day, each and every day. For me, it is a better engagement of the mind than meditation is. That could change tomorrow, or next month, or next year- but now this is how things are. :)

    I believe following the 8 fold path, (5) precepts, and regarding the 4 noble truths DOES lead one to several levels of freedom from suffering-
    Do I believe anyone and everyone can reach freedom from ALL suffering all the time? No, I don't. Why?
    Because it's not easy, it's probably one of the most difficult things any human can do and if done, it won't be until after a devotion of many many years on the Buddhist path -- OR living in a cave. ;)

    Do I believe people can reach a true, authentic "enlightenment"?
    I don't know. If it does happen, it is so freakin' RARE an occurrence, that we may as well say it doesn't happen often enough to be documented as a real event.

    Was the Buddha himself enlightened?
    Of course he was.... if you believe he was a real person.
    Was he a real person? I don't know - for sure.
    Like I've explained, my Buddhism is based much more in practicality, and a lot less in "faith". But I do happen to choose to believe he was real.

    Do I believe his mother conceived him by means of a snow white baby elephant in her dreams? Do I believe that lotus blossoms literally sprang up instantaneously from his footsteps? Do I believe he took his first steps just moments after being born?
    No... those are religious stories that require a suspension of the belief in reality (and science).

    I could go on.... but it's time for dinner and I have company coming over to play cards in a little while! Later tater!
  53. Later alligator. I am not expecting to be enlightened this lifetime, but yet I am one persistent devil; I'll say that.
  54. Just a little framework for the topic....I wish I could articulate it myself....but
    writing is not my strength....from...http://www.ecodharma.com/influences-articles/engaged-buddhism


    'Engaged Buddhism is a term which came into use in the Buddhist world in the later part of the twentieth century. It emerged as Buddhist practitioners tried to evolve a practice situated within the social and ecological realities of their times. There are precedents for a socially engaged Buddhism throughout Buddhist history. But it also marks an attempt to reframe Buddhist practice in new historical times – where social agency, social change, citizenship and historical consciousness became important characteristics of modern life.

    Engaged Buddhism can be understood as an expression of interconnectedness. Buddhist thought suggests that life is an intricate web of interconnections, in Thich Nhat Hahn’s words, we all “inter-are”. This means that every event – near or far, past or present is to do with us. We are connected with it and our response to it can help to heal or perpetuate its dis-ease. Each and every situation – locally and globally is an opportunity for compassion, for generosity, for truth and for equanimity.

    ......To avoid a discussion that goes round on circles, Jones writes: “It usually comes down in discussion as to what “engagement” means. This is why I prefer “SOCIALLY engaged Buddhism” This social engagement can take many forms which span from activism and campaigning, to social, educational and care work. Engaged Buddhists working in all these fields seek to explore how their practice can inform and find expression through this work.'

    Social = populations. The opposite of secluded....or by yourself...... << mine
  55. I think it's part of sila: right action, speach, and livelyhood. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't follow the other spokes of the eightfold path: meditation (concentration, mindfulness, effort), or wisdom (right intention and right view). Some people are specializing in sila and some specialize in wisdom or meditation. I reject the notion that empirically we can establish that one of those is more important than the other because it is like a three footed chair and they are all important.
  56. I agree...however the social word kinda changes things up a bit...
    don't you think?
    Do what works, by all means. We all have different ways of doing
    things.....I'm all over this thread, because It's one of my passions....and
    I look forward to talking/discussing any and all ideas that have to
    do with it.
  57. I think 'social' could be the same thing as sila: right action mainly. And right speach when you network with others.
  58. Um...I think that might be a far reach....
    You could perform wrong actions in a social
    way/setting. You kinda lost me there. Sorry...
  59. @Jeffrey... I agree with that. I don't believe I was saying different.
    :)
    I wasn't comparing the engagement...I was calling out those who don't
    engage at all. (second part of my post)


    what of those who want to engage but cant (due to circumstances, inertia, etc.)?
    This is a great point. We shouldn't shame anyone including ourselves if we are not engaged. Engagement comes from an overflow of compassion not from beating up on ourselves. So let's not get depressed because we can't do anything. I remember hurricane Katrina my neighbors went down there with the red cross. I wasn't able to do something like that because of my mental illness.

