Vakkali wrote:Hey everyone,
Something's been troubling me, and I was hoping that I could get more input to help me figure it out...
People can complain about Christianity & the behavior of certain Christians all they want, but it seems like Christian organizations do a LOT to alleviate poverty and associated problems in poor communities and under-developed countries. The New Testament material that I'm familiar with seems to place a lot of emphasis on elevating impoverished and otherwise oppressed individuals in society...and I have to admit that I've been somewhat disappointed by what seems like a lack of specific injunctions to give, not just to monks, but to poor and homeless people as a means of combating inequality and relieving suffering.
Why is this? Am I not reading the right suttas? Or is giving to the poor considered a natural extension of Buddhist principles of compassion and generosity? I'm aware of Engaged Buddhism, which seems most popular here in North America...but what about Asia? Do Theravada monastics actively encourage efforts to fight poverty, hunger, and other things? Help me out here.
I have to admit that this question (these questions?) is/are partly motivated by accusations that Theravada Buddhism is more or less concerned with personal salvation, and doesn't encourage a high level of active and compassionate social engagement.
I hope some of you can help me with this. The opinions of current or former bhikkhus and bhikkhunis would be especially appreciated!
I can understand why Christians would want to address issues of inequality and poverty. One of the things that always struck me most about Christian belief was the inequality and poverty when creation is a result of an omnipotent and loving creator god. The second thing that comes to my mind (based in part from what I have seen) is the desire to “harvest souls”.
According to my understanding of Buddhism for the perspective of a “folk Buddhist (to use the labelling applied by some) I do not feel the need to make up for what I perceive as the deficiencies in philosophy because the Dhamma clear explains the reasons for inequality.
Yes I would agree about the activities of many Christian organisations – but stop and think about the lack of centralised organisation within the Buddhist community. The only well organised sect that I can think of in Thailand would be
xxxxxx. This is the first thing that came to my mind reading James-the-gaints report of the BKK Thais.
I believe that giving to the poor (i would prefer the phrase – those in need) to be a natural extension of loving kindness and compassion. However there is far more to it than this not the least of which the relationship between renunciation and giving.
I'm aware of Engaged Buddhism, which seems most popular here in North America...but what about Asia?
Everyone has their own issues to deal with on their journey, with unique sets of barriers and opportunities created in part by their kamma and in part by the decisions they have made in this life. The opportunities to give in the first world differ to those in traditional Buddhist countries.
Giving and generosity is expressed differently in traditional societies – the focus is on the family as is all aspects of the culture. For this reason the giving may not be as obvious as in the west. The real advantage IMO is that it allows for the giving to be in person and with discernment as we have been taught by the Buddha to give. Often along with material needs there is a need for kindness and compassion of emotional and spiritual nature. To Illustrate the issues, there are a couple of Thai kids that are not mine that I financial support just because it brings me happiness. Every payment is made separately and depends on their needs at the time. In amongst everything else, I support their education and get copies of their school reports. I discuss the reports with them online (I bought them tablets and they get free internet through a health clinic). From these interactions they know that there is someone who cares for them at an emotional level as well as financially. As far as possible I try and bring in aspect of the Dhamma to the conversation because I know that the greatest gift is the Dhamma. If we accept (as I do) that progress by the N8FP is the best use of this life; then what I receive in return are gifts that money could not buy.
My understandings of the role of the monastics in regard to giving are that there is a exchange of gifts from the laity, and in return teaching of the Dhamma to enhance the development of both. Through the teaching of the Dhamma the monks play a role in the support of those in need. In the content of material support what their teaching provides is a catalyst that promotes the support of the needy in the community by the laity.