Being Careful with Engaged Buddhism

A discussion on all aspects of Engaged Buddhism
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Dharmasherab
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Being Careful with Engaged Buddhism

Post by Dharmasherab » Thu Oct 04, 2018 12:12 pm

Before I begin let me clarify that ‘Engaged Buddhism’ is not a form (sect/school) of Buddhism but it is a behavioral aspect of Buddhism. Buddhism is a teaching as well as a practice which helps humans to get closer to Enlightenment to liberate them from suffering in Samsara. Buddhism as a religion has its core principles included within the folds of Sila (Ethical Conduct), Samadhi (Concentration) and Prajna (Wisdom). But some of these same principles can be extended beyond the spiritual development into non-spiritual domains. This is ‘Engaged Buddhism’.

Just to repeat this definition, Engaged Buddhism is the extension of core principles within the Buddha Dharma into non-spiritual domains such as human rights, global politics, animal rights, pacifism, diet etc. The idea is not only to limit one’s involvement with Buddhism to the practices mentioned in texts but also to apply those same principles to all different aspects of life as well as for the progressive improvement of society.
Please do notice that Engaged Buddhism is not a homogenous movement where those who are ‘engaged’ have to conform to the ideals in all different domains covered by Engaged Buddhism. For example, an Engaged Buddhist who is a pacifist may not have strong opinions on animal rights while another Engaged Buddhist may be active in expressing concern for the environment but may not hold strong political beliefs. Therefore, Engaged Buddhism should be seen as more of a fluid concept where individuals are engaged in various domains rather than a concrete definition where individuals have to meet all the expectations according to the ideals implied by the idea of Engaged Buddhism. Engaged Buddhists can be found in any type of Buddhist school (Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana) as well as new Buddhist movements which are outside of lineages such as Secular Buddhism and Triratna.

As Buddhists, it is true that we are encouraged to help each other according to the teachings. But the true purpose of most of the teachings in the Dhamma is to help sentient beings liberate themselves from Samsara. The Dharma is not about creating a better Samsara but to help sentient beings transcend that. By understanding the true purpose of Dharma we can confidently say that to be engaged as a Buddhist is something which is optional; it is not compulsory. It is also important that all Buddhists understand that being an Engaged Buddhist does not make one ‘more Buddhist’ compared to ‘Non-Engaged Buddhists’ and that Non-Engaged Buddhists are not ‘less Buddhist’ compared to Engaged Buddhists.

Whiles, we can appreciate the optimistic, altruistic and compassionate intentions behind Engaged Buddhism, it is also vital to know the caveats within it.

One of the main concerns regarding Engaged Buddhism is that if it is not practiced with a good degree of mindfulness then it could lead to some types of sectarianism. For example, a Buddhist who is an environmentalist may consider that if one is a Buddhist then it should be compulsory to be an environmentalist. Such a person may consider other Buddhists who do not show concern for the environment as those who are not following the Buddhist path. One may try to argue that being a non-environmentalist is an incorrect form of livelihood and thereby ruling out all non-environmentalist Buddhists as those who don’t follow the teachings of the Buddha. Such an outcome can happen when people are mindlessly self-righteous especially when they have strong views about what they are engaged with (in this example it is environmentalism). This is why it is important to be mindful and understanding that the Buddhist community contains diversity. Such thoughts arise due to lack of loving-kindness towards other Buddhists who don’t share the same views as one when it comes to domains outside of spirituality.

To give another example on this to make myself clearer, a Buddhist who is a socialist may say “a Buddhist has no choice but to be a socialist”. From that statement, he has excluded other Buddhists who have different political orientations simply because being a Buddhist socialist does not make one more Buddhist than a Buddhist who prefers to do business in a free market. If we are not careful with Engaged Buddhism then one of the consequences would be sectarianism based on preferences or orientations outside of the Dharma.

Another possible pitfall of Engaged Buddhism is that one may show more interest in the ‘engaged element’ even at the expense of their time for Dharma. This happens when one is not mindful enough where one gets distracted too far deep into the 'engaged element' which is strong enough for one to neglect their awareness about the Dharma. For example, a Buddhist who is into environmentalism may get too bogged down within environmentalism up to the extent that she would occupy most of her time being concerned about the environment while giving second priority to Buddhism or probably neglect it altogether. She may search online for petitions, she might march in the streets with fellow environmentalists in protest whiles having hardly any time for Dharma study or meditation. Her mind could even get so heated and fired up that there could be no space in her mind for peace, tranquillity or loving-kindness. This is one of the consequences when Engaged Buddhism is practiced mindlessly. Therefore it is important to maintain mindfulness whiles being engaged to know that the Buddhist practice takes priority over all other non-spiritual interests. The end result is that one reaches too far out into the world but spiritually collapses from within. What happens next is that without one’s awareness a person will be using Buddhism as a pedestal to place ideas of environmentalism (or any other type of engaged element) on top of to give it some form of sacredness. Now the interest is no longer Buddhism but instead, the Buddhism is now used as a platform or a propaganda tool to justify an agenda. This is how deep it can go and I have observed this within some groups in social media as well as the real world.

