Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Kim OHara
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Kim OHara » Tue Oct 22, 2013 3:13 am

BuddhaSoup wrote:
chownah wrote:BuddhaSoup,
Seems to me that to be a renunciate monk would rule out or at least minimilize social engagement. Isn't renunciation the giving up of engagement in worldly matters?
chownah
I mentioned him in the context of his life in Sri Lanka. But, please see this Bhikkhu Bodhi article which I feel illuminates the issue of renunciation v. compassion:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_08.html

"In our attempt to follow the Dhamma, one or the other of these twin cardinal virtues will have to be given prominence, depending on our temperament and circumstances. However, for monk and householder alike, success in developing the path requires that both receive due attention and that deficiencies in either gradually be remedied. Over time we will find that the two, though tending in different directions, eventually are mutually reinforcing. Compassion impels us toward greater renunciation, as we see how our own greed and attachment make us a danger to others. And renunciation impels us toward greater compassion, since the relinquishing of craving enables us to exchange the narrow perspectives of the ego for the wider perspectives of a mind of boundless sympathy. Held together in this mutually strengthening tension, renunciation and compassion contribute to the wholesome balance of the Buddhist path and to the completeness of its final fruit."

I am glad for the questions above, which caused me to research a bit into this issue. The article above hits the nail on the head.
:goodpost:

Chownah,
You asked, "isn't renunciation the giving up of engagement in worldly matters"
Can I suggest a slightly different wording that I think may be more accurate?
"Renunciation is the giving up of attachment to worldly matters."

:thinking:
Kim

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by chownah » Tue Oct 22, 2013 8:11 am

Kim OHara,
I think you are wrong and I am right.......not surprisingly I guess. I wonder if there are any sutta references which could help me see what the Buddha said about this.
chownah

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cooran
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by cooran » Tue Oct 22, 2013 8:33 am

Hello all,

Nekkhamma - Renunciation
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/index-su ... #nekkhamma

Perhaps there is an answer here.

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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SDC
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by SDC » Tue Oct 22, 2013 11:27 am

BuddhaSoup wrote:And with all due respect, I have no disdain at all for the path toward release and awakening. I'm really just echoing Bhikkhu Bodhi's call for a more engaged Theravada. I admire his contemplative life, his history in Asia as a renunciate monk, and his work as an exemplary translator and scholar of Pali. I have his books translating the Suttas. I suppose if he can find the time to form Buddhist Global Relief, start a movement toward global food redistribution programs and anti-poverty programs around the world, I can get off my butt now and then and do something beyond meditation and study that benefits those in need in my community.

Some practitioners are 'self'-focused, and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. I just feel there are many ways to express the Buddhadhamma, and Bhikkhu Bodhi has set a terrific example of engaged practice.
Yes, there are many ways to use the dhamma, and our goals determine will how we use it.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Kim OHara » Tue Oct 22, 2013 11:30 am

cooran wrote:Hello all,

Nekkhamma - Renunciation
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/index-su ... #nekkhamma

Perhaps there is an answer here.

With metta,
Chris
Thanks, Chris.
I haven't got time to read them all now so I went straight to the one with the most relevant title - Relationship [of renunciation] to compassion: "The Balanced Way" (Bodhi).
Given what we know about his own life-choices and what you people now know about my views, you won't be surprised to learn that I liked it very much and agreed all the way.
:smile:
:reading:
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by chownah » Tue Oct 22, 2013 1:53 pm

Kim OHara wrote:
BuddhaSoup wrote:
chownah wrote:BuddhaSoup,
Seems to me that to be a renunciate monk would rule out or at least minimilize social engagement. Isn't renunciation the giving up of engagement in worldly matters?
chownah
I mentioned him in the context of his life in Sri Lanka. But, please see this Bhikkhu Bodhi article which I feel illuminates the issue of renunciation v. compassion:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_08.html

"In our attempt to follow the Dhamma, one or the other of these twin cardinal virtues will have to be given prominence, depending on our temperament and circumstances. However, for monk and householder alike, success in developing the path requires that both receive due attention and that deficiencies in either gradually be remedied. Over time we will find that the two, though tending in different directions, eventually are mutually reinforcing. Compassion impels us toward greater renunciation, as we see how our own greed and attachment make us a danger to others. And renunciation impels us toward greater compassion, since the relinquishing of craving enables us to exchange the narrow perspectives of the ego for the wider perspectives of a mind of boundless sympathy. Held together in this mutually strengthening tension, renunciation and compassion contribute to the wholesome balance of the Buddhist path and to the completeness of its final fruit."

