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Socialist ? Or Communist? Or somewhere in between ?

Shoshin1Shoshin1 Veteran
edited October 3 in Buddhism Today

Well yesterday was the first day of early voting in Aotearoa's (NZ) coming elections which is on the 17th Oct....Under the MMP system I gave my Party vote Labour and Electorate vote Green.....I'm comfortable with their commitment to the people and the environment and not to the bidding of big business...

I have always had concerns about the suffering of others (sentient beings) and environmental concerns, however through Dharma practice I have become more aware of the suffering of others and the environment ...It would seem both Labour & Greens seem to be working towards ending suffering and cleaning up the environment....

When it comes to political parties none are perfect, mistakes are made... but in my case it's better the devil I know, at least Labour & Greens have a record of making an effort to do the right thing, they are also more open and accepting of change & diversity...(I guess one could say "Right View" )....

Would you say Buddhist ethos leans more towards Socialism ? Communism ? Capitalism ? Or somewhere in between ?



  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    Two things my parents taught me I should not talk about:
    1. Religion
    2. Politics

  • Shoshin1Shoshin1 Veteran
    edited October 4

    @Bunks said
    Two things my parents taught me I should not talk about:
    1. Religion
    2. Politics

    Damn and there I am talking about both evils ;);)

    I was thinking along similar lines @Jason ....

    From what I gather, one practices Dharma to end suffering and to end suffering is to end ignorance and to end ignorance is to be and promote the wholesome change one wants to see...and if a certain political party's policies have the potential to be part of these changes, ie, share similar goals.......come election time one supports the party or parties which share ones concerns ie, supports us so to speak.....

    What political party one chooses to vote for is not important...I guess what is important is how their policies fit in with the Dharma according to the practitioner, how the practitioner sees things, what the practitioner finds is compatible with their practice.....

    I found this article interesting....

    Why there is a moral duty to vote

    We have a duty of conscience to vote with care; with information and a sense of the common good, in order to help our fellow-citizens prevent injustice and ensure decently good governance

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited October 4

    I think that's a good approach, and that's basically what underlies my own political engagement.

    As I've mentioned before, I think these kinds discussion re interesting in that they illustrate how different people view Buddhism and the influence their practice has on their answers to the question of what kind of political leanings do the teachings of the Buddha have. For me, though, the most relevant question is, did the Buddha believe or teach that one must accept and suffer their unequal circumstances, whether they be material or spiritual, or if one could and should actively change them?

    If one is poor, for example, must one say that this poverty is the result of their kamma and seek to remain poor, not accepting the generosity of others or seek to make a society where they can access the same education, healthcare, and employment opportunities as people who are better off? Or should one work hard to get themselves out of poverty, accepting the generosity of others and seek to make a society where they can still access the same education, healthcare, and employment opportunities as others who are better off? If one is unawakened, should they accept that as their kamma and not seek awakening or the material support of spiritual institutions that make living a mendicant life possible? Or should that material and spiritual support exist and be used to help elevate the spiritual seeker?

    For example, take this part of MN 129:

    And suppose that fool, after a very long time, returned to the human realm. They’d be reborn in a low class family—a family of outcastes, hunters, bamboo-workers, chariot-makers, or waste-collectors. Such families are poor, with little to eat or drink, where life is tough, and food and shelter are hard to find. And they’d be ugly, unsightly, deformed, chronically ill—one-eyed, crippled, lame, or half-paralyzed. They don’t get to have food, drink, clothes, and vehicles; garlands, perfumes, and makeup; or bed, house, and lighting. And they do bad things by way of body, speech, and mind. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.

    The basic premise of most of this sutta seems to be that unskillful deeds lead to painful feelings and consequences while skillful deeds lead to pleasurable feelings and consequences, making the focus our actions and their results, i.e., on the internal/contemplative focus of the Buddhist practice and illustrating Buddhist ideas of morality. This part in particular is talking about someone who has committed unskillful actions in the past and, after a really, really long time, is finally reborn in the human realm only to be born into poverty and marginalization and misfortune and who seems, due to this and the difficulties in finding food and shelter, to be doomed (or conditioned) to do further bad things by way of body, speech, and mind. And one may see this as supporting the idea that people are unequal and that one must be resigned to accept and live out whatever their kamma throws at them. They're foolish and they get what they deserve, right?