If we are not mindful with a lack of loving-kindness then the practice of Engaged Buddhism could potentially lead to defiling of the mind. People can get so angry and worked up about the political environment portrayed by the news and find reasons to be active but by doing so they are also defiling their own minds.

These are some useful points about this post in summary -

1. The Buddha Dharma is more focused on the path to Enlightenment and gives less importance to make a better Samsara.

2. Engaged Buddhism is simply an option; it is not compulsory. Being an Engaged Buddhist doesn’t make one ‘more Buddhist’ than a ‘non-engaged Buddhist’.

3. The mindful way of practicing Engaged Buddhism is to appreciate the diversity among the Buddhist world to understand that not all Buddhists share the same view as one does outside of the spiritual domain.

4. The less mindful/judgmental way of practicing Engaged Buddhism is when one only considers those to be Buddhists based on their own view of Engaged Buddhism.

5. It is important to have a solid core of teachings and practice within oneself before reaching out to become 'engaged'. Otherwise, your practice and principles could collapse from within.

Leeuwenhoek
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Re: Being Careful with Engaged Buddhism

Post by Leeuwenhoek » Sun Oct 21, 2018 4:20 pm

Here is a practice (and a mindset) that would help everyone be careful with engaged Buddhist.
Begin talks or written expressions on the topic of engaged Buddhism with a reminder to the listener:
  • The opinions I am about to express are my own and do not necessarily reflect the teachings of the Buddha, the dharma, my lineage, teachers or sangha.
You probably recognize the form.

Especially for those who wear robes:
  • Allow me to express an opinion first and foremost as a single citizen who happens to be known as a "dharma teacher".
I submit that phrases such as these (and the perspective or mindset that they tend to inspire) would go a long way toward maintaining a ethic (sila) of "right engagement".

* * * * *

I commend Dharmasherab for the post on a important and relevant topic.
... without one’s awareness a person will be using Buddhism as a pedestal to place ideas of environmentalism (or any other type of engaged element) on top of to give it some form of sacredness. Now the interest is no longer Buddhism but instead, the Buddhism is now used as a platform or a propaganda tool to justify an agenda.
A western term for that is ideological capture.

Western Buddhism needs a practice to recognize ideological privilege (in the US progressive privilege) as much or more than it needs a practice to recognize white privilege.

The 4-fold noble truth warns of the risk of dukkha as well as offering a path towards it's reduction and liberation. In a similar manner I suggest there are practices that tend to support "right engagement".

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fwiw
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Re: Being Careful with Engaged Buddhism

Post by fwiw » Sun Oct 21, 2018 5:16 pm

What I see is people trying to tell others how they should practice their spirituality while accusing others to tell them how they should practice their spirituality, the only difference in this respect being that they have a different approach to politics
... in my opinion

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Aloka
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Re: Being Careful with Engaged Buddhism

Post by Aloka » Fri Oct 26, 2018 8:37 am

Dharmasherab wrote:
Thu Oct 04, 2018 12:12 pm

Buddhism is a teaching as well as a practice which helps humans to get closer to Enlightenment to liberate them from suffering in Samsara. ......

......The Dharma is not about creating a better Samsara but to help sentient beings transcend that....

....These are some useful points about this post in summary -

1. The Buddha Dharma is more focused on the path to Enlightenment and gives less importance to make a better Samsara.....

In general, I think it's especially useful to have a look at the actual meaning of the word "samsara" because it isn't the name of a place that we physically live in as some people imagine.

Samsara literally means "wandering-on." Many people think of it as the Buddhist name for the place where we currently live — the place we leave when we go to nibbana. But in the early Buddhist texts, it's the answer, not to the question, "Where are we?" but to the question, "What are we doing?" Instead of a place, it's a process: the tendency to keep creating worlds and then moving into them. As one world falls apart, you create another one and go there. At the same time, you bump into other people who are creating their own worlds, too.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/aut ... msara.html

.

Bundokji
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Joined: Tue Jun 05, 2018 9:03 pm

Re: Being Careful with Engaged Buddhism

Post by Bundokji » Fri Oct 26, 2018 1:21 pm

Leeuwenhoek wrote:
Sun Oct 21, 2018 4:20 pm
I commend Dharmasherab for the post on a important and relevant topic.
I second that :namaste:
'Too much knowledge leads to scepticism. Early devotees are the likeliest apostates, as early sinners are senile saints.' – Will Durant.

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