I am glad for the questions above, which caused me to research a bit into this issue. The article above hits the nail on the head.
:goodpost:

Chownah,
You asked, "isn't renunciation the giving up of engagement in worldly matters"
Can I suggest a slightly different wording that I think may be more accurate?
"Renunciation is the giving up of attachment to worldly matters."

:thinking:
Kim
Seems like BB's article is not directed specifically at monks and if you look back you will see that my post was about monks. Also, from the article:
"Thence the governing motive behind the act of renunciation is the longing for spiritual freedom, coupled with the recognition that self-purification is an inward task most easily accomplished when we distance ourselves from the outer circumstances that nourish our unwholesome tendencies."
It seems to me that if we distance ourselves as indicated we are doing more than just giving up attachments....seems like it means actually avoiding.

Another approach to this is to consider what renunciation means for monks in matters easier to understand. For instance a monk is expected to refrain from sex and is not expected to simply give up the attachment to sex. I think the same can be seen in many of the rules for monks.....they deal with avoiding things, not giving up attachment only. Let's face it, many monks are still attached to things even after many years. My guess is that monks who engage in social engagement are probably attached to that as well.

What do you think of retrofuturist's reference above?
chownah

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by dagon » Tue Oct 22, 2013 7:52 pm

I think that part of the problem here is that we may be talking past each other. In part this is a result of the terms "reasonable involvement' and "worldly matters" not being defined and in part due to a bit of a thread drift. The tread was not restricted to monks – I have the sense that the OP was talking about Buddhist in general and members of this forum in particular. However as a lot of the Dhamma was directed towards monks it is natural that references to cannon are more likely to refer to monks.

My view is that engaging in worldly matters can be a good thing for spiritual development but that all of us need to restrict those involvements based on general Buddhist principles, whatever precepts we have taken and on our individual personality/situation.

If I was to look at this topic with events in Thailand foremost in my mind I think that I would be taking the same position as Chownah. The chosen engagements of certain infamous Buddhist “monks” where they have gone against the teachings and their undertakings as monks clearly illustrate what we should not be involved with. The growing relationship between a certain :alien: group of monks and certain political groups are clear examples of where the engagement problematic at best. Engagement with, or support of political organizations needs to be carefully considered due to the nature of politics and political parties. Generally political parties will have agendas where some of the policies will be consistence with a “Buddhist view” and some will clearly be against everything that the Buddha taught. Politics is about trading off what you can/do support with other things that are unsupportable (for Buddhist) to gain a support base.

Does this provide an argument that we should disengage with worldly issues – my view is that is that does not. IMHO the teachings are one of compassion balanced by equanimity. Just as meditation provides a mechanism to develop deeper and more profound understating of things; involvement with certain worldly issues provides us with a mechanism to nurture compassion within us.

I think that the right approach is to remember the advice from The Buddha to his son – reflect appropriately before, during and after decisions. The purpose of the reflections being the development of more skillful outcomes.

Metta
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by SDC » Wed Oct 23, 2013 3:07 am

dagon wrote:I think that part of the problem here is that we may be talking past each other. In part this is a result of the terms "reasonable involvement' and "worldly matters" not being defined and in part due to a bit of a thread drift. The tread was not restricted to monks – I have the sense that the OP was talking about Buddhist in general and members of this forum in particular. However as a lot of the Dhamma was directed towards monks it is natural that references to cannon are more likely to refer to monks.
Just to recap.

Original question:
SDC wrote:What is a reasonable level of involvement in social/environmental/political/etc. issues while trying to practice the teachings of the Buddha?
Modified question:
SDC wrote: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?
Obviously this discussion could include any and all worldly matters, i.e. anything in the external world, but since this was somewhat of a spinoff of the global warming thread I wanted to limit the discussion to engagements of that nature. And yes, the question is directed at lay and monastic practitioners.