    So it is not cool to spread a notion of shame on people who are not able to engage.
  60. Um...I think that might be a far reach....
    You could perform wrong actions in a social
    way/setting. You kinda lost me there. Sorry...
    I didn't understand. Isn't the social part of the OP thread about engagement about activism and good causes? I am saying that activism as one example of 'social' falls under the Buddhist concept of right action and speach. But not every social phenomena is to do with Sila. For example a bon fire is about enjoying nature etc and socializing, but it isn't activism. For activism I would have to say that sila is part and parcel with the notion of a good cause.
  61. ^^^ I responded to him.

    For the record, shame is not my intention.
    If for whatever reasons, through no fault of your
    own you cant socially engage....don't.

    Start a thread about
    the other ways to engage. Ways that are not social.
    Why should I be made to feel ashamed about the path
    I'm active on?....and have to walk away from a thread about
    SOCIAL issues. This is tripping me out here....I'm going to cook
    dinner...
  62. back from dinner for a bit....

    @Jeffrey,
    There was a distinction made regarding those who don't engage and those who can't (for whatever reason) engage.... again, I think you might be forgetting some of the earlier posts in this thread. :)
  63. I have a short memory MaryAnne; thanks for the clarification. Actually I was reviewing the thread as you suggested when I came to betaboy's post which I thought had not been dealt with in the thread.
  64. The problem is it's very difficult to stay on the path while living an "ordinary" life amongst hedonistic people. Even good, disciplined people are at risk when mingling with worldly folk.
  65. @ John
    Dharmic friends are helpful but are not the whole story of the path.

    If amongst ordinary hedonistic people, a Buddhist adopts such worldly values, the path has already been abandoned. This applies as much to the laity as monastics.

    If amongst worldly hedonistic people, a Buddhist sees the suffering endemic in those worldly hedonistic values then any ground beneath his or her feet will be the path.

    I think that the ease or difficulty in staying on the path always depends more on what you value than what anyone else values. If the Dharma was only visable as the Dharma within the confines of cloistered conditions, then we have to start spelling it with a small "d".
  66. @pegembra, it's hard to tell the difference between delight that is wholesome and delight that is unwholesome. Something as simple as a movie can give one delight. Should we analyze that delight and break it into pieces? Can you walk me through the movie example? A movie affects the emotions and people 'turn on' when they go through their emotions.
    Movies and entertainment are considered worldly as the joy comes through the five cords of sense desire.

    We are often lost in the movies of our mind. There's a Zen story about a hermit monk who painted a tiger on the walls of his cave. He painted it so realistically that when he finished, he looked at it and became frightened. It takes practice to wake up, to emerge from our mind-created worlds.

    That is what movies are. For that moment we are transported into the delights of a make-believe world. It is tough enough as it is to break away from the passionate engagement from the "real" world with all the attendant stories.
    Any beings who are not devoid of passion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of passion, focus with even more passion on things inspiring passion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Any beings who are not devoid of aversion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of aversion, focus with even more aversion on things inspiring aversion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Any beings who are not devoid of delusion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of delusion, focus with even more delusion on things inspiring delusion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn42/sn42.002.than.html
    "Now, O monks, what is worldly joy? There are these five cords of sense desire: forms cognizable by the eye that are wished for and desired, agreeable and endearing, associated with sense-desire and tempting to lust. Sounds cognizable by the ear... odors cognizable by the nose... flavors cognizable by the tongue... tangibles cognizable by the body, wished for and desired, agreeable and endearing, associated with sense-desire and tempting to lust. It is the joy that arises dependent on these five cords of sense desire which is called 'worldly joy.'

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.031.nypo.html

  67. Now if the cave dweller comes out of the cave and spends the rest of his life actually doing things for people, in his community and for society... that's a different story. But too often they remain secluded, behind temple walls, or within their own walls, all wrapped up in avoiding the world around them in order to "maintain" that inner peace, etc.
    I've never heard of a Buddhist living in a cave ( not in the UK, anyway! ), and I don't recognise your characterisation of monasteries. At the monasteries and communities I've visited the monks / nuns / resident community put a lot of time into running retreats, spending time with the lay community, etc.

  68. It's about setting priorities.....
    Of course, but different people have different priorities. For some people a family and career are important, for others they're not.
  69. Getting back OT, while I am a fierce advocate of the socially engaged Buddhism movement, I have always seen one glaring problem that I simply can't put aside. Social engagement (not just charity) means engaging in conflict. There are always some people who don't want change and others who want to change it in ways you see as harmful. You have to enter into conflict or you're just an observer.

