August 07, 2013

A Moral Politics

Nourishing change in US food policyVen. Bhikkhu Bodhi

For months members of the House of Representatives wrangled over how much in cuts they would make to the nation’s food stamps program in the new Farm Bill they were drafting. On July 11th, by a vote of 216 to 208, the House finally passed a bill, and guess what? The bill does not include any funding for food stamps. Opposition to the bill was strong—all Democrats joined by twelve Republicans voted against it—but the majority prevailed, reflecting the agenda of Tea Party ideologues and conservative deficit hawks who dominate in the House.

The vote does not mean that food stamps are about to be consigned to the dust bin of history. The House version of the bill still has to be reconciled with the Senate version, which includes allocations for food stamps, and the White House has said President Obama would veto any bill that drops food aid. Republicans have tried to mollify opposition with a promise to draft a separate food stamp bill in the near future, and even some advocates for hunger relief applaud the separation of food aid from subsidies for Big Agribusiness.

The Senate version of the Farm Bill, passed with bipartisan support in June, is far from benign, cutting expenditures on food stamps by $4 billion over the next decade. A cut even of this size moves the country in a direction opposite from where we need to be moving. But even more worrisome is the pugnacious attitude in the House, which raises suspicions that conservatives are keen on reducing SNAP—the food stamps program—to little more than a pale image of its former self. The Republican bill proposed last month, which went down in defeat, would have slashed funding for SNAP by $20.5 billion over a ten-year period. With deficit hawks and rural conservatives united against government spending, there are reasons to fear they will try to push through cuts as drastic as they can get away with.

The ultimate future of food stamps is now clouded in uncertainty, but I’m not concerned with the issue from a political perspective, where the focus is on using the right tactics and issuing the right sound bites to triumph in the struggle for power. I look at the contention in ethical terms, as presenting us with a choice about the fundamental premises that define our sense of collective identity. Given that government, in theory at least, is our common will, representing us as a people, how do we define ourselves? Will we come to the aid of those among us struggling to get by or will we throw the needy back upon their own meager resources? Is the prevailing philosophy of governance one of mutual concern and collective help, or one of stark individualism in which everyone has to fend for themselves, or at best rely on charity? This is not so much a political question as a moral one, a question pertaining to the moral basis of our common life. Much depends on how we answer it.

When the question is addressed from a moral point of view, one thing is clear: the combined voices of compassion and social justice decree that we give those in need a helping hand, not a hand that takes away the raft keeping them afloat. Today millions of Americans are struggling to get by in an inert economy hit hard by persistently high unemployment and debilitating poverty. Forty-eight million people depend on food stamps, among them the long-term unemployed, elderly people, single mothers, and children both in the urban jungles and rural back country. Six million folks have no other source of income but food stamps. Fast-food workers, service sector employees, and other manual workers are paid a minimum wage that is far too minimal even to support a child. If we’re really serious about fulfilling the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” extolled by our Founding Fathers, we must begin by ensuring that people can eat properly. While it’s best that those in the prime of life work at jobs paying decent wages that will enable them to buy their own healthy and nutritious foods, for those cast down through no fault of their own, what is needed is more nutritional assistance, not less.

Moreover, it can’t be argued that shortfalls in public food assistance can be made good by private charity, that the poor can turn for help to religious and secular organizations devoted to helping the hungry. The plain fact is that the amount of funding required to provide nutritional assistance on the scale we face today exponentially exceeds that available through private charities. The only collective body that can address such demand is the government. It’s thus up to our representatives to decide where they stand: whether they will offer the hungry and undernourished a helping hand, or withdraw their help and offer empty plates and hollow platitudes about hard work and personal responsibility.

Just a few weeks before the vote on the Farm Bill, I read a report entitled Nourishing Change: Fulfilling the Right to Food in the United States, published earlier this year by the International Human Rights Clinic at New York University’s School of Law. The report underscores the hard truth that the U.S. is facing a food security crisis of immense proportions. Food insecurity affects 50 million people—one American out of six—including nearly 17 million children. Of the 50 million, 17 million live in households described as “very low food security,” defined as a condition where people often have to skip meals or subsist on snacks, where they struggle with hard choices between buying food or paying for medical care, rent, and heating.

