Tag Archives: buddhism

AHHHH!!!! Real Buddhists!


Utne Reader has a story called Bad Buddhist Vibes: Buddhism is America’s fastest-growing religion, and it’s making some people uncomfortable. The story is as follows:
<blockquote>At least 2 million Buddhists currently practice their religion in the United States, and many of their fellow citizens disapprove. A survey conducted by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, coauthors of <em>American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us</em> (2010), endeavored to determine how Americans perceive the nation’s major religions and found that Buddhists rank second to last, above only Muslims, writes James Coleman in <strong>Buddhadharma</strong> (Fall 2011). The same survey reports that whereas a large Christian church coming to their neighborhood would be acceptable, a large Buddhist temple would raise objections from one in five Americans.

The negative image seems to stem from a lack of publicity, which has contributed to the sort of ignorance that fuels fear. “Buddhism has remained something of a stealth religion, virtually invisible to most people outside our cosmopolitan coastal enclaves,” explains Coleman, who entreats practitioners to enter the public discourse, especially since the faith has become America’s fastest-growing religion with numbers rivaling those of Mormons, Muslims, Anglicans/Episcopalians, and practicing Jews. Coleman points to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for inspiration, not only because of his peace-loving message, but also because of his carefully crafted public image.

Original Story: <a href=”http://www.utne.com/Mind-Body/Buddhism-Fastest-Growing-American-Religion-Stigma.aspx#ixzz1i66GN09L”>http://www.utne.com/Mind-Body/Buddhism-Fastest-Growing-American-Religion-Stigma.aspx#ixzz1i66GN09L</a></blockquote&gt;

An Open Letter From Buddhist And Yoga Teachers In Support Of The Occupy Movement by Ethan Nichtern and Michael Stone


As teachers and leaders of communities that promote the development of compassion and mindfulness, we are writing to express our solidarity with the Occupy movement now active in more than 1,900 cities worldwide.

We are particularly inspired by the nonviolent tactics of this movement, its methods of self-governance and its emergent communities founded in open communication (general assemblies, the human microphone, the inclusion of diverse voices, etc). These encampments are fertile ground for seeing our inherent wisdom and our capacity for awakening. We encourage all teachers, leaders, sanghas and communities that pursue awakening to join with these inspiring activists, if they have not already done so, in working to end the extreme inequalities of wealth and power that cause so much suffering and devastation for human society and for the ecosystems of Earth.

This movement has given voice to a near-universal frustration with the economic and political disenfranchisement of so many. It offers a needed counterbalance to a system that saps the life energy of the overwhelming majority — the so-called 99 percent — generating vast profits for a tiny handful, without maximizing the true potential for widespread wealth creation in our society. While our practice challenges us to cultivate compassion for 100 percent of human beings without villifying an “enemy,” our practice also calls on us to confront a system that causes such clear harm and imbalance.

We share in the thoughtful calls to address massive unemployment, climate change, the erosion of social safety nets, decaying infrastructures, social and education programs, and workers’ wages, rights and benefits.

Moreover, the current legal structure of large corporations compels individuals to act with shortsighted greed, acts for which they are not held personally accountable. If we aren’t encouraged to act with awareness of our connection to the 7 billion humans who share our global community, the social fabric of our society is torn apart by legalized acts of selfishness and fear. These acts are performed in human society, by nonhuman entities, oddly granted the legal and political status of people, which have no ability to adequately perceive or react to the negative repercussions of their choices. The whole planet pays the price.

Most importantly, we believe that individual awakening and collective transformation are inseparable. For members of spiritual communities, mindfulness of the situation before us demands that we engage fully in the culture and society we inhabit. We do not view our own path as merely an individualistic pursuit of sanity and health, and we believe it would be irresponsible of us to teach students of mind/body disciplines that they can develop their practice in isolation from the society in which they live. We are inspired by the creative and intellectual work of the Occupy movement as an essential voice in facilitating a more compassionate and ecologically grounded basis for practice.

The Occupy movement has re-ignited our belief that it’s truly possible to build a culture of non-harm, honesty and respect for all creatures. We recognize our human failings and know that we’ll fail 10,000 times in our efforts to awaken. We now vow to bring our practices and methods of teaching more into alignment with our deepest values.

The structural greed, anger and delusion that characterize our current system are incompatible with our obligations to future generations and our most cherished values of interdependence, creativity and compassion. We call on teachers and practitioners from all traditions of mind/body awakening to join in actively transforming these structures.


Ethan Nichtern, Shastri, New York
Shôken Michael Stone, Toronto

Original Post

Eco-Buddhism: A Sustainable Enlightenment by John Stanley & David Loy


Namaste! _/\_

Hope everyone had a great Halloween/Samhain!

Here is a great article from HuffPo and is posted with the full blessing of one of the authors [a first for us :)]. So please enjoy and check out DavidLoy.org

It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing. –Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe

Looking again and again at that which cannot be looked at,
Unseeable reality is seen just as it is.
–Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, Mahamudra Aspiration Prayer

The first of these statements describes the apparent death wish of industrial civilization, while the second describes the deep meditative experience of a 13th century Buddhist master. We in the Ecobuddhism project understand the present as an historical period of existential and spiritual crisis, when such apparent opposites have something crucial to say to each other.

The Rise and Fall of Western Enlightenment

The “enlightenment” recognized by mainstream Western culture was a cultural shift in the 17th century — from religious belief to trust in mechanistic science and secular humanism. Since then we have understood nature and ourselves to be machine-like. The industrial growth society is a product of that Cartesian worldview. Over the last 60 years, the fetish of limitless economic growth has driven us faster and further than ever before. This is a society that cannot stop to ask sincerely where it is going.

At the end of the hottest decade on record, we are surrounded by unprecedented droughts, floods, crop losses and technological accidents. The mainstream media, still peddling “classical” economics, ignores either climate science or clean energy as legitimate subjects of interest. It fails to join up the dots for people on the most important issue of our time: the survival of life on Earth. Scientific findings and warnings are relentlessly subverted by fossil fuel corporations, who spend many millions of dollars to manufacture doubt about global warming, distort the democratic process and safeguard the very energy infrastructure that caused the crisis. It is beginning to look as if western enlightenment has run its course — that it will fail to prevent the collapse of civilization.

A Great Awakening

In the 20th century the Western world became aware of another type of enlightenment, the “great awakening” of the Buddha. Starting with one person, its sustainability became evident in methods of training, wisdom and trans-cultural influence that have endured for 2,500 years. Many men and women across a variety of cultures have used this path and experienced their own awakening. Might they be able to help us overcome our collective malaise in the face of ecological chaos?

The Buddha had a deeply felt understanding of limits. Happiness, he found, isn’t gained by trying to satisfy all our desires. In fact, a minimalist approach to possessions positively enhances long-term contentment. Meditation can sustain the process of personal transformation. The practitioner uncovers a deep interdependence between the self, the other and the context.

And Now?

The Buddha developed a culture of awakening from self-centered conditioning. But we are living in the midst of social-engineering technologies that persuade us to base our identity on consumption. My consumer-self is dogged by dissatisfaction, so I spend more and more to resolve the conditioned anxiety. And I will resist the truth of ecological crisis because consumption has compelling psychological meaning for me.

If Buddhist meditation is to have comprehensive relevance now, it must be able to cut through such social conditioning. And that must take place in a context that is vastly different from the Indian Bronze Age, when the Buddha first set forth his noble path to awakening.

If I hold beliefs that conflict with each other, I will experience “cognitive dissonance” — a subliminal anxiety resulting from inconsistency. I could try to eliminate this by changing one of the beliefs. I might resort to denial or find someone else to blame. If my meditation can’t show up these dysfunctional habits of mind for what they are, it could create what Joanna Macy calls “premature equanimity.”

