Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby suriyopama » Sat Jan 25, 2014 1:12 am

This topic is derived from this thread:
viewtopic.php?f=14&t=339&p=276852#p276852
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:
suriyopama wrote:I know families that had to struggle with very difficult economic situations because they donated too much money, and they were avoiding friendship with "non-believers". But they were not able to see the cause of the problem because their minds were absorbed. Shouldn’t we have a little bit of compassion, and voice concerns about the dangers of the cults?

The true teachings of the Buddha are freely available, even if they are hard to distinguish from false teachings. Anyone who is wise can learn them. We do not need to be concerned with those who follow cults or wrong paths. Just teach the Dhamma, neither disparaging nor condoning others. Those who have the necessary wisdom to understand will do so. Those who have past bad kamma will not listen — being themselves motivated by greed they will donate to the greedy. If one attacks evil-doers, the gullible will defend their own teachers, and close their ears to your criticisms. So what is there to gain from this?

There are plenty of Theravāda monks with the same fault of greed, who amplify the benefits of giving charity, and downplay the benefits of study and practice. Of all the Theravāda monks who have nothing to do with the Dhammakāya, what proportion of them accept and make use of money? I reckon it is well over 90%. Should we concern ourselves with those millions in donations given to shameless Theravādin monks by gullible devotees who think that such adhamma dāna is meritorious?

I say, do not trouble yourself with that. Teach the genuine Dhamma, and practice it as well as you know how. If you cannot practice it perfectly, teach it anyway, but be ready to admit your own faults and limitations. To see the faults of others is easy, but it doesn't lead towards the cessation of suffering.

Now is the Dhamma-ending age. Those with good perfections are rare. Many place their faith in amulets, and anxiously “accumulate merit” hoping to meet Metteyya Buddha, or to enjoy celestial pleasures after death. The flood of false teachings cannot be turned back by anyone until the next Buddha appears. Meanwhile, the true teachings of Gotama Buddha are still extant — but it takes sincere and diligent effort to find them, and having found them, to practice them well.

Thank you for your words, Bhante. That is what I needed to listen at this moment.

Many of us have the tendency to do our best to improve or fix the things around us. Since I was pointed by my coworkers to be their staff representative, part of my duty is to point wrong-doing of persons with very good reputation (all of you may know our boss; I work for the largest non-profit organization on this world, but we shall not mention it for the sake of "reputation"). I am very disgusted to see so much wrong doing, hypocrisy and lack of integrity, that I cannot avoid to do all that is on my hands to try making things better. But I understand that in some point of my practice I will have to decide to take a further step to say STOP and search for seclusion “putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world”.

On the other side, there are many monks that are, or have been proactively pointing wrong-doing and doing campaigns working for a better society and reduce suffering, and they are therefore involved in politics, environment, human rights, etc. It is what some call “Engaged Buddhism”. Bikkhu Bodhi , Ajahn Brahm, Maha Boowa, Thich Nhat Hanh… The list is very long.

I have found this interesting readings, although there are hundreds of them about this topic:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el285.html
http://www.globalbuddhism.org/2/victoria011.html
http://www.buddhanetz.org/texte/brown.htm

I am wondering what is your view.
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby culaavuso » Sat Jan 25, 2014 1:59 am

Dhp 24
Dhp 354 wrote:A gift of Dhamma conquers all gifts;
the taste of Dhamma, all tastes;
a delight in Dhamma, all delights;
the ending of craving, all suffering
& stress.


Considering the Dhamma as a gift that can be offered freely seems to provide a good perspective on how to best offer the benefits to others. If a gift is given out of greed for rewards or praise or reputation or for even for the sake of feeling better about oneself, then it is not given for the benefit of others. When considering the benefit of others, a gift is beneficial when given to someone who wants the gift and will appreciate receiving the gift. Similarly, after giving the gift it is no longer the giver's concern what happens with it. The person receiving the gift does not owe anything in return, nor does the receiver owe a duty of treating the gift well or using it as the giver expected. Once given, whatever the receiver of the gift wants to do with it is up to them. A gift, properly given, is not a means to manipulate another person or to get them to behave in a way the giver likes or stop behaving in a way the giver dislikes. It is something offered to another in the belief that it will be of benefit, but without attachment the result.

In sharing the Dhamma with others or when engaging socially by other means, it's useful to make sure that our actions aren't motivated by greed, aversion, and delusion. It's likewise useful to ask whether the action is motivated by good will and harmlessness and performed renouncing any interest in the fruits of the act. It's important to remember that all beings are the owners of their actions, and that all we can do is offer them what they might be able to use to improve their own situation. While trying to help others, it's important not to neglect your own practice. If greed, aversion, and delusion grow then the means of helping others is not the best approach. If one can reduce their own greed, aversion, and delusion through the practice of helping others, that is the proper course of practice. It's also important to remember that all fabrications are inconstant, including the teachings of the Dhamma that exist today. It's useful to keep the teachings healthy by putting them into practice properly so they may live as long as possible, but clinging to the idea of keeping them alive forever is only a cause of stress.