The report, which is concise and clear and well worth reading in its entirety, points out that food insecurity is not the result of a shortage of food. It’s the result of poverty, and of policies that fail to prioritize the needs of low-income Americans. Moreover, the report contends, government policies over the past decade have weakened the social safety net, subtly chipping away at programs that showed the country at its most compassionate. Even the benefits given under SNAP hardly suffice to provide its beneficiaries with adequate nutrition. Food stamps offer less than $2 per meal for each person in a household. To stretch these funds, families usually purchase cheap junk food—high in calories but low in nutritional value—over healthful fruits and vegetables. If government spending on food stamps shrinks on account of the new bill, dependent families will inevitably be pushed ever closer to the abyss of desperation.

Rather than see food assistance as an act of charity on the part of the government, the report argues for a different approach that regards adequate food as a human right. This is essentially the same position endorsed in a paper by BGR Board member Charles Elliott on the “right to food” as a fundamental human right. From this standpoint, people are recognized not simply as recipients of charity but as holders of rights. And since rights imply duties, to adopt this standpoint is to treat governments as duty bearers, responsible for ensuring that all people under their jurisdiction can realize their right to safe and nutritious food (p. 24). Respecting the right to food entails an obligation to develop policies and programs that empower people to feed themselves and their families. But, the report argues, when people are unable to obtain food for themselves, the government must implement effective social programs that directly provide adequate food to those in need.

Applying the human rights framework to the issue of food security “shifts the focus from individual or private efforts to the government’s responsibility to ensure that people are actually empowered to provide for themselves and their families. The rights-based approach to food demands accountability from duty bearers for failures to fulfill the obligations described above” (p. 25). At present, when the economic downturn that began in 2008 has cast millions of people into chronic unemployment, and when neoliberal theory exhorts employers to downsize, shift their operations overseas, and scale back salaries and benefits for their employees, a human rights approach to food security becomes especially timely.

But while the human rights approach is relevant to food assistance, its ramifications go much further, extending to almost every aspect of public policy. Besides nutrition, it has implications for taxation, health care, energy, education, and the environment. A human rights approach gives precedence to the moral point of view, and thus counters the tendency of market fundamentalism to provide the corporate elite with a rationale for appropriating ever more wealth for themselves. The human rights approach recognizes all people as essentially equal in their fundamental needs and thus as entitled to the material and social requisites of a dignified human life.

Taking the moral standpoint means that in deciding how to act, we must place ourselves in the position of those who will be affected by our actions and then make our decisions by considering how we would feel if we were in their place. This virtually turns moral reflection into an exercise in meditation, the overlap between the two being especially evident in the meditations on lovingkindness and compassion. In the meditation on lovingkindness, we project ourselves imaginatively into the position of others—traditionally, the respected person, the dear person, the mere acquaintance, the stranger, and the hostile person—wishing for each the same degree of well-being and happiness we wish for ourselves. In the meditation on compassion, we bring to mind people afflicted with suffering, imagining we are in their place and generating the wish that they be free from suffering. Moral reflection and the meditations on lovingkindness and compassion thus inform and shape each other. Both call into play the ethical imagination. Both require that we rise up above our entrenched private point of view and act on the basis of an impartial, panoramic perspective on the maximum good achievable for others and ourselves.

Together, moral reflection and meditative contemplation give us grounds for holding that government is obliged to fulfill the basic needs of the vulnerable among us. This is particularly the case with regard to food, housing, and medical care. If we push hard on the human rights approach, enacting cuts to SNAP becomes not only heartless but a breach of duty subject to moral reproach.