But the great windstorms, fires, droughts, floods and snowstorms of the last decade will not cease to impose a radically new world on us. This is why the eminent Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says: “Every Buddhist practitioner should be a protector of the environment. We have the power to decide the destiny of our planet. If we awaken to our true situation, there will be a change in our collective consciousness.”

A Sustaining Myth

Resource depletion, ecological disasters, over-population and climate chaos are indicators of spiritual as well as ecological collapse. They demonstrate also how much we need a story that renews our love for the mystery of the Earth — a story that can integrate the world’s wisdom traditions with the sciences of cosmology and evolution. Thomas Berry pointed out that the universe itself is our new sacred story. Everything in the universe had a common origin in the mysterious Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago. We ourselves are participants in its awesome physical and spiritual dimensions, which are an authentic source of joy, celebration and support.

Undoubtedly, there is a profound challenge to self-realization in the midst of ecological crisis. The process may require us to pass through what Macy calls “uncertainty and positive disintegration” — experiences that stretch, ground and strengthen meditation. If, on all levels, we look “again and again at that which cannot be looked at,” we can nourish our capacity to respond fearlessly and appropriately to the big picture. We can take refuge in the Sacred Universe process.

Waking Up from the Nightmare: Buddhist Reflections on Occupy Wall Street by David Loy


In a his post on The Interdependence Project’s Blog about Occupy Wall Street, Michael Stone quotes the philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who spoke to the New York Occupiers at Zuccotti Parkon October 9:

“They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself. We all know the classic scenes from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice. But it goes on walking. Ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street – Hey, look down!”

As Slavoj and Michael emphasize, we are beginning to awaken from that dream. That’s an interesting way to put it, because the Buddha also woke up from a dream: the Buddha means “the awakened one.” What dream did he wake up from? Is it related to the nightmare we are awakening from now?

From the beginning, Occupiers have been criticized for the vagueness of their demands: although clearly against the present system, it wasn’t clear what they were for. Since then more focus has developed: many protesters are calling for higher taxes on the wealthy, a “Robin Hood” (Tobin) tax on trades, and banking reform to separate commercial and investment banking. These are worthy aims, yet it would be a mistake to think that such measures will by themselves resolve the basic problem. We should appreciate the general, unfocused dissatisfaction that so many people feel, because it reflects a general, unfocused realization that the roots of the crisis are very deep and require a more radical (literally, “going to the root”) transformation.

Wall Street is the most concentrated and visible part of a much larger nightmare: the collective delusion that our present economic system – globalizing, consumerist, corporate capitalism – is not only the best possible system but the only viable one. As Margaret Thatcher famously put it, “There is no alternative.” The events of the last few years have undermined that confidence. The events of the past few weeks are a response to the widespread realization that our economic system is rigged to benefit the wealthy (the “1%”) at the expense of the middle class (shrinking fast) and the poor (increasing fast). And, of course, at the expense of many ecosystems, which will have enormous consequences for the lives of our grandchildren and their children. What we are waking up to is the fact that this unfair system is breaking down, and that it should break down, in order for better alternatives to develop.

It is not only the economy that needs to be transformed, because there is no longer any real separation between our economic and political systems. With the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision last year – removing limits on corporate spending to influence elections – corporate power seems to have taken control of all the top levels of federal and state government, including the presidency. (Obama has received more campaign contributions from Wall Street than any other president since 1991, which helps explain his disappointing choice of economic advisors.) Today the elite move back and forth easily – from CEO to cabinet position, and vice-versa – because both sides share the same entrenched worldview: the solution to all problems is unfettered economic growth. Of course, they are also the ones who benefit most from this blinkered vision, which means the challenge for the rest of us is that the people who control this economic/political system have the least motivation to make the fundamental changes necessary.

Although the Democrats have not become as loony as the Republicans, on this basic level there’s really not much difference between them. Dan Hamburg, a Democratic congressman from California, concluded from his years in the U.S. Congress that “the real government of our country is economic, dominated by large corporations that charter the state to do their bidding. Fostering a secure environment in which corporations and their investors can flourish is the paramount objective of both [political] parties.” We still have the best Congress money can buy, as Will Rogers noticed way back in the 1920s.

From a Buddhist perspective, the point is that this integrated system is incompatible with Buddhist teachings, because it encourages greed and delusion – the root causes of our dukkha “suffering.” At the heart of the present crisis is the economic, political, and social role of the largest (usually transnational) corporations, which have taken on a life of their own and pursue their own agenda. Despite all the advertising and public relations propaganda we are exposed to, their best interests are quite different from what is best for the rest of us. We sometimes hear about “enlightened corporations” but that metaphor is deceptive – and the difference between such “enlightenment” and Buddhist enlightenment is instructive.

The burgeoning power of corporations became institutionalized in 1886, when the Supreme Court ruled that a private corporation is a “natural person” under the U.S. Constitution and thus entitled to all the protections of the Bill of Rights, including free speech. Ironically, this highlights the problem: as many Occupy Wall Street posters declare, corporations are not people, because they are social constructs. Obviously, incorporation (from the Latin corpus, corporis “body”) does not mean gaining a physical body. Corporations are legal fictions created by government charter, which means they are inherently indifferent to the responsibilities that people experience. A corporation cannot laugh or cry. It cannot enjoy the world or suffer with it. It is unable to feel sorry for what it has done (it may occasionally apologize, but that is public relations).

Most important, a corporation cannot love. Love is realizing our interconnectedness with others and living our concern for their well-being. Love is not an emotion but an engagement with others that includes responsibility for them, a responsibility that transcends our individual self-interest. Corporations cannot experience such love or act according to it. Any CEOs who try to subordinate their company’s profitability to their love for the world will lose their position, for they are not fulfilling their primary – that is, financial — responsibility to its owners, the shareholders.

Buddhist enlightenment includes realizing that my sense of being a self separate from the world is a delusion that causes suffering on both sides. To realize that I am the world – that “I” am one of the many ways the world manifests – is the cognitive side of the love that an awakened person feels for the world and its creatures. The realization (wisdom) and the love (compassion) are two sides of the same coin, which is why Buddhist teachers so often emphasize that genuine awakening is accompanied by spontaneous concern for all other sentient beings.

Corporations are “fuelled” by, and reinforce, a very different human trait. Our corporate-dominated economy requires greed in at least two ways: a desire for never-enough profit is the engine of the economic process, and in order to keep the economy growing consumers must be conditioned into always wanting more.

The problem with greed becomes much worse when institutionalized in the form of a legal construct that takes on privileges of its own quite independently of the personal values and motivations of the people employed by it. Consider the stock market, for example. On the one side, investors want increasing returns in the form of dividends and higher stock prices. On the other side, this anonymous expectation translates into an impersonal but constant pressure for profitability and growth, preferably in the short run. Everything else, including the environment, employment, and the quality of life, becomes an “externality,” subordinated to this anonymous demand, a goal-that-can-never-be-satisfied. We all participate in this process, as workers, employers, consumers, and investors, yet normally with little or no personal sense of moral responsibility for what happens, because such awareness is lost in the impersonality of the system.

One might argue, in reply, that some corporations (usually family-owned or small) take good care of their employees, are concerned about effects on the environment, and so forth. The same argument could be made for slavery: there were a few good slave owners who took care of their slaves, etc. This does not refute the fact that the institution of slavery is intolerable. It is just as intolerable today that our collective well-being, including the way the earth’s limited “resources” are shared, is determined by what is profitable for large corporations.