    But then we have the aforementioned passage from DN 5:

    Rather, here is a plan, relying on which the barbarian obstacle will be properly uprooted. So let the king provide seed and fodder for those in the realm who work in farming and raising cattle. Let the king provide funding for those who work in trade. Let the king guarantee food and wages for those in government service. Then the people, occupied with their own work, will not harass the realm. The king’s revenues will be great. When the country is secured as a sanctuary, free of being harried and oppressed, the happy people, with joy in their hearts, dancing with children at their breast, will dwell as if their houses were wide open.’

    And one may see this as a recognition that, instead of heavily taxing the people, executing and imprisoning them, or simply banishing them from the land, providing material relief and support for people can actually help to prevent them from violating the precepts and doing unskillful deeds. Because people are seemingly conditioned by more than just their past actions. They're also conditioned by genetics, education and upbringing, material circumstances and social relations of the society they're born into, etc.

    So while I think that Buddhism has elements that one can view as left-leaning or right-leaning, the question I ask myself is, which political system is more skillful, one that sees people as unequal and allows them to be born into poverty and be compelled by hunger or desperation to harm and steal, or one that takes care of people's basic needs so that they're less compelled by hunger or desperation to harm and steal? That, for me, is why I personally see more left-leaning politics as more skillful and in line with the Dhamma, as they seek to lessen the material conditions that compel people to do harmful things, as well as lessen the harm that systems can do to people.

    While the focus of Buddhism is definitely spiritual in nature, I don't think it's wrong to address both internal and external causes of suffering, especially if we're talking about a secular society. If we can alleviate at least some of what would otherwise condition another to commit unskillful actions that would harm themselves and others or the suffering caused by privation and exploitation, why shouldn't we? The Buddha himself ordained a serial murderer, who was able to be rehabilitated and changed because he was fortunate enough to bump into the Buddha and had access to the social institution of the monastic sangha (which itself is a communal, democratic, and caste-free structure). And I see no reason why that idea can't be applied to lay life as well, i.e., making the external organization of society more egalitarian and conducive to collective harmony and happiness and skillfulness.

    Sometimes, however, I think Buddhists tend to deny the influence of material causes and conditions in favour of purely personal/mental ones, focusing on things like kamma, and precepts, and personal practice/responsibility. Certainly people's intentions and actions play a role in shaping themselves and their lives. And in the context of Buddhism, the practice can help one to make a more stable and skillful foundation for their intentions and actions and train their minds to delve into and deconstruct things that give rise to suffering. However, I think it borders on idealism to only focus on the mental/personal aspects and ignore/deny the material ones. And by material I mean the society and system one lives within and all of the social relations, institutions, etc. that influence and shape our thought and behaviour. And things like social, political, and wealth inequality are a part of that and condition a lot of things in the world, as well as ourselves. I don't think it's in line with the Dhamma to say that it doesn't, and the Buddha himself notes in places like Khp 5 things such as the importance of having a place suitable for practicing the Dhamma. Dr. R.L. Soni's commentary on this section, in fact, makes the explicit connection:

    Pa.tiruupa-desa-vaaso means "residence in a suitable and pleasant locality." For life to be pleasant, the dwelling place must be comfortable, secure in construction, tidy and clean in appearance, properly maintained, and besides it is helpful if it is in a good neighborhood and inhabited by agreeable people. The commentators amplify the meaning by explaining that a suitable locality should have in it people who practice the Noble Dhamma, the evidence of this being the existence of shrines, monks and monasteries and many good people engaged in meritorious deeds.

    Residence in a place inhabited by quarrelsome and trouble-making citizens, where one is bossed about by a dictatorial and corrupt government, where the climate is inimical with frequent ravages by floods, famines, earthquakes and epidemics, where the air is charged with hatred and mutual suspicion, and where freedom of thought and action are reduced to a minimum: in brief, residence in a place having many factors and conditions obstructive to the practice of Dhamma and not conducive to physical, moral and spiritual well-being, is just the opposite of what is meant by a suitable environment.

    When selection of a place for residence is considered, a Buddhist bears in mind the advantage of being near a source of Dhamma, besides, of course, more mundane advantages such as nearness to his work place.

