December 02, 2013

Buddhism with a Western Face

Will Western adaptation of the dharma challenge contemporary culture or accommodate it?Lama Jampa Thaye

courtesy of author

Something called “Buddhism” has certainly been growing in the Western world during the last few decades. Surveys on both sides of the Atlantic—the Pew Survey in the US and the recent census for England and Wales in the UK—indicate a rate of growth second only to Islam. Yet, I must admit, I felt a little uneasy about this picture of robust health. Mixing effortlessly into our culture, will Buddhism, a two-and-a-half-millennia-old system of philosophy and contemplative practice, be capable of challenging that culture? Will the resultant mixture be conducive to awakening? It was with such thoughts that I accepted the invitation from my friend Lama Surya Das to attend an informal gathering of dharma teachers held in New York City on November 18. The venue was the New York Insight Center, where we were warmly welcomed by resident teacher Gina Sharpe. The format was no format—a sharing of experiences, observations, and concerns. About 15 people drawn from such traditions as Theravada, Zen, and Vajrayana were present. Among them were well-known American teachers Jack Kornfield, Nancy Mujo Baker, Roshi Enkyo, Shinzen Young, and Tulku Sherdor.

It was a good day. Many topics came up, ranging from the impact of new technologies on spiritual life to the question of whether new forms of pedagogy would be required. Most of the discussion, however, circled around the seemingly competing demands of innovative adaptation versus preservation—sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly. At times the group seemed to divide into two parties corresponding to the weight given to each side of this semi-subterranean debate.

I was left wondering if I had caught a glimpse of the face of a new Buddhism slouching westward to be born. However, I wasn’t sure whether my Tibetan teachers would recognize it, or even whether it was the dharma at all. Hearing how some believe that Buddhism has no ethics, that science will likely be able to engineer enlightenment neurologically, and that the stages of the path toward (as well as the actual signs of) buddhahood were outdated myths, convinced me that things have changed—and not necessarily in a positive way—since I found the dharma back in the 60s. It also made me suspect that, if we so crave Buddhism with a Western face, we might end up with a Buddhism that is merely a mirror image of ourselves and our present culture, a hybrid of superannuated Protestantism and narcissism marketed by Spirituality Inc. for upscale liberals.

One might say the principal spiritual feature of Buddhism’s history up until now has been the transmission of a body of doctrines, contemplative methods, and organizational forms. While the exact constituents of this transmission vary somewhat from tradition to tradition, in Tibetan or Vajrayana Buddhism the key mechanism for transmission is the relationship between teacher and student, between the holder and the recipient of knowledge. It is through this nexus that initiations, transmissions, and oral instructions—the three principal forms of Vajrayana teachings, which we may define as a collection of methods designed to bring about a transformation of the psyche—are passed from one generation to the next. Such an emphasis on transmission from the master might lead one to conclude that a rigid conservatism or traditionalism must necessarily follow. But since the knowledge of the tradition—its repertoire of spiritual methods—is transmitted in a living form from person to person, the idea of a static, unchanging body of knowledge is mistaken.

One can see this illustrated in the lives of the early Kagyu and Sakya masters in medieval Tibet. As a link in the chain of transmission, each successive master had to re-create the teachings in the context of his or her own contemplative experience and personal and social circumstances. The first Tibetan in the nascent Kagyu tradition, Marpa, was a family man, gentleman farmer, and translator that had to assimilate the teachings of his masters Naropa and Maitripa. Their knowledge was drawn from a combination of the highly refined monastic university system of Buddhist India and the wildly unconventional customs of tantric yogins, two milieus worlds away from his own. There also persisted a striking difference between the lifestyles of the autocratic Marpa and his principal disciple Milarepa, a penitent sorcerer turned ascetic. Yet Milarepa, like Marpa, was able to utilize his master’s teachings to attain the pinnacle of spiritual achievement.

A similar pattern of fluid and responsive transmission is equally evident in the early Sakya tradition. The transmission from the lineage’s spiritual antecedents of Indian tantric yogins like Virupa through its first three masters in Tibet, lay practitioners all, reached its settled form with Sakya Pandita, who successfully blended the scholarly and the contemplative, the monastic and the tantric.

