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Preview — Buddhism without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor. The concepts and practices of Buddhism, says Batchelor, are not something to believe in but something to do —and as he explains clearly and compellingly, it is a practice that we can engage in, regardless of our background or beliefs, as we live every day on the path to spiritual enlightenment. Get A Copy.

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Published March 1st by Riverhead Books first published April 14th More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Buddhism without Beliefs , please sign up.

We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness, which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. Marcel Proust Is not Stephen telling us we are free to chose not to believe anything, and that if we seek to lessen our anguish we might explore Siddhartha Gautama four? See 1 question about Buddhism without Beliefs…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details.

More filters. Sort order. Jun 01, Greg rated it liked it Shelves: buddhism. In my personal and soon to be trademarked ethical system, Don't be an Asshole, this book would garner a thumbs up and I'd recommend it as a guidebook for not being an asshole, with Meditation!

Or if that is grammatically suspect using meditation to not be an asshole. Not how to use meditation in an non-assholically manner, but that might be the case too. For some reason this book took me two months to read. At pages, that means I averaged a whopping two pages a day. Yay, me! Not that I read In my personal and soon to be trademarked ethical system, Don't be an Asshole, this book would garner a thumbs up and I'd recommend it as a guidebook for not being an asshole, with Meditation!

Not that I read it everyday, actually I didn't read it most days. It wasn't that the book wasn't interesting to me, it was, but it was pretty much just a feel good exercise of affirming that there is another way not being an asshole out there. One that sounds pretty alright, but which I'm not sure why one would embrace it necessarily. From the scant bit I know about Buddhism there are lots of good things taught, and not all of the bad baggage that the Abrahamic religions have. There is some weird shit, but according to this book you can kind of push that stuff aside, or put it in an indefinite epoche and never phenomenologically touch them again.

Actually the practice taught in this book isn't all that different from existentialism yes I know he wrote a book on existentialism and Buddhism , but without all the drinking and smoking, and with some sitting cross legged on the ground. And it's sort of like Critical Theory, but without the Marxism; and it is sort of like the Situationists, again without the drinking, sex, and the constant banning of members; and it's like the anarcho strands of punk, i.

And which of course is like the early day of Riot Grrrl, and just about every organic DIY punk scene for about the first six months before all of the rules and hierarchies step in and eventually some of the people you know have turned into scenesters, and then into proto-hipsters and finally whom you hear are living in Brooklyn and are making synthesizer music with a Gameboy.

A Contemporary Guide to Awakening

But with sitting and being quiet. But then I think why sign up for something new, why not just keep doddering about in my own little world and not find myself once again disappointed by others? You know when you realize that half of them are actually fascists in disguise just waiting to push their own brand of rules about what is and what isn't acceptable.

Is it because a community is something that is needed for people? Or is it not even a community but a name that is important? But, all my whining here aside this is a nice book with many worthwhile things in it. And I'll probably want to disavow everything I've said above a week from now. View all 4 comments. May 21, Kat rated it it was amazing Recommended to Kat by: Prof. Dana Jack. Shelves: 5-stars.

Batchelor is not pro-Buddhism as a religion, or pro-religion at all. He presents Buddhist techniques as common-sense, highly effective ways of dealing with existential problems, and Buddhist philosophy as a framework for understanding things that will becom Batchelor is not pro-Buddhism as a religion, or pro-religion at all. He presents Buddhist techniques as common-sense, highly effective ways of dealing with existential problems, and Buddhist philosophy as a framework for understanding things that will become self-evident through doing the consciousness work.

This is the second or third time I've read most of this book before having to return it to the library. I don't identify as Buddhist, but keep coming back to this book for different reasons. In college, the book helped me become aware of the inefficacy of my thought patterns and try to begin to clear some of the clutter and use my mental energy more effectively.

That point is exactly as salient for me as it ever was, but on re-reading I also found crucial new ways of thinking about mortality, which has really been anguishing me lately. Batchelor points out that a fixation on death's certainty and the mystery of its timing is a good thing, because it leads to the question "what should I do with my life?

I don't always require groundedness and common sense from spiritualists, but this book achieves this admirably. I also find a lot of pleasure in reading Batchelor's exceptionally clear, elegant prose. View 2 comments. Quite possibly my only reason for reading this was so that I could write a review saying that this book throws the Buddha out with the bathwater.

But my delight in making poor, feeble jokes is a ridiculous basis for writing reviews particularly when the author's aspiration is to throw the Buddhism out with the bathwater while saving the Buddha as a person who had certain ideas. Apart from the beginning and the end of the book, Batchelor more or less forgets his objective, so most of the book is a Quite possibly my only reason for reading this was so that I could write a review saying that this book throws the Buddha out with the bathwater.

Apart from the beginning and the end of the book, Batchelor more or less forgets his objective, so most of the book is an account of how one might practice Buddhism on a daily basis: what one is aiming to cultivate in yourself and how one goes about this. I think I was most curious, given that it was written by a man born in Scotland, and in this edition published by Bloomsbury, by the Americanisms of side-walks and diapers in the text, in place of the more familiar pavements and nappies.

Apart from this then I wondered why did Batchelor write the book - what was he aiming to achieve, why strip out the supernatural or metaphysical bits from the Buddhist system leaving us with something like a pre-Socratic philosophy with an ethical system? Fortunately I didn't have to break my brain over the question since the author kindly provided an answer or two himself.

It turns out that Batchelor envisions the creative collusion of Buddhism and "western" culture and thinks the different notions of freedom in both will be most mutually enriching by stripping out the idea of reincarnation in favour of an agonistic approach to the whole - in plain speech : 'I don't know', it strikes me this may satisfy him, but that some people may be attracted to or find meaningful exactly what he throws out with the bathwater, secondly I do wonder when you start to hack chunks out of a tradition, what you are left with - is tree surgery a success if after the operation there is no longer any tree?

Such a creative collusion one could call syncretism, it's interesting seeing a person setting about it in such a deliberate way. The nature of faith is that even if you were practising Buddhism, but found it impossible to believe in the metaphysical aspects of it then you'd be pretty much in Batchelor's agnostic position without needing to read his book view spoiler [ though if you like, it may be reassuring to find that somebody else is in the same position hide spoiler ] , equally if you were practising and had no problem with the metaphysics then I don't think that that Batchelor's book has any particular convincing or resounding argument for you either.

But it is a nice enough summary of an applied Buddhist practise without metaphysics if that is what you are looking for. View all 12 comments. Jun 08, Adrian Rush rated it it was amazing Shelves: non-fiction-general-knowledge , religion-spirituality. As this gem of a book points out, "Buddhism without beliefs" is a redundancy. Batchelor cuts to the heart of what sets Buddhism apart from other world religious traditions: It encourages practitioners to question, to penetrate, to rigorously examine everything -- even the Buddha's teachings themselves -- and not to take things on blind faith.