    And I would argue that if one cares about the Dhamma, one should also consider caring about the world around them and trying to make it as conducive to the practice of the Dhamma as possible. For example, you mention the precepts and kamma. How can we expect people to follow the precepts if their material conditions create barriers to that, such as poverty which conditions crime, and other conditional factors which cement these barriers into specific populations, such as disparities in jail time, wealth disparities, health disparities, educational disparities, employment disparities, etc.? It's not easy for an individual born into such circumstances and conditioned by them to connect with the Dhamma and live according to it. And I certainly don't see anything negative about trying to address those issues and make things more equitable in an effort to reduce the suffering others experience as well as the conditions that make keeping the precepts more difficult.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Damn and there I am talking about both evils ;);)

    Tee Hee.

    Politics is a religion for some. Just as religion is often politics ...
    I prefer the Middle Way.

    In a sense we are neither rigidly aligned or free.

  • lobsterコチシカ
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited October 4

    Bravo @David well said.

    You are exactly right. It is VERY difficult to have compassion for what makes us angry/fearful/hateful but this is the path. Nobody said it would be simple. <3

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I thought @Jason gave a decent answer about Buddhism’s standpoint on this.

    Personally I find myself making voting decisions on a different basis than referencing Buddhism. I’m largely in agreement with many measures of wealth redistribution, I think that capitalism has run away with much of society’s purpose and there is too much inequality, and not enough focus on the arts.

    I also think that there is still too little attention paid to the environment, to the biosphere, to man’s impact on planet earth. It’s encouraging to see some schemes for rewilding in some parts of the world but I think the plight of wild animals is underestimated. I think man has not yet found his role on earth, which I think is more as gardener than as farmer.

    So I tend to vote socialist or greens.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @Kerome said:
    I thought @Jason gave a decent answer about Buddhism’s standpoint on this.

    Personally I find myself making voting decisions on a different basis than referencing Buddhism. I’m largely in agreement with many measures of wealth redistribution, I think that capitalism has run away with much of society’s purpose and there is too much inequality, and not enough focus on the arts.

    I also think that there is still too little attention paid to the environment, to the biosphere, to man’s impact on planet earth. It’s encouraging to see some schemes for rewilding in some parts of the world but I think the plight of wild animals is underestimated. I think man has not yet found his role on earth, which I think is more as gardener than as farmer.

    So I tend to vote socialist or greens.

    I tend to vote similarly, largely in part to my Buddhist practice, which has led me to become left-leaning because it has led me to develop harmlessness. In the negative, it leads me to try as much as possible to not harm myself or others mentally, verbally, or physically; in the positive to do the opposite, what leads to long-term welfare and happiness.

    For example, let's take healthcare and strong environmental policies. In my country, supporting universal, single-player healthcare is considered left-leaning and privatized, for-profit healthcare is considered right-leaning, and the same with supporting strong environmental policies. In this case, I see a lack of access to healthcare for many as a form of harm, and universal access as a form of non-harm. And the imacts of climiate change are harming people and ecosystems. And since I live in a society governed by a representative system, I feel a duty as a citizen to do what I can to make universal healthcare and a green new deal a reality, whether by marching in rallies in support of it, making a case to other people why it'd be more beneficial than what we have now so they also support them and vote for those who do, or personally voting for representatives who support them myself.

    While universal healthcare and a green new deal and my support for them aren't in themselves Dhamma, I see the motivation to support it flowing from the Dhamma, and my political engagement as a positive form of right resolve, right speech, right action, and right effort. For example, my desire to work towards universal healthcare and an end to fossil fuel use, the creation and sharing of green technology, etc. is born out of my development of harmlessness and the development of skillful mental qualities. My voting, discussions, and marching/protesting are forms of speech directed towards unity and universal access to things I think good, things that promotes and protect the lives of others. A more complex example would be my support of alternatives to capitalism as I see it as an economic system rooted in greed and competition rather than need and cooperation, but the underlying motivation for that support is similar.

    That's not to say that every thing I support is perfect, but much of it has been inspired as well as informed by the teachings of the Buddha, my own practice, and the example of monks like Bhikkhu Bodhi (addressing climate change), Ajahn Brahm (addressing racism), Ajahn Maha Bua (trying to save Thailand's economy), Ajahn Buddhadasa (his Dhammic socialism), etc.

