Filed in Politics, History

Occupy Buddhism

Or Why the Dalai Lama is a MarxistStuart Smithers

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Karl Marx and Dalai Lama

Marx’s Revenge

When the Dalai Lama announced his Marxist leanings last summer in Minneapolis, the only surprise was how surprising it was. The blogosphere was once again astir with this nonrevelation, which came by way of an Indian-born Tibetan journalist, Tsering Namgyal, who had tagged along when the Dalai Lama held a nearly three-hour meeting with 150 Chinese students. Namgyal, a Mandarin-speaking reporter living and studying in Minneapolis, had posted online that the Dalai Lama  surprised his young audience when he volunteered that “as far as sociopolitical beliefs are concerned, I consider myself a Marxist.”

 Namgyal’s post explained that a student had asked about the apparent contradiction between the Dalai Lama’s economic philosophy and Marx’s critique of religion. The Dalai Lama’s understanding was more nuanced than the responses of most of the bloggers who jumped on the story: he suggested that Marx was not actually against religion or religious philosophy per se but “against religious institutions that were allied, during Marx’s time, with the European ruling class.” (That would be the capitalist class.) The three-hour exchange was probably not designed for political sound bites. The year before the Dalai Lama had given a series of talks in New York at Radio City Music Hall. Following a press conference in the basement at Rockefeller Center, the Dalai Lama’s news office included this report in its summary: 

His Holiness said when he was in China in 1954–55, the Communist Party of China was really wonderful, and the Party members were really dedicated to the service of the people. His Holiness said he was very much impressed and told Chinese officials about his desire to join the Party. His Holiness said he still is a Marxist (although some of his friends ask him not to mention that) and he admired its objective of equal distribution (“this is moral ethics”). His Holiness however talked about the clampdown after the Hundred Flowers Campaign [1957] in China itself and said any authoritarian system always subdues any force that has the potential to stand up to it.

You might think he had his thoughts on the 99 percent, but the Dalai Lama has stayed on message for years, saying the same thing many times in many places—including a Time magazine interview in 1999, and in the following passage from Beyond Dogma: Dialogues and Discourses, in 1996:

Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned with only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production

 It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes—that is the majority—as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair…

 The failure of the regime in the Soviet Union was, for me not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.

So what’s all the fuss? Marx might still be an inspirational hero for the odd revolutionary in Peru or Nepal, but communism these days is generally summarized as a failed system that crashed and burned. So why this repeated hysteria about Marx? And why now?

While Joseph McCarthy was holding Senate hearings in 1954 and fueling fear of a threatening and subversive communist underground that never really materialized, the Dalai Lama was studying Marx with Mao’s China. Before actually studying Marx, he had also been taught to fear “communists” and representations of communism, with little knowledge of Marx or how China’s communist movement related to Marx’s theories. In the Time interview in 1999, the Dalai Lama reflected on these nuanced differences and possibilities of a “genuine communist movement” in Tibet:  

I was very young when I first heard the word communist. The 13th Dalai Lama had left a testament that I read. Also, some of the monks who were helping my studies had been in monasteries with Mongolians. They talked about the destruction that had taken place since the communists came to Mongolia. We did not know anything about Marxist ideology. But we all feared destruction and thought of communists with terror. It was only when I went to China in 1954–55 that I actually studied Marxist ideology and learned the history of the Chinese revolution. Once I understood Marxism, my attitude changed completely. I was so attracted to Marxism, I even expressed my wish to become a Communist Party member.

 Tibet at that time was very, very backward.  The ruling class did not seem to care, and there was much inequality. Marxism talked about an equal and just distribution of wealth. I was very much in favor of this. Then there was the concept of self-creation. Marxism talked about self-reliance, without depending on a creator or a God. That was very attractive. I had tried to do some things for my people, but I did not have enough time. I still think that if a genuine communist movement had come to Tibet, there would have been much benefit to the people.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Marx, communism, or capitalism (and usually a strong one), but whenever I have been able to have a sustained conversation about Marxism with friends or students they usually admit how little they know about Marx’s thought, falling back on the view that Marx was an advocate of communism (true), and the Marxism understood as “communism” represents a discredited and disgraced economic and political mode for states (sort of not quite true). In the unlikely event that they had actually read Marx, it was usually Marx and Engels’ very slim 30-page treatise The Communist Manifesto. Buddhists in this late stage of global capital might want to get up to speed on Marx.