Please let me know if you want me to be more specific.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Kim OHara » Wed Oct 23, 2013 5:53 am

I agree with Dagon that there has been some miscommunication. I even hinted in my first post to the thread that the problem might arise.
All along, I have been talking about "Buddhists" and with particular reference to folk here, in line with the OP, and I didn't really notice that Chownah had begun focusing entirely on monks.
Perhaps we can re-read the last page or so with that in mind, and then resume the discussion?

:coffee:
Kim

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Jason » Sun Nov 03, 2013 4:58 pm

If we live a worldly life, then I think we have some responsibility to engage in worldly issues. While the Buddha clearly discouraged the monastic community from engaging in worldly activities such as politics, I think it's a mistake for lay-followers not to be. For one, politics affects almost every aspect of our lives, and being engaged in our communities and being a part of the political discussion, not to mention being active in broader social and political movements, is what makes our society and political systems function more effectively, and how progress, however slow it may sometimes be, is made.

To leave these kinds of activities and decisions solely in the hands of others, some of whom are slaves to their defilements, isn't wise, in my opinion. And if we choose to live in the world, then I think we share some responsibility for shaping it; and it makes sense to have people motivated by things like non-greed, non-aversion, and non-delusion add their voices to the mix, not to mention helping do what they can to fix things like inequality and injustice as long as it's done with a spirit of compassion and harmlessness. The greatest danger of the practice of renunciation, in my opinion, is the tendency of practitioners to ignore the world around them while seeking their own happiness. All too often, Buddhists fall back on teachings like all conditioned things are inconstant, unsatisfactory, and not-self (AN 3.134) while neglecting teachings such as 'I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir' (AN 5.57).

Moreover, just from a practical standpoint, not addressing many of the material conditions giving rise to and supporting society's suffering ultimately serves to help maintain their continued existence (when this is, that is), which can negatively affect our practice, as well as that of others. If the society one lives in isn't conducive to practicing Buddhism, for example, then it does matter what kind of society one lives, so we should naturally try to make it as conducive for ourselves and others as possible. As the Buddha said in Khp 5, "To reside in a suitable locality, to have done meritorious actions in the past and to set oneself in the right course — this is the greatest blessing." To help illustrate what I mean here, I'll give two example.

A general example is that a society that's not only consumerist, but also politically and economically geared more towards the idea that greed and self-interest is the highest good, will potentially be less supportive culturally of monastic communities that live entirely in an economy of gifts (e.g., in comparing Eastern cultures, in which alms-giving and gift exchanges characteristic of 'human economies' regulated by custom and reputation and based more on co-operation have historically been more prevalent, to Western culture, where market-based economies based more on competition have been the norm, I noticed that Eastern monastics often receive more lay support as opposed to Western monastics, who often have to produce goods like beer, chocolate, coffee, wine, etc. to sell in order to support themselves).

A more specific example is the ecological impacts of logging in Thailand. The Buddha praised the wilderness and the benefits of practicing in the forest. The Thai Forest tradition grew out of a movement among monastics to return to this way of practice. In the past few decades, however, much of Thailand's forests have disappeared, making this more difficult. Being involved in conservation efforts and trying to find better farming techniques and/or other ways of raising revenue is one way of trying to help preserve remaining forests in order to help keep this tradition alive.

It'd be great if everyone were free from greed, hatred, and delusion, and everyone treated everyone else with kindness, compassion, and generosity—if the world was free from all forms of exploitation, privation, and gross inequalities. But the world isn't a perfect place, and we're not all saints; and one of the ways we can help alleviate some of the world's suffering is by trying to materially change it for the better. And from this point of view, it's not about making Buddhism political, but about applying the ideals of Buddhism in all that we do, which for me includes being socially and politically active.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Kim OHara
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Kim OHara » Sun Nov 03, 2013 9:30 pm

Thanks, Jason-
:goodpost:
I especially liked the conclusion:
"...it's not about making Buddhism political, but about applying the ideals of Buddhism in all that we do, which for me includes being socially and politically active."

:namaste:
Kim

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by SDC » Sun Nov 03, 2013 11:06 pm

Jason wrote:If we live a worldly life, then I think we have some responsibility to engage in worldly issues....
Good post, Jason.

One of things I am trying to get at with this thread is, how do make sure this engagement doesn't come at the expense of our own liberation?