It’s instructive to reach back to these examples of earlier cross-cultural transmissions to guide us now in our not-so-dissimilar situation. Indeed, it cannot be mere coincidence that Sakya Pandita, in order to preserve the liberating force of the teachings, devoted much of his energies to disentangling 13th-century Buddhism from ungrounded and maladroit Tibetan adaptations. Educated by both his uncle Drakpa Gyaltsen and some of the last generation of Indian Buddhist masters, Sakya Pandita was able to subject contemporary Tibetan forms of Buddhism to a critical scrutiny that could discern those spurious adaptations that accorded neither with major textual and contemplative transmissions from India nor with reason. One can safely assume that a Buddhism stripped of ethics, one reduced to mere mindfulness, recast as materialism or one in which enlightenment becomes a fleeting psychological state, would not have passed Sakya Pandita’s test of acceptable innovation. Neither should they ours.

So, to return to the seemingly irreconcilable claims of adaptation and continuity that echoed through that gathering in Manhattan, maybe we do not need to choose one over the other in the development of Buddhism in the West. As we have seen, adaptation and continuity were both evident in the transmission of Buddhism from India to Tibet. The element of continuity endowed the new Tibetan schools with the resources and strengths accumulated by Indian Buddhism over one and a half millennia; yet, at the same time, the element of innovation endowed the traditions with flexibility to respond to their new cultural settings and, in effect, be reworked by masters who were both grounded in the central concerns of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and subtle enough in their perceptions of Tibetan realities to present the traditions felicitously. Our first task, then, as practitioners who wish buddhadharma to prosper in the West, is to receive and master the inheritance of dharma. We have not yet done so, but we have made a start.

Thus, if the question is adaptation or continuity, the answer is both, just as it was in India and Tibet, so it has to be here, whether in Los Angeles or London, New York or Paris.

Lama Jampa Thaye is a scholar, author, and meditation master from the UK, trained in both the Karma Kagyu and Sakya traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

Further reading: We Are Not Kind MachinesThe Myth of ProgressBuddhism and the Age of CompassionTaking Vows (and Buddhism) Seriously

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Danny's picture

I think Zumacraig's position can only be grasped once one understands the dialectic of conventional and ultimate truth (Nagarjuna's Middle Way). Only when one fully and unflinchingly accepts the truth of anatman; i.e., that the only "self" we have (conventional, non-essential, impermanent) is constructed entirely by human social conventions.

zumacraig's picture

Yet again, Danny, you say in one sentence what I've been trying to say in a bunch of wordy forum comments! Thank you sir. :-)

alalaho's picture

yes, this is true. although grasped is an interesting choice of words.

according to zumacraig, there is no ultimate truth to be diluted or get diluted. with an understanding of Prajnaparamita teachings and Nagarjuna's Middle Way, this could very well be said to be in accordance.

but when one fully and unflinchingly accepts that there is no self, who is the capitalist? who is saving the majority of humans on the planet? who are these beings that need saving, if there is no-self, anatman?

this is the crux of the teachings on wisdom. they teach on not falling into any extreme. nihilism or eternalism. but we have a human condition. able to think, speak, discriminate. so we use these tools, to work with conventional reality. we can say there is no self, but we seem to have our ideas, agendas. a subtle self.

so, relatively, we work with this idea of a self. understanding that every moment is a self. no self we can pin down. and so we work for the benefit of no selves. ultimately, we maintain the view until it is realized, not grasped.

to bliss out in a mindfulness meditation that only serves our well-being, was not the Buddha's message, i feel. but to begin to understand our condition, meditation is where to start. mindfulness in the sense of bringing our attention to the ever-changing present moment. this is an instruction of great benefit.

folks often think Buddhist just sit in meditation and not do anything to alleviate the suffering of beings. this might be some misguided's motivated meditation practice. but with proper instructions and understanding, this is where to begin the work. as Mahatma Ghandi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."


wnadler's picture

In light of this discussion, I was wondering what others think of the claim by Jon Kabat-Zinn that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, an 8 week 30 hour course taught by people who have a little or perhaps no practice within any Buddhist tradition, captures all that is essential in the Dharma. He claims that his program, intended to reduce symptoms of stress, should be considered an authentic Buddhist lineage in its own right.

