Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

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SDC
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Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby SDC » Fri Oct 18, 2013 12:21 am

The global warming thread from the lounge and others from the past have got me thinking:


What is a reasonable level of involvement in social/environmental/political/etc. issues while trying to practice the teachings of the Buddha?



Practicing the dhamma seems primarily concerned with adjusting our attitude and understanding as opposed to adjusting the the world. However the Buddha was explicit about how to peacefully engage with others, so the practice does involve the external world to some extent.


Some additional questions:


Does anyone feel that involvement in world issues is crucial to progress on the path?

Is there a point where involvement can counteract or inhibit progress?

How much external adjusting should we do? Does adjusting the external world to be in harmony with internal ideas affect our ability to go the other way and adjust our understanding to be in harmony reality especially when it comes to specific aspects of the dhamma?



A couple of rules:

- Only bring up specific world issues if you plan on addressing how they relate to the primary topic of this thread.
- Please keep the specifics about those issues to a minimum as that is not the purpose of this discussion.
- Please do not use this thread to solicit support for any specific issue.
- Keep the drama to a minimum :tongue:

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby cooran » Fri Oct 18, 2013 7:50 am

Hello SDC,

I found this article to be relevant as regards the cultivation of wholesome attitudes for working with worldly issues.

Detachment and Compassion in Early Buddhism
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... bl141.html

With metta,
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby Ben » Fri Oct 18, 2013 8:01 am

Hi SDC,
I am actually inspired by the example of Bhikkhu Bodhi who manages being active as the chairperson for Buddhist Global Relief as well as being a translator and editor as well as attending to his own practice. Worldly engagement can be an excellent expression and extension of one's own practice, but it can also be a distraction or obsession that can harm our practice. The bottom line is that we should never neglect walking the path, ourselves.
Kind regards,
Ben
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in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Oct 18, 2013 8:01 am

Hi SDC,

Gil Fronsdal has had some recent talks addressing some of the issues you're raising:
Being Whole & Caring for the Environment 2013-10-07
Environmental Stewardship 2013-10-06
Earth Care Dharmette 2013-10-02
Practice Notes for Earth Care 2013-10-02
http://audiodharma.org/teacher/1/

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Oct 18, 2013 10:47 am

cooran wrote:Hello SDC,

I found this article to be relevant as regards the cultivation of wholesome attitudes for working with worldly issues.

Detachment and Compassion in Early Buddhism
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... bl141.html

With metta,
Chris

Excellent - thanks, Chris :smile:

:namaste:
Kim

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby SDC » Fri Oct 18, 2013 10:59 pm

Thanks for the responses so far. I'll check out some of the links people posted.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby daverupa » Fri Oct 18, 2013 11:56 pm

By the way SDC, what have you read so far on Engaged Buddhism? This literature may approach some of what you're asking about, so I'd hate to tread ground you're already familiar with.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby SDC » Sat Oct 19, 2013 12:56 am

daverupa wrote:By the way SDC, what have you read so far on Engaged Buddhism? This literature may approach some of what you're asking about, so I'd hate to tread ground you're already familiar with.


Thanks, Dave. No I haven't heard of this. Interesting.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby SDC » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:23 am

I'd like to clarify my question based on the responses so far:

What is a reasonable level of involvement in social/environmental/political/etc. issues while trying to practice towards nibbana?

Clearly engagement inspired by the teachings is a very real thing and can be very productive, but will a life dedicated to this type of external engagement minimize progress that may have been there had the focus had been more within?

Based on my experience, I'm tending to think it will. There is only so much energy, especially when you really start to commit to the nuts and bolts of this practice. I can't see putting external issues as the primary focus and be able to make the same strides along the path. I'm not saying that good is not being done and that tremendous merit is being garnered, but with respect to progress towards nibbana...I think there is only so much involvement to be had in the external issues.

Thoughts?

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby Kamran » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:02 am

Merit and generosity can be very skillful, but you have to try and see for yourself what the specific results are in your case. How does it affect your meditation, for instance ? Does it provoke skillful or unskillful thoughts ?

