The path of compassion, insight and creativity - the struggle for GAIA and against the 1%-satrapy of war and wage-slavery.

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Have Buddhist institutions become disengaged?

This blog follows on from the final paragraph of this blogpost. In it I asked monks to ask themselves questions because Gaia is being destroyed. In my view ultimately the question has become “Has time disengaged Buddhism?”

Now this question is primarily directed at Theravadan Buddhism because it always refers back to the teachings of the Buddha – it is not revisionist (one interpretation of the word Mahayana). Of the Buddhisms I would call myself Theravadan because I follow what the Buddha taught, in fact I cheat on that because I follow what Buddhadasa taught and trust that his years of study of the Buddha is on the money. In part this is because I am pragmatic, I want to put Buddhism in practice but it is more because I am lazy and it is easier to follow Buddhadasa and try to put him into practice.

In line with my laziness I have not studied the gospels and the life of Buddha enough, so this is a cursory view; I would not write it if I didn’t think it was true but I have not done the spade work. Siddhartha was a prince who had been closeted by his family but as a young man he left the protection of his rich home to learn about the world – and to learn about himself. Once he left he was shocked by the suffering, suffering that was caused by society such as poverty and suffering caused by birth ageing sickness and death. The sight of this inspired compassion in him.

But this compassion also inspired in him the need to learn more about himself, and he followed various paths of learning. Eventually he arrived and sat under a Bodhi tree, and when he got up he was enlightened. Following his enlightenment he went around teaching what he had learnt such as the 4NT and paticcasamuppada. As well through his teachings he taught that people should be compassionate. Because I see compassion as being the practice of his teachings I contend that the Buddha was an engaged Buddhist.

Starting from that basis, that the Buddha was an engaged Buddhist, what has happened over time? His teachings have lasted the test of time, they are permanent – anicca, typically the 4NT and paticcasamuppada are simply as valid as they were 2560 years ago. So Theravadan monks delivering such teachings are presenting truths that have stood the test of time.

But whilst the teachings have passed the test of time the Buddha’s social commentary of course cannot. Comments in the Gospels about the society of 2560 years ago need not apply now, but much more importantly compassion must evaluate contemporary society now. The teachings haven’t changed, but how compassion sees society has to have changed. I contend that there needs to be the same level of compassionate evaluation of contemporary society as the Buddha gave in his evaluations of society 2560 years ago.

We still need to be compassionate of poverty, we still need to be concerned about the problems of birth ageing, sickness and death.

But the Buddha’s compassion could not speak of issues that did not exist at the time. And if contemporary Buddhists only speak of then contemporaneous issues, disengagement develops. Time has disengaged Buddhism.

Was the Buddha’s society destroying Gaia? Quite clearly the answer to that is no, so how could the Buddha speak of it? Is contemporary society destroying Gaia? Quite clearly it is, therefore the compassion of Buddhism needs to engage with this issue in the same way that the Buddha’s compassion engaged with the issues of his time.

Buddhadasa talks of Idappaccayata as God, and talks of our duty to nature – dhamma. Doesn’t it seem correct for the institutions of Buddhism to engage with the protection of nature? I would suggest that at the monasteries monks do, but what about their teachings? Over time some institutional practices have become disengaged, with Idappaccayata as benchmark and the Buddha’s compassion as guide isn’t it time to re-engage?

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