alalaho's picture

good discussion. i agree that it seems the essential message of the Buddha is being diluted. i don't believe the Buddha taught stress reduction. He taught the cessation of suffering. pretty big difference.
i think an individual has to make a distinction by observation and analysis. what is the root cause? i can take a 10 day cruise, a long weekend on a camping trip, go to the gym, even happy hour on a friday night and feel relieved from the stress of work, family, and relationships. but one can see from our own experiences that this is temporary relief. we come back and the house is still a mess. we need to do the work.

i heard a teacher once say that we need to decide whether we want a little spirituality in our lives or if we want to live the spiritual life.

zumacraig's picture

there is no ultimate buddhist truth to get diluted. it's all ideology, much like lama's precious tibetan buddhism. it's riddled with subtle atman. any serious talk about cessation of suffering has to address capitalism. alas, current buddhist mindfulness practice keeps us in the stupor and acquiescent to the suffering of the majority of humans on the planet.

paradise33's picture

Hi zumacraig,

I’ve only just caught up with this thread but I’ve read all the comments and your exchanges with several posters and, despite doubting my qualifications, I thought in some small way I might have something helpful to contribute.

I sympathise entirely with your anger at the sufferings wrought by capitalism etc. yet I feel you’re making a very fundamental mistake in projecting that frustration onto what you perceive as the shortcomings of the dharma.

Buddhism doesn’t claim to provide a solution to socio-political problems. To use your example of the gross injustices of the capitalist system – which I entirely agree with btw – to a Buddhist, both capitalist and worker suffers equally from the inherent suffering – or ‘unsatisfactoriness’, which may be a more accurate gloss of the Sanskrit term dukkha. The most subtle form of suffering is arises with each moment of consciousness as the misapprehension of a truly existing self. So, in that light, the oppressor suffers as much as the oppressed

To a Buddhist - which you claim to be, though you seem unhappy with the implications of what that entails – we live in samsara, a consensual, interdependent, apparently manifesting external world conditioned by the mental imprints of those who find themselves within it. All of us in other words. Thus, samsara is not and can never be a paradise.

Meditation is not an abandonment of thinking, but a refinement of it. Only in the space of meditation can wisdom arise, and without wisdom all our thinking is only vain conceptualisation. Which is why it’s absurd to call upon a figure like Slavoj Zizek (entertaining though he can be) to support your criticisms of the Buddhist path - a little like asking a blind man for advice on interior decoration. Zizek, like yourself, may know plenty about ‘ideology’ - but Buddhism is not an ideology. Rather, it’s what we encounter when all ideology has been torn to shreds. It is not a belief: it’s what remains when all beliefs have been deconstructed and refuted.

In short I’m just trying to say that the heart of the Buddhist path can only be approached through diffidence and humility – and meditation. Admitting the profundity of our ignorance is the first step towards wisdom – a wisdom inseparable from compassion in which there is no room for anger and resentment at the apparent unfairness of the world.

We are the world (to quote a terrible song) and the world is the mirror of our mental imprints. Things cannot be other than how they are. It’s my understanding that the greatest (some of them of course are very far from great) Buddhist masters knew – and know – this. You’d might do well to surrender some of your pride and listen to them.

Best wishes

alalaho's picture

i was speaking of the Buddha's essential message. he taught that there is suffering, a cause, the cessation, and the path. not stress reduction. that seems to be watering it down. diluted.

perhaps because to really understand that message that all condition existence results in suffering is a pretty strong pill to take.
addressing capitalism, depending on one's motivation, can also be fueled by ideology.

when Buddha spoke of suffering, he was not leaving out capitalism. and he was not leaving out socialism either. when there is grasping, attachment, there is suffering. i don't know of any Buddhist mindfulness practice that keeps folks in any kind of stupor or acquiescence. i would say that depends on ones own motivation.

zumacraig's picture

i agree, buddhism is not about stress reduction. the idea of stress is a relatively new thing. however, that is not the error in this author's thinking. it's the fact that there is some sort of 'essential message'. there is no essential message if you take dependent origination and anatman at full strength.

everything is ideological, there's no escape. mindfulness is an ideology that is about bliss and not thinking. my ideology is about ending suffering and any practice that purports some essential truth and here and now meditation is, by it's very nature, willfully ignorant of the unfathomable suffering caused by capitalism.

