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Buddhism and Politics

SE25WallSE25Wall London Explorer

I often find the calls in Buddhism to "calm/silence/watch the mind" troubling. Does this circumvent the political? How can we act and engage with political action/thought if we are constantly training ourselves to silence the mind, to come to a stage of "non-thought"? All the time we are mere observers to our own suffering/minds, is that time that could be spent changing the very nature of our environments to end suffering for more and more people, and not just focus on ending suffering for ourselves, with the hope that everyone else will become Buddhist too? Can a full fledged buddhist also be a full fledged Marxist, say? With our constant shutting down of our own mind, as a means of practice, is this not the perfect method of accepting this neo-liberal capitalist world we live in?

Lets take an example - say you're a factory worker working in awful conditions, with an exploitative landlord who charges you the absolute maximum for a damp and dangerous accommodation, that the government has no respect for your rights - well if all that suffering that entails is soothed and ceased by "your practice", then who then is ever going to change those external conditions? Is the buddhist way simply to shrug one's shoulders and think "everythign would be okay if everyone become buddhist"?

If you look at history - in terms of social progress, i.e. the lessening of suffering, caused not by "equanimity" and "mindful wisdom", but by people engaging directly with their suffering, running into it, and angrily overhauling the structures that cause it?

Or, in summery, is Buddhist practice anti-intellectual, if intellectual means using the means of consciousness to restructure the world? Are there moral implications for constantly striving for "non thought" or "pure mind"?

rocala

Comments

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Engage at the moment engagement is appropriate.
    Disengage at the moment disengagement is appropriate.

    A student once asked his teacher, "Master, what is enlightenment?"
    The master replied, "When I eat, I, eat. When I shit, I shit. When I sleep, I, sleep."

    ...And when I enmesh myself in politics, I enmesh myself in politics. After that, I go back to fetching water and chopping wood.

    Fosdick
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran
    edited February 21

    I think its a delicate balance. Buddhism is a personal practice, the second noble truth does point out the cause of suffering is in our own minds rather than out in the world. To me it seems the more one focuses on the external conditions the more power is given to negative emotions.

    Political action does change the world and improve external conditions for people. IMO though even if we were able to implement an ideal system, if it were populated by people filled with anger, craving and delusion it would quickly degenerate. And on the other side the more the world is filled with people who have an inner world of wisdom and compassion then the external systems can't help but be changed for the better, I'm optimistic about the current mindfulness movement in this regard. If I were to take my view here and apply it to one of your paragraphs:

    Lets take an example - say you're a factory worker working in awful conditions, with an exploitative landlord who charges you the absolute maximum for a damp and dangerous accommodation, that the government has no respect for your rights - well if all that suffering that entails is soothed and ceased by "your practice", then who then is ever going to change those external conditions? Is the buddhist way simply to shrug one's shoulders and think "everythign would be okay if everyone become buddhist"?

    I would say something like changing all the external conditions to be more ideal is only soothing our outer world, so that we would never address our mental suffering.

    I think maybe for a Buddhist concerned about mental well being, raising awareness about certain suffering conditions and directly trying to alleviate them might be more appropriate than engaging in outrage or disgust and fighting the system.

    I recently came across this talk on politics in Buddhism and found it pretty helpful.


    or as he explains early on why politics doesn't matter so much.

    lobster
  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Canada Veteran

    Silencing the mind does not mean "non-thought". It means observing the constant ever-changing flow of thoughts without being swept away, hooked, by them.
    You still observe, you still have responses, but they do not control you.
    However, ALL actions that are done for the good of others and that cause no harm are actions worth taking.

    One can take worthy action without having to be swept up in your own disruptive internal environment. We take action because it IS the right thing to do, and we try to do it in the right way.

    lobsterrocala
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @SE25Wall said:
    I often find the calls in Buddhism to "calm/silence/watch the mind" troubling. Does this circumvent the political? How can we act and engage with political action/thought if we are constantly training ourselves to silence the mind, to come to a stage of "non-thought"? All the time we are mere observers to our own suffering/minds, is that time that could be spent changing the very nature of our environments to end suffering for more and more people, and not just focus on ending suffering for ourselves, with the hope that everyone else will become Buddhist too?