I find Bikhu Analayo inspiring, because he is a highly prolific scholar of early budhism, and works as a university professor, but still manages to dedicate 3 days a week to nothing but meditation. If you can increase meditation time, perhaps you can include more work that you would like to do.
When this concentration is thus developed, thus well developed by you, then wherever you go, you will go in comfort. Wherever you stand, you will stand in comfort. Wherever you sit, you will sit in comfort. Wherever you lie down, you will lie down in comfort.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Oct 19, 2013 10:37 am

Okay, a random collection of points, mostly addressing SDC's latest post but some going back a bit earlier:

Engaged Buddhism in a whole forum over on the other DW - http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewforum.php?f=42. It's one of the reasons I spend time on the Mahayana side.

Another is the "Bodhisattva ideal" they emphasise. It works for me as a way of framing my place in the world.

Which brings to mind a rather different issue: are we "lay followers" or "monks" in classical terminology? Or (as I suspect many of us are) a new kind of follower with far more education and far more free time than most lay followers the Buddha taught, and correspondingly higher ambitions.

Engagement with social issues can be our dana, with all the good things that dana brings the giver. It is also a great practice arena for all four of the Brahmaviharas ... including the equanimity we need when our goals are unachievable :tongue:

More "engaged Buddhism" - http://www.ecobuddhism.org/index.php

:namaste:
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby SDC » Sat Oct 19, 2013 12:50 pm

Kamran wrote:Merit and generosity can be very skillful, but you have to try and see for yourself what the specific results are in your case. How does it affect your meditation, for instance ? Does it provoke skillful or unskillful thoughts ?

I find Bikhu Analayo inspiring, because he is a highly prolific scholar of early budhism, and works as a university professor, but still manages to dedicate 3 days a week to nothing but meditation. If you can increase meditation time, perhaps you can include more work that you would like to do.


Good post, Kamran.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby nibbuti » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:17 pm

Hi

I like to be well informed what is going on around us, from various sources (like russian or middle-eastern too) as well as local ones.

However, the best, most relieving meditation experience I had was when I completely and entirely switched off all in-fluences that could stir up the mind except some minimal contact to dhamma friends & family.

Good luck with Engagement Buddhism.

:meditate:
Last edited by nibbuti on Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby SDC » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:21 pm

Kim OHara wrote:Another is the "Bodhisattva ideal" they emphasise. It works for me as a way of framing my place in the world.

Which brings to mind a rather different issue: are we "lay followers" or "monks" in classical terminology? Or (as I suspect many of us are) a new kind of follower with far more education and far more free time than most lay followers the Buddha taught, and correspondingly higher ambitions.

Engagement with social issues can be our dana, with all the good things that dana brings the giver. It is also a great practice arena for all four of the Brahmaviharas ... including the equanimity we need when our goals are unachievable :tongue:


Right on, Kim. I was wondering if anyone had this perspective. Though it is not my view, I agree that it is wholesome approach to life and practice.

I do not think we are new type of lay follower. Granted life is definitely easier and yes there is free time, but the method is still the same and work is just as difficult. You touch on a significant point though about ambition. Since we have such incredible transportation and communication abilities there is so much more that we can engage in, there is so much more the individual can affect. I think this is very empowering for all people, not just people pursuing the path. Yet throughout the coarse of history, no matter where you were, there was always "high ambition" with respect to what the culture was capable of. So I do not think we are any different when you get down to the effects that social engagement have on how we think and feel about our own experience.

I guess our level of engagement is determined by our goals? Or rather, what it is we think we are reasonably capable of accomplishing in this life? I think so.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby SDC » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:39 pm

nibbuti wrote:Hi

I like to be well informed what is going on around us, from various sources (like russian or middle-eastern too) as well as local ones.

However, the best, most relieving meditation experience I had was when I completely and entirely switched off all in-fluences that could stir up the mind except some minimal contact to dhamma friends & family.

Good luck with Engagement Buddhism.

:meditate:


Pretty much my thoughts. Well, it's what I want to think is the case, but it isn't exactly how I live.

My daily schedule puts me into a lot of challenging situations which requires at least some level of engagement. This is where the five precepts are critical. And there are many instances where I go out of my way to tend to the needs of those around me. I enjoy this type of engagement, but I am not sure I would miss it if it were gone.