why would anyone listen to anything these lamas have to say when they can't even be critical of their own ideology, much less understand the collective mind, the nature of ideology, atman and dependent origination.?

alalaho's picture

yes, i agree.
taking the 12 links and no-self at full strength would seem to be enough. but Buddha gave many, many, teachings. for the many, many, different states of mind. to think we understand dependent origination and no-self, i believe, is very different then a realization of these truths.
still a work in progress for me.
i would disagree that any practice that purports a here and now meditation is by nature willfully ignorant of suffering.
for some, it is the very fact that there is no presence, that there is ignorance of the sufferings of beings, including their own. and not just caused by capitalism.
i don't know what your message is by saying these lamas can't be critical of their own ideology. your ideology is about ending suffering. these teachers have the same motivation. they teach the buddhadharma.

zumacraig's picture

Check out Zizek's critique of Buddhism.

The problem with mindfulness meditation is that it is about bliss, not thinking. No thinking equals no critique of the causes of suffering...capitalism being one. These teachers seem to be unable to grasp basic truths of the religion the teach. How could anyone with any sense of enlightenment take vows in a sect (Tibetan) that is rampant with suffering and oppression in its theocracy?

Dolgyal's picture

zumacraig: What Tibetan theocracy is there in the present? That ended over sixty years ago and the notion that 'they' are rampantly oppressing people is fanciful. If you are referring to the Central Tibetan Administration, which has very limited juristiction over the mere 90,000 odd Tibs in India with no army, not even one policeman, not much of a state apparatus really to worry about, is it? If Tibetans in China disavow wearing fur trim on their chubas, for example, out of respect to the exiled Dalai Lama, that stems entirely from their own volition.

zumacraig's picture

Look a little more deeply into the history of Tibet and you'll see what I'm talking about. Theocracy may not be the right word. More like a Buddhocracy. Tibetan Buddhism is an ideology, not some great eternal truth discovered and maintained by the Lamas. Of course they are being ruled by China, but the internal dynamics of the dark underbelly of the 'pristine' Tibetan Buddhism remain. Misogyny, monarchy, oppression of peasants, executions, sexual repression, rape. It's not, nor has it ever been, all incense and roses in those mountains. Delusional American Buddhist racism falls into the trap of idealizing Tibet and as a result abandoning critical thought.

In other words, there is no difference between saying the king rules because he was chosen by god and the Rinpoches rule because of their otherworldly attainment. It's all bullshit and educated liberal minded Americans who are concerned about human suffering and enticed by Buddhism should know better.

Dolgyal's picture

Your cartoon image of an evil feudal oligarchy is as distorted as the flip side: the much deflated 'Shangrila' myth –but if you speak of 'misogyny, monarchy, oppression of peasants...', you may as well be talking about Great Britain, China, Russia etc.
By the way, my father is a non-aristocrat from Lhasa and my mother is from Dege, Kham, so I did not grow up putting my hand on my heart pledging allegiance America, a great country, but not without historical flaws: I understand both Washington and Jefferson had relationships with slaves. Lincoln apparently toyed with a mass deportation deal sending the former slaves to Haiti, in the same way thousands of Afro-Americans were resettled in Liberia.

I recommend Melvyn Goldstein’s A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State and Tibet: A Political History, by Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa but for me, Hugh Richardson's nuanced writings on Tibetan history perhaps best capture the truth.

zumacraig's picture

Both of those books allude to exactly what I'm saying above. In addition, I'm not saying America is some flawless nation. Quite the contrary. My main point is that American Tibetan Buddhists tend to have difficulty with the idea that Tibetan Buddhism is an ideology and not some magic land of the enlightened. Tibet is a special case and should be held to an even more rigorous critique precisely because of it's historical claim of compassion and ethics that are in contrast to it's historical reality.

That being said, of course, the Chinese oppression of Tibet is absolutely horrible.