In short, we are waking up to the fact that although transnational corporations may be profitable economically, they are structured in a way that makes them defective socially. We cannot solve the problems they keep creating by addressing the conduct of this or that particular example (Morgan Stanley, Bank of America), because it is the institution itself that is the problem. Given their enormous power over the political process, it won’t be easy to challenge their role, but they have an umbilical cord: corporate charters can be rewritten to require social and ecological responsibility. Groups such as the Network of Spiritual Progressives have been calling for an Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) to the U.S. Constitution which would mandate that. If our destiny is to remain in corporate hands, corporations must become accountable most of all not to anonymous investors but to the communities they function in. Perhaps Occupy Wall Street is the beginning of a movement which will accomplish that.

If so, it won’t be enough. There’s something else at stake, even more basic: the worldview that encourages and rationalizes the kind of economic nightmare that we are beginning to awaken from. In Buddhist terms, the problem isn’t only greed, it’s also ignorance. The theory most often used to justify capitalism is Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”: pursuing our own self-interest actually works to benefit society as a whole. I suspect, however, that CEOs are more often motivated by something less benign. It’s no coincidence that corporate influence grew at the same time as the popularity of social Darwinism, the ideology that misapplied Darwin’s theory of evolution to social and economic life: it’s a jungle out there, and only the strongest survive. If you don’t take advantage of others, they will take advantage of you. Darwinian evolution eliminated the need for a Creator and therefore the need to follow his commandments: now it’s every man for himself…

Social Darwinism created a feedback loop: the more people believed in it and acted according to it, the more society became a social Darwinist jungle. It’s a classic example of how we collectively co-create the world we live in. And this may be where Buddhism has the most to contribute, because Buddhism offers an alternative view of the world, based on a more sophisticated understanding of human nature that explains why we are unhappy and how to become happier. Recent psychological and economic studies confirm the destructive role of greed and the importance of healthy social relationships, which is consistent with Buddhist emphasis on generosity and interdependence.

In other words, the problem isn’t only our defective economic and political system, it’s also a faulty world view that encourages selfishness and competition rather than community and harmony. The modern West is split between a theism that’s become hard to believe in, and a dog-eat-dog ideology that makes life worse for all of us. Fortunately, now there are other options.

Buddhism also has something important to learn from Occupy Wall Street: that it’s not enough to focus on waking from our own individual dream. Today we are called upon to awaken together from what has become a collective nightmare. Is it time to bring our spiritual practice out into the streets?

“If we continue abusing the earth this way, there is no doubt that our civilization will be destroyed. This turnaround takes enlightenment, awakening. The Buddha attained individual awakening. Now we need a collective enlightenment to stop this course of destruction. Civilization is going to end if we continue to drown in the competition for power, fame, sex, and profit.” -Thich Nhat Hahn

Buddhist Anarchism: Are Governments Moral?


_/\_ Anjali

This was posted by Lightfiend on evolver.net on May 1, 2010. I have reposted it here in its entirety.

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world. ~ Gotama Buddha ☸

Is government a legitimate means of improving society or can humans influence each others’ behavior in more effective ways?

Violence Breeds Violence

More and more through science we are confirming the Buddha’s teachings on karma. In an article last month at Wired.com, kindness was shown to breed further acts of kindness.

Experimenters created a game where “selfishness made more sense than cooperation,” however, “acts of giving were tripled over the course of the experiment by other subjects who were directly or indirectly influenced to contribute more.” Here is a visual representation of those effects:

Understanding karma, I believe this multiplying effect should also hold true for acts of violence, coercion, or threat. If we treat people poorly, they are likely to treat us poorly in return. Therefore, evidence seems to show that we should follow the good ol’ golden rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

The Non-Aggression Principle

As I understand it, the Buddhist moral notion of karma is congruent with libertarian-anarchist ethic of the non-aggression principle – which states that all initiation of physical force, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons is inherently illegitimate.

Although Buddha obviously cannot comment on the political theories past his time, I think if he understood our current understanding of government he would see that it is in strict violation of this principle.

Libertarian anarchists consider non-voluntary taxes (a process used to fund almost any government that has ever existed) to be a form of initiated aggression. Therefore, no matter the well-intentioned goals of politicians, the very means of government is seen as immoral. In Ayn Rands words, “Force and mind are opposite; morality ends where a gun begins.”

I think Buddha too would agree that you cannot create a moral society through the immorality of government coercion. Only free choice builds moral fiber. Even when people are forced to pay for others health care, housing, or food, they are in the process of becoming slaves, not saints. Not only is this a morally illegitimate way of building the society we want, it is impossible. In Buddhism the means don’t justify the ends: the means determine the ends.

Lead By Example, Not By Force

Karma teaches reciprocity. Only by being the change we wish to see in the world can we make a positive difference. We don’t create society by stepping into a voting booth once a year, we create society through our day-to-day actions and how we treat others. We lead by example; and when we do this, we inspire people’s hearts and minds to do the same.

An individual’s freedom is a prerequisite for all moral behavior. You cannot force or threat others to be good, you can only guide them through example and reason. People too can be guided the wrong way through example and reason. Morality is always and everywhere a battle of ideas. It starts in our minds and it spreads through our actions.

Government: Old Idea, Bad Idea, or Both?

The need to govern others is an ancient idea: master and servant, leader and follower, boss and worker are all distinctions buried in our unconscious. It is not just an old idea, but an idea we often take for granted. Modern America condemns it’s history with slavery but doesn’t yet see the the shapes and forms it takes through the veil of democratic government; in which, even Thomas Jefferson considered “mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” Today this is sometimes referred to as tyranny of the majority. To learn more I recommend Hans Hermann Hoppe’s great book, “Democracy: The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order.”

Schools somewhat condition us to accept government; democracy being the glorified system of “fairness.” Many people I know find it hard to even imagine a peaceful society without any form of government. Instead they hear “anarchy” and imagine Molotov cocktails being thrown through windows – complete chaos and rebellion. But the truth is humans self-organize all of the time without the help of government bureaucracy. Even children can put together community baseball games without authoritarian oversight. The Austrian economist Friedrich A. Hayek would probably draw a parallel between this kind of social behavior and the “spontaneous order” of a laissez-faire economy.

My point is that the absence of government is not equal to a state of disorder. Humans organize voluntarily (out of their own free will) all of the time; of all people, Buddhists should recognize this inherent interconnectedness between individuals. So we shouldn’t need government to command our actions like some sort of ant colony – our ability to get along with others is a built into our humanity.

Am I suggesting that anarchy is a utopia? It may sound like it, but I assure you that I am not. How can you expect a perfect society from imperfect individuals? You can’t. It’s not realistic. But it is realistic to believe that humans can coexist peacefully without big brother government. Sure, there will still be crime and evils in the world and we will have to deal with those accordingly. But government may not be the answer to poverty, drug abuse, or even murder. Perhaps before looking to our paternal state for all the solutions to society we should take a deep gaze into ourselves; and see how we as individuals are personally responsible for the world around us.

Buddhism, Ethics and Anarchism by Paul Roasberry



I will begin this article with a reaffirmation: I have been an atheist since about 1962 or 1963. The notion of a creator god is, to me, both absurd and repellent. The Christian church I involuntarily attended as a child differed not at all from other Christian sects in its adherence to the doctrine of “original sin.” This view maintains that all men are essentially wicked and sinful at their core, and can only become “saved” through acknowledging Christ as “the redeemer.”

The notion of man as an innately sinful beast, I have come to realize, has enormous social and political consequences. Such a pessimistic appraisal of man’s worth has been used to justify the most outrageous tyrannies and extraordinary cruelties. It also works insidiously to destroy whatever self-esteem individuals might have. In its psychological impact on populations, it works like a virulent plague, denigrating man and rendering him susceptible to control. At the same time, it elevates the Church – the leaders, the enormous looted wealth and the body of doctrine that sustains them – to positions of invincibility and infallibility. The close ties between church and state, outlined by Bakunin well over a hundred years ago, are predicated on a mutual worship of authoritarianism, intolerance and cultish isolationism.

