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Slavery Problem

Good morning all!

I read Old Path White Cloud by Thich Nhat Hanh and found it very compelling. I have subsequently gone on to start In The Buddha's Words by Bhikkhu Bodi.

I'm finding this book much less appealing because it is full of "miracles" and "spirits" and things I find incredible (in the original meaning of that word). Old Path White Clouds presented the Buddha as a very wise man, but still a man. In this new book he is almost deified. It also has several quotes where the Buddha at least tacitly condones (or doesn't speak out against) slavery. Wouldn't a perfectly enlightened one know that slavery is wrong and not speak of it so lightly?

This is one of the same criticisms I have against Christianity. Is there anywhere in the Pali Canon a place where the Buddha speaks out against slavery and/or encourages slave owners to free their slaves?

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

    Slavery is most certainly condemned by the Buddha s being one of the most unskilful livelihoods (dealing in the business of selling people) so I'm not quite sure here you get the impression he condones it... but I haven't read the book, so perhaps you could give a precis of what is said? Don't forget there is always interpretation by modern writers to take into account. Perhaps @Jason could illuminate us. He is very well-read on such issues....

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited December 2018

    @federica said:
    Slavery is most certainly condemned by the Buddha s being one of the most unskilful livelihoods (dealing in the business of selling people) so I'm not quite sure here you get the impression he condones it... but I haven't read the book, so perhaps you could give a precis of what is said? Don't forget there is always interpretation by modern writers to take into account. Perhaps @Jason could illuminate us. He is very well-read on such issues....

    Yes, his inclusion of "business in human beings" (i.e., slave trade) in unwholesome livelihoods shows that he viewed it as deeply immoral. He also spoke in degrees. People had slaves and servants in his time, and while he clearly saw slavery as immoral, he also saw the reality of their existence and advised that one treat their servants/employees well and compensate them for their labour. In DN 31, for example, a lay-follower's duty to his servants are listed as: "assigning them work according to their ability, supplying them with food and with wages, tending them in sickness, sharing with them any delicacies, and granting them leave at times." It's much the same with war. He spoke against killing, but knew the reality that as long as people were swayed by their defilements, war would happen. Yet he never ceased advising kings and soldiers who were forced by their duty to engage in war. But it's true that there's no detailed critique of slavery in general, not that I know of anyway. I suspect that he knew he was unable to end the practice himself, so did what he could to encourage his followers to abstain from the practice and treat their workers well. He attempted to reform individuals rather than society in and of itself. This may be an area where the Buddha was wrong, or at least didn't do enough. But I don't think that makes his insights into the mind or life any less valid. You're mileage may vary, of course.

    personnakazcid
  • ktc2ktc2 R'lyeh New

    Thank you both for your answers. I was referring to tacit condoning as him speaking about it as a normal thing and not condemning it directly. You are quite likely right that he couldn't stop it and attempting to may have stopped his progress altogether. I believe he did something similar regarding nuns. He knew it was right but just didn't feel the time was ready the first time it was brought up.

  • 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
    edited December 2018

    There is a bone of contention there.
    Again, we look to the social habits of the time, and it is possible he hesitated, not because he felt women were not appropriate, but because men were incapable of self-control. Much of the controversy regarding the ordination of women, is (many are sure) as a result of decisions made by his followers, and not him.
    Enlightenment is genderless. Devotion, dedication and walking the path - are genderless.
    The fact that Buddhism was - and sadly, still is - victim to discrimination, is due to the closed-minded, insular and prejudicial attitudes of men. Not the Buddha.

    paulysolobster
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited December 2018

    @ktc2 said:
    Thank you both for your answers. I was referring to tacit condoning as him speaking about it as a normal thing and not condemning it directly. You are quite likely right that he couldn't stop it and attempting to may have stopped his progress altogether. I believe he did something similar regarding nuns. He knew it was right but just didn't feel the time was ready the first time it was brought up.

    Yes, it would have been better to condemn it directly. I think part of his approach, besides trying to spiritually reform individuals, was to encourage harmony. He tried to create harmony, both in terms of within his own community and between his community and society as a whole, for both self-preservation and out of compassion. He wanted his community to thrive, and his message to spread and help as many as possible. I'm sure he made some bad calls, as well as compromises I wish he hadn't, in the process. But for a dude 2,600 years ago, I think he was pretty dang awesome.

    P.S. Here are my thoughts about the bhikkhuni issue if you're interested: https://leavesinthehand.blogspot.com/2010/06/was-buddha-sexist.html

    KundolobsterBuddhadragonHozan
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited December 2018

    I like to have slaves and servants. :p

    For example I keep a closet full of Boddhisattvas to serve me dharma. I eat enslaved animals (I iz too wikid). >:) I welcome my enslaved demons to feed on my bad karma, fear, anxiety, illnesses, duckha etc. o:)

    Did I go wrong again? :3 OK Manjushri, do your thing ...

    BuddhadragonBunksHozan
  • Basics: As life is sacred and slavery, like murder and war, is the denial of the sacredness of life. Slavery is considered an act of evil.
    .................
    Lobster, possessor of the Great Claw, I like your humor.

    Hozan
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