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Seven Dimension Of Buddhism Essay

8060 words - 33 pages

What's Buddhist about Socially Engaged BuddhismDavid R. LoyWhat makes socially engaged Buddhism Buddhist? Is it enough to say, «Buddhism emphasizes compassion, so I try to live compassionately»? Compassion is essential to Buddhism, to be sure, but that sentiment does not by itself distinguish socially engaged Buddhism from socially engaged Christianity, or any other socially engaged form of spirituality. If every major religion emphasizes compassion, at least in principle, we want to know: is there anything more specific to say about the type of social engagement that Buddhism encourages?The first answer - and the most important answer - is: no. When we respond to social ...view middle of the document...

We help them because they are not separate from us and they need help; and ultimately, in the act of helping, we do it for no reason at all. Nevertheless, there are broader issues here that need to be considered, by Buddhists as much as anyone else. Why are there so many homeless people, in a country that is by far the richest that has ever existed on earth? Why, for that matter, are there any homeless people in such a fabulously wealthy society? What does that imply about the policies of our local, state, and national governments? If government is an expression of our collective will, what does that imply about us?To ask these questions is to delve into difficult problems about what kind of society we want to have and how to work toward it - theoretical issues that often seem like a distraction from our Buddhist focus on «just this!» But if we always ignore them, and confine our social engagement with homelessness to volunteer work in soup kitchens - and I do not mean to deny that can be important work - it is like putting band-aids on sores that keep popping up, instead of diagnosing and treating the disease at its source. Sometimes we do need to ask: what is that source? What is the basic social dis-ease that needs to be alleviated and, so far as possible, cured? What does Buddhism say, or imply, about this type of dis-ease?The last question suggests another reason why Buddhists might be reluctant to reflect on the larger issues. Traditional Buddhism has had little to say about such social concerns, and what it did say was designed for premodern societies very different from our own. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Asian Buddhism has never offered much hope of reforming society. The social world is part of samsara, the realm of suffering and craving, and the Buddhist path offers an individual alternative to that, not a political solution to its social ills.Whether or not this perspective accurately describes traditional Buddhism, it cannot be true for modern Buddhism, whether Western or Asian. To begin with, we need to consider whether such a viewpoint reflects not so much Buddhist teachings themselves as the restrictive social conditions within which Asian Buddhism has had to function. To survive in the often ruthless world of kings and emperors, Buddhism needed to emphasize its otherworldliness. This encouraged Buddhist institutions and Buddhist teachings (especially regarding karma and merit) to develop in ways that did not question the social order. Modern democracy and respect for human rights, however imperfectly realized, offer new opportunities for understanding the broader implications of Buddhist teachings. Furthermore, while it is true that the post/modern world is quite different from the Buddha's, Buddhism is thriving today because its basic principles remain just as true as when the Buddha taught them. If we try to find direct answers to our social problems in Asian Buddhist teachings, we will be...

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