    It seems an almost insurmountable task to work toward a better world without ending up in a battle of "us versus them" which is hardly conducive to non-Duality and compassion for all.

    Even if you have the best of intentions, trying to change the wrongs of the world means eventually seeing the truth that these wrongs are caused or at least maintained by a small group of selfish, powerful, rich people. Being socially engaged means looking at a town being sucked dry of its last water and knowing there is a room full of rich businessmen who know this but care more about profits from fracking. They have their justifications, of course, and are no better or worse than most people in the world, but who really cares about the suffering of the slave owner when you hear the cries of the slaves?

    So socially engaged means ending up in a never ending battle, and the world already has enough warriors on either side. There is a good reason why Buddhism has tried to stay above it all so its not part of the problem, even if it's not much of a solution.

    Don't forget the Buddhist monks involved in the ethnic purging of Muslims from Myanmar believe they're being socially engaged, and who can dispute that? They see this as defending their society against an evil. In their case, social engagement has been infected by hatred and bigotry.

    So what do you folks think? Are we trying to turn Buddhism into something it simply can't handle without destroying something that makes it unique?

  70. ^^^ Good points. I can only say that I have over the years been very
    mindful of this possible state of duality that can be created in the
    process. The way I have tried to approach causes is not to be
    against something or someone but for something or someone.
    Like...I'm not against war...I'm for peace. I'm not against set views
    from a time gone by....I'm for civil rights for everyone. I'm not
    against people wanting to be straight...I'm for people being
    lawfully able to sleep with who they want. I'm not against people
    making money...I'm for everyone having enough to eat. I have never
    considered myself an angry protester...(well, maybe the last KKK march got
    me a little heated), hahah. Of course, there are times that I may not
    be able to keep it in frame...but that can go for anyone, anywhere.
    Even in a cave.

    The Myanmar example? Well...to be honest, I don't know enough
    about both sides to comment....but it seems extremely more
    complicated than I can solve. I'm for them both learning to live
    together. (That's the best I can do on that one). :)

    Yes, it's a big task....but I owe it to my children.....who are
    black....and who's generations not too long ago were treated
    inhuman. Beaten and hung from trees. Slavery may have been
    outlawed...but it just got pushed in the closet. It's alive as ever.
    Just as [we] find animal rights important (we don't eat them)...
    human rights are also important.

    These practices may not be for everyone...just as the cave and
    sitting for days at a time may not be for everyone....Maybe it's
    just door #81,000. :)
  71. The social engagement that I follow is to take Mahayana Bodhisattva path. I wish to help people in need both physical and mental. I don't mind which religion they follow, as long as they are well outside and inside, I am OK with it.

    Below is the mission of Tzu Chi: http://tw.tzuchi.org/en/
    While the Tzu Chi Foundation has Buddhist origins and beliefs, the organization is also popularly known for its selfless contributions to society in numerous ways in the areas of Charity, Medicine, Education, and Culture. The official motto, or concept behind Tzu Chi Foundation is the (四大志業,八大腳印), which means, "Four endeavors, eight footprints". The eight footprints are charity causes, medical contributions, education development, humanities, international disaster assistance, bone-marrow donation, community volunteerism, and environmental protection.

  72. It's about setting priorities.....


    Of course, but different people have different priorities. For some people a family and career are important, for others they're not.
    Yes, that was my point. It's ok to own up to our own priorities.
    I only brought up my stats because people seem to think it
    can only be one way or another.

    This thread seems to have had everyone feeling/acting defensive....
    including me. I'm going to call it a day on this one....

    Love, peace, and hair grease :)

  73. Steve Hagen said that his students were all enlightened until they opened their mouths. I follow this approach. The trouble is that I'm required to open my mouth for work. I long to just be.
  74. Hello: I really enjoyed your article. I like this venue and the many enlightening participants. I agree with you and the spirit of Mahayana that we should engage and that householders especially should practice their arts in the community. We bear enlightenment to the world in a way the Hinayana does not.

    It is difficult to learn enough of the Buddha's teachings to give definitive answers to questions. There are many schools
    and many subjects. I find real pleasure in the varied replies I find here in this group. I have been a Buddhist since 1965.
    I have read a lot and meditated a lot but I know I am still just a lay person-a householder. I try to do a good job and speak up only when I am sure I understand. Of course I still err.