Three of the world’s most destructive religions originated in the eastern Mediterranean region. Judaism, the first of the monotheistic epidemics to emerge from the scalded brains of desert lunatics, later begat both Christianity and Islam. Today, the greatest threat to peace and prosperity for hundreds of millions of people turns on the fratricidal hatreds of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The hymnal in my parents’ church set the tone well: “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war . . .” The sadistic horrors perpetrated in the names of Jesus, Moses and Mohammed defy comprehension, and thankfully require no elaboration here.

Let us be clear about one thing: the sickness we confront today is not “terrorism.” It is the pathologically insane belief that individuals are less than dirt in the eyes of a fictitious, unprovable “god.” This is the kind of “idea” that impels young men to follow their hormonally driven urges to kill, whether they be young Jews, young Baptists, or young Shiites. It is sobering to know that there are millions of young men out there who will kill you over a silly issue of theology. George W. Bush, who is linked politically to fundamentalist Christian fanatics, is no less a threat to peace than Osama bin Laden, whose “god” of “mercy” and “justice” is even more bloodthirsty than Jerry Falwell’s. In the meantime, the rabid Zionists continue to bulldoze entire neighborhoods whenever a Palestinian teenager throws a stone, proving themselves over and over again the moral equals of the Nazis they pretend to abhor.

But this is not an article about monotheistic religions. Most of the readers of this journal are all too cognizant of the centuries of human misery and suffering those religions have wrought. Rather, this article is about Buddhism, its ethical teachings, and its curiously non-religious character. As a philosophy, it is perhaps not wholly compatible with anarchist beliefs, but I was surprised to discover how closely it parallels some of the conclusions I’ve reached independently. Certainly, from what I’ve learned, a fruitful discussion between ethical anarchists and practicing Buddhists is not only possible, but perhaps well worth pursuing. Any such dialog with Christians, Jews or Moslems is, of course, entirely out of the question. By their very nature, these God-centered religious systems are intolerant of atheism and irremediably authoritarian in nature. Not so with Buddhism.


Growing up in the nineteen fifties and ‘sixties, I was sheltered from any deep knowledge of oriental philosophies. Even later, in the late ‘sixties and early ‘seventies, as I began arguing for a revolution against the existing social order, I ignored Buddhism altogether, assuming that it was “just another religion.” At the time, I would have shunned any philosophy that emphasized slow, evolutionary, personal change. With all the impatience of youth, I favored a massive and violent upheaval, immediately, at whatever cost. I just wanted the bad guys dead and off my back.

Two things drew me to a closer examination of Buddhism recently. The first was simply an isolated bit of news which remained interesting but essentially meaningless until I saw a context within which it made sense. I opened my newspaper last year to read about a boy who had attended my high school while I was there in the mid-nineteen sixties. His name was Jim. First, a bit of background.

About forty years ago, Jim was on a camping trip with his family, somewhere up in the Colorado mountains, when he had a heated argument with his mother. He clubbed her to death. He went out to find his father, who was fishing. The father reacted strongly to the news Jim gave him, and so Jim clubbed him to death, too, and then made up a story for the authorities about a “stranger” attacking and killing his parents. Jim’s father was a respected family physician in our town. It did not take the authorities long to pin the crime on Jim, who was only sixteen at the time. He was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Colorado state penitentiary. The year was about 1965.

The article I found myself staring at last year was about the very same Jim. Incredibly, he was now trying to get clearance from one of the local hospitals to practice medicine there. When he first entered prison for murdering his parents, a group of compassionate Chicanos protected him from the kinds of criminal gang rape that occur routinely in prisons, but which no one cares to do anything about. Jim vowed to return the favor. He studied in prison, and won a college degree with a 4.0 average. In the 1980s his sentence was commuted by the governor of Colorado, and Jim applied for admission to a medical school. He won a degree in medicine and had spent ten years in the migrant camps in California, giving his services away free to the workers there. Now he wanted to open a small practice in Denver and wanted to do surgeries at one of the local hospitals.

The second, but as it turned out, far more significant event, was the discovery of a book, The Monk and the Philosopher, in a thrift store. What prompted me to buy it (apart from the price, which was only a dollar), was the blurb on the dust jacket. Jean-Francois Revel, one of the co-authors, wrote a book nearly forty years ago entitled “Without Marx or Jesus” in which he criticized both communism and Christianity. The other co-author was his son, Matthieu Ricard, who, in the early 1970’s, was well on his way toward becoming a distinguished microbiologist in France. He had, instead, simply moved to India and joined a Buddhist monastery, and he’s been with the Dalai Lama ever since.

Now here was a curiosity worth looking into. Why, I asked myself, would someone so highly trained in western scientific methodology, suddenly leave it to become a Buddhist? In my mind, I still knew virtually nothing about Buddhism, and assumed it seized its victims and rendered them into glassy-eyed Hare Krishna-like zombies. The book I was holding, The Monk and the Philosopher, was written in the form of a debate or dialog between the father and the son.

Now, usually, when I read a book which contrasts two widely differing points of view, I find myself almost immediately leaning toward one position or the other, secretly “rooting” for the writer whose views most approximate my own. Judging from my hasty reading of this book’s dust jacket, I figured I’d be solidly behind Jean-Jacques by about page two, savoring his demolition of his son.

As it turned out, I read the book with complete fascination, first siding with the father, then with the son, as their discussion progressed. Clearly, my ideas about Buddhism had been all wrong from the very start. Matthieu Ricard had become a Buddhist not in spite of his western scientific training, but because of it! In fact, his father held many of the same misconceptions I’d held, and Matthieu Ricard did such a beautiful job of dispelling them, that I found myself almost arguing out loud against his father on some pages – “No, no – that’s not what he said at all. You don’t understand.”

In other words, this was a book like none I’d ever read. But please do not misunderstand me as I relate this. I experienced no profound epiphany; I did not see “the light,” nor did I feel like I’d been struck with any divine revelation. What I slowly and quite rationally began to understand as I read was that many of the ideas I already had formulated by myself were returning to me on the pages of this book as established precepts in a system of belief already 2500 years old! If anything, I was somewhat ashamed that I’d lived so many years without recognizing this.


A westerner who looks at the core teachings of Buddhism quickly realizes that it has far more to do with philosophy than it does with religion. In its essence, Buddhism is little more than the description of the path whereby one attains enlightenment. That enlightenment is defined as the cessation of suffering, and it is accomplished through a rigorous taming of the mind, obliterating all negative thoughts and impulses that mask or obscure the true nature of consciousness. Once all the clap-trap is pared away, what is left is the Buddha nature, so that it is theoretically possible for anyone to become a Buddha. The philosophy is decidedly humanistic, setting as its objective the end of suffering, not only for all humans, but for all sentient beings. Buddhism acknowledges no creator god whatsoever.

Matthieu Ricard states, for instance, in The Monk and the Philosopher,

“What we’re talking about here is the idea of a permanent Creator entity, sufficient in itself, without any cause preceding it, creating things as a voluntary act. Point by point, Buddhist dialectics refute this idea. Let’s take all-powerfulness, for instance. A Creator would have to be all-powerful. Either the Creator doesn’t ‘decide’ to create, in which case all-powerfulness is lost, for creation happens outside his will; or he creates voluntarily, in which case he can’t be all-powerful, either, as he’s creating under the influence of his desire to create.