Dolgyal's picture

zumacraig: I completely agree with applied critical thinking. It is dangerous to conflate issues and compare countries, but nevertheless Tibet stands as a rare example of a non-militaristic civilization.
This is from China: "A gold and jade statue of Mao Zedong worth more than $16 million was unveiled Friday" I like the gold shoes.

zumacraig's picture

Good point. And of course China is a mess. A totalitarian/fascist state-run capitalist nation giving communism a bad name. Beautiful statue though. :-)

alalaho's picture

thanks, i''l check it out.
here's a link to an article from here, that was pretty interesting.


alalaho's picture

oops! forgot the link.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Both capitalism and socialism were non-existent 2,500 years ago. But the human condition was. This is what Buddhism addresses directly: the innate greed, belligerence and ignorance that are simply magnified, not created, by capitalism.

zumacraig's picture

assuming anything is innate indicates a lack of understanding of atman, ideology and buddhism. we are a collective mind made up of socially created concepts about mind-independent reality. we don't have to have greed, ignorance or belligerence. however, capitalism is a huge obstacle to this change and reinforces and reifies these so-called innate characteristics of humanity.

the danger in this kind of thinking that greed is natural is the mindset that we can do nothing about it. we think capitalism and greed and ignorance are natural and we can't change them. the hell we can't! nothing is essential. it's all created, dependently arisen from our collective mind. this is a truth that is just quashed by this current wave of non-thinking mindfulness.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Are you saying a so-called "collective mind" is pure and unsullied?

zumacraig's picture

no, quite the opposite. there is no pure, transcendent consciousness. the collective mind is created. we have to think to change it, not sit in meditation. although, meditation can be helpful in helping us increase attention for thinking.

mahakala's picture

capitalism doesnt "magnify" the human condition any more than a book "magnifies" words

Dominic Gomez's picture

Are you saying the story of humankind has always been "Das Kapital"?

mahakala's picture

im saying that society (and its economy) are direct extrapolations of humanity itself.. in all its manifestations, motivations, etc. with their particular predominances and so forth

in other words, ideologies are not existent as fixed qualities but are akin to representations of the overarching trajectory of our species making its way through time and space.. they have aspects of both cause and effect

but in terms of utilitarian facility - the current system of capitalism is highly efficient and focused means of extracting wealth from the many and securing it with the few.. its not very sustainable in the long term, but in this case the long term could be quite a while (when compared to the span of one human lifetime).. then again, maybe not

increasing population density and advances in technology (speed of communications, calculations, databasing and so on) along with increasing legal systematization of these methods is what is responsible for the acceleration of ill-effects of an unbalanced capitalist system.. and its practically a 1:1 ratio - but the magnitude of such ill-effects have always been part of basic human nature to begin with.. the rate of manifestation is what has changed, which is just a natural consequence of factors listed above

empires have come and gone plenty of times before.. more than likely, it will happen again

Dominic Gomez's picture

We concur here: Society is a reflection/manifestation of the human condition, which contains the 3 poisons as well as the life-conditions of bodhisattva and Buddhahood. Wisdom developed with Buddhist study and practice is the tool by which we can keep from sinking into the lower life-conditions that lie at the root of (modern) society's ills.

zumacraig's picture

good points here. what's fascinating about capitalism is that it's failures have been seen time and time again, but we're so deluded that we forget and still fall back on the bankrupt ideologies of the protestant work ethic etc.

Alex Caring-Lobel's picture

Some, though probably not enough, has been written about how Buddhism both responded to and developed within new types of market economies. It was popular among the cosmopolitan elite and its spread was concomitant with a rising mercantile class. Neither the Buddha nor Buddhism is ahistorical. Nor, I think, is the "human condition."

Dominic Gomez's picture

The market economy nurtured by the Silk Road was an excellent platform for Buddhism's transmission beyond the land of its origin. The Internet is fulfilling that same role for the Law in today's global economic environment.

zumacraig's picture

This is great, so you're saying that we can thank capitalism for spreading buddhism and the internet is where wisdom is spread. This is the kind of the delusion that must be seen through.

Let me re-write what you've written above from the faithful buddhist perspective: capitalism is the cause of human suffering and as humans concerned as such, must work to end it. Had Buddhism not been assimilated into capitalism, it would've dismantled it as delusion immediately. In addition, the internet is nothing more than regurgitated rhetoric.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Just callin' 'em like I sees 'em, Zumacraig. You're able to post your beliefs online because the economic benefits of capitalism have allowed you to access higher education and plug in a modem.

zumacraig's picture


Technology and education are not synonymous with capitalism. That's just lazy thinking. However, I'm not surprised hearing it from you. I just need to ignore your infantile comments on this blog. Do you really think that I'm going to respond and say, 'oh man, you're right...i should just ignore the obvious and unfathomable suffering capitalism has caused and not critique it because you say it's given me an education and technology'? You're either willfully ignorant or just plain stupid...a critique that fits all the teachers that expound their nonsense on these pages and in x-buddhism.