    I write in economics and history and I know the subjects pretty well. I am not just a layperson. And yet I know the subjects are complex and easily misconstrued. The specialized languages of Science and Economics and History are much like the various lineages of Buddhism. I follow
    the Nyingma tradition because it teaches most of the various paths. I try to take the large picture and encompass the whole subject and relate each to the next. This is not easy.

    While I respect the Buddhist teachings and I want to see them applied to the world and especially here in America where it is so easy and so valuable and needed. I realize it is easy to
    speak high mindedly and grasp after high ideals while going in the wrong direction because of a failure to fully grasp the terrain. In America the terrain is the Constitution. America is a Republic. America is a nation of laws-not strictly a Democracy. If one has not read the eightfold path or the four noble truths or the three ignorances which cause bewilderment one is not in a position to speak with authority about the Buddha's teachings. Then you talk about your experiences and your gains and aspirations and you ask questions. Strangely people who have never read the Constitution feel they are authorities about American Politics.
    They judge conditions by their feelings or aspirations or personal agenda and advise others on very little understanding. The first Paramita is Liberality and that includes giving the good to the other, coming down on the side of people and correcting mistaken teachings. That should also be the way in the relationships of our nation.

    It is our liberty and our rule of law that Makes America work so well. We are a classless society-more than any other. We are a generous nation more so as a % of income than any other people (less so in the last 50 years). Our Constitution
    and our laws are the source of our greatness. Our free people create wealth, upward mobility and well being like no other nation in the history of the world. We are Equal under the law.

    The powerful state has never been a source of blessings or well being for many for long. The unbridled state crushes it's people and wages cruel war on other peoples. That is why our founding fathers formed a Republic. A nation of laws
    with checks on state power and a balance between the powers. We are losing that and we are losing it in the name of doing good, being fair and securing an equal outcome for all. The equal outcome of state power has always-most every time-been a lessening of well being of most all and the ascendency of a few. I know this is not what you want and it is not what most Buddhists want. Wouldn't it be sad if we made great efforts with high minded aspirations and all got together and pushed in the wrong direction. Saying high minded things is not the same as accomplishing high minded goals. Promoting generosity is not being generous. I here a fabulously wealthy man say over and over again 'rich people should pay more taxes' . He is right. Rich people should.
    That rich man made hundred of millions of dollars last year and only paid taxes on about 1/2 of his income. On the other 1/2 of his income he paid about .6 % that is less than 1 %. If he wants the billionaires to pay more he can just right a check. He can stop using the tax laws to duck most all of his taxes. He speaks high words but he dirty deals. Most really wealthy people pay little in taxes because the code is corrupt. What would the Buddha say? The issues are complex.

    Before we support groups and issues we should make the effort to learn about the basic elements. Like the eightfold path and the noble truths. Those are the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence.... Before we speak against or support we should learn a little history. We should understand some economics. We should look at all sides and
    judge rightly. Why are we equal under the law? That is the 14th amendment. Who passed it? When was it passed.
    Why does Justice Thurgood Marshall the Supreme court justice say: we people of color cherish the 13, 14, and 15th amendments? When were those passed? Who did that?
    If we are duped because we are ignorant it won't be surprising if we lose our liberties. It's easy to be better informed. If we as Buddhists are going to get involved
    in the politics and issues of our nation we should do so responsibly. I think we should be involved. We should be informed. Our nation needs our wisdom and our ability to rise above our petty personal benefits and do what is right for most of the people with all of our efforts.

    I hope to continue in this group. I feel useful and I have learned. I find people to admire and I feel part of a like minded group. Like your religion your politics is your choice-
    at least for the time being. I hope you and our fellow participants wield that choice with wisdom and with knowledge. Start with the Constitution and it's history. You can easily find everything on the net.

    Thank you for your services and your fine site.
    Dennis
  75. Hello: I really enjoyed your article. I like this venue and the many enlightening participants. I agree with you and the spirit of Mahayana that we should engage and that householders especially should practice their arts in the community. We bear enlightenment to the world in a way the Hinayana does not.


    Thank you for your services and your fine site.
    Dennis
    Hey Dennis.
    I didn't really get much from your post. (many of us aren't Americans).
    While it's not a problem for me, the statement you made above is very likely to cause considerable offence among our Theravedan membership.
  76. I just don't think you understand the reason for living in a cave. Just think of it as they are becoming a dharma super hero (where's @lobster to explain this).. and going in the cave makes you have stronger dharma powers to give mindtraining to beings.