“Can a Creator be a permanent entity? No, because after creating, he’s different from how he was before he created, He’s become ‘he who created.’ What’s more, if he creates the whole universe, that necessarily implies that all the causes of the universe must be present within him. Now, one of the bases of the law of cause and effect, or karma, is that an event can’t take place as long as all the causes and conditions for its arising are not assembled, and that it can’t not take place once they are. That means that a Creator either could never create or would have to be constantly creating. This sort of reasoning, and many others like it, can be applied to all the traditions that envisage a Creator who’s eternal, all-powerful, who exists intrinsically, and so on.

“In Asia, this form of dialectics continues even nowadays in philosophical debate and discussion. The relative aspect of phenomena, or in other words the world of appearances, is distinguished from the ultimate nature of everything. From an absolute point of view, Buddhism holds that an entity that truly existed could neither arise in the first place nor ever disappear. Being can’t be born from nothingness, because even an infinitude of causes wouldn’t be able to make something that didn’t exist come into existence; nor can it be born from what already exists, as in that case there would be no need for it to be born.”

Buddhism expresses no dogma. The Gautama Buddha encourages his followers to take nothing he says on faith, to question and test his teachings, and to decide for themselves whether his path is the right one or not. All of this is so alien to what we find in Christianity, Islam and Judaism that we are dumbfounded on first exposure to it.

But there’s more to it than that. Even the claims regarding consciousness and “Buddha nature,” which seem mystical at first appearance, have, on closer examination, an uncanny affinity to rationalism and western scientific methodology. Take, for instance, the Buddhist conception of matter. In The Monk and the Philosopher, Ricard says,

“Buddhism takes a middle path. It doesn’t deny the reality of phenomena in the relative world of perception, but it does deny that they are permanent, autonomous entities existing behind phenomena. . . . The kind of solid entities that Buddhism refutes are, for example, indivisible. particles of matter and indivisible instants of consciousness. It’s close to the formulation of modern physicists, who have abandoned the idea of particles as being little cannonballs or infinitely small masses. What’s called mass or matter is, rather, a sort of nonuniformity of the energy field. Buddhism leads us to the notion of the unreality of the solid world through an intellectual reasoning that doesn’t claim to be a theory of physics but which examines intellectually the very possibility of the existence of atoms, of indivisible particles. . . . According to Buddhism, atoms can’t be considered fixed entities, existing according to one single, determined mode. So how could the macroscopic manifest world, which is supposed to be composed of such particles, have any fixed reality? All this helps to destroy our notion of the solidity of appearances. It’s in this sense that Buddhism affirms that the ultimate nature of phenomena is emptiness and that emptiness carries within it an infinite potential of manifestation.

“. . .Buddhism doesn’t claim to be trying to account for physical phenomena in the way modern science would. What it’s trying to do is to break the concept we have of the solidity of the phenomenal world in our everyday experience. Because that concept is what underlies our attachment to a self and to phenomena, and is therefore the cause of the dualistic way we separate self and others, existence and non-existence, attachment and repulsion, and so on, and therefore all of our torments. In any case, Buddhism is here quite close, intellectually, to certain viewpoints in contemporary physics, and its contribution ought to be included in the history of ideas. One of the great physicists of our time, Henri Margenau, wrote: ‘toward the end of the nineteenth century the view arose that all interactions involved material objects. This is no longer held to be true. We know that there are fields which are wholly non-material.’ Heisenberg said, ‘Atoms are not things,’ and Bertrand Russell, ‘The idea that there is a hard little lump there, which is the electron, is an illegitimate intrusion of commonsense notions derived from touch . . . Matter is a convenient formula for describing what happens where there isn’t.’ Sir James Jeans, in his Rede Lectures, went as far as saying, ‘The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.’”

What Matthieu Ricard is referring to here is in part the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, a linchpin of Quantum Mechanics. That principle asserts that in the electron “cloud” that surrounds an atomic nucleus, any given electron’s precise location cannot be described with certainty – only as a probability. Quantum Mechanics also posits that the very act of observation of events at the subatomic level affects or alters the event being observed. In other words, “reality” at the subatomic level is not the same as “reality” at the macroscopic, phenomenal level, and in fact, the standard assumptions implicit in a materialist analysis break down altogether at the subatomic level. This is, in fact, the prevailing view of physicists today, and Ricard is making a case that these findings validate the assumptions of Buddhism with respect to the nature of phenomena. Ricard again:

“The goal isn’t to deny that there’s any such thing as the phenomenal world as we perceive it – what Buddhism calls conventional truth – but to show that the world isn’t as real as we think. In fact, coming into existence seems impossible, because, once again, being can’t arise from nothingness, and if it already exists it doesn’t need to arise. At the same time, it doesn’t ‘cease,’ because it’s never come into existence. That is what leads Buddhism to say that the world is like a dream or an illusion. It doesn’t say the world is a dream or an illusion, because that would be falling into nihilism.”

Whether Ricard is right or not isn’t as important for the purposes of our discussion as the fact that here is a spokesman for a “religion” who can hold up his end of a conversation. Imagine trying to discuss the nature of matter with an intellectual barbarian like Pat Robertson.

There is little doubt that over the past 2,500 year, followers of Gautama (Buddha) have deviated into all kinds of tangential trails. Many converts to Buddhism brought along with them indisociable attachments to their old “gods,” creating hybrid rituals that accommodated both the Buddha and older pagan silliness. Those who propagate new philosophies cannot always be held responsible for the deeds of their followers. As much as I dislike Christianity, I know that many of the things reputedly praised by Christ – such as turning the other cheek in time of conflict, or praying alone in one’s closet and not “in the streets and the synagogues as the hypocrites do” – are rarely taken to heart by modern Christians. Ricard seems to agree when he says,

“Christ himself professed nothing other than love of one’s neighbor. Personally, I don’t think he would have approved of the Crusades and wars of religion. As for the Inquisition, how could those who took part in it dare to call themselves Christians?”

It stands to reason that Buddhism, which is over five hundred years older than Christianity, might have suffered a similar fate. As, in certain respects, it has

But in other respects, there are seemingly millions of practicing Buddhists who come much closer than Christians to living as the founder of their movement advised. Those who have lived and traveled in Tibet, for instance, commonly report that the people there are deeply pacifistic and compassionate. Even in the face of the most outrageous provocations by the Chinese Communists, they have maintained their composure and equanimity, proving themselves morally superior to the invaders. Why is that?

Perhaps it has something to do with the nature of the philosophy itself. Ricard maintains that “to be able to help beings, there should no longer be any difference between what you teach and what you are.” Buddhism, which holds that every individual has within him the seed or nucleus of a “perfect” Buddha, seems to be the very antithesis of Christianity, which holds that man is nothing more than a putrid gob of sin. Buddhism, which teaches that there are a “thousand paths” to Dharma (the Buddha-like state), seems to invite individual experimentation and deviation, whereas Christianity (as well as its two sister religions) demand absolute and unvarying adherence to a single course. The Buddha said, ‘Do not accept my teaching out of respect for me. Examine it and rediscover the truth in it for yourself.’ What Pope, what Mullah, what Rabbi, has ever invited his students to do the same?

Moreover, Buddhists place the responsibility for “salvation” (they call it enlightenment) squarely on each person’s own shoulders. Salvation does not come magically from a ghost in the sky after mumbling the right words. It is earned, through hard effort.

As a moral philosophy, placing responsibility squarely where it belongs – with each individual – rather than with the welfare state, the community, the police, or any other authority, Buddhism is far superior to the religions that try to enforce morality at gunpoint. The Dalai Lama wrote in his Ethics for the New Millennium, “we find that no matter how sophisticated and well administered our legal systems, and no matter how advanced our methods of external control, by themselves, these cannot eradicate wrongdoing.” Moreover, in Buddhism, there is literally no such concept as “evil.” In fact, there is no “good,” either. Buddhism seeks to dispense with all dichotomies, as they lead to a rigid and incorrect way of perceiving reality. Doing the right thing is not a matter of following a rigid formula or law; it is a matter of acting from an experience of life-long training and preparation for making choices. By making morality and “right choices” an object of personal analysis and study, one learns for himself to become moral. He does not act morally simply because to do otherwise would result in a jail term, or perhaps ending up in hell, which seem to be the prevailing motivations for correct behavior in the West.