Technology is a nightmare precisely because of capitalism. Education is a complete mess precisely because of capitalism. Our inability to even think for one second critically about what we believe, much less have an open dialog, is precisely because of capitalism.

If you'd like me to say more, I'm up for a discussion, but not if you continue with these ridiculous conversation stopping comments like the above.

Dominic Gomez's picture

You are welcome to post any opinion you desire, Zumacraig. It's all for the benefit of our valued readers who, as you have likely read, have also been forming their own opinions. (BTW, my opinion is that materially comfortable folks blaming "capitalism" for the world's suffering is like blaming your car for the speeding ticket you got ;-)

zumacraig's picture

What you can't see is that even those who seem to be benefitting from capitalism are suffering too. I critique capitalism precisely because it's made my life a nightmare, as it has yours. I'm serious about ending suffering and will not flinch or stop thinking about how capitalism tops the list of causes. That is not opinion, but seeing through delusion.

Your ability to write such infantile nonsense on this blog is the result of the surplus labor of the majority of humans on the planet. We have negative freedom because it comes on the backs of the suffering. Any buddhist that does not see this is still deluded.

wilnerj's picture


You will dismiss what I write here as mere fiction or worse the machinations of a deluded mind. So be it!

At one time, in a different land and time I wrote similar articles as your comments here knocking capitalism and those critics who failed to get it together, so to speak, and present cogent arguments revealing the inner contradictions of a bankrupt system rooted in the exploitation of millions. One day I was arrested and spent an agonizing period pacing my jail cell in the Lubyanka prison. I knew that I forsook the regime that was the hope of the world providing the only alternative to a backward looking system and the only front against its threatening posturing in the form of fascism.

What I did not know was the charge of treason and how it came to be. But the reality of my arrest and time in the gloom of this prison confirmed my guilt. With pen in hand I drafted my confession of imagined crimes and signed it. After pacing about the floor behind the bureau, an officer in blue approached. I quickly sat by the bureau and waited. He came behind me and a loud blast rang out. I grew numb from head to waste and my torso collapsed like a rubber doll upon the desk. The thought that remained was disbelief that this was happening to me -- a denouement -- pure extinction.

And so in the perspective of things that encompasses other lifetimes, the battles fought and yet to be fought come round again and again with numerous defeats and Pyrrhic victories. Rather than alleviating the suffering of others these battles whether in words or in actions are nothing other than forms of suffering. But the key to alleviate dukkha (Skt. suffering) is with each breath. That, my friend, is all.

zumacraig's picture

The key to alleviating suffering is seeing through collective delusion and working to change the structures that cause suffering. Breathing will go on (or not) regardless.

wilnerj's picture

Breathing will go on regardless. And it holds the key to end suffering.

Your responses have given me the opportunity to share and to learn though we disagree,

Thank you.

Dominic Gomez's picture

May I ask how long you have been studying and practicing Buddhism? And what is the nature of your "nightmare" of suffering due to "capitalism"? Are you saying the destruction and elimination of "capitalism" will free you from your own suffering (not to mention that of countless others)? (It's been attempted several times in various countries in the last century.)

zumacraig's picture

I've studied Buddhism for almost 20 years. The nightmare of living in a capitalist country is the same for everyone, having to sell my labor for basics substance living.

Saying life is suffering and individuals have to free themselves is a sad representation of the Truth that Buddhism has to offer. Seeing through delusion, taking anatman seriously and working to change the structures that cause actual suffering is the work of a Faithful Buddhist. It's all right there in the 8-Fold Path and has nothing to do with platitudes or lazy thinking.

I suggest you do some research on how capitalism requires utter poverty of the majority. I also suggest you read some real Buddhist books like the Cowherds and Cruel Theory-Sublime Practice and recycle all your Think Not Hanh tomes.