Adopting this orientation leads to a very different outlook from that of neoliberal theory, which subordinates moral considerations to those of competitive expediency. Whereas neoliberal theory encourages stark individualism, human rights theory advocates a sense of humane responsibility. It holds that we are inextricably bound together in a community in which we all depend on one another and in which the welfare of each depends on the well-being of all. Whereas the most prized personal assets in neoliberal theory are strength, ambition, cunning, and competitive zeal, human rights theory gives precedence to care, compassion, and cooperation.

Whereas neoliberal theory sees us as intrinsically engaged in a brute struggle in which we must each seek to prevail over others, a human rights approach implies that we have duties to others, with government functioning as our collective organ in fulfilling these duties. Thus, the human rights approach says that government has a role to play in establishing communal welfare. Rather than standing on the sidelines and letting market forces determine the fate of persons in a drifting sea of private interests, government must provide a life boat. At minimum this means it must ensure that no one is crushed by the blows of a harshly competitive economy. 

These two theories are not merely theoretical but the springs of two very different attitudes to life. They have very real, very “hard,” impacts in the real world, on the formulation of policies and in the way societies are governed. In their differences they hang before us, demanding that we choose between them. The fate of our civilization, for good or for harm, will almost certainly depend on the choice we make.


Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi is a Theravada Buddhist monk originally from New York City. He is the former editor of the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and has many important publications to his credit, the most recent being his full translation of the Anguttara Nikaya (Wisdom Publications, 2012). In 2008, he founded Buddhist Global Relief, a nonprofit sponsoring hunger relief and education in countries suffering from chronic poverty and malnutrition. An earlier version of this essay appeared on the Buddhist Global Relief blog.

Further Reading

Into the Fire: Food in the Age of Climate Change

The Attack at Home: A new bill threatens the food security of millions 

Preserving the Fecundity of the Earth: Climate change poses the single greatest threat to the world’s food supply. But we can stop it.


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ynia's picture

My friend's daughter, a nurse, just beginning her career, with four children, all under age 14 was recently abandoned by her husband. She found a job working 45 hours per week that pays her enough to barely subsist, in part due to the cost of child care. This situation is one in which millions of young people find themselves. She is very fortunate to have found a job at all, even one that does not provide health care. Without food stamps and WIC (food supplementation) as well as financial help from several members of her family she and the children would be homeless and hungry. Since I voted for some of the Congrssional representatives in the 80's and 90's that dismantled the restrictions that prohibited big banks from creating "innovative" investment products (hedge funds) and other restrictions I am indirectly responsible for some of the consequences of the rise of "big finance/big business" and the greed that has taken over our country and many others. I am therefore responsible in a real, tangible way for her financial situation and the impact of her working 45 hours per week is having on her children. Of course many others are also responsible - particularly the father of her children. As a new student of Buddhism, I have been surprised at the viewpoints expressed in some of these posts, especially those seemingly based on the idea that individuals are separate from each other and/or their elected officials. It is my understanding that the Buddha (and Jesus) taught that we are all one. Buddha also, I believe, taught that we are to live simply - in the "middle way". I'm unable to comprehend how these teachings support the position that the "government" is the problem or different from "us", and that we should stop any program that helps the poor and infirm, regardless of the waste involved. Thank you all for your thoughts and insights. I am truly blessed by this forum and all of you. ynia

drleroi's picture

The idea that food stamps buy votes for the democrats is false. The biggest single user of food stamps and disability is Mississippi, a solid red state. It is also in the top three in obesity. Also, the working poor, at Walmart, fast food, etc. also recieve a large percentage of food stamps, because our minimum wage is too low to support people who work full time in those jobs. If we required all employers to provide health insurance, and pay a fair living wage, we would not need the subsidy programs. In effect, the rest of us are subsidizing retail and fast food giants. This is just economics. It has nothing to do with charity.

Alex Caring-Lobel's picture

spot on!

william allred's picture

A provocative statement, this article. If everyone who reads it, comments and discusses it, is then moved to some sort of action then change arises. A good and natural result.

zumacraig's picture

A better article would've asked the question, 'why are there poor people?'. And then qualified this question by stating, unflinchingly, that there is absolutely no excuse for poverty and no good explanation thus given.