EDIT - Clarification

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby dagon » Sun Oct 20, 2013 12:53 am

Kim OHara wrote:Which brings to mind a rather different issue: are we "lay followers" or "monks" in classical terminology? Or (as I suspect many of us are) a new kind of follower with far more education and far more free time than most lay followers the Buddha taught, and correspondingly higher ambitions.
Engagement with social issues can be our dana, with all the good things that dana brings the giver. It is also a great practice arena for all four of the Brahmaviharas ... including the equanimity we need when our goals are unachievable :tongue:


This is an interesting topic in itself but also relevant to the discussion at hand. We need to define what our practice is to determine what the balance within that practice should be. I know that what comes across on the internet is often very different to what that person is like in real life. The impression that I get is that many of the members here with a longer term commitment to Buddhism seek the advancement of a monk without wanting to/or unable to undertake all the austerities that are part of a monks life. I for one am one of the people that I have just described (but I have fewer excuses than most).

For me engagement with the mundane life is a pivot around which my practice revolves. Study of the Dhamma has affected what, where, how and why I engage. At the same time the engagement provides me with unlimited scope to reflect on the Dhamma. If I was to disengage then it would be easy for me to have a pleasant practice without external disturbances – but what would happen when the external intrudes in to my life/my practice. Engagement along with changing my own life is what provides me with the faith (increasingly I prefer the word confidence) in what Buddha taught.

At the same time Dhamma has change what, where, how I engage through the discernment and appropriate reflections that the Dhamma has taught me. The precepts and the Brahmaviharas are the basis for my decisions whether to non-engage or engage in any thing. Implicit in any decision is the level of engagement and what resources (time, financial and mental) I decide to apply to that engagement.

The Dhamma has changed my engagements; my wish to have spiritual development in lifetime is also a factor. To me all of the questions can be summed up as "is this wholesome and a positive influence on my practice'. In practical application what I have found is that I choose to support people rather than causes (which was my tendency in the past). For someone like me who tended to hold strong views and easily loses my equanimity this is an adjustment that it was advisable to make.

I think that my current level of engagement with world and worldly matters in a positive and productive part of my practice. As I know there will be changes in my situation/practice so I continually adjust my engagements. Don’t dwell on the past or on the future, live in the present is the advice that I remind myself of in my choices.

Metta
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Oct 20, 2013 1:03 am

:goodpost:

:namaste:
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby Anagarika » Sun Oct 20, 2013 2:00 pm

Kim OHara wrote:Another is the "Bodhisattva ideal" they emphasise. It works for me as a way of framing my place in the world.

Which brings to mind a rather different issue: are we "lay followers" or "monks" in classical terminology? Or (as I suspect many of us are) a new kind of follower with far more education and far more free time than most lay followers the Buddha taught, and correspondingly higher ambitions.

Engagement with social issues can be our dana, with all the good things that dana brings the giver. It is also a great practice arena for all four of the Brahmaviharas ... including the equanimity we need when our goals are unachievable :tongue:

:namaste:
Kim


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. The Buddha himself traveled extensively. My sense is that he and his monks were very much engaged in connecting with kings and untouchables, and ministering to them. One sutta describes the Buddha washing a man with dysentery, and another ministering to a woman that had lost her only child. This is engaged practice in my mind, and suggests that the spirit behind the practice is one of engagement. This engagement is not so much bodhisattva work, but simply a replication of the kind of engagement that the Buddha himself practiced.

"As the crested, blue-necked peacock, when flying, never matches the wild goose in speed: Even so the householder never keeps up with the monk, the sage secluded, doing jhana in the forest." Muni Sutta This is the life of the contemplative from the Sutta Nipata. Yet from the same book of Suttas comes the Karaniya Metta Sutta, which is a call to do far more than one's life alone in a cave.

The cave dwelling monk might reach Nibbana a bit faster than the engaged practitioner, but I feel the Metta Sutta is a call to do more than live the not-self focused contemplative life. Buddhist Global Relief volunteers might delay their eventual release, but what a good cause by which to spend this life.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Oct 20, 2013 9:37 pm

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. ...

Thanks, BuddhaSoup :smile:
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.

:namaste:
Kim

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Postby dagon » Mon Oct 21, 2013 1:26 am

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. ...

Thanks, BuddhaSoup :smile:
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.

:namaste:
Kim


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.

Metta
paul


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