AN 8.26
AN 8.26: Jivaka Sutta wrote:"And to what extent, lord, is one a lay follower who practices both for his own benefit & the benefit of others?"

"Jivaka, when a lay follower himself is consummate in conviction and encourages others in the consummation of conviction; when he himself is consummate in virtue and encourages others in the consummation of virtue; when he himself is consummate in generosity and encourages others in the consummation of generosity; when he himself desires to see the monks and encourages others to see the monks; when he himself wants to hear the true Dhamma and encourages others to hear the true Dhamma; when he himself habitually remembers the Dhamma he has heard and encourages others to remember the Dhamma they have heard; when he himself explores the meaning of the Dhamma he has heard and encourages others to explore the meaning of the Dhamma they have heard; when he himself, knowing both the Dhamma & its meaning, practices the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma and encourages others to practice the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma: then to that extent he is a lay follower who practices both for his own benefit and for the benefit of others."
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby suriyopama » Sat Jan 25, 2014 2:05 am

I admit that all my engagement with the world is causing limitations to my meditation. It is keeping me away from concentration and calm. That is why this topic is so interesting to me.

So far, the only solution that I see is to go forth. But there are some things preventing me from going to the forest to ordain, like my debts and the concern to take care of my mother in the future. In the meantime, as far as I keep living as a laymen, I feel like I have the compromise to collaborate with society. I cannot ignore all those problems.

I am wondering about those monks that are actively involved in the society. Perhaps their practice has already been developed and refined, and therefore, all this engagement in the world does not create any kind of distress or perturbation in their minds?
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby culaavuso » Sat Jan 25, 2014 2:25 am

suriyopama wrote:I admit that all my engagement with the world is causing limitations to my meditation. It is keeping me away from concentration and calm. That is why this topic is so interesting to me.

So far, the only solution that I see is to go forth. But there are some things preventing me from going to the forest to ordain, like my debts and the concern to take care of my mother in the future. But as far as I keep living as a laymen, I feel like I have the compromise to collaborate with society. I cannot ignore all those problems.

I am wondering about those monks that are actively involved in the society. Perhaps their practice has already been developed and refined, and therefore, all this engagement in the world does not create any kind of distress or perturbation in their minds?


Paying debts requires working a job, but not changing the world or the employer. Taking care of parents requires a sacrifice of some desires in life for the desire of taking care of one's parents. Both of these things can be useful tools to see how painful clinging to the ego can be, if used properly. There is a bit of a compromise in having the extra duties of lay life, and going forth is a noble goal, but it's also worth asking if it's driven by a craving for a situation where these problems are destroyed or aversion to the realities that are currently present. Collaborating with society doesn't require compromising your own practice. Defilements of the mind are the problem, not the external conditions of life. It's possible to go through the day aware of your mental state, abandoning greed, aversion, and delusion, and cultivating good will, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity in every encounter with other people. When outside of work and when there is no immediate need to take care of your parents, every remaining moment that is not involved with the four requisites of this life can be spent reading, discussing, contemplating, and practicing the Dhamma. There is no need to engage with society beyond that even as a lay person. There is similarly no need to ignore the problems that arise in the lay life: you can deal with then mindfully and skillfully, working to develop greater skill every day. In the short term, your life can become more easeful through the practice. In the long term, if you are living frugally your debts will be paid off and the duties to your parents will be fulfilled. At that point you will no longer have the situations which cause you to decide not to ordain, and through your practice during that time you will be in a much better position to succeed in a deepened practice as a monastic. Lay followers can reach the state of non-return without abandoning their household and can even reach full unbinding before ordination, so there's no reason to think it's impossible to make progress except through ordination. It's definitely harder to practice well while living a lay life, but it is not impossible to do so. Equanimity teaches us to work with what we have available and not harm ourselves or others by acting on our cravings.
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby pilgrim » Sat Jan 25, 2014 2:34 am

deleted..
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby pegembara » Sat Jan 25, 2014 2:53 am

That is the nature of the world (samsara) driven by greed, hatred and delusion. The Buddha's teachings are for those with little dust in their eyes. Being fully engaged is going to cause pain and distress. That is the point of the statement, "Nothing is worth clinging to as me, mine or myself."


The lesson from Ajahn Chah who is definitely not a seclusive is:

'It is not the noise that disturbs you, it is you who disturbs the noise!'“
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby suriyopama » Sat Jan 25, 2014 3:58 am

Thank you for your comments.