    Giving a fish is not enough. We vow to save all beings from birth and death.

    Yogi in a cave, like Dharma on a cycle, is for our inspiration, aspiration and ultimately we all cave in to our inner seclusion even in the midst of life. It is part of the same journey expressed through different attitudes, roles and comprehensions.
    It is about stillness.
    From the still comes our movement towards an idealisation.

    I once met a teaching dervish who literally as a Westerner went to meditate in a cave, he came down met a teacher and engaged with the world again. Sometimes these behaviours are temporary.

    What is the purpose of living a focussed, one pointed, extreme devotion to practice and enlightenment lifestyle in a Himalayan cave? It is simply the intention to increase the likelihood of realisation. Once realised, then what?
    Then what is required to alleviate suffering? What does that entail? Still know? Still fishing?

    As a dharma alter ego advocate, we can all be inspired by the real life sacrifices of our heroes:

    Robin: "Where'd you get a live fish, Batman?"
    Batman: "The true crimefighter always carries everything he needs in his utility belt, Robin."

    http://adamwest.tripod.com/b-lectur.htm

  77. Hello Robot: Your are right and I am sorry.
    1. I foolishly assumed all of the American English meant this was an American site. Also I was replying to the article which seems pretty American. I will try to make fewer assumptions.
    I know they are part of delusion and unworthy.
    2. It has been my view that Hinayana Buddhist mostly withdraw from society and let the "other" to what they do.
    The Mahayana however engages. Since that is challenged by the actions of the Theravadins in this group that is obviously a foolish assumption. I meant as a great vehicle practioner we do enlightening activities and Hinayana concentrates on being enlightened. I guess I got that from the Avatamsaka Sutra.

    I will try to do better. Your help is appreciated.
    I meant no harm. May the good be yours.
  78. Well, Thank you all. I won't make that mistaken assumption again. I see the Paramitas as self perfection for the benefit of others. For me withdrawing is not an option. I knew a Thai guy who told me: In Thailand the Buddhists just hole up in their monastery's and keep away from the suffering of others.
    Thailand doesn't seem like a very happy place and I might have gotten the wrong idea. P.S. I don't try to convert others
    I mostly just reach out to them and try to help lessen suffering. Sometimes I share Buddha quotes. If I see a reach I share more. It is my view that it is very hard to change hearts or "convert others" I spare myself that failure. No Christians (including my own family), come to me and ask for my help in becoming a Buddhist-except maybe on this site. My wife is a Catholic and I am proud of her.

    Jayantha, I'm sorry you left the Libertarian group. I recently read Rothbard and he makes a lot of sense-although I am not
    a Libertarian I see a lot of value in their activities. I hope they prosper. America is struggling with a growing push to take away our liberties. Well, I hope you succeed in your current
    plans.
    I apologize to those Theravadins whom I offended.
    May the good be yours.
  79. Jeffrey: I have read a lot of your comments and you seem like a pretty enlightened being. Maybe we view the subject differently. If you mean become a Buddha with an Illusory body, well that is a pretty high standard. If you mean awakened, much less self grasping, understanding the suffering of others and reaching out to enlighten others-well I think you have already demonstrated that in the comments I have read. It is necessary to continue the effort of self perfection no matter the level of understanding-maybe more so as you grow. Self smugness is pretty useless. Asserting righteousness even more useless. But enlightened activity doesn't require some divine presence.

    It's nice to bring emptiness and skillful means into your life and experience a little more bliss and light but I think it is the selfless reaching out to others that is the demonstration of enlightenment. The development of Bodhicitta is a gradient activity. It's true that there is sometimes a great leap like Atiyoga, Dzogchen, and the Anuttara teachings speak of, but
    those are flowers on the path. The enlightened path is Realization and the peace that develops from dropping the self grasping. I hope you will re assess your comment and look to your growth as an extension of your capacities as an enlightening and enlightened being. Perfection is down the road-somewhere-and isn't really the Buddha's point. He started out just noticing the suffering of others and right then enlightenment was in his heart. Modesty which does not come from self realization is pretty useless. Yours seems pretty fine and uplifting. That doesn't mean you are not enlightened. Peace be yours.
  80. This really is one of those topics that will have a wide variety of responses depending on the tradition and background of the person making a response.