And yes, any movement away from this irrational cesspool of an economic system will end quite a bit of suffering. And when I say suffering, I don't mean some floating signifier for American angst. I mean hungry stomachs and slave labor (among a million other things).

If any real end to suffering is to come about in the time of humanity, capitalism will have to be dismantled. To follow a religion based on the end of suffering and not see this is pure delusion and astounding.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Have you tried improving your job skills so that you can get a promotion and raise? The wise Buddhist does not give in to obstacles.

zumacraig's picture

Working for the promotion and a raise are capitalist myths. The obstacle is delusion; followers of Buddhism claiming a practice that is actually perpetuating the structures that cause so much suffering. If you're serious about ending suffering then I encourage you to look at how capitalism causes it and suspend the idea that capitalism is some natural way of things.


Dominic Gomez's picture

Are you presently working on a plan to overthrow the capitalist system and replace it with something else?

dpack61's picture

This is a very entertaining thread you have going here. I guess we can conclude that capitalism is the worst economic system devised by man, except for all the others. As any good follower of Buddhism, I choose to recognize reality for what it is and work with it. Namaste.

zumacraig's picture

I find it astounding and cripplingly depressing that any attmepts at critiquing an economic system that requires poverty and suffering is met with sarcasm, derision and dismissal.

Dpack, Dominic: you are not arware of how deluded you are, yet you profess adherance to a philosphy that's founded on ending such delusion and looking at one's beliefs with a critical eye. Doesn't the notion of dependent orgination, at least, much less Right Livlihood, give you pause to consider the current economic system we live in? And if you vow to end all delusions, wouldn't it be worth some time in your practice to think a moment about how you might be deluded and converse with others who are considering the same things with rigorous thought and critique? Has buddhist practice, the way you see it, really ended any suffering or has it just deluded us to the point of giving up on changing the world?

We can wake up to the fact that all is ideological. Our mind is collective and our concepts about mind independent reality are ideology. Seeing this frees us up to actually work to change the world from a miserable suffering exhistence of subsistance to one where our ideologies are chosen intentionally with an arc toward the end of suffering. I say we start with the basics; good food, solid shelter and excellent medical for all humanity...because that will undoubtedly lead to much less suffering in this world. It will we be hard work and lots of feelings will be hurt when delusions are laid bare.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Critique is good. As an artist I do it all the time. But critique without action is a dead end. That's why I practice Buddhism. It empowers me to take wise action in real time in the real world to make the changes I want to see.
I live in America. Many people today want to make it work better. But real, beneficial change takes time and thoughtful effort. (Obamacare comes to mind.)
You have the heart of a bodhisattva, Zumacraig, to have compassion for people's suffering. Don't lose that feeling and become discouraged or jaded as you grow in your Buddhist faith and practice and, consequently, in your life.

zumacraig's picture

I'd encourage you to rethink critique without action is a dead end. It is this kind of thought stopping ideas that keep us deluded. Critique is absolutely necessary and hopefully appropriate action will follow.

Dominic Gomez's picture

I didn't say critique is UN-necessary. But, as you yourself say, "appropriate ACTION (should) follow". Action transforms critique into real change. That's why I suggested that you improve your skills and become a valuable person in your work and in society, so that you no longer have to "sell your labor for basics substance living." It behooves the Buddhist to enjoy living, no matter what happens during its course.

zumacraig's picture


When I say labor, I mean whatever one does for work. I'm not a manual laborer. This whole notion of finding the work you love and being a productive member of society is part of the myth of capitalism that we all buy into without thinking.

As far as enjoying life goes, that's also a slippery slope. What is enjoying life? In American, the things we enjoy are the direct result of the suffering of others. There is not way we could have the lifestyles we have with out the cheap labor and exploitation of the majority of the world's workers. That is why mindfulness meditation is the problem. Instead of thinking and working for change it reinforces ignorant capitalist subjects.

Dominic Gomez's picture

You have the heart of a bodhisattva, Zumacraig, feeling the pain of all living beings. Buddhism is common sense. It also teaches that change comes from within. In our case as fortunate Americans we change the outer, detrimental effects of capitalist consumption from within the system itself. Become the change you want to see. Discuss with your friends, neighbors and professional associates the life-affirming, compassionate philosophy of Buddhism.
In Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism this one-to-one transformation of society is called "human revolution".