In other words, just because a religious leader hands you a doctrine and tells you to believe in something, that isn't good enough. The goal of Buddhism, a As this gem of a book points out, "Buddhism without beliefs" is a redundancy. The goal of Buddhism, after all, is to slice through our daily illusions and see the world as it really is, not as we want or hope it to be. We can even take this approach toward such Buddhist cornerstones as karma and rebirth. Batchelor recommends an agnostic but open approach toward the concept of literal reincarnation, for example.

That seems to be a healthy approach. It's also an important message to convey as Buddhism tries to take a foothold here in the skeptical West, where casual observers might see Buddhism as esoteric or exotic. Buddhism has indeed accumulated many practices and rituals -- and even unfounded beliefs and speculations -- in the centuries since it left India, and Batchelor asks us to look through those trappings to return to the kernel of Buddhist teaching.

Anything else threatens to sway us from the Path and throw us into the world of clinging to illusions. A fine job. Sep 08, Richard rated it did not like it Shelves: religion-theology , nonfiction , abandoned , not-gonna-read. See postscript for a possible replacement for this failed attempt. Maybe I shouldn't have expected much, but I was beginning to be disappointed even before the first chapter began, and the opening lines of that chapter confirmed my suspicion. The "without Beliefs" of the title is, frankly, a lie. Perhaps this is a description of Buddhism with something subtracted, such as the mystical mumbo jumbo that seems to inhere in anything as old as a major world religion and, of course, especially in See postscript for a possible replacement for this failed attempt.

Perhaps this is a description of Buddhism with something subtracted, such as the mystical mumbo jumbo that seems to inhere in anything as old as a major world religion and, of course, especially in religions , but there are still plenty of beliefs. For example, the Buddha was still the enlightened one. That's the first thing that I was hoping to see dispensed with. You see, I strongly suspect that the founder of any religion was a relatively enlightened genius — for the time.

So why is every religious system so incredibly hung up on their founder? Isn't is more likely that someone studying the Buddha has surpassed the master in the understanding of some aspect of enlightenment, or whatever it is that the religion is supposed to be providing? Naturally, if the founder is deified, that can't happen.

But I was hoping for something better here.


  1. Au nom de Dieu (French Edition);
  2. Buddhism without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor | dequsyjeme.ml: Books.
  3. Buddhism - Wikipedia!
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  5. Buddhism and Social Action: An Exploration.
  6. As far as I can tell, Buddhism teaches a more psychologically and philosophically astute version of what the Stoics were working on, at least via the practice of meditation, for example. But if there is a way of learning these ideas without having to wade through and discard all the accumulated dross of centuries of mysticism and power politics between schisms, this doesn't seem to be it. His Buddha is conceived as a wise man and self-help psychologist, not as a divine being[….

    Since the poetic-comic side of Buddhism is one of its most appealing features, this leaves the book a little short on charm. Yet, if you never feel that Wright is telling you something profound or beautiful, you also never feel that he is telling you something untrue. Joe Bob says check it out. I might use this as my standard recommendation both for 1.

    Fellow atheists and sort of Reason-oriented folks with a mistrust of religion. Folks who have embraced Buddhism but seem to have gotten the wrong idea about it ha! Its concern lies entirely with the nature of existential experience" This is particularly important for me because I was never really happy with how people seem content to quote Einstein as saying Buddhism was the only science-friendly religion apocryphal?

    Batchelor's "not because it provides some mystical validation of scientific findings" is a very good guard against that sort of fuzzy headedness. That's still not enough, IMHO; there's more to say, but what a wonderful start Another nice one: "We should be wary of being seduced by charismatic purveyors of Enlightenment. For true friends seek not to coerce us, even gently and reasonably into believing what we are unsure of. True friends are like midwives who draw forth what is waiting to be born.

    Their task is not to make themselves indispensable but redundant" Bingo. OK, this sort of thing has been said before, but what I like about the way Batchelor says things is that he anticipates where people could get the wrong idea about what you're saying and heads them of. His "even gently and reasonably" is an example of this, as his "not because it provides some sort of mystical validation" I'm a bit uncomfortable with the eagerness to port Buddhism to modern Western liberal culture.

    Just a bit; it makes sense that it had to be ported to Chinese and other East Asian cultures, etc. But Batchelor himself acknowledges and anticipates this. I guess I just lean a little bit more on the conservative end of the spectrum, all the while agreeing heartily with what he says.

    It's long been a cause of great frustration that my attempts to investigate the Buddhist philosophy have repeatedly plunged me into the supernatural. Over the centuries, and in different ways in different areas, Buddhism has become a religion, collecting various ideas on the after-life, reincarnation, multi-incarnation karma, Buddhist hells, demons, and even a pantheon of near-divine once-humans to whom we are exhorted to chant or prostate or pray. Or any combination of the above.

    And this was fr It's long been a cause of great frustration that my attempts to investigate the Buddhist philosophy have repeatedly plunged me into the supernatural. And this was frustrating because I was also vaguely aware that, at its core, what the Buddha taught was not a series of beliefs but, rather, a series of practices to be undertaken in order to smooth one's passage through this life.

    In this book, Stephen Batchelor strips out this accumulated religious baggage and leaves behind something more akin to those original agnostic teachings, neither demanding that non-material, spiritual aspects to existence be accepted as real, nor insisting that they are not. It concentrates purely on the practical, attempting to show how the Buddha taught "anguish and the ending of anguish", a means to end suffering.

    He admits that the Buddha himself appeared to have mystical beliefs but stresses that these were part of his cultural heritage and not in any way relevant to his teachings. He sets out the Buddha's teachings of dharma practice in a clear and easily comprehensible manner, making the ancient concepts relevant to the modern reader. Even concepts normally regarded as difficult such as non-duality are introduced in a way that makes sense in a non-mystical world-view.

    In line with the original attitude of the Buddha, he doesn't deny a mystical dimension to our reality but nor does he discuss one; it is impossible from this book alone to gain any insight into the author's beliefs in this area, a sound achievement in this particular context. I would assume that in a relatively short book like this one he has had to be somewhat superficial but in any case it provides plenty of food for thought.

    I already know that I will be re-reading this particular volume, probably several times, but it's also whetted my appetite for further exploration, both in book form an in a far more practical sense. In short, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Shelves: philosophy. Reading this book was a bit like listening to my grandpa rant about LBJ's foreign policy decisions - he's probably right, but without the background to appreciate his frustrations, all I can do is listen and squirm awkwardly in my chair.