    That being said, what i seem to see a lot in this thread is a degradation or a lessening of the importance of personal practice. I think this comes from a misunderstanding many people have regarding the theravada being about self only and maya/vaj being about others.

    The buddha, in the pali suttas, viewed the HIGHEST thing you can do for others is to destroy your own attachment/aversion/ignorance(3 roots) , because this gives a gift of fearlessness to all beings and brings about a more beneficial life for yourself and those around you.

    I personally experience this to be very true. More true then the concept of the bodisattva, which makes less sense to me, simply because life shows me that people can truely only change and help themselves, and the way to a true fantasy utopia is for everyone to practice and live dhamma, not some people who are filled with the three roots saving others with the three roots.

    Now that being said. I have also been an activist and have a strong sense of justice and making a better life for the people. This lead me to at one point being the chair forthe southern half of my state in the Libertarian party. I hit the streets many a time including deep in some of the dangerous cities to try and educate people about their rights etc. Ive always been educated and politically active since being a teenager. Ive also always had a strong sense of dana.

    The more i got into my practice i began to see cycles in politics and social activies. As a student of history i know history repeats itself. You cant REALLY make lasting change in this world.. Except in youself. I got out of politics and have been gradually retreating from what most people consider normal actives, and moving towards renunciation.

    Now that being said, i actually feel i will be able to help the most people as a monastic. I want to live in a cave by myself and meditate, but i also know my practice, skills, and experience can benefit many people "with little dust in their eyes", who are searching like i was.
  81. This is a great site. I've never experienced this level of engagement before. My wife sees me typing and understands the joy I take in my participation. She is happy for my discovery. Sweet. Thank you all. Jeffrey-this is my bow. mtgby Dennis
  82. I just noticed: This site organizes our comments by time. And unlike in actual time in the universe, time is not everywhere the same. It's funny that the site should make clear this often misunderstood factor in the world. Everything happens now. Now this comment will be placed above Jeffrey's comment Bowdown-as my last one was, and it will be out of actual sequence but in time sequence. A fine demonstration of Buddhist teachings and one of the causes of delusion. mtgby
  83. Jainarayan Jainarayan on 4 Nov 2013 ~ 3:09pm said:

    Nice essay @Jason. :)

    Like @Simonthepilgrim I come from a Christian background (way back). However, I still fall back on much of Jesus's teachings, some of which include getting out there to show compassion, render assistance, and as importantly, be a light to the world and set an example. There is the quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel, and when you have to, use words".

    Nice comment and lovely quote. Another Francis quote is
    "All saints teach the same thing." This has guided me often.
    Thank you.
  84. MaryAnne on 8 Nov 2013 ~ 12:40pm said
    Hi> I like your comment. However, I think sitting in a cave detached fro everything misses out on Bodhicitta and most of the Paramitas. I'm not sure that is the fast route to enlightenment. I'm also not sure that that type of detachment is so easy. I have meditated 12 hours a day for quite a while-single point meditation. I got terrific insights and felt I could read people's body motion with great accuracy. But I soon wanted to get back out and engage.
    The enlightened mind sort of demands engagement.
  85. @Jayantha, you are also a sentient being and Buddha certainly wishes you to be saved. There is nothing wrong with saving yourself alone. Besides, there are many Theravada sanghas who teach other people about Buddhism, meaning they reach out to help other people to learn to reach enlightenment.
  86. @Jeffrey... I agree with that. I don't believe I was saying different.
    :)
    I wasn't comparing the engagement...I was calling out those who don't
    engage at all. (second part of my post)


    what of those who want to engage but cant (due to circumstances, inertia, etc.)?


    This is a great point. We shouldn't shame anyone including ourselves if we are not engaged. Engagement comes from an overflow of compassion not from beating up on ourselves. So let's not get depressed because we can't do anything. I remember hurricane Katrina my neighbors went down there with the red cross. I wasn't able to do something like that because of my mental illness.

    So it is not cool to spread a notion of shame on people who are not able to engage.
    What? Who can't smile at somebody feeling down?

    You don't have to be some brazen hero, saving people from certain doom to help alleviate the suffering in the world.

    There are no small acts of kindness, my friend.