I'll sit in zazen when all the hungry are fed everyday until the universe is done with us!

Dominic Gomez's picture

'Why are there poor people?' Karma, individually and as a nation. Food stamps are band-aids on deeper health issues.

Danny's picture

"Food stamps are band-aids on deeper health issues."
Dominic, respectfully: What in the dang five worlds are you talking about?

Dominic Gomez's picture

The karma people manifest in their present lifetimes. For many of us it's economic hardship, among other issues. Food stamps address only the surface of karma, which lies deeper within one's life and is changed through Buddhist practice.

mahakala's picture

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

- Jiddu Krishnamurti

Dominic Gomez's picture

And a profoundly sick society requires profoundly powerful medicine.

mahakala's picture

Indeed.

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bhb21's picture

when this magazine starts spouting political opinions, it diverges from its main purpose of assisting us on our spiritual path. this article is the opinion of a person that does not understand much about our constitution and the design of limited government. you cannot take my money and give it to someone else just because you think it is right. that is my perogitive. govenment is NOT obliged to fulfill the basic needs of anyone!
i grow by helping others, personally. government actually ends up hurting more that it helps. it takes away the incentive to get involved and help other because government does it for us. it is not efficient and allows many abuses to the system. dont tell me that because i am not in favor of food stamps i am not a moral person. this function used to be performed very effectively on a local level by churchs and other caring organizations.
i dont have time to write what needs to be said about this terrible article. it is "holier than thou" crap and just one uniformed persons opinion. your "neoliberal theory" is something you made up to support yourself and this terrible article.
if tricyle is going to start including this drivel in our magazine, i will go elsewhere for my spiritual help. i can read things like this in the NY Times.

msiegel1117's picture

Actually I have not read any articles like this in the New York Times. The author is relating Buddhist ethics and practice to collective action. Like Jesus did in the days of the Pharisees, he is arguing a moral way of treating the poor. You don't have to agree with this point of view, but the ideas of the writer are clearly even elegantly expressed. Your use of language is less artful. As an engaged investigator of the Dharma I do not see a clear duality between political action and spiritual practice. In my opinion, they are inextricably linked. I suggest you reread the article when you are less angry.

Mike

mahakala's picture

Government as an institution based on principals of idealism seems to be at odds with the reality of actions undertaken by most of the people who compose it. There is too much talking out of both sides of the mouth, with one of the most obvious glaring examples of the current administration being that of numerous drone strikes and the ("classified" "acceptable") casualties they create.

There is no way to separate the nature of people from the institutions they organize. In fact it is that very personal nature which is the source and root of the actions undertaken by the resulting "impersonal" corporation. It is puzzling how these actions are somehow regarded as removed from the full weight of individual responsibility by way of collectivity and "greater" purpose. Concepts of ethics become a faceless, nameless scapegoat for "getting the job done" - a "job" which is ultimately based on personal views and desires.

It is not possible to institutionalize ethical standards and human rights from the outside, as an imposition - it must come from inside the people who are inside the institution itself. As long as there is a vast majority of people who lack such ethical standards, there will be that very lack of ethical standards implemented. The radically vehement opposition to evenly shared resources is a good hint about the direction we have taken. Movement follows motivation.

william allred's picture

Unenlightened minds are subject to the whim and fancy of society, government and their own desires and prejudice. In total agreement with your view. Until the species awakens these political fixes will never yield the desired results. After the species awakens, there will be no need for politics or species...we linger because we have not awakened. Dabbling with the fine tuning of a broken system is a strong and unfruitful attachment.

JoseBuendia's picture

It seems to me that the Buddha (and all of sangha for that matter) relied on food stamps -- and they were only redeemable before noon.