    Batchelor's book is a polemic against the modern transformation of Buddhism into something as dogmatic and unquestioning as Western religions. He points out that Buddhism is a personal practice of continual awareness and questioning, not a set of beliefs, commitm Reading this book was a bit like listening to my grandpa rant about LBJ's foreign policy decisions - he's probably right, but without the background to appreciate his frustrations, all I can do is listen and squirm awkwardly in my chair.

    He points out that Buddhism is a personal practice of continual awareness and questioning, not a set of beliefs, commitments, or rituals. His insights into Buddhist practices were thought-provoking but being a man of science and therefore atheist, culturally bankrupt, anti-humanities of course , I didn't have the religious or historical background to appreciate many of his complaints about the disfigurement of Buddhism. This short book is meant to be read slowly. Each chapter offers ideas worth taking the time to reflect upon and some also suggest particular meditations.

    Unfortunately, I was borrowing this from a friend at university and had to power through it in two evenings before leaving for the summer. I likely won't return to this book again though, because my interests in Buddhism are related to cultivating continual awareness, not in defending it against a deplorable watering down for the masses. May 13, Caroline rated it did not like it Shelves: did-not-finish.

    I only got to about page 35 with this book. As a total newbie to Buddhism, I just found it too difficult to understand. The writing was quite simple, but ideas were just too difficult for me to grasp. I was left just feeling stupid which may well be the case. Here are a couple of examples of concepts which evaded me On examination he found its origins to lie in self-centred craving.

    He realized that this could cease, I only got to about page 35 with this book. He realized that this could cease, and prescribed the cultivation of a path of life embracing all aspects of human experience as an effective treatment. By letting go of craving it will finally cease. This cessation allows us to realize, if only momentarily, the freedom, openness, and ease of the central path. This sudden gap in the rush of self-centred compulsion and fear allows us to see with unambiguous immediacy and clarity the transient, unreliable, and contingent nature of reality.

    Mostly because I find meditating difficult, but also because this book has made me feel that Buddhism is something I am not going to be able to grasp. View all 6 comments. Shelves: buddhism-self-help , re-reads. I've known plenty who swear by the Virgin Birth but cheat on their wives.

    Buddhism, shorn of its religious trappings of prayer wheels, exotic names, orange robes, priesthoods, hierarchies and consequent blinding fog etc. I quote from the back cover: "Buddhism Without Beliefs" demystifies Buddhism by explaining, without jargon or obscure terminology, what awakening is and how to practise it. Stephen Batchelor points out that the Buddha was not a mystic and his awakening was not a shattering revelation that revealed the mysteries of God or of the universe - what the Buddha taught was not something to believe in but something to do.

    Buddha challenged people to understand the nature of anguish, let go of its origins, realise its cessation and create a certain way of life and awakening. This awakening is available to all of us, and Batchelor examines how to work realistically towards it, and how to practise and live it every day. This book is an examination of Buddhism which will enable all readers, whether religious or agnostic, to grasp the fundamental meaning of Buddhism. Dec 12, Marc rated it it was amazing Shelves: nonfiction , owned , philosophy-or-philosophical , for-the-soul. It's probably been nearly two decades since I read anything by Stephen Batchelor , but few write with the kind of clarity and thoughtfulness as he does.

    Sure, this covers the basics, but he always manages to frame things in a different light, to use analogies that open up different perspectives, and to simultaneously convey both a simplicity and an awe about life and approaching it through Buddhism. Instead of rambling on, I'll just share a few choice passages: "Agnosticism is no excuse for indeci It's probably been nearly two decades since I read anything by Stephen Batchelor , but few write with the kind of clarity and thoughtfulness as he does. Instead of rambling on, I'll just share a few choice passages: "Agnosticism is no excuse for indecision.

    If anything, it is a catalyst for action; for in shifting concern away from a future life and back to the present, it demands an ethics of empathy rather than a metaphysics of fear and hope. When driven by craving, I am convinced that if only I were to achieve this goal, all would be well. While creating the illusion of a purposeful life, craving is really the loss of direction. It is a process of compulsive becoming.

    It spins me around in circles, covering the same ground again and again. Each time I think I have found a situation that solves all my problems, it suddenly turns out to be a reconfiguration of the very situation I thought I was escaping from. My sense of having found a new lease on life turns out to be merely a repetition of the past. I realize I am running on the spot, frantically going nowhere.

    It is hard to envisage a time when so many people have enjoyed comparable freedoms. Yet the very exercise of these freedoms in the service of greed, aggression, and fear has led to breakdown of community, destruction of the environment, wasteful exploitation of resources, the perpetuation of tyrannies, injustices, an inequalities.

    Instead of creatively realizing their freedoms, many choose the unreflective conformism dictated by television, indulgence in mass-consumerism, or numbing their feelings of alienation and anguish with drugs. In theory, freedom may be held in high regard; in practice it is experienced as a dizzying loss of meaning and direction. The strength of his message has grown with time. May 19, Matthew Fellows rated it it was amazing. Very good. For those interested in finding a meaningful way of navigating existence without the dogmatic mystical nonsense of religion I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

    I was going to fault Batchelor for not explicitly pointing out the ways in which this secular Buddhism is so strikingly si Very good. I was going to fault Batchelor for not explicitly pointing out the ways in which this secular Buddhism is so strikingly similar to Existentialism of the Heideggerean and Sartrean variants, not that Victor Frankl psychotherapy nonsense which happens to be hard to distinguish from Western hipster Buddhism Nov 10, Jess Mukavetz rated it liked it. Buddhism Without Beliefs was not a particularly easy read, despite its slight page count.

    Stephen Batchelor's prose was very, very, very dry. Although he clearly and concisely explained the concepts of Buddhism unlike I've previously read Buddhism in Very Plain English would be an apt alternative title , his language was imbued with absolutely no sense of style, wit, or warmth. It's not a book to sit down and knock out in a day or two. I barely 4 stars for content, 3 for execution and delivery. I barely managed one chapter a day. Batchelor's examination of Buddhism and how it has been transformed from a practice to an organized religion was—pun intended—enlightening.

    He wrote: "While Buddhism has tended to become reductively identified with its religious forms, today it is in further danger of being reductively identified with its forms of meditation. Batchelor broke down a lot of barriers that have been preventing me from committing too deeply to Buddhism, such as feeling like an outsider. Batchelor's description of desire, or craving, is one that I will remember for quite some time: "'Letting go' is not a euphemism for stamping out craving by other means. As with anguish, letting go begins with understanding: a calm and clear acceptance of what is happening.

