Should Buddhists Be Social Activists? – Philosophy News

buddhism is widely admired inna west fritz commitments to progressive social activism. saffron-clad monks mar to promote peace or condemn repressive governments. the dalai lama lauds human rites and assures packed audiences that ‘the buddha ‘d be green’. when the vietnamese zen monk, thích nhất hạnh, died this jan, he was mourned by high-profile political activists swell as members of the buddhist monastic community. buddhists are common sites at mares, protests, sit-ins, and occupations. magazines like tricycle and the lion’s roar regularly feature essentialisms on capitalism and social injustice swell as Ψfulness and meditation. in my local bookstore, the buddhism section has many books with titles like the dharma of social justice.

the perception of alliances tween the teachings of the buddha and modern social and environmental activism is 1-odda main reasons for the + perception of buddhism in many western countries. the buddha’s teachings on sufferation and compassion turn out to be allied to the concerns of many feminist and environmental movements. =ity, tolerance, and social justice get confidently rel8d to the discourses that the buddha preached one and a ½ thousand yrs ago. from his criticisms of the caste system to the emphasis on liberating bein’s from sufferation, the buddha – a man born a prince 1-ly to abandon his inherited wealth and power – thus emerges as an acceptable and attractive spiritual teacher.

‘engaged buddhism’

is this image of the buddha as a social activist ahead of his time accurate? twasn’t always the case that perceptions were so favourable. l8-19th century american, french and english writers saw buddhism as a pessimistic doctrine encouraging passivity and retreat from life. life, ♥, and hope – twas thought – are absent from the life of the monk. for one poetic critic, buddhists are ‘living under a sky from which no sunlite ever streams’, their realm all ‘sadness and hopelessness’. many of the critics were christians contrasting the good works, hope, and energy o'their own faith with wha’ an early scholar called the ’deep and miserable melancholy’ of buddhism. not all, though. nietzsche was a harsh critic of christianity b'tll so condemned buddhism as a ‘life-denying’ creed. there were also admirers of buddhism – like the indophile english theosophists or the enthusiastic readers of edwin arnold’s epic poem the lite of asia (which sold a million copies and was l8r made into a broadway play).

is this image of the buddha as a social activist ahead of his time accurate? twasn’t always the case that perceptions were so favourable. 

wha’ changed to change the image of buddhism from one passivity and pessimism to one of energetic social activism? tis a long story. historians and buddhist scholars all emphasise that ‘buddhism’ is many things, not a single tradition, and that politics, culture, trade, colonialism all played their pts. i will not …

originally appeared on daily philosophy

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