    For one, the point of the practice isn't just to come to a stage of no-thought. It's like, in the words of the Dhammapada, "the non-doing of any evil, the performance of what's skillful, the cleansing of one's own mind" (Dhp 183). Included in that is the cultivation of things like right speech and right action combined with things like compassion, empathy, and loving-kindness. All of this together will help to motivate one to be more aware of the suffering around them and to engage it when possible with an eye towards limiting its impact. As Thich Nhat Hanh so beautifully puts it in his forward to No Beginning, No End:

    It has been said that the twenty-first century is going to be a century of spirituality. If it is not a century of spirituality, there will be very difficult times ahead for all of us and for the generations to come. If we are not able to stop and look more deeply at the suffering in ourselves, how will we be able to address the suffering in the world around us? In order for us to transform our own suffering, we must do something radical.

    The first radical thing we can do to transform the suffering in ourselves is to practice stopping (shamatha). We stop in order to return to ourselves, to become calm. When we are calm, we have a better chance to see our suffering more clearly. The second radical act is to look deeply inside ourselves and see our suffering, be with our suffering, in order to understand and transform it. This is also true for the suffering in the world. We as entire nations need to stop and look deeply at the suffering in the world in order to see it more clearly without prejudice and understand how to transform it.

    The practice of mindfulness in these troubled times is more important than ever. If we as individuals do not take the time to practice mindfulness, not only will it be difficult to transform the suffering in our own lives, but it will be difficult to transform the suffering in the world. It is vital to ourselves, our children, and the Earth that we have a practice that helps us to be mindful, that lets us come back to ourselves and dwell in the present moment in order to transform suffering in ourselves and others around us.

    I definitely think the practice can inspire social engagement. It did in me, at least. Rather than shut my mind down, it opened it to the suffering of others and how my actions can affect the world, not just myself.

    @SE25Wall said:
    Can a full fledged buddhist also be a full fledged Marxist, say? With our constant shutting down of our own mind, as a means of practice, is this not the perfect method of accepting this neo-liberal capitalist world we live in?

    If I'm any indication, yes.

    SE25Wall
  • SE25WallSE25Wall London Explorer

    Great responses, thank you.

    I have been reading a lot of this blog and has made me question a hell of a lot, which, i think in the long run will be a good thing. have a look...

    https://speculativenonbuddhism.com/

    it's basically a marxist "reevaluation" of buddhism, without, but only just, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

    there's quite a lot about thich nhat hanhs for example - https://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2012/10/12/thich-nhat-hanhs-imaginary-soul/

  • With our constant shutting down of our own mind, as a means of practice, is this not the perfect method of accepting this neo-liberal capitalist world we live in?

    Are we shutting our mind down or transforming the nature of our Being? Not being bewitched by the outer and inner demon monkeys or ...

    Is the buddhist way simply to shrug one's shoulders and think "everything would be okay if everyone become buddhist"?

    No.
    There are political buddhist ideologies for example feudal lamaism in Tibet, state buddhism in Sri Lanka, military zenism ... yuk!

    There is a path of inner transformation in genuine spirituality that determines the nature of our expression. That is Sila in Dharma.

    I take refuge in Trump, Marx, Buddha
    I take refuge in capitalism, collectivism Sangha
    I take refuge in anarchy, ideologues, Dharma

    person
  • SE25WallSE25Wall London Explorer
    edited February 22

    i thought when the dahli lama said he was a marxist, it was an incredibly cool thing to say (despite what i may think about marxism). I.e. not, "oh i just be mindful when politics comes up as its all just a "view" and a "human concept" and i maintain instead "nonduality" and "pure mind" and don't engage."

    nope, he said, "marxism is the system for me - it's the fairest out there." i just thought that was a pretty cool thing to say. it showed the kind of breadth of mind that attracts me rather than the cross-legged "enlightened" semi-silent state of many western practicioners/;populisers.

    lobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @SE25Wall said:
    i thought when the dahli lama said he was a marxist, it was an incredibly cool thing to say (despite what i may think about marxism). I.e. not, "oh i just be mindful when politics comes up as its all just a "view" and a "human concept" and i maintain instead "nonduality" and "pure mind" and don't engage."

    nope, he said, "marxism is the system for me - it's the fairest out there." i just thought that was a pretty cool thing to say. it showed the kind of breadth of mind that attracts me rather than the cross-legged "enlightened" semi-silent state of many western practicioners/;populisers.