  87. Cinorjer said: Don't forget the Buddhist monks involved in the ethnic purging of Muslims from Myanmar believe they're being socially engaged, and who can dispute that? They see this as defending their society against an evil. In their case, social engagement has been infected by hatred and bigotry

    This is a strange comment. Are you a Buddhist? Buddhist
    texts don't promote the slaughter of any minority or majority
    of non Buddhists. On the other hand Muslims do and the Koran does-I've studied it. The sword verses are very clear.
    History is also very clear. When the Muslims took over India
    around 800AD they tortured and mutilated the Hindus but they slaughtered all Buddhists. This is common known policy of Islamic states. Pushing out or even killing people who are determined to wipe out you and your family and friends to the last person is not hatred and bigotry? Try survival.

    You say you think conflict is necessary well sometimes it is. In defense of your whole people it is not called hatred and bigotry. It's called the struggle to stay alive. Most current
    Islamic States got that way by military take over and slaughter of everyone who didn't convert. History is plain.
    Maybe you should be asking more questions. If you disagree with this I will happily share chapter and verse and historical dates. This is not a moot point. I actually I don't see much virtue in the rest of your commentary either. You could try asking more questions. Reading. And spending less time with nasty minded comedians.
  88. It is self conceit to regard being socially-engaged as being superior to a hermit who spend years meditating in a cave away from society. Your opinion is not superior to Buddha's teachings.
    Dont forget we are talking about Buddhism .

    The ultimate goal is to escape samsara. Not to help make the world a better place. If even the Buddha could not solve the world's problems, what makes you think you can do better? The dhutanga practice is encouraged if one is so inclined.

    You cannot give the world what you dont have. There are many people in this world who tries to help change the world for the better. Yet they cant even control their own attachments and temper.

    It is nice to say I want to be a socially engaged Buddhist. But have you worked on your own mind?

    It is better to master your own mind than to conquer a thousand armies.
    ~ Buddha.
  89. It is self conceit to regard being socially-engaged as being superior to a hermit who spend years meditating in a cave away from society. Your opinion is not superior to Buddha's teachings.
    Dont forget we are talking about Buddhism .

    The ultimate goal is to escape samsara. Not to help make the world a better place. If even the Buddha could not solve the world's problems, what makes you think you can do better? The dhutanga practice is encouraged if one is so inclined.

    You cannot give the world what you dont have. There are many people in this world who tries to help change the world for the better. Yet they cant even control their own attachments and temper.

    It is nice to say I want to be a socially engaged Buddhist. But have you worked on your own mind?

    It is better to master your own mind than to conquer a thousand armies.
    ~ Buddha.
    The trick is non-attached engagement.

    If we do not understand that we are taught, by the Buddha's own example, to be engaged with the pain and suffering of the world, we understand nothing of his life and work. Consider this: he achieved Enlightenment and could have chosen, we are told, to "go beyond" (whatever that might mean). After long consideration he chose to enter into dialogue with others and to Turn the Wheel of Dharma. We may not have his power of teaching but we are bound, on the Noble Eightfold Path, to do that which is in our power for others/

  90. It is self conceit to regard being socially-engaged as being superior to a hermit who spend years meditating in a cave away from society. Your opinion is not superior to Buddha's teachings.
    Dont forget we are talking about Buddhism .

    The ultimate goal is to escape samsara. Not to help make the world a better place. If even the Buddha could not solve the world's problems, what makes you think you can do better? The dhutanga practice is encouraged if one is so inclined.

    You cannot give the world what you dont have. There are many people in this world who tries to help change the world for the better. Yet they cant even control their own attachments and temper.

    It is nice to say I want to be a socially engaged Buddhist. But have you worked on your own mind?

    It is better to master your own mind than to conquer a thousand armies.
    ~ Buddha.
    Not sure who or what you're addressing exactly; but I for one certainly never said that "being socially-engaged as being superior to a hermit who spend years meditating in a cave away from society." I said that being Buddhist and being socially engaged aren't mutually exclusive concepts, and that "it makes sense to have people motivated by things like non-greed, non-aversion, and non-delusion add their voices to the mix, not to mention helping do what they can to fix things like inequality and injustice as long as it’s done with a spirit of compassion and harmlessness." Did the Buddha himself turn a blind eye to the world after achieving enlightenment, or did he actively engage with it in his own way, one that attempted to help improve the lives of others? All I'm saying is, practicing meditation isn't the only way to help others or ourselves.

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