However, I don't know about having a right to food stamps. There is a lot of benefit in being grateful.

robertomainetti's picture

thank you, i was in food stamps and i still need them but i do not qualify any more since bush administration took over at the same time many bills for treatments that i have never received started arriving and when i call medicare they told me not to worry about it. i save my apartment through hopwa that pay for my mortgage for some time when bill cliptom was the president. i lost three restaurants and an apartment in new york in this hiv/aids medical/pharmaceutical busniess. we all talk from our own experiences. thank you bhikkhu bodhi you are my teacher through many assays and lectures and i am learning paali with a new course in reading paali and listening to you and class on the internet. all the best. roberto

echevallier1's picture

What a loosy argument: "Food stam programs are used to get votes."
In a de,ocracy EVERYTHING is used to get votes. Should the State stops to buid roads too because it is used to get votes????? Cutting the food stamp program is not also used to get votes... And it works well.

I wonder how people can prefer to see people be hungry (including working people!!!!) than help them out because helping out destroys the "will" of these people. The will of what exactly? What will can you really have when you don't know when you'll eat? Surely to write something like that people never really suffer hunger.
Who can really work hard and participate to the society when they are hungry????

bardo's picture

This article, by an esteemed Buddhist scholar mimics Jesus's admonition to love and take care of your brother/sister...And shows the terrible affect of the Tea Party and other Republicans on American values...Very insightful, remember "neoliberalism" means libertarian ecomomics (which is the current Republican philosophy) where it's every man/woman for him/her self and all government programs that actually help people are thrown out, exactly what the Republican controlled Congress is doing now..."Take care of the least among you" Jesus said. Buddha said to live everyday to end the suffering of others. Politically, to me that means Vote Democrat. Period.

bhb21's picture

read the constitution and then try to learn more and understand what libertarian means, especially austrian economic theory. jesus and buddha told us to help each other - not get government to do it for us. democrat appears to = socialist. that is not our county.

william allred's picture

Good point. If you have more than you need, and you feel compelled to, give to those in need. Not a law or a moral imperative, just a much more efficient program than that which is administered by Big Banking in the form of food stamps.

Hktony's picture

The problem is we do not have true right versus left in politics. The right or republicans and democrats have sold out to big business. Business itself is no longer free but thanks to govt inaction has been allowed to stop free markets from forming. In short we have an elite group from govt and business working together. Business will continue to push for profits -that is what businesses do. The govt won't stop them or their livelyhood will be affected. Ultimately the responsibility lies with govt and they know this so they get you on board with this or that policy. The more people rely on govt more people need them. Food stamps, obamacare, jobs for life are all ways to do this. So you blame big bad businesses and the tea party. If big business was so powerful why on earth do you have a govt- -- for food stamps? Obama plays golf, flies his dog by plane and we criticize the tea party and big business. Education goes down the pan and we criticize true liberals. No clearly all we need is to be nice to poor people expand govt and all will be fine. In the mean time people get poorer which fuels the need for more food stamps and on we go. When does it stop?

Hktony's picture

I had always believed the Buddha taught self reliance and individual responsibility. By looking after yourself you can look after others . Letting in the govt turns this upside down. People need help this is clear but by weakening the social fabric and moving away from the individual and family to govt assistance will only lead to more govt intervention an less personal responsibility. The reason we have so much food stamps is because the govt is broken , corrupt and self serving. They have used poverty for votes. The real issue is to fix the corruption in govt not just keep handing out food stamps.
I do not hold completely with neo libs but I do not hold with the human rights approach either. Food stamps grew out of compassion but now is a vote earner for the left. They hold people in poverty and this is wrong and has nothing to do with human rights .
I could be wrong but Buddhism at least theravadin is closer to neo libs in that it pursues self interest and individual responsibility. The goals are different, peace versus goods, but the desire for change for progress is important. Relying on hand outs in the long run kills the will and destroys society. We always talk of a middle way. Maybe there is a middle way between neo libs and the left??

zumacraig's picture

Is there a way to think beyond these ideologically laden myths of government, personal responsibility, Buddha, Left, Right? A Faithful Buddhist response would be 'Yes'. A place to begin would be to deflate the causal power of these myths and tirelessly work at seeing one's ideology. Then being intentional about one's ideology in changing the collective mind. Dialectical thinking. What are some new questions? The old ones aren't getting us any where and continue to recreate these evil myths.