    May 10, Amy Sturgis rated it really liked it Shelves: philosophy , 20th-century , buddhism. Stephen Batchelor investigates the background and meaning of the Buddha's teaching -- not Buddhism, Batchelor argues, but dharma practice -- and submits that the Buddha taught a method, not a creed. Or, as Batchelor puts it, "The dharma is not a belief system by which you will be miraculously saved. It is a method to be investigated and tried out. I recommend it to anyone interested in what's often called "secular Buddhism.

    View all 5 comments. This belief also appears to stem from a misunderstanding of the Buddhist law of Karma. In fact, there is no justification for interpreting the Buddhist conception of karma as implying quietism and fatalism. The word karma Pali: kamma mean volitional action in deeds, words and thoughts, which may be morally good or bad.

    To be sure, our actions are conditioned more or less so , but they are not inescapably determined. Though human behavior and thought are too often governed by deeply ingrained habits or powerful impulses, still there is always the potentiality of freedom — or, to be more exact, of a relative freedom of choice.

    To widen the range of that freedom is the primary task of Buddhist mind training and meditation. The charge of fatalism is sometimes supported by reference to the alleged "social backwardness" of Asia. But this ignores the fact that such backwardness existed also in the West until comparatively recent times.

    Surely, this backwardness and the alleged fatalistic acceptance of it stem from the specific social and political conditions, which were too powerful for would-be reformers to contend with. But apart from these historic facts, it must be stressed here that the Buddha's message of compassion is certainly not indifferent to human suffering in any form; nor do Buddhists think that social misery cannot be remedied, at least partly. Though Buddhist realism does not believe in the Golden Age of a perfect society, nor in the permanence of social conditions, yet Buddhism strongly believes that social imperfections can be reduced, by the reduction of greed, hatred and ignorance, and by compassionate action guided by wisdom.

    In this section we have introduced the special and distinctive quality of Buddhist social action. In the remainder of Part One we shall explore this quality further, and show how it arises naturally and logically from Buddhist teaching and practice. Individual karmic behavior patterns are created by the struggles of the individual human predicament.

    They condition the behavior of the individual and, in traditional Buddhist teaching, the subsequent rounds of birth and rebirth. We suggest, however, that this karmic inheritance is also expressed as social karma. Specific to time and place, different social cultures arise, whether of a group, a community, a social class or a civilization.

    The young are socialized to their inherited culture. Consciously and unconsciously they assimilate the norms of the approved behavior — what is good, what is bad, and what is "the good life" for that culture. The social karma — the establishment of conditioned behavior patterns — of a particular culture is and is not the aggregate of the karma of the individuals who comprise the culture. Individuals share common institutions and belief systems, but these are the results of many different wills, both in the past and the present, rather than the consequence of any single individual action.

    It is, however, individual karmic action that links the individual to these institutions and belief systems. Each individual is a light-reflecting jewel in Indra's net, at the points where time and space intersect. Each reflects the light of all and all of each. This is the mysticism of sociology or the sociology of mysticism! Human societies, too, suffer the round of birth and rebirth, of revolution and stability. Each age receives the collective karmic inheritance of the last, is conditioned by it, and yet also struggles to refashion it. And within each human society, institutions, social classes, and subcultures, as well as individuals, all struggle to establish their identity and perpetuate their existence.

    Capitalist industrial society has created conditions of extreme impermanence, and the struggle with a conflict-creating mood of dissatisfaction and frustration. It would be difficult to imagine any social order for which Buddhism is more relevant and needed. In these conditions, egotistical enterprise, competitive conflict, and the struggle for status become great social virtues, while, in fact, they illustrate the import of the three root-causes of suffering — greed, hatred, and delusion.

    Buddhist Beliefs: The Four Noble Truths

    People who are relatively successful at accumulating goods and social position wish to ensure that the remain successful Both in intended and unintended ways they erect barriers of education, finance and law to protect their property and other interests These structures and their protective institutions continue to exacerbate and amplify the basic human inequalities in housing, health care, education and income. They reward and encourage greed, selfishness, and exploitation rather than love, sharing and compassion. Certain people's life styles, characterized by greed and overconsumption, become dependent on the deprivation of the many.

    The oppressors and oppressed fall into the same trap of continual craving" Brandon, , It should be added that communist revolution and invasion have created conditions and social structures which no less, but differently, discourage the spiritual search. Thus we see that modern social organization may create conditions of life which not only give rise to "objective," non-volitionally caused suffering, but also tend to give rise to "subjective," volitionally caused karmic suffering, because they are more likely to stimulate negative karmic action than do other kinds of social organization.

    Thus, some of us are born into social conditions which are more likely to lead us into following the Buddhist way than others. An unskilled woman factory worker in a provincial factory town is, for example, less likely to follow the Path than a professional person living in the university quarter of the capital city. A property speculator, wheeling and dealing his samsaric livelihood anywhere is perhaps even less likely than either of them to do so. However, all three may do so.

    Men and women make their own history, but they make it under specific karmic conditions, inherited from previous generations collectively, as well as individually. The struggle is against nurture, as well as nature, manifested in the one consciousness. Everybody talks about peace, justice, equality but in practice it is very difficult. This is not because the individual person is bad but because the overall environment, the pressures, the circumstances are so strong, so influential" Dalai Lama, , p. In short, Buddhist social action is justified ultimately and above all by the existence of social as well as individual karma.

    Immediately it is simply concerned with relieving suffering; ultimately, in creating social conditions which will favor the ending of suffering through the individual achievement of transcendent wisdom. But is it enough, to take a beautiful little watering can to a flower dying in sandy, sterile soil? This will satisfy only the waterer.

    Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening

    But if we muster the necessary plows, wells, irrigation systems and organized labor, what then will become of the spiritual life amongst all this busyness and conflict? We must next consider this fundamental question. Buddhism is essentially pragmatic. Buddhism is, in one sense, something that one does.

    It is a guide to the transformation of individual experience. In the traditional Buddhist teaching, the individual sets out with a karmic inheritance of established volitions, derived from his early life, from earlier lives and certainly from his social environment, a part of his karmic inheritance. Nevertheless, the starting point is the individual experiencing of life, here and now.

    Our train of argument began with the anxiety, the profound sense of unease felt by the individual in his naked experience of life in the world when not masked by busyness, objectives, diversions and other confirmations and distractions. Buddhism teaches that all suffering, whether it be anxiety, or more explicitly karmic, brought-upon-ourselves-suffering, or "external" suffering, accidental and inevitable through war, disease, old age and so on — arise ultimately from the deluded belief in a substantial and enduring self. In that case, what need has the individual Buddhist for concern for other individuals, let alone for social action since his prime task is to work on himself in order to dissolve this delusion?