Perhaps the solution would be to find a correct balance between the four Brahma Viharas; e.g. to wisely use equanimity in order to not to be overwhelmed by compassion, and ruin our practice by being distressed fighting injustice to help those in need.

culaavuso wrote:Paying debts requires working a job, but not changing the world or the employer.


That is a tricky one. My coworkers have appointed me to be their staff representative, and they are expecting the Staff Union to help them. Our employer is violating Labour Rights that are contemplated at the Human Rights Chart and at the ILO conventions. If we ignore the problem, we are not only letting our organization to be rotten inside, but we are also allowing that the organization (that, ironically, happens to be the same organization that promotes those rights at this world) may lose its credibility and reputation, and be destructed. If that happens, the governments and employers worldwide would not respect those rights anymore. That would be a huge loss for humanity.

As you can see, I am pointing wrong-doing at a very high level. That is the reason why I am distressed, thinking about what kind of kamma may come from either doing or not doing that.
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby suriyopama » Sat Jan 25, 2014 4:36 am

I once expressed that concern about action/passivity to Ajahn Brahm, and he said that when we know that our actions will give no results, it is better to do nothing. Let it go, and do not be distressed thinking about those matters. But when you find the right opportunity that can bring results, then you have to put all your efforts into it.
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby santa100 » Sat Jan 25, 2014 4:50 am

Very wise advise from the venerable. That's the balance between equanimity and compassion right there..
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby culaavuso » Sat Jan 25, 2014 5:33 am

suriyopama wrote:Perhaps the solution would be to find a correct balance between the four Brahma Viharas; e.g. to wisely use equanimity in order to not to be overwhelmed by compassion, and ruin our practice by being distressed fighting injustice to help those in need.


I agree. This reminds me of the quote from Awareness Itself, in the chapter Living in the World
Ajaan Fuang Jotiko wrote:"Beware of fall-in-the-well kindness: the cases where you want to help other people, but instead of your pulling them up, they pull you down."


suriyopama wrote:My coworkers have appointed me to be their staff representative, and they are expecting the Staff Union to help them. Our employer is violating Labour Rights that are contemplated at the Human Rights Chart and at the ILO conventions. If we ignore the problem, we are not only letting our organization to be rotten inside, but we are also allowing that the organization (that, ironically, happens to be the same organization that promotes those rights at this world) may lose its credibility and reputation, and be destructed. If that happens, the governments and employers worldwide would not respect those rights anymore. That would be a huge loss for humanity.

As you can see, I am pointing wrong-doing at a very high level. That is the reason why I am distressed, thinking about what kind of kamma may come from either doing or not doing that.


First, congratulations on this appointment. This suggests that you've been able to contribute value and improve things for others considerably to be given such a position. When the stakes are high it can feel like success is the only option, but it's important to keep in mind that all fabrications are inconstant. Despite the high stakes, there is a lot in common with other problems that are faced in daily life. First, you can't just ignore the problem if you have the ability to improve the situation and the situation is worth improving. However, once you've done the best you know how to do all you can do is watch the results of those actions with equanimity. How you behave in the situation is up to you, but the outcome is not. I would recommend accepting the fact that all of the bad things you mention might happen, even with your best efforts. I would not, however, recommend complacency or half hearted effort. As long as you've done the best possible job you can do, then whether you succeed or fail in the end you can have peace of mind knowing that you did your best. However, to do your best you must maintain a clear mind and this requires equanimity to truly see all of the available options and to understand the situation in depth without being blinded by passion and craving for a particular outcome. Similarly, equanimity helps to not get caught up on a single path of action and to remain open to changing course when necessary. Good will is important to remember to realize that a positive outcome can be positive for everyone, even the people who are causing the problems in the first place. Compassion for the people causing the problem as well as the people affected by it is valuable in understanding what outcomes will be agreed to by various people, and perhaps to see a creative solution that makes everyone happy. In the end, acting from proper intentions and doing everything you can for the sake of the desired goal is all you can do. The results are out of your control.

AN 6.63
AN 6.63: Nibbedhika Sutta wrote:Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.


With this perspective, you can keep a focus on maintaining a state free from greed, aversion, and delusion throughout the proceeding because such a perspective will help you be maximally effective in your role. Such a perspective will also put you in the best possible position to accept the outcome with equanimity, whether you are successful or not, so that there is no unnecessary suffering. It's not possible to prevent or end all of the corrupt behaviors in the world, but it's possible and worthwhile to maximize your contribution to wholesome behavior. Without keeping awareness of mental states in this kind of situation, it's easy to be overcome with greed and aversion and end up acting in a way that is no better than the people causing the problems in the first place.

AN 2.98
AN 2.98: Bala Sutta wrote:"Monks, these two are fools. Which two? The one who takes up a burden that hasn't fallen to him, and the one who doesn't take up a burden that has. These two are fools."