  • DavidDavid some guy Veteran
    edited October 5

    I'm pretty much the same @Kerome and @Jason. The closest parties we have to socialism is the NDP and the Greens which I usually go for but I have voted Liberal before.

    I've yet to vote for the Conservatives and likely never will but I'm for the life of me trying to see myself in conservative people.

    I hear the racism and sexism and classism and I tell myself that I could have been just like that if I was affected by the same conditioning. It helps but I can't just stay silent.

    Black lives do matter, we need to raise the feminine and we need to pull together to end class warfare. We need nurturing and healing and to make that change is to be engaged and to be engaged is political.

    I remember not long ago, there was a thread here and it was about BLM and I was arguing against using the labels, calling them divisive. I still do see it that way and still do not identify as "white" but that's getting too far ahead. We can drop the labels when the time is right but right now, we need to pull together for those most afflicted.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    Coincidentally, Pope Francis just issued a new encyclical that, among other things, highlights the contradictions inherent in private property rights and the suffering and inequality it engenders. While in practice, the institutional church has long been geared towards the support of power and oppression and covering up abuse, the theological and historical basis of Christianity itself has always been a universal call to the common good and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. The encyclical calls for justice; for a radical change in thought as well as the material ways we produce and distribute wealth; and for us to envision a new, socialized humanity and "aspire to a world that provides land, housing and work for all." I think this part in particular demonstrates that:


    1. The world exists for everyone, because all of us were born with the same dignity. Differences of colour, religion, talent, place of birth or residence, and so many others, cannot be used to justify the privileges of some over the rights of all. As a community, we have an obligation to ensure that every person lives with dignity and has sufficient opportunities for his or her integral development.

    2. In the first Christian centuries, a number of thinkers developed a universal vision in their reflections on the common destination of created goods.[91] This led them to realize that if one person lacks what is necessary to live with dignity, it is because another person is detaining it. Saint John Chrysostom summarizes it in this way: “Not to share our wealth with the poor is to rob them and take away their livelihood. The riches we possess are not our own, but theirs as well”.[92] In the words of Saint Gregory the Great, “When we provide the needy with their basic needs, we are giving them what belongs to them, not to us”.[93]

    3. Once more, I would like to echo a statement of Saint John Paul II whose forcefulness has perhaps been insufficiently recognized: “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone”.[94] For my part, I would observe that “the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property”.[95] The principle of the common use of created goods is the “first principle of the whole ethical and social order”;[96] it is a natural and inherent right that takes priority over others.[97] All other rights having to do with the goods necessary for the integral fulfilment of persons, including that of private property or any other type of property, should – in the words of Saint Paul VI – “in no way hinder [this right], but should actively facilitate its implementation”.[98] The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right, derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods. This has concrete consequences that ought to be reflected in the workings of society. Yet it often happens that secondary rights displace primary and overriding rights, in practice making them irrelevant.

    Rights without borders

    1. No one, then, can remain excluded because of his or her place of birth, much less because of privileges enjoyed by others who were born in lands of greater opportunity. The limits and borders of individual states cannot stand in the way of this. As it is unacceptable that some have fewer rights by virtue of being women, it is likewise unacceptable that the mere place of one’s birth or residence should result in his or her possessing fewer opportunities for a developed and dignified life.

    2. Development must not aim at the amassing of wealth by a few, but must ensure “human rights – personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples”.[99] The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights of peoples and the dignity of the poor, or, for that matter, respect for the natural environment, for “if we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all”.[100]

    3. Business activity is essentially “a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world”.[101] God encourages us to develop the talents he gave us, and he has made our universe one of immense potential. In God’s plan, each individual is called to promote his or her own development,[102] and this includes finding the best economic and technological means of multiplying goods and increasing wealth. Business abilities, which are a gift from God, should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities. The right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use.[103]

    The rights of peoples

    1. Nowadays, a firm belief in the common destination of the earth’s goods requires that this principle also be applied to nations, their territories and their resources. Seen from the standpoint not only of the legitimacy of private property and the rights of its citizens, but also of the first principle of the common destination of goods, we can then say that each country also belongs to the foreigner, inasmuch as a territory’s goods must not be denied to a needy person coming from elsewhere. As the Bishops of the United States have taught, there are fundamental rights that “precede any society because they flow from the dignity granted to each person as created by God”.[104]