Rob_'s picture

The government is broken. A simple myopic vision that explains everything. No mention of the dominating influence of big business on government. Fighting against such things as a minimum wage, let alone a living wage. A minimum wage that doesn't keep pace with the cost of inflation. CEO's and higher brass who's salaries have increased exponentially compared to previous decades. Disparity of wealth greatly increased. This is not some "natural" market force. It's called greed. There was a time of much less government intervention into social concerns. It was called the gilded age. Robber barons, monopolists, child labor, no 40 hour work week, any attempts at unionizing being violently repressed. Better working conditions did not come about due to the kind heartedness of business leaders. And even with all the complaints about government intervention, business interests still have great influence. It boggles my mind how the poor are used as scapegoats. How exactly is "handing" out food stamps an example of a corrupt government? What's more corrupt is bailing out financial institutions and not even attempting to convict anyone for criminal behavior.

Hktony's picture

Yes the govt is broken- broken by politicians who took money from business. It's up to the people to unelect these corrupt people and elect honest politicians. Business people when it is in their interest will try and make a bigger profit all in line with business philosophy which is to make money. It is the politicians who are responsible for the bailouts, they control the purse strings and they make the laws. Unless you want to live in a socialist state such as Cuba, North Lorea, China, France then fix the politicians. It's the govts responsibility to have a fair playing field for business. They are responsible to people. Stop blaming business people. You have no iphones, cars, TVs, medicine, doctors, planes.... without business people. That's why third world people go to the USA.. Govt intervention stifle business, WE don't have real free markets now thanks to corrupt politicians allowing a distrortion in the markets. Business will close down if they keep being pushed around as the big bad wolves. Less business, less tax, more poverty. What happened to the american dream????

Rob_'s picture

If you wish, keep repeating your simplistic, over-generalized notion that the government is broken. To you, the politicians are at fault for taking money from business. Apparently business leaders that try to influence politicians bear no responsibility. Sorry, you can't slice and dice this to lay blame only on one side. You do the same with the bailout. It's only politicians to blame. Oh to live in such a value free business world where they only do what's to their "interest". Whatever the hell that means. More value free terminology.

And stop pulling out all this nonsense that if there weren't business people we'd all be living in the stone age. I'm not here to lay all blame on "business". It's more the greed that's so evidently shown in many aspects of business ... and particularly in a few arenas like the financial markets.

To you, government bad, business good. Not very insightful at all.

zumacraig's picture

I don't think it's possible to have a market system without greed. Greed is a direct result of such a system. They feed off each other to maintain and 'profit at all costs' way of business. The kicker is that it's written in law, essentially, that businesses must make a profit while poor folks are seen as lazy and character flawed for 'not saving money' and 'buying dumb stuff they can't afford'. It's systemic. We've got to work on changing our values and the systems that reinforce them.

zumacraig's picture

I'm with you almost all the way here. First, the American Dream has always been a myth. A myth that has fueled the ignorance of the masses. The American reality is that the government exists precisely to manipulate the market in the interest of capitalists. Big business runs the government to their advantage influencing laws that make it easier for them to make more money and spend less money. Corporate tax loopholes, for example. What this ultimately does is funnel money from the majority middle and lower class to the already rich. Our surplus labor lines their pockets and the surplus labor of the third world lines our pockets.

The other thing the government does is keep the masses at bay through the most minimal social programs in order to stifle any potential uprising. It's absolute genius. Trap the masses in a life of exhaustion, taxes, fees etc. and give them just enough 'help' to keep them active. Then, you get them to blame those 'lower' than them and the government for all their problems. It's perfect chaos of misinformation and delusion that keeps the masses at each others throats while they struggle individually by the hour. All of this while the top less than 1% suck more and more abundant resources for themselves.