A large burden has fallen to you, but the entire situation you find yourself in is not your burden. It's sometimes hard to find that line, but it's an important thing to keep in mind.
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby suriyopama » Sat Jan 25, 2014 7:18 am

Thank you for your words, Culaavuso. Perhaps I should be more grateful for having arrived to this situation, because it is giving me a challenging opportunity to test my practice on troubled waters instead of happily rest on laurels. Furthermore, it is giving me a clearer vision about the meaning of abandoning the mundane compromises with the world in order to go forth, and seek for a goal that is not subject to birth, old age, sickness, death, pain and defilement.

AN 2.98, Although it is so short, it can provide enough Food for Thought for an entire lifetime!!! :thumbsup:
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby jabalí » Sat Jan 25, 2014 6:27 pm

Nobody can change the world.

Saludos Suriyopama :smile:
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby pegembara » Mon Jan 27, 2014 4:31 am

Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Serenity Prayer

The Buddha was harsher in his approach-

"Monks, these two are fools. Which two? The one who takes up a burden that hasn't fallen to him, and the one who doesn't take up a burden that has. These two are fools."
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby Kim OHara » Tue Jan 28, 2014 4:10 am

jabalí wrote:Nobody can change the world.

Saludos Suriyopama :smile:

Hi, Jabali,
I have got to say you are wrong. Everybody changes the world, with every action they take. Stomp on an ant, and you have a world with one more dead ant in it; move an ant out of danger, and you have a world with one more live ant in it.
Admitted, most of our actions don't change the world very much, but since they do change the world, it's up to us to use our choices and our freedoms responsibly so that, where possible, our actions make the world better, not worse.

:meditate:
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby SamBodhi » Tue Jan 28, 2014 6:19 am

Kim OHara wrote:
jabalí wrote:Nobody can change the world.

Hi, Jabali,
I have got to say you are wrong. Everybody changes the world, with every action they take...


Kim, I read jabali's statement as "Nobody can change Samsara." I didn't think it was a statement about the absence of causal relationships in our lives, but rather as a statement concerning the nature of the condition in which all humans find themselves living.
"An inward-staying
unentangled knowing,
All outward-going knowing
cast aside."
--Upasika Kee Nanayon
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby suriyopama » Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:18 pm

SamBodhi wrote:
Kim OHara wrote:
jabalí wrote:Nobody can change the world.

Hi, Jabali,
I have got to say you are wrong. Everybody changes the world, with every action they take...


Kim, I read jabali's statement as "Nobody can change Samsara." I didn't think it was a statement about the absence of causal relationships in our lives, but rather as a statement concerning the nature of the condition in which all humans find themselves living.



SamBodhi, I was just going to write the same thing :smile:
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby chownah » Tue Jan 28, 2014 1:36 pm

SamBodhi wrote:
Kim OHara wrote:
jabalí wrote:Nobody can change the world.

Hi, Jabali,
I have got to say you are wrong. Everybody changes the world, with every action they take...


Kim, I read jabali's statement as "Nobody can change Samsara." I didn't think it was a statement about the absence of causal relationships in our lives, but rather as a statement concerning the nature of the condition in which all humans find themselves living.

I took his statement to mean that individuals can not make much of an impact on any of the big issues of the day........and I think s/he is wrong about that. I think that quite a few people have made really major impacts on how large issues have resolved or not resolved as the case may be. To make the unqualified statement that nobody can change the world in a thread which is at least partly dealing with the issue as to whether to be socially involved or not should be seen as supporting non-involvement until the intended meaning can be clarified. If the statement might have the effect of dissuading people from being socially engaged then it should be challenged in that it is wrong when taken in that way.....that is to say within the realm of social engagement there have been many people who have changed the world in very important ways both for the better and for the worse. Please do understand that I am not arguing for or against engagement here....I am just wanting to point out that to argue for non-engagement by claiming that nobody can change the world is a false argument because every one does change the world and sometimes in very big ways.

If we are to consider the meaning as you suggest can you talk a bit about "the nature of the condition in which all humans find themselves living" and how it relates to the topic of this thread?
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby Mr Man » Tue Jan 28, 2014 3:10 pm

Action vs seclusion is a false dichotomy.
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby Mkoll » Tue Jan 28, 2014 8:47 pm

chownah wrote:I took his statement to mean that individuals can not make much of an impact on any of the big issues of the day........and I think s/he is wrong about that. I think that quite a few people have made really major impacts on how large issues have resolved or not resolved as the case may be.

Indeed.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
-Margaret Mead

:anjali:
Peace,
James
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Re: Engaged Buddhism - Action Vs Seclusion?

Postby jabalí » Tue Jan 28, 2014 8:54 pm

From the point of view of the Buddha-Dhamma, we can only achieve the cessation of the world, not its change.

Actions must be oriented towards this purpose. These actions also help others to their welfare, and to their path to the cessation of the world.

Apologies if I make grammatical errors. :smile:
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