    Can he only then help others? The answer to these questions is both yes and no. This does not mean half-way between yes and no. It means yes and no. It means that the answer to these fundamental questions of Buddhist social action cannot ultimately be logical or rational. For the Buddhist Middle Way is not the middle between two extremes, but the Middle Way which transcends the two extremes in a "higher" unity. Different traditions of Buddhism offer different paths of spiritual practice.

    But all depend ultimately upon the individual becoming more deeply aware of the nature of his experience of the world, and especially of other people and hence of himself and of the nature of the self. To learn about oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to experience the world as pure object — to let fall one's own mind and body and the self-other mind and body" Zen Master Dogen: Shobogenzo. Meditation both reveals and ultimately calms and clarifies the choppy seas and terrifying depths of the underlying emotional life.

    All the great traditions of spiritual practice, Buddhist — and non-Buddhist — emphasize the importance of periods of withdrawal for meditation and reflection. Their relative importance is not our present concern. However, in all Buddhist traditions the training emphasizes a vigilant mindfulness of mental feelings in the course of active daily life, as well as in periods of withdrawal. It all advocates the parallel development of habitual forms of ethical behavior sila. Life situations are the food of awareness and mindfulness We wear out the shoe of samsara by walking on it through the practice of meditation" Chogyam Trungpa, , p.

    The same message comes across forcefully in the Zen tradition: "For penetrating to the depths of one's true nature The power or wisdom obtained by practicing Zen in the world of action is like a rose that rises from the fire. It can never be destroyed. The rose that rises from the midst of flames becomes all the more beautiful and fragrant the nearer the fire rages" Zen Master Hakuin, , p. It is open to us, if we wish, to extend our active daily life to include various possible forms of social action.

    This offers a strong immediate kind of experience to which we can give our awareness practice. Less immediately, it serves to fertilize our meditation — "dung for the field of bodhi. The above remarks are about taking social action. They refer to the potential benefits of social action for individual practice. They are less "reasons" for social action than reasons why a Buddhist should not desist from social action. The mainspring of Buddhist social action lies elsewhere; it arises from the heart of a ripening compassion, however flawed it still may be by ego needs.

    This is giving social action, with which we shall be concerned in the next section. Social action as a training in self-awareness and compassionate awareness of others may be a discipline more appropriate to some individual temperaments, and, indeed, to some cultures and times, than to others. We are not concerned with advocating it for all Buddhists, but simply to suggesting its legitimacy for such as choose to follow it. For Buddhism has always recognized the diversity of individual temperaments and social cultures that exist, and has offered a corresponding diversity of modes of practice.

    As we have noted, the significance of social action as mindfulness training is, of course, incidental to that profound compassionate impulse which more — or less — leads us to seek the relief of the suffering of others. Our motives may be mixed, but to the extent that they are truly selfless they do manifest our potential for Awakening and our relatedness to all beings. Through our practice, both in the world and in withdrawn meditation, the delusion of a struggling self becomes more and more transparent, and the conflicting opposites of good and bad, pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty, oppression and freedom are seen and understood in a Wisdom at once serene and vigilant.

    This Wisdom partakes of the sensitivity of the heart as well as the clarity of thought. In this Wisdom, in the words of R. Blyth, things are beautiful — but not desirable; ugly — but not repulsive; false — but not rejected. What is inevitable, like death, is accepted without rage; what may not be, like war, is the subject of action skillful and the more effective because, again, it is not powered and blinded by rage and hate.

    We may recognize an oppressor and resolutely act to remove the oppression, but we do not hate him. Absence of hatred, disgust, intolerance or righteous indignation within us is itself a part of our growth towards enlightenment bodhi. Such freedom from negative emotions should not be mistaken for indifference, passivity, compromise, loving our enemy instead of hating him, or any other of these relativities.

    This Wisdom transcends the Relativities which toss us this way and that. Instead, there is an awareness, alert and dispassionate, of an infinitely complex reality, but always an awareness free of despair, of self-absorbing aggression, or of blind dogma, an awareness free to act or not to act. Buddhists have their preferences, and in the face of such social cataclysms as genocide and nuclear war, they are strong preferences, but they are not repelled into quietism by them.

    What has been said above has to be cultivated to perfection by one following the Bodhisattva ideal. We are inspired by it, but very few of us can claim to live it. Yet we shall never attain the ideal by turning our backs upon the world and denying the compassionate Buddha nature in us that reaches out to suffering humanity, however stained by self love those feelings may be. Only through slowly "Wearing out the shoe of samsara" in whatever way is appropriate to us can we hope to achieve this ideal, and not through some process of incubation.

    This Great Wisdom prajna exposes the delusion, the folly, sometimes heroic, sometimes base, of human struggle in the face of many kinds of suffering. This sense of folly fuses with the sense of shared humanity in the form of compassion karuna. Compassion is the everyday face of Wisdom. In individual spiritual practice though, some will incline to a Way of Compassion and others to a Way of Wisdom, but finally the two faculties need to be balanced, each complementing and ripening the other. To summarize: Buddhist or non-Buddhist, it is our common humanity, our "Buddha nature," that moves us to compassion and to action for the relief of suffering.

    These stirrings arise from our underlying relatedness to all living things, from being brothers and sisters one to another. Buddhist spiritual practice, whether at work or in the meditation room, ripens alike the transcendental qualities of Compassion and Wisdom. Social action starkly confronts the actor with the sufferings of others and also confronts him with his own strong feelings which commonly arise from such experience, whether they be feelings of pity, guilt, angry partisanship or whatever. Social action is thus a powerful potential practice for the follower of the Way, a "skillful means" particularly relevant to modern society.

    Finally, it is only some kind of social action that can be an effective and relevant response to the weight of social karma which oppresses humanity and which we all share. All social action is an act of giving dana , but there is a direct act which we call charitable action, whether it be the UNESCO Relief Banker's Order or out all night with the destitutes' soup kitchen. Is there anything about Buddhism that should make it less concerned actively to maintain the caring society than is Christianity or humanism?

    In our more complex society does this not include the active advancement and defense of the principles of a national health service? The old phrase "as cold as charity" recalls numerous possibilities for self-deception in giving to others and in helping them. Here is opportunity to give out goodness in tangible form, both in our own eyes and those of the world.

    It may also be a temptation to impose our own ideas and standards from a position of patronage. David Brandon, who has written so well on the art of helping, reminds us that "respect is seeing the Buddha nature in the other person. It means perceiving the superficiality of positions of moral authority. The other person is as good as you. However untidy, unhygienic, poor, illiterate and bloody-minded he may seem, he is worthy of your respect. He also has autonomy and purpose. He is another form of nature" Brandon, , p. There are many different ways in which individual Buddhists and their organizations can give help and relieve suffering.