    Please give a source and origin of this comment. Have you got a video, or transcripted interview we could have?

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran
    edited February 22

    I remember coming across this video a while back where HHDL expresses his thoughts on the subject. He makes the distinction between what he views as Marxism and Leninism and after being challenged at 7:00 promotes a mixed system.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Thank you @lobster, but I'm perfectly sure that members can speak for themselves... the article is dated 4 years ago....

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @SE25Wall said:
    I often find the calls in Buddhism to "calm/silence/watch the mind" troubling. Does this circumvent the political? How can we act and engage with political action/thought if we are constantly training ourselves to silence the mind, to come to a stage of "non-thought"?

    How often is it apropriate to engage in political thought? The majority of the time one is cooking, working, walking, sleeping... politicking is a small minority. It seems reasonable to spend most of the time in no-thought.

    If you look at history - in terms of social progress, i.e. the lessening of suffering, caused not by "equanimity" and "mindful wisdom", but by people engaging directly with their suffering, running into it, and angrily overhauling the structures that cause it?

    How many instances are there in history of people successfully overhauling structures that cause suffering? I can’t recall many, or even any... the French Revolution was a bloody affair, and arguably caused as much suffering as it solved.

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    @Kerome said:

    @SE25Wall said:

    How many instances are there in history of people successfully overhauling structures that cause suffering? I can’t recall many, or even any... the French Revolution was a bloody affair, and arguably caused as much suffering as it solved.

    Hmm the African Slave Trade...

    In Britain, America, Portugal and in parts of Europe, opposition developed against the slave trade. Davis says that abolitionists assumed "that an end to slave imports would lead automatically to the amelioration and gradual abolition of slavery".[127] In Britain and America, opposition to the trade was led by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and establishment Evangelicals such as William Wilberforce. Many people joined the movement and they began to protest against the trade, but they were opposed by the owners of the colonial holdings.[128] Following Lord Mansfield's decision in 1772, slaves became free upon entering the British isles.[129] Under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson, the new state of Virginia in 1778 became the first state and one of the first jurisdictions anywhere to stop the importation of slaves for sale; it made it a crime for traders to bring in slaves from out of state or from overseas for sale; migrants from other states were allowed to bring their own slaves. The new law freed all slaves brought in illegally after its passage and imposed heavy fines on violators.[130][131][132] Denmark, which had been active in the slave trade, was the first country to ban the trade through legislation in 1792, which took effect in 1803.[133] Britain banned the slave trade in 1807, imposing stiff fines for any slave found aboard a British ship (see Slave Trade Act 1807). The Royal Navy moved to stop other nations from continuing the slave trade and declared that slaving was equal to piracy and was punishable by death. The United States Congress passed the Slave Trade Act of 1794, which prohibited the building or outfitting of ships in the U.S. for use in the slave trade. In 1807 Congress outlawed the importation of slaves beginning on 1 January 1808, the earliest date permitted by the United States Constitution for such a ban.

    lobsterKerome
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    The slave trade is still a very serious issue. it's not confined to black slaves, but to men, women and children from all over the world too. A woman in a town about 25 miles away from where I live was recently prosecuted for keeping a Lithuanian teenager as a domestic slave for over 3 years.... It's sadly still a disgusting issue, even though the numbers are lower. the slave trade is sadly alive and kicking... people are being trafficked every day..... :angry:

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Yes sadly it is still an issue but is now 'illegal' in most countries, thanks to those who had the courage to stand up and be counted at a time when things like humans keeping other human being in bondage was 'legal' and common practice...however in some less developed countries, authorities may still turn a blind eye ...

    Times and circumstances may have change but some people's attitudes (AKA extremely warped sense of entitlement) don't...

    People trafficking is big business and sadly no matter how liberal and egalitarian the country's policies might be, they are still not free from this type of contamination...

    lobsterfederica
  • SE25WallSE25Wall London Explorer

    @Kerome said:

    @SE25Wall said:

    How many instances are there in history of people successfully overhauling structures that cause suffering? I can’t recall many, or even any... the French Revolution was a bloody affair, and arguably caused as much suffering as it solved.

    women having the right to vote, child labor, the welfare state, free education for all, the list is endless...

    federicaShoshinlobster
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