This IS the way things are. To not see it is delusion and as Buddhists we are to break through delusions, see the causes of our suffering and respond to end that suffering. There is no ending of MY suffering with out the ending of EVERYONE's suffering.

cathemw's picture

Thank you for this most insightful and balanced response.

Dominic Gomez's picture

There is a middle way between neo-libs and the left. But the goal posts keep getting pushed back and forth by both sides of the aisle.

zumacraig's picture

There's no middle way, neo libs, left or goal posts. There's a collective mind that we can change toward ending suffering. Might as well be talking about the weather.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Changing the collective mind will be as tough as changing the weather. Not impossible, though. Hi William.

william allred's picture

Rain and intermittent thunder here. Ground absorbing generous precipitation from a blind sky, full of clouds. Trees, wildlife and my own garden, gratefully fed what was needed, by an anonymous, benevolent, generous natural source. Yeah, the weather; I see what you mean. Hi Dominic.

pennsocialworker's picture

When I was on food stamps I was working, full-time, in a school for children with emotional and social difficulties. The pay was low and my wife was unable to work due to health problems after the birth of my son. In my case, and I do not speak for all (although I think you may find that my case is more common than you think), my social fabric and my personal responsibility to my family and the population with whom I worked was strengthened by the 'government intervention' of food stamps. Since then I was able to progress in my field and currently administer several nationwide programs that serve thousands of homeless individuals across the country. Why wouldn't I vote for those who support a program that supported me and allowed me, in turn, to support others. It would be the height of selfishness no to. In my opinion you may want to re-think your comments about personal responsibility and government intervention.

zumacraig's picture

Thanks for sharing this.

melcher's picture

"...the Buddha taught self-reliance and individual responsibility. By looking after yourself you can look after others."

What a bizarre and twisted reduction of the Buddha's teachings! How does the doctrine of "my, me, mine" advocated in this post reconcile with the notion of "Sangha" which embodies an essential realization that we are all in this together?

Hktony's picture

The methodological characteristics of the Buddha's teaching follow closely from its aim. One of its most attractive features, closely related to its psychological orientation, is its emphasis on self-reliance. Ven. Bodhi's words

zumacraig's picture

Ven. Bodhi is wrong. Self reliance is a myth and for him not to see this makes me question is validity of teaching anything. Get away from that dude ASAP and go read Speculative Non-Buddhism's blog immediately.

Hktony's picture

From the theravadin teaching I may add of the way acrobats help balance each other.

lschaden's picture

I think what he is proposing in this article is the middle way. You are right that poor people are used to get votes. But if the government wasn't so broken and operated on policies that supported people being able to get jobs that paid living wages so they could support their families programs like food stamps would be much less needed. I believe it is the take over of our government by big business and their manipulation of most policies to do what is good for business rather than what is good for the people of the nation, that is a primary driver in the creation of the poverty that makes programs like SNAP necessary. Yes, politicians then crassly use those programs to endure their reelection. But if people could get jobs that paid a living wage, they wouldn't need those programs. Remember Buddhism says all people want the same thing, to be happy. For me a big part of being happy has been having meaningful work that paid a wage that allowed me to support myself. In the country today that is getting very difficult to do for millions of people. Not because they don't want to or because they are lazy, but because the country and the government have been sold a bill of goods that says whatever allows business to make more profits is the best thing to do. Trickle down economics say they will use those profits to create more jobs. But we have seen that is not true. They take those profits for themselves or their shareholders or use those profits to find new ways to increase profits by cutting costs. That almost always translates into jobs disappearing in this county.

yourneighbor57's picture

Thank you for this. I sometimes struggle with practice and politics. Attachment to views, attachment to outcomes seem to trip me up and it's hard to find a motivation that isn't based in clinging or aversion. This is such a clear description of politics based on compassion.