Here is an interesting essay in the relationship between Buddhism and anarchism by Ryan Sproull. Hope you enjoy!
The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows. ~ Gotama Buddha
I want to say a few things about the possible relationship between Buddhism and anarchism, where they share values and where they differ, and how each can provide practical and theoretical support for the other. Foolishly expecting it to be a few paragraphs, I quickly found that the more I looked at the two, the more there was to talk about.
So I’m going to summarise a few of the highlights and then treat them separately later. And yes, I’ll treat what I mean by “Buddhism” and by “anarchism” separately first.
both see actions in terms of broader systems
Both Buddhist metaphysics and many anarchist critiques of human behaviour see those behaviours in terms of the backdrop of systems that give rise to particular attitudes, rather than solely focusing on the individual context. The anarchist laments the tendency of hierarchical power structures to produce people who crave or submit to authority while often asserting some fundamental aspect of human nature that desires to be free. Buddhist metaphysics see an individual’s behaviour as being an expression of what is commonly seen as the individual’s surrounding “environment” (actually questioning the distinction in the first place).
both use consequentialist arguments
The recognition of broader structures shaping behaviour and having far-reaching consequences means that both Buddhism and anarchism tend to level criticism at systems and behaviour by claiming they inevitably give rise to undesirable results. The differences and similarities between the forms of these arguments may shed light on each other.
both are inclined towards pacifism
While there have been strands of anarchism in the past that encouraged acts of violence against fellow human beings, the libertarian socialists of today are generally anti-violence in thought and deed, much like Buddhism.
both value individual responsibility as well as community and compassion
Of course, very few people would claim that they did not value individual responsibility, community and compassion, but both anarchists and Buddhists see something qualitatively different between aid given to someone freely and aid given to someone via coercion. Even though the immediate consequences may be the same, subtler consequences have far-reaching results.
both value liberty as a fundamental value
Again, few people would argue they do not value liberty, but the place of liberty within both Buddhist and anarchist thought will be interesting to compare and contrast. For both, it seems to me, liberty is the point at which they draw the line when it comes to consequentialism/utilitarianism. The old question of whether or not a utilitarian would support mass opiate medication of a population to bring about the most happiness, when asked of the consequentialist anarchist or Buddhist, provokes a claim that something much more specific is meant by happiness than simply a buzzed-out smile on one’s face when criticising suffering.
both Buddhism and anarchism have evolved tools that may assist the other’s goals
Many of the problems facing Buddhist worldviews today have been treated by anarchism, and vice-versa. The Buddhist approach to human nature will also be interesting to contrast against the various anarchist theories of human nature.
I’m afraid that John Rawls and Aristotle will be forced to make an appearance.
Of course, I’m not the first person to think about these two schools of thought in relation to each other. “Anarcho-Buddhism” has 660 hits on Google, and Gary Snyder wrote “Buddhist Anarchism” in 1961. Wikipedia even has an entry on Buddhist anarchism. But I’m going to have a hit at it anyway. Stay tuned. (Note: 18 months later, I still have not done this.)