    However, "charity begins at home. Where is the Sangha? In our modern industrial society there has been on the one hand a decline in personal and voluntary community care for those in need and, on the other, too little active concern for the quality and quantity of institutional care financed from the public purse that has to some extent taken its place. One facet of this which may be of particular significance for Buddhists, is a failure to recognize adequately and provide for the needs of the dying. In recent years there has been a growing awareness of this problem in North America and Europe, and a small number of hospices have been established by Christian and other groups for terminally ill people.

    However, only a start has been made with the problem. The first Buddhist hospice in the West has yet to be opened. And, less ambitiously, the support of regular visitors could help many lonely people to die with a greater sense of dignity and independence in our general hospitals. Teaching is, of course, also a form of giving and helping.

    Indeed, one of the two prime offenses in the Mahayana code of discipline is that of withholding the wealth of the Dharma from others. Moreover, teaching the Dharma is one of the most valuable sources of learning open to a Buddhist. Here we are concerned primarily with the teaching of the Dharma to newcomers in Buddhism, and with the general publicizing of Buddhism among non-Buddhists. Buddhism is by its very nature lacking in the aggressive evangelizing spirit of Christianity or Islam.

    It is a pragmatic system of sustained and systematic self-help practice, in which the teacher can do no more than point the way and, together with fellow Buddhists, provide support, warmth and encouragement in a long and lonely endeavor. There is here no tradition of instant conversion and forceful revelation for the enlightenment experience, however sudden, depends upon a usually lengthy period of careful cultivation.

    Moreover, there is a tolerant tradition of respect for the beliefs and spiritual autonomy of non-Buddhists. Nevertheless, a virtue may be cultivated to a fault. Do we not need to find a middle way between proselytizing zeal and aloof indifference? Does not the world cry out for a Noble Truth that "leads to the cessation of suffering"? The task of teaching the Dharma also gives individual Buddhists an incentive to clarify their ideas in concise, explicit, everyday terms.

    And it requires them to respond positively to the varied responses which their teaching will provoke in others. It will be helpful to treat the problem on two overlapping levels, and to distinguish between a publicizing the Dhamma, and b introductory teaching for enquirers who interest has thus been awakened. At both the above levels activity is desirable both by a central body of some kind and by local groups in many countries there will certainly be several "central bodies," representing different traditions and tendencies.

    The central body can cost-effectively produce for local use introductory texts and study guides, speakers' notes, audiocassettes, slide presentations and "study kits" combining all of these different types of material. It has the resources to develop correspondence courses such as those run by the Buddhist Society in the United Kingdom which offer a well-tried model. And it will perhaps have sufficient prestige to negotiate time on the national radio and television network. Particularly in Western countries there are strong arguments for organizations representing the different Buddhist traditions and tendencies to set up a representative Buddhist Information and Liaison Service for propagating fundamental Buddhism and some first introductions to the different traditions and organizations.

    It would also provide a general information clearing house for all the groups and organizations represented. It could be financed and controlled through a representative national Buddhist council which, with growing confidence between its members and between the different Buddhist organizations which they represented, might in due course take on additional functions. Certainly in the West there is the prospect of a great many different Buddhist flowers blooming, whether oriental or new strains developed in the local culture.

    This is to be welcomed, but the kind of body we propose will become a necessity to avoid confusion for the outsider and to work against any tendency to sectarianism of a kind from which Buddhism has been relatively free. Local groups will be able to draw upon the publicity and teaching resources of national centers and adapt these to the needs of local communities.

    Regular meetings of such groups may amount to no more than half a dozen people meeting in a private house. Sensitively handled it would be difficult to imagine a better way of introducing a newcomer to the Dharma. Such meetings are worthy of wide local publicity. A really strong local base exists where there is a resident Buddhist community of some kind, with premises convenient for meetings and several highly committed workers.

    Unfortunately, such communities will, understandably, represent a particular Buddhist tradition or tendency, and this exclusiveness may be less helpful to the newcomer than a local group in which he or she may have the opportunity to become acquainted with the different Buddhist traditions represented in the membership and in the program of activity.

    In many countries the schools provide brief introductions to the world's great religions. Many teachers do not feel sufficiently knowledgeable about introducing Buddhism to their pupils and may be unaware of suitable materials even where these do exist. There may be opportunities here for local groups, and certainly the Information Service suggested above would have work to do here. Finally, the method of introductory teaching employed in some Buddhist centers leaves much to be desired both on educational grounds and as Buddhist teaching.

    The Buddha always adapted his teaching to the particular circumstances of the individual learner; he sometimes opened with a question about the enquirer's occupation in life, and built his teaching upon the answer to this and similar questions. True learning and teaching has as its starting point a problem or experience posed by the learner, even if this be no more than a certain ill-defined curiosity.

    It is there that teacher and learner must begin. The teacher starts with the learner's thoughts and feelings and helps him or her to develop understanding and awareness. This is, of course, more difficult than a standard lecture which begins and ends with the teacher's thoughts and feelings, and which may in more sense than one leave little space for the learner. It will exclude the teacher from any learning. It follows that unless the teacher is truly inspiring, the "Dharma talk" is best used selectively: to introduce and stimulate discussion or to summarize and consolidate what has been learned.

    Dharma teachers must master the arts of conducting open discussion groups, in which learners can gain much from one another and can work through an emotional learning situation beyond the acquisition of facts about Buddhism. Discussion groups have become an important feature of many lay Buddhist and social action organizations in different parts of the world. They are the heart, for example, of the Japanese mass organization Rissho Kosei Kai, which explores problems of work, the family and social and economic problems.

    Political power may manifest and sustain social and economic structures which breed both material deprivation and spiritual degradation for millions of men and women. In many parts of the world it oppresses a wide range of social groupings — national and racial minorities, women, the poor, homosexuals, liberal dissidents, and religious groups.

    Ultimately, political power finds its most terrible expression in war, which reaches now to the possibility of global annihilation. For both the oppressors and the oppressed, whether in social strife or embattled nations, karmic delusion is deepened. Each group or nation emphasizes its differences, distinguishing them from its opponents; each projects its own short-comings upon them, makes them the repository of all evil, and rallies round its own vivid illusions and blood-warming hates.

    Collective hating, whether it be the raised fist, or prejudice concealed in a quiet community, is a heady liquor. Allied with an ideology, hate in any form will not depart tomorrow or next year. Crowned with delusive idealism, it is an awesome and murderous folly. And even when victory is achieved, the victors are still more deeply poisoned by the hate that carried them to victory. Both the revolution and the counter-revolution consume their own children. Buddhism's "Three Fires" of delusion moha , hatred and ill-will dosa , and greed and grasping, lobha , surely burn nowhere more fiercely.

