Kim OHara wrote:
BuddhaSoup wrote:Great post, Kim.
I really like what Bhikkhu Bodhi has said about the need for Theravadins, and all Buddhists, to get off the cushion and engage in the social issues that affect the world. His Buddhist Global Relief is one expression of how a real difference can be made.
I remember being at a Wat and asking a young falang monk ( an intelligent and interesting fellow) if he had thoughts to later in life teach or become involved in community issues. He looked at me as if I suggested he join the circus. He told me "how can I think of the interests of others when I have an entire life of my own to work toward my own liberation?" Perhaps his response was the classic stereotyped Theravada view, that the sole mission is for the practice to lead to one's own release, and that by being released we inspire others and earn their dana. While that view may have been appropriate in 500 BCE, it seems to me that more is required of our practice in 2100 CE than working toward our own interests alone.
Whether this view takes one off the arahant path and into the bodhisattva path, for me, is irrelevant. ...
That monk's view was indeed the "classic stereotyped Theravada view", and I am disappointed that it still exists as a reality.
Further, I feel that if it is appropriate for anyone at all (and I do doubt that it is), it is appropriate only for monks. Lay people can't possibly spend the majority of their time chanting and meditating so if we want our practice to be more than an hour per day, we have
to integrate it into mundane activities: mindfulness while we wash the dishes, compassion to the person next to us in the bus queue, etc, etc.
I believe that the view expressed by the monk is contrary to what the Buddha taught.
Throughout the teachings there is a constant theme of rights and the associated responsibilities: monks and laity, kings and subjects, husbands and wives. If you look at the instructions to the first of the monks it was to go out, dependent on the charity (dana) of the laity and teach the Dhamma to those that wished to hear it. Implicit in this is an exchange of dana for Dhamma. The Buddha was not teaching isolation but was teaching separation between the monks and laity. The rules for monks clearly forbid the development of independence in any economic form as seen by restrictions of the accumulation of wealth or economic activity that could give independence.
Not engaging in farming (the principle economic activity of the time) and daily going out on the rounds for food, not storing or preparing food all point in the same direction. The direction is a teaching of daily interaction between monks and laity. While all of this creates austerities The Buddha taught that austerities were appropriate where the assisted in spiritual development but that they did not have value in themselves, in fact austerities for the sake of being an austerities could be detrimental to the path.
There is universality about the 1st NT and for monks to isolate themselves and become indifferent to the suffering of all creatures could lead to a belief that they, rather than all suffered. At the same time there is clearly rules to ensure that the monks did not engage in activities that were detrimental to the path.
So most of us are not monks and will not take orders in this life time but that does not mean that we cannot reflect on what directions the Buddha-dhamma gives to monks to enhance our own development.
Giving dana brings rewards of that I have no doubt – but the rewards should not be sought as a motivation. To do so is like sitting down to meditate and say to ourselves to day I want to achieve XXX or YYY. I think that there are clear indications in the cannon that dana given spontaneously, personally and with discernment is the best way of giving dana. The question that I have (and continue to ask myself) is how is this going to occur if I do not engage with (but not in) world and worldly issues.
My understanding is that intention in giving dana is more important than the physical actions that are associated with it. If we are to consider engaging in worldly issues as a form of dana then we need to engage in the context of a Buddhist framework with the Dhamma providing the ethical and intellectual foundations. While it is useful to contemplate aspects of the Dhamma, it is pointless without them becoming part of everyday and all day life IMHO.
So the real question that we need to ask ourselves is how this is expressed in out lives and practice – what is the practical application. I have a high level of confidence in the science behind the climate change issue. For the most part I try and stay out of the public debate because all that will do is to encourage me to engage in wrong speech and other unskilful actions. I believe that talking the talk without walking the walk is hypocrisy which I consider to be a form of lying. One of the ways that I choose to act is to use public transport. It does make my carbon footprint smaller but it also helps to keep the public transport viable assisting others in the community who do not have the choices that I have. The advantages for my practice is that it engages me with people who I might not otherwise engage with providing opportunities for dana and gives me the opportunity to reflect on the teachings through the lives of others.
To illustrate the engagement with an example from yesterday. There is a young adult that gets on the bus who always will say hello and then ask what the person thinks of the Labour Party or do they like the leader of that party. Needless to say he manages to generate a negative mindset in many of his victims. When he started the conversation yesterday I said that I did not want to talk about politics - but how was he. I have known him casually for a number of years and that he had psychological and cognitively impairment from the use/abuse of drugs and alcohol. The conversation moved to this subject and instead of him being told to shut up by angry people they were listening. This included a number of young people who were of an age that realizing that the dangers were not a possibility, but rather, a reality that they were looking at. Instead of being faced with anger he received a level of compassion from those around. Instead of me being subject to pointless conversation I was able to reflect on the teaching during and after the conversation.