Marx’s most important contribution was not a revolutionary labor movement, but his monumental 18-year study of the capitalist economic system, eventually published in three volumes between 1867 and 1894 as Capital (Das Kapital). Anyone interested in working through the text should start young—the three volumes weigh in at about 2,500 pages. Most people know the ending anyway: Marx was less than optimistic about capitalism’s long-term prospects, although how he gets there is why scholars and writers of all stripes have returned to his dense, difficult, logical, detached analysis of the world’s dominant economic system. What is perhaps most surprising in the text is the discovery that Marx’s cool and methodical deconstruction of capitalism is almost entirely free of moral argumentation or appeals to conscience. And readers hoping to understand or critique the communist mode that will finally appear when capitalism reaches its conclusion will also find a remarkable absence of detailed discussion about our future world beyond capitalism.

There have been few silver linings to the Great Recession and America’s own “jobless” recovery, but Marx’s return is certainly one of them. Marxists are stepping out of the academic closet in greater numbers, and new life is being breathed into Marx’s ideas. Capital, it turns out, is a dish best served cold.

Getting to Know TINA

It was either Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson or Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek (nobody seems totally clear on the point) who first suggested that it’s easier for people to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. But it was Margaret Thatcher as prime minister of Britain who insisted that the world needed to realize that there is no alternative (TINA, a slogan that become associated with her name, although she was not its author) to capitalism.

The current version of Marxist amnesia stems partly from the sudden demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the remarkable transformation of the economic culture in China. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Margaret Thatcher repeatedly declared that liberal democracy and capitalism had triumphed over communism and the historical struggle between the two political systems was over—history had ended, and capitalism as the last-man-standing was the only viable ideology.

But rumors of the death of Marxism and communism—and the eternal triumph of capital—were perhaps premature. Those who passively assented to Tina’s declarations (Thatcher was actually referred to as “Tina” by members of her staff and cabinet—but never to her face!) were not unlike the young Dalai Lama before his Marxist tutorials in Beijing. Today the Dalai Lama distinguishes Marx from forms of communism. There are many ways to critique the failed regimes of the USSR and China, but the main Marxist critique simply observes that neither of those historical situations actually fulfilled the conditions of a capitalist phase in which a bourgeois class establishes its power and control. Some identify the USSR as a brutal form of socialism, while both states seem to be what Marx described as forms of “crude communism” in his writings. About the time of Thatcher’s ascendency, the Tibetan-born teacher Chöygam Trungpa (1939–1987) wrote a poem, “International Affairs of 1979—Uneventful But Energy Consuming,” that suggests an understanding of communism that echoes the Dalai Lama’s lament that a genuine communism had not come to Tibet:

            Where is the spirit of communism?

            Marx, Engels, Lenin –

If they returned and saw what a mess they made in

the universe they would be horrified.

            We find nobody is practicing true communism.        

Tina was ahead of herself. The world didn’t need the Great Recession to see that structural problems in the economy were becoming more evident, but it didn’t hurt: countries like Spain are currently at about 25 percent unemployment, with youth unemployment just over a terrifying 50 percent. Still, the misery generated by the collapse is impressive and continues to unfold. For those who have read Marx, the conditions of collapse are a predictable precondition for the cyclical crises that capitalism creates and depends on. But that matters little to those who are left behind. As Marx wrote in Capital (vol. 1):

In every stockjobbing swindle everyone knows that some time or other the crash must come, but every one hopes that it may fall on the head of his neighbour, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in safety. Après moi le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society