    Contrariwise, political power may be used to fashion and sustain a society whose citizens are free to live in dignity and harmony and mutual respect, free of the degradation of poverty and war. In such a society of good heart all men and women find encouragement and support in making, if they will, the best use of their human condition in the practice of wisdom and compassion.

    This is the land of good karma — not the end of human suffering, but the beginning of the end, the bodhisattva-land, the social embodiment of sila. This is not to be confused with the belief common among the socially and politically oppressed that if power could be seized commonly by an elite claiming to represent them , then personal, individual, "ideological" change will inevitably follow.

    This absolutely deterministic view of conditioning which Marx called "vulgar Marxism" , is as one-sided as the idea of a society of "individuals" each struggling with only his own personal karma in a private bubble hermetically sealed off from history and from other people.

    Political action thus involves the Buddhist ideal of approaching each situation without prejudice but with deserved circumspection in questions of power and conflict, social oppression and social justice. These social and political conflicts are the great public samsaric driving energies of our life to which an individual responds with both aggression and self-repression. The Buddha Dharma offers the possibility of transmuting the energies of the individual into Wisdom and Compassion. At the very least, in faith and with good heart, a start can be made.

    Buddhists are thus concerned with political action, first, in the direct relief of non-volitionally caused suffering now and in the future, and, secondly, with the creation of social karmic conditions favorable to the following of the Way that leads to the cessation also of volitionally-caused suffering, the creation of a society of a kind which tends to the ripening of wisdom and compassion rather than the withering of them.

    In the third place, political action, turbulent and ambiguous, is perhaps the most potent of the "action meditations. It is perhaps because of this potency that some Buddhist organizations ban political discussion of any kind, even at a scholarly level, and especially any discussion of social action. There are circumstances in which this may be a sound policy.

    Some organizations and some individuals may not wish to handle such an emotionally powerful experience which may prove to be divisive and stir up bad feeling which cannot be worked upon in any positive way. This division would particularly tend to apply to "party politics.


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    Different circumstances suggest different "skillful means," but a dogmatic policy of total exclusion is likely to be ultimately unhelpful. In this connection it is worth noting that any kind of social activity which leads to the exercise of power or conflict may stir up "the fires" in the same way as overtly political activity. Conflict within a Buddhist organization is cut from the same cloth as conflict in a political assembly and may be just as heady, but the Buddhist context could make such an activity a much more difficult and delusive meditation subject.

    The danger of dishonest collusion may be greater than that of honest collusion to borrow one of the Ven. Sangharakshita's aphorisms. The dogmatism and vehemence with which some Buddhists denounce and proscribe all political involvement is the same sad attitude as the dogmatism and vehemence of the politicians which they so rightly denounce. To be lost in revolution or reform or conservatism is to be lost in samsara and the realm of the angry warrior, deluded by his power and his self-righteousness.

    To turn one's back upon all this is to be lost in an equally false idea of nirvana — the realm of the gods no less deluded by spiritual power and righteousness, "You do not truly speak of fire if your mouth does not get burnt. Effective social action on any but the smallest scale will soon involve the Buddhist in situations of power and conflict, of "political" power. It may be the power of office in a Buddhist organization. It may be the unsought for leadership of an action group protesting against the closing of an old people's day care center. It may be the organizing of a fund-raising movement to build a Buddhist hospice for care of the dying.

    It may be membership of a local government council with substantial welfare funds. It may be joining an illegal dissident group. In all these cases the Buddhist takes the tiger — his own tiger — by the tail. Some of the above tigers are bigger than others, but all are just as fierce. Hence a Buddhist must be mindful of the strong animal smell of political power and be able to contain and convert the valuable energy which power calls up. A sharp cutting edge is given into his hands. Its use we must explore in the sections which follow. Buddhism and politics meet at two levels — theory and practice.

    Buddhism has no explicit body of social and political theory comparable to its psychology or metaphysics. Nevertheless, a Buddhist political theory can be deduced primarily from basic Buddhism, from Dharma. Secondly, it can be deduced from the general orientation of scriptures which refer explicitly to a bygone time. We have already argued, however, that this can be done only in a limited and qualified way. Whatever form it may take, Buddhist political theory like other Buddhist "theory" is just another theory. As it stands in print, it stands in the world of the conditioned; it is of samsara.

    Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening by Stephen Batchelor

    It is its potential, its spiritual implications, which make it different from "secular" theory. When skillfully practiced, it becomes a spiritual practice. As always, Buddhist "theory" is like a label on a bottle describing the contents which sometimes is mistaken for the contents by zealous label-readers. In that way we can end up with a lot of politics and very little Buddhism. This is not to decry the value of a Buddhist social and political theory — only its misuse.

    We have only begun to apply Buddhism as a catalyst to the general body of Western social science and most of the work so far has been in psychology. Such work in allied fields could be extremely helpful to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. The writings of some Buddhists from Sri Lanka, Burma and elsewhere offer interesting examples of attempts to relate Buddhism to nationalism and Marxism not to be confused with communism.

    Earlier in the century Anagarika Dharmapala stressed the social teaching of the Buddha and its value in liberating people from materialistic preoccupations. U Nu, the eminent Burmese Buddhist statesman, argued that socialism follows naturally from the ethical and social teachings of the Buddha, and another Burmese leader, U Ba Swe, held that Marxism is relative truth, Buddhism absolute truth. Both are stimulating and controversial books.

    Of this we shall say more in a later section on the Buddhist "good society. Buddhist social and political theory and policy can only be mentioned in passing in this pamphlet, although we have earlier introduced the idea of "social karma" as of central importance. We are, instead, concerned here with problems and questions arising in the practice of social and political work by Buddhists and the nature of that work. The Buddhist faced with political thought, let alone political action, is straightaway plunged in the turbulent stream of conflict and partisanship and right and wrong.

    Let the reader, perhaps prompted by the morning newspaper, select and hold in his mind some particular controversial public issue or public figure. Now, how does your Buddhism feel, please? No, not what does your Buddhism think! How does it feel when, again, some deeply held conviction is roughly handled at a Buddhist meeting or in a Buddhist journal?

    They come from having preferences, from holding things precious and dear. Insults are born out of arguments and grudges are inseparable with quarrels. Saddhatissa, , para. In all our relationships as Buddhists we seek to cultivate a spirit of openness, cooperation, goodwill and equality. Nonetheless, we may not agree with another's opinions, and, in the final analysis, this divergence could have to do even with matters of life and death. But hopefully we shall be mindful and honest about how we think and, with what we feel, and how our opponent thinks and feels.