Considering the knowledge we have of the dhamma at what it can lead to, is there a point where we end up sacrificing the opportunity to make great strides toward nibbana by putting too great a focus on the world? I am not advocating for no involvement, but where is the line? And is the sacrifice worth it? How do we balance the opportunity for progress toward nibbana with the positive things we can bring to the world?

You said a lot of great things about how you would be involved, but I am curious where we should draw the line.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Jason » Sun Nov 03, 2013 11:52 pm

SDC wrote:
Jason wrote:If we live a worldly life, then I think we have some responsibility to engage in worldly issues....
Good post, Jason.

One of things I am trying to get at with this thread is, how do make sure this engagement doesn't come at the expense of our own liberation?

Considering the knowledge we have of the dhamma at what it can lead to, is there a point where we end up sacrificing the opportunity to make great strides toward nibbana by putting too great a focus on the world? I am not advocating for no involvement, but where is the line? And is the sacrifice worth it? How do we balance the opportunity for progress toward nibbana with the positive things we can bring to the world?

You said a lot of great things about how you would be involved, but I am curious where we should draw the line.
I don't really think there is a concrete line. In my experience, the more I practice, the more my practice motivates me to be socially involved. Before I became interested in Buddhism, I wasn't socially or politically active whatsoever. After years of studying and practicing Buddhism, however, I began to take more of an interest in the world around me, and this was partially due to cultivating compassion and being more sensitive the suffering of others. Of course, it became clear to me early on that the world was imperfect, and that there is, and always been, suffering in the world. I also realized that it can't be 'fixed,' that there are no perfect solutions. But at the same time, I realized that doesn't mean we shouldn't try our best to do what we can to make things better, and that's certainly compatible with Buddhism and Buddhist ethics in general, in my opinion.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Kim OHara » Mon Nov 04, 2013 6:07 am

Jason wrote:I don't really think there is a concrete line. In my experience, the more I practice, the more my practice motivates me to be socially involved. Before I became interested in Buddhism, I wasn't socially or politically active whatsoever. After years of studying and practicing Buddhism, however, I began to take more of an interest in the world around me, and this was partially due to cultivating compassion and being more sensitive the suffering of others. Of course, it became clear to me early on that the world was imperfect, and that there is, and always been, suffering in the world. I also realized that it can't be 'fixed,' that there are no perfect solutions. But at the same time, I realized that doesn't mean we shouldn't try our best to do what we can to make things better, and that's certainly compatible with Buddhism and Buddhist ethics in general, in my opinion.
That's pretty much my experience, too.
And it means to me that there is no place to draw the line, or that it keeps shifting according to where we are on our own path.
Bear in mind, too, that ideally the "me" and "mine" dwindles away as we progress so that there should be less difference between "benefits me" and "benefits others" - both tend towards "benefits someone" or even "benefits living beings", and it doesn't matter (so much) who the people or beings are.

:meditate:
Kim

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by SDC » Tue Nov 05, 2013 2:35 am

Jason wrote:I don't really think there is a concrete line.
Kim OHara wrote:And it means to me that there is no place to draw the line, or that it keeps shifting according to where we are on our own path.
I'm comfortable with this idea of a shifting balance and do experience it to a certain degree in my own practice.

I guess what I find to be most problematic is when we avoid participating in issues present in our immediate and daily environment in favor of somewhat less immediate, ongoing social/political/environmental issue. If immediate issues are brushed aside while we are able to find time to dedicate to a broader issue I must cry foul. In another topic I commented on how I think it is easier to commit to broad issues yet completely ignore comparable suffering that is going on in our immediate environment, perhaps even in our own household, or even within our own mind. I think we assume a significantly less amount of risk to our overall mental stability with broad issues, then we do with immediate issues. This is even more true when we start talking about people who are practicing the teachings of the Buddha. Dealing with immediate issues demands constant attention - sacrifice, patience, politeness and/or generosity that all must be considered on the spot. It is unpredictable and there is no time to control or plan. For the most part, involvement in broad issues can be controlled - you choose your level of involvement and, FOR THE MOST PART, there is less risk of that participation rebounding negatively into your daily life.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: if we are addressing broad issues with a greater ferocity and enthusiasm then we do immediate issues that balance is askew and that, to me, is an example of sacrificing progress towards nibbana. However if the immediate issues are treated with a similar or greater regard then I see no issue with committing to something broader - in fact it makes sense.

Thoughts?

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