    2. This presupposes a different way of understanding relations and exchanges between countries. If every human being possesses an inalienable dignity, if all people are my brothers and sisters, and if the world truly belongs to everyone, then it matters little whether my neighbour was born in my country or elsewhere. My own country also shares responsibility for his or her development, although it can fulfil that responsibility in a variety of ways. It can offer a generous welcome to those in urgent need, or work to improve living conditions in their native lands by refusing to exploit those countries or to drain them of natural resources, backing corrupt systems that hinder the dignified development of their peoples. What applies to nations is true also for different regions within each country, since there too great inequalities often exist. At times, the inability to recognize equal human dignity leads the more developed regions in some countries to think that they can jettison the “dead weight” of poorer regions and so increase their level of consumption.

    3. We are really speaking about a new network of international relations, since there is no way to resolve the serious problems of our world if we continue to think only in terms of mutual assistance between individuals or small groups. Nor should we forget that “inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations”.[105] Indeed, justice requires recognizing and respecting not only the rights of individuals, but also social rights and the rights of peoples.[106] This means finding a way to ensure “the fundamental right of peoples to subsistence and progress”,[107] a right which is at times severely restricted by the pressure created by foreign debt. In many instances, debt repayment not only fails to promote development but gravely limits and conditions it. While respecting the principle that all legitimately acquired debt must be repaid, the way in which many poor countries fulfil this obligation should not end up compromising their very existence and growth.

    4. Certainly, all this calls for an alternative way of thinking. Without an attempt to enter into that way of thinking, what I am saying here will sound wildly unrealistic. On the other hand, if we accept the great principle that there are rights born of our inalienable human dignity, we can rise to the challenge of envisaging a new humanity. We can aspire to a world that provides land, housing and work for all. This is the true path of peace, not the senseless and myopic strategy of sowing fear and mistrust in the face of outside threats. For a real and lasting peace will only be possible “on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family”.[108]

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran


    We don't have a choice in is illegal not to vote unless you have a legitimate reason.

    And, from experience, telling the Electoral Commission that your 3 year old stuffed the postal vote envelope you received down the back of the couch as an excuse doesn't cut wallet was $75 lighter :(

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran
    edited October 5

    I came across a simple graphic that explains some of my ethical feelings around the topic.

    I don't really see the unethicality being having more than an other. It's about how it is acquired.

    I have a brother who works as little as is possible. My mother gives each of her children a christmas gift of $1,500. For him she only gives $500 and puts the other $1,000 in a savings account for when he may need a new car or another large expense. He is perfectly capable of working, he is smart and efficient. While working most of his life as a cook he passed up many opportunities to become a kitchen manager and other ways to increase his value and resume. He had a roommate in the trailer home he owns win a sizeable poker tournament and my brother quit working for 2 years living off the rent his roommate payed. Now the roommate is gone and he doesn't want to go back to cooking, so he drives for a gig food delivery app. He has no real skills, doesn't want to get even a 2 year tech degree, for which there are jobs in the area, and he is now always on about UBI. That if he only had $1,000 a month he could start a food truck... Please...🙄

    I guess I'm saying you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink, you can provide many people with opportunities but they need to put in the effort. I don't want to come off as cold hearted, I would like to see a world where as many people as possible have adequate access to the opportunities they need to succeed. The subject in general hasn't been much on my mind lately so I'm fairly disjointed in my thoughts.

    I think about proportionality. Fairness sort of comes in two flavors, equality and proportionality. The example I remember about this is of a classroom where the students clean and organize every now and again and afterward the teacher hands out jellybeans. Proportionality says that the students who put in more effort and talent get more reward, while the students who stood around talking most of the time get little reward. To the fairness as proportionality crowd distributing the jelly beans equally is a form of injustice.

    I also think about incentives. The prosperity of the world today is built upon certain foundational incentives towards productivity and innovation. It is possible that efforts that take from that productivity to address real ills in the world reach a level where they destroy the source of that prosperity, to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. A world where everyone is equally poor is not a goal worth achieving.

    What else... the world isn't zero sum, one person having something doesn't necessarily mean it comes at the cost to another.

    I'm sure there is more buried away in some dusty corner but those are half a penny's worth of thoughts from a hopelessly pragmatic capitalist.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited October 5

    Except the rich are the primary predators and parasites.

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