    In such controversies, are we each to confirm our own ego? Or each to benefit from the other in the search for wise judgment? Moreover, in the words of the Dalai Lama, "when a person criticizes you and exposes your faults, only then are you able to discover your faults and make amends. So your enemy is your greatest friend because he is the person who gives you the test you need for your inner strength, your tolerance, your respect for others Instead of feeling angry with or hatred towards such a person, one should respect him and be grateful to him" Dalai Lama, , p.

    We are one with our adversary in our common humanity; we are two in our divisive conflict. We should be deluded if we were to deny either — if we were to rush either to compromise or to uncompromising struggle. Our conflict and our humanity may be confirmed or denied at any point along that line of possibilities which links the extremes, but ultimately it will be resolved in some other, less explicit sense. Sangharakshita expresses this paradox in his observation that "it is not enough to sympathize with something to such an extent that one agrees with it. If necessary, one must sympathize to such an extent that one disagrees" Sangharakshita, , p.

    Zen Master Dogen advised that "when you say something to someone he may not accept it, but do not try to make him understand it rationally. Don't argue with him; just listen to his objections, until he himself finds something wrong with them. If we do fight, may our wisdom and compassion honor both our adversary and ourselves, whether in compromise, victory or defeat.

    Our "Small Mind" clings to delusions of security and permanence. It finds neither of these in the world where, on the contrary, it experiences a sense of ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty which it finds intolerable, and which make it very angry when it is obliged to confront them.

    Small Mind prefers to see social, economic and political phenomena in terms of black and white, or "Left and Right. To the extent that we have achieved "Big Mind" we perceive with equanimity what Small Mind recoils from as intolerable. We are freer to see the world as it is in all the many colors of the rainbow, each merging imperceptibly into the next. In place of clinging to a few black, white and gray compartments, scrutiny is freed, encouraged by the Buddha's discriminating and differentiating attitude. Vibhajjavada; see Wheel: No.

    We shall not be surprised then that the personal map which guides the Wise through social and political realities may turn out to be disturbingly unconventional. Their reluctance readily to "take sides" arises not from quietism or an attachment to a compromise or a belief in the "unreality" of conflict, as is variously the case with those guided by mere rules.

    On the contrary, they may not even sit quietly, throwing soothing generalizations into the ring, as is expected of the religious. This seemingly uncomfortable, seemingly marginal stance simply reflects a reality which is experienced with equanimity. However, it does not require much equanimity to discover the deeper truths which underlie many current conventional truths. Conventional politics, for example, run from "left," to "right," from radicals through liberals and conservatives to fascists.

    Some radicals are, for example, as dogmatic and authoritarian in practice as fascists, and to their ultimate detriment they hate no less mightily. And, again, some conservatives are equally dogmatic because of an awareness of the subtle, organic nature of society and hence the danger of attempts at "instant" restructuring. Similarly an ideology such as Marxism may be highly complex but has been conveniently oversimplified even by quite well educated partisans, both those "for" and those "against" the theory.

    The present Dalai Lama is one of those who have attempted to disentangle "an authentic Marxism" which he believes is not without relevance to the problems of a feudal theocracy of the kind that existed in Tibet, from "the sort one sees in countless countries claiming to be Marxist," but which are "mixing up Marxism and their national political interests and also their thirst for world hegemony" Dalai Lama, The Wise person sees clearly because he does not obscure his own light; he does not cast the shadow of himself over the situation. However, even an honest perception of complexity commonly paralyzes action with, "Yes, that's all very well, but In a social action situation the complexity and ambiguity to which we refer is strongly felt as ethical quandary, uncertainty as to what might be the best course of action.

    Even in small organizations all power is potentially corrupting; the power wielded is soon lost in a thicket of relative ethics, of means and ends confused, of greater and lesser evils, of long term and short term goals. This is not a "game. It cannot be escaped; it can only be suffered through. We cannot refuse life's most difficult problems because we have not yet attained to Wisdom. We simply have to do our mindful and vigilant best, without guilt or blame. That is all we have to do. The First Precept of Buddhism is to abstain from taking life.

    But it must be made clear that the Buddhist "Precepts" are not commandments; they are "good resolutions," sincere aspirations voluntarily undertaken. They are signposts. They suggest to us how the truly Wise behave, beyond any sense of self and other. Evil springs from delusion about our true nature as human beings, and it takes the characteristic forms of hatred, aggression and driving acquisitiveness. These behaviors feed upon themselves and become strongly rooted, not only in individuals but in whole cultures. Total war is no more than their most spectacular and bloody expression. In Buddhism the cultivation of sila habitual morality by attempting to follow the Precepts is an aspiration toward breaking this karmic cycle.

    It is a first step towards dissolving the egocentricity of headstrong willfulness, and cultivating heartfelt awareness of others. The Precepts invite us to loosen the grip, unclench the fist, and to aspire to open-handedness and open-heartedness. Whether, and to what extent, he keeps the Precepts is the responsibility of each individual. But he needs to be fully aware of what he is doing.

    The karmic force of violent behavior will be affected by the circumstances in which it occurs. For example, a "diminished responsibility" may be argued in the case of conscripts forced to kill by an aggressive government. And there is surely a difference between wars of conquest and wars of defense. Walpola Rahula described a war of national independence in Sri Lanka in the 2nd century BC conducted under the slogan "Not for kingdom but for Buddhism," and concludes that "to fight against a foreign invader for national independence became an established Buddhist tradition, since freedom was essential to the spiritual as well as the material progress of the community" Rahula, , p.

    We may deplore the historic destruction of the great Indian Buddhist heritage in the middle-ages, undefended against the Mongol and Muslim invaders. It is important to note, however, that "according to Buddhism there is nothing that can be called a 'just war' — which is only a false term coined and put into circulation to justify and excuse hatred, cruelty, violence and massacre" Rahula, , It is an unfortunate fact, well documented by eminent scholars such as Edward Conze and Trevor Ling, that not only have avowedly Buddhist rulers undertaken violence and killing, but also monks of all traditions in Buddhism.

    Nonetheless, Buddhism has no history of specifically religious wars, that is, wars fought to impose Buddhism upon reluctant believers. Violence and killing are deeply corrupting in their effect upon all involved, and Buddhists will therefore try to avoid direct involvement in violent action or in earning their living in a way that, directly or indirectly, does violence. The Buddha specifically mentioned the trade in arms, in living beings and flesh. The problem is whether, in today's "global village" we are not all in some degree responsible for war and violence to the extent that we refrain from any effort to diminish them.

    Can we refrain from killing a garden slug and yet refrain, for fear of "political involvement," from raising a voice against the nuclear arms race or the systematic torture of prisoners of conscience in many parts of the world?