Nor does Buddhism equate morality with religious piety. The Dalai Lama has often said that “whether or not a person is a religious believer does not matter much.” And of non believers he observes,

“. . . many who reject religion do so out of convictions sincerely held, not merely because they are unconcerned with the deeper questions of human existence. We cannot suppose that such people are without a sense of right and wrong or of what is morally appropriate just because some who are anti-religion are immoral. Besides, religious belief is no guarantee of moral integrity. Looking at the history of our species, we see that among the major troublemakers – those who visited violence, brutality and destruction on their fellow human beings – there have been many who professed religious faith, often loudly.”


Matthieu Ricard explains Buddhism as a philosophy which places the burden for altering bad behaviors squarely with each individual. I’d struggled about ten years ago to overcome a severe drinking problem. I’d attended one or two AA meetings and immediately rejected their “twelve step” program, which required one to place one’s entire fate in the hands of “a higher power.” It was so obviously a recycled version of Christianity that I was instantly repelled. Stating at once and without blushing that alcoholics are “powerless” against alcohol and at the same time in need of a “higher power” to lead them to sobriety, without seeing that this logically leads to a dilemma in which alcohol itself must then necessarily be one such “higher power,” although at the same time the very thing to be overcome, AA seemed suddenly ridiculous and forever saddled with trying to explain how alcoholism could cure alcoholism, much as Christians are saddled with the responsibility for explaining how a good, just, wise and omnipotent “god” could coexist with evil. Only through the most contorted, convoluted “reasoning” could one reconcile such contradictions, and this is exactly what AA founder Bill W. is reduced to. In order to mitigate the utter absurdity of his position, he adopts cult methods to keep his followers in line, requiring that they practically memorize the AA bible and deviate not one angstrom from its message. Those who overcome alcohol on their own are, furthermore, ridiculed as “dry drunks.”

So I resolved to overcome alcoholism on my own, and I did. As I write this, I have not touched a drop of wine, beer, or liquor in nearly eleven years. Now, incredibly, here I was reading about a major world philosophy that holds that what I did is not only possible, but is probably the only workable way to do it. I had taken personal responsibility for my behavior and I had corrected it. In essence that is Buddhism. Buddhists do not have to reconcile the existence of God with free will because they embrace free will and deny that there could ever be any such thing as a creator god.. What a concept!

Suddenly, the story of Jim, the fellow high school student who murdered both his parents and subsequently went on to become a doctor and lead a moral life, made perfect sense. The story was newsworthy here precisely because it flew in the face of traditional western “wisdom,” which held that murderers must be punished, even with death, and that state-operated vendettas are the only thing standing between us and . . . yeah, you guessed it – anarchy! I doubt that a story like Jim’s would have astonished anyone in pre-1949 Tibet or in Dharmsala, India today.

For many years now, I’ve come to accept a version of anarchism that holds, quite simply, that no social changes are possible – certainly not the eradication of government – until individuals have evolved and progressed to the point where that option becomes attractive to them. Anarchism at gunpoint is no better and no different than the kind of morality at gunpoint that we already have. Now, suddenly, here I am reading about a philosophy that says basically the same. Here is one exchange between Jean-Francois and Matthieu:

J-F: The idea of making men peaceful one by one, in such a way that adding them all together ends up making a human race opposed to violence, seems impossible to realize in practice. Our century, at least, has hardly made any progress at all in that direction.

M: That’s true, but the alternative, change imposed from the outside, which consists of forcing more and more restrictive laws on recalcitrant individuals – a totalitarian system, in the end – is not only impossible to realize in the long term but is also fundamentally flawed. You can tighten the screws for a certain amount of time, but the oppressed always end up expressing their malcontent and freeing themselves from the oppressor’s yoke, whether by peaceful or violent means. They’ll find ways of getting hold of arms and of using them.. . . In any case, the first thing is to make peace within oneself – inner disarmament; then peace in the family; then in the village; and finally in the nation and beyond.

To change the world, you begin by changing yourself. At the very least, if you have to live in a violent and insane world, you can live it in dignity and with self-respect. Buddhism is the moral philosophy. It is attractive to me because it teaches that I am solely responsible for what I do, what I am, what I become, and how I will effect my own change. And insofar as that is essentially the essence of Buddhism, there is nothing mystical or “religious” about it. Take nothing on faith, not even the Buddha’s own teachings. Experiment and see for yourself if his ideas don’t work. What kind of “religion” could this be, that counsels skepticism and denies that one can be “saved” by anything other than his own human efforts? What kind of “religion” could this be that regards not just people, but all sentient beings as worthy of equal love and respect?

Perhaps the most secular interpretation of Buddhism is given by Stephen Batchelor in his book Buddhism Without Beliefs. Batchelor dismisses virtually all of the religious overtones which, he maintains, were grafted onto the Buddha’s original teachings after he died. His analysis of Buddhism closely parallels Jefferson’s analysis of Christianity, going to original sources and ignoring any texts which are appended to the Buddha’s actual teachings. For instance, he writes,

“The Buddha was not a mystic. His awakening was not a shattering insight into a transcendent Truth that revealed to him the mysteries of God. He did not claim to have had an experience that granted him priveleged, esoteric knowledge of how the universe ticks. Only as Buddhism became more and more of a religion were such grandiose claims imputed to his awakening. On describing to the five ascetics what his awakening meant, he spoke of having discovered complete freedom of heart and mind from the compulsions of craving. He called such freedom a taste of the dharma.”

Even so thoroughly religious a spokesman for Buddhism as the Dalai Lama acknowledges that most of the ritual associated with the Tibetan practice of Buddhism is entirely irrelevant to an understanding of the core philosophy of the Buddha. He says, “We may also conclude that we humans can live quite well without recourse to religious faith.”

Stephen Batchelor shows uncommon insight as he seeks to explain how Buddhism was gradually corrupted. What he says could apply as well to Christianity, Jeffersonian democracy or Marxism:

“The power of organized religion to provide sovereign states with a bulwark of moral legitimacy while simultaneously assuaging the desperate piety of the disempowered swiftly reasserted itself – usually by subsuming the rebellious ideas into the canons of a revised orthodoxy.”

He also notes that

“The dharma in fact might well have more in common with Godless secularlism than with the bastions of religion. Agnosticism may serve as a more fertile common ground for dialogue than, for example, a tortured attempt to make Buddhist sense of Allah.”

The Taliban recently came under harsh criticism for dynamiting ancient Buddhist statuary in Afghanistan. I am coming to realize why it is that the Taliban, and Islamic zealots in general, would fear an ideology like Buddhism as much as they fear atheism.


Am I a Buddhist? No, I cannot say that I am. My knowledge of Buddhism is, at this point, still profoundly simplistic. Buddhism appears to be a system of psychology, an attempt to understand, explain and harness the unique qualities of the human mind, more than a “religion.” Matthieu Ricard writes that “Nothing, other than the mind itself, can allow us to know the ultimate nature of the mind.”

Buddhists say that the problem with the Western scientific approach is that it fails to take this into account and struggles to make objective sense of consciousness, reducing it to a set of chemical interactions. Buddhists maintain that this will explain the workings of the human brain adequately, but cannot explain the quality of consciousness, which goes beyond brain function. They do not make any claim to the effect that understanding consciousness requires some mystical leap of faith – to the contrary, they insist that there are experimental steps that can be taken to observe the nature of consciousness, but that by its very nature, it is only amenable to observation by itself. Matthieu Ricard says,

“According to Buddhism, the conflict between materialist and idealist points of view, between mind and matter, is a false problem. In fact, in the mind of most philosophers and scientists, it’s a question of ‘solid’ matter and ‘nonmaterial’ mind being in opposition to each other. But the dominant idea today among scientists is that such a dualism infringes the laws of conservation of energy by supposing that a nonmaterial object can influence a material system. Such a view of things does indeed raises insoluble problems. So it might be useful instead to investigate the ‘reality’ of matter itself, for it’s actually in reifying matter that materialism comes up against its failure to understand the nature of mind. According to Buddhism, atomic particles can neither be “solid” nor even exist intrinsically at all. No collection of such entities, however numerous, is any more real than its constituent parts. Without making too much of the parallels with modern physics, it’s hard not to be reminded of Heisenberg, who wrote, ‘Neither atoms, nor even sub-atomic particles are real. They form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than objects or facts.’

“What do you mean by objective knowledge? The nature of elementary particles can’t be known independently of the systems we use to measure them. [one of the core principles of quantum mechanics – PR] In the same way, a universe independent of any human concept couldn’t ever be known by the human mind. What is it that’s attached to the reality of phenomena? It’s the mind. And here, what are we working on? The mind! If we succeed in unblocking the solid way in which the mind perceives the world – a way of perceiving that leads to endless suffering – then that’s undeniably objective knowledge, not of the physics of the natural world, but of the mechanisms of suffering, and it’s undeniably an experimental verification of the results of that science of the mind.

“A present instant of consciousness, which was itself set off by a preceding instant of consciousness, sets off the next instant of consciousness. We’ve said that the world has no real beginning in time, and the same goes for consciousness. This is also one of the reasons why we consider that at the moment of conception, the spark of consciousness that animates a newly formed being can only be caused by an event of the same nature, a conscious one, even in the case of a spark as primitive as the one we could imagine in an amoeba.”

All of this is admittedly difficult to follow, but then again, so is quantum theory, so is string theory.

I am aware that there are a good many Buddhist sects that place much more emphasis on ritual than on belief, and I am not prepared to take my Buddhism in such “churchified” form. Perhaps I am only a Buddhist as far as Thomas Jefferson was a Christian when he extracted all the quotations of Christ from the gibberish that constitutes its biblical matrix and set them apart. As it turned out, there was little that was mystical or divine in what Christ is actually reputed to have said. No claims that he would be “resurrected.” No boasts about a “virgin” birth. Nothing about “transsubstantiation.” For me, Buddhism is intriguing because it seems to parallel the tenets of ethical anarchism. At least, it is not incompatible with ethical anarchism. It treats men, women, children, the sane, the crazy, dogs, criminals, salamanders, stamp collectors, butterflies and goldfish as equally worthy objects of respect.

In the hostile, violent, insane and dangerous present, it can be comfort enough just to know that someone else, somewhere, held similar values to our own. That those values have been respected throughout a twenty-five hundred year history. That there are “religious” leaders like the Dalai Lama who, although they are probably not even religious at all in the way we think of religion, maintain an open, scientific and liberal perspective. What other major religious leader would acknowledge and respect atheism, for example?

There’s another test of Buddhism, quite unscientific, but perhaps indicative of something. Go out and find some magazine photographs of the Pope, an Islamic ayatollah, or a Jewish Rabbi. More often than not, you will see a scowling, unhappy visage. This could be someone suffering from severe hemorrhoids, or the gout. These fellows look about as fun and lighthearted as Leonid Brezhnev or Alexei Kosygin. Now go find a photo of the Dalai Lama. Notice anything?


Anarchism itself is not a coherent philosophy. It is a loosely related collection of philosophies, all of which take as their starting point the desirability of absolute human liberty and the wrongfulness of authoritarian government. There is a full spectrum of “anarchism” that ranges from the pacifistic, voluntaristic and evolutionary anarchism of Kropotkin to the violent and revolutionary anarchism of Bakunin and Nechayev and on yet again to the fiercely individualistic and anti-altruistic, anti-collectivist anarchism of Stirner. There is no such thing as “pure” anarchism, and the means which anarchists embrace range from pacifism and non-violence to the rock-throwing, window-smashing behaviors of thugs and criminals who confuse anarchism with nihilism.

The history of Marxism shows a steady progression from the abstract theories of a reclusive German economist who had no grasp whatsoever of human psychology to the revolutionary scheming of yet another man who had a gift for mob oratory but no grasp of morality, to the leaden authoritarianism of party hacks who had a talent for political maneuvering but none for creativity or originality. To say, in the end, that Yuri Andropov was a “Marxist” makes about as much sense as saying that a creep like Bob Black (or a fool like Noam Chomsky) is an “anarchist” or that the late, unlamented Madalyn Murray O’Hair (who, in her final years was obsessed with fashioning her movement into a parody of a church replete with atheist “saints”) was an “atheist.” If Bob Black can turn anarchism into a movement that justifies calling the police in to bust your supposed friends, we can perhaps begin to comprehend what over two thousand years of human ignorance and idolatry have done to warp and alter the original teachings of Christ and Buddha. Even a lapse of two hundred years can transform a group of deistic, anti-Christian and rabidly libertarian “Founding Fathers” into beaming sponsors of everything from gun control to prayer in public schools and the teaching of “creation science.” Orwell’s 1984 was not so much an ominous warning for the future as it was a satire on what was already happening in 1948, when the book was published. In fact, the Memory Hole has been functioning for at least two thousand years, and probably a lot longer. Practically all of recorded history is revisionist, and one has to read deeply between the lines and extrapolate from ordinary experience to discern any reality whatsoever. Everything you think you know about your country, your ethnic origins, and your religion is massively edited and whitewashed.

So, summing it all up, we have to conclude that the religious, ritualistic elements of Buddhism today are irrelevant add-ons and remodelings that have taken place over more than two thousand years. When Catholicism came to Meso America, it quickly blended with pagan beliefs and rituals, so that the “Church” as it exists in Mexico and Peru is a grotesquely mongrelized thing compared to the “Church” as it exists in Spain. And that Spanish “Church” is, in turn a far cry from the “Church” that existed in the dark catacombs and sewers beneath the city of Rome seventeen hundred years ago. Even the “Church” founded by the Apostle Paul was a crude caricature of the religion outlined only a few years earlier by one Jesus.

Moreover, one can hardly expect a Christ or a Buddha to have much to say about the weather in Guatemala or the functioning of quarks or pi mesons. Discoveries quickly outdate the culturally-rooted elements of a philosophy. We can forgive Benjamin Franklin for not taking relativity and quantum mechanics into consideration when he was writing on scientific matters. One must separate the universally valid elements of a belief system from the culturally and temporally-rooted elements.

What is universally valid about Buddhism is not its current preoccupation with reincarnation. It is the path to enlightenment — rooted universally in simple human experience living and dying in human society– taught by the Buddha. Reincarnation is nothing more than cultural context – a hold-over of Hindu beliefs that were prevalent in India in Gautama’s time.

What is astonishing and altogether important for us to recognize and acknowledge in contemporary Buddhism is its sense of justice, its liberalism, its tolerance of opposing views in a world now largely dominated by rabid sectarian creeds. The very message of Buddhism is couched in the language of skepticism and tempered with admonitions to doubt and to test. This is what makes it so refreshingly different from the “Believe-me-or-I’ll-kick-your-fucking-infidel-ass-into-everlasting-hell” mentality of Christianity and Islam, in particular.

The Dalai Lama is a moral man, and his preoccupation with morality extends to the secular world he sees in his travels. Matthieu Ricard writes that “The Dalai Lama often says to journalists, ‘It’s really good that you poke your noses into things and uncover the state’s scandals. An authentic politician should have nothing to hide.’”


1. Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs, New York, Riverhead Books, 1997.

2. Jean-Francois Revel and Matthieu Ricard, The Monk and the Philosopher, New York, Schocken Books, 1998.

3. Dalai Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium, New York, Riverhead Books, 1999

All wrong-doing arises because of mind. If mind is transformed can wrong-doing remain? ~ Gotama Buddha ☸

Anarcho-Buddhism by Ryan Sproull


_/\_ Anjali!

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.)

Buddhist Anarchism by Gary Snyder


_/\_ Anjali

Today I bring for you an article written by Gary Snyder titled, “Buddhist Anarchism” I found this on the Bureau of Public Secrets website and has been posted in it’s entirety. Please enjoy.


Buddhist Anarchism

Buddhism holds that the universe and all creatures in it are intrinsically in a state of complete wisdom, love and compassion; acting in natural response and mutual interdependence. The personal realization of this from-the-beginning state cannot be had for and by one-“self” — because it is not fully realized unless one has given the self up; and away.

In the Buddhist view, that which obstructs the effortless manifestation of this is Ignorance, which projects into fear and needless craving. Historically, Buddhist philosophers have failed to analyze out the degree to which ignorance and suffering are caused or encouraged by social factors, considering fear-and-desire to be given facts of the human condition. Consequently the major concern of Buddhist philosophy is epistemology and “psychology” with no attention paid to historical or sociological problems. Although Mahayana Buddhism has a grand vision of universal salvation, the actual achievement of Buddhism has been the development of practical systems of meditation toward the end of liberating a few dedicated individuals from psychological hangups and cultural conditionings. Institutional Buddhism has been conspicuously ready to accept or ignore the inequalities and tyrannies of whatever political system it found itself under. This can be death to Buddhism, because it is death to any meaningful function of compassion. Wisdom without compassion feels no pain.

No one today can afford to be innocent, or indulge himself in ignorance of the nature of contemporary governments, politics and social orders. The national polities of the modern world maintain their existence by deliberately fostered craving and fear: monstrous protection rackets. The “free world” has become economically dependent on a fantastic system of stimulation of greed which cannot be fulfilled, sexual desire which cannot be satiated and hatred which has no outlet except against oneself, the persons one is supposed to love, or the revolutionary aspirations of pitiful, poverty-stricken marginal societies like Cuba or Vietnam. The conditions of the Cold War have turned all modern societies — Communist included — into vicious distorters of man’s true potential. They create populations of “preta” — hungry ghosts, with giant appetites and throats no bigger than needles. The soil, the forests and all animal life are being consumed by these cancerous collectivities; the air and water of the planet is being fouled by them.

There is nothing in human nature or the requirements of human social organization which intrinsically requires that a culture be contradictory, repressive and productive of violent and frustrated personalities. Recent findings in anthropology and psychology make this more and more evident. One can prove it for himself by taking a good look at his own nature through meditation. Once a person has this much faith and insight, he must be led to a deep concern with the need for radical social change through a variety of hopefully non-violent means.

The joyous and voluntary poverty of Buddhism becomes a positive force. The traditional harmlessness and refusal to take life in any form has nation-shaking implications. The practice of meditation, for which one needs only “the ground beneath one’s feet,” wipes out mountains of junk being pumped into the mind by the mass media and supermarket universities. The belief in a serene and generous fulfillment of natural loving desires destroys ideologies which blind, maim and repress — and points the way to a kind of community which would amaze “moralists” and transform armies of men who are fighters because they cannot be lovers.

Avatamsaka (Kegon) Buddhist philosophy sees the world as a vast interrelated network in which all objects and creatures are necessary and illuminated. From one standpoint, governments, wars, or all that we consider “evil” are uncompromisingly contained in this totalistic realm. The hawk, the swoop and the hare are one. From the “human” standpoint we cannot live in those terms unless all beings see with the same enlightened eye. The Bodhisattva lives by the sufferer’s standard, and he must be effective in aiding those who suffer.

The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both. They are both contained in the traditional three aspects of the Dharma path: wisdom (prajna), meditation (dhyana), and morality (sila). Wisdom is intuitive knowledge of the mind of love and clarity that lies beneath one’s ego-driven anxieties and aggressions. Meditation is going into the mind to see this for yourself — over and over again, until it becomes the mind you live in. Morality is bringing it back out in the way you live, through personal example and responsible action, ultimately toward the true community (sangha) of “all beings.”

This last aspect means, for me, supporting any cultural and economic revolution that moves clearly toward a free, international, classless world. It means using such means as civil disobedience, outspoken criticism, protest, pacifism, voluntary poverty and even gentle violence if it comes to a matter of restraining some impetuous redneck. It means affirming the widest possible spectrum of non-harmful individual behavior — defending the right of individuals to smoke hemp, eat peyote, be polygynous, polyandrous or homosexual. Worlds of behavior and custom long banned by the Judaeo-Capitalist-Christian-Marxist West. It means respecting intelligence and learning, but not as greed or means to personal power. Working on one’s own responsibility, but willing to work with a group. “Forming the new society within the shell of the old” — the IWW slogan of fifty years ago.

The traditional cultures are in any case doomed, and rather than cling to their good aspects hopelessly it should be remembered that whatever is or ever was in any other culture can be reconstructed from the unconscious, through meditation. In fact, it is my own view that the coming revolution will close the circle and link us in many ways with the most creative aspects of our archaic past. If we are lucky we may eventually arrive at a totally integrated world culture with matrilineal descent, free-form marriage, natural-credit communist economy, less industry, far less population and lots more national parks.


“Buddhist Anarchism” was originally published in Journal for the Protection of All Beings #1 (City Lights, 1961). A slightly revised version appeared in Earth House Hold (New Directions, 1969) under the title “Buddhism and the Coming Revolution.” I have reproduced the latter version, but have kept the original title.

Copyright 1969. Reproduced here with permission from Gary Snyder (who informs me that any nonprofit reproduction of it is fine with him).

This little text is one of the first expressions of what later became known as “socially engaged Buddhism.” It meant a lot to me when I first read it in 1962, and it still seems pretty lucid 40 years later (within its carefully modest limits, which obviously leave room for considerable divergences of views regarding tactics and strategies). It is precisely because Snyder was so important for me at the time that one of my first “situationist” actions (1970) was a disruption of one of his poetry readings — my personal declaration of independence from heroes and leaders of any kind, even the most admirable. I went my own way from then on, but I still acknowledge Gary Snyder as one of the people who have contributed most richly to my awareness of life’s possibilities.


There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it.~ Gotama Buddha

Buddha – A Documentary About Buddhism


_/\_ Anjali

Here is yet another video. This documentary is made by filmmaker David Grubin and narrated by Richard Gere. It tells the story of the Buddha’s life, a journey especially relevant to our own bewildering times of violent change and spiritual confusion. It features the work of some of the world’s greatest artists and sculptors, who across two millennia, have depicted the Buddha’s life in art rich in beauty and complexity. Hear insights into the ancient narrative by contemporary Buddhists, including Pulitzer Prize winning poet W.S. Merwin and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. ☸


Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. ~ Gotama Buddha

Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism


_/\_ Anjali

I found this interesting discussion on youtube. It is the final part of an interfaith series held by the Guardian in conjunction with St Paul’s Cathedral, exploring Buddhism in its various manifestations.

Hope you enjoy.


The wise ones fashioned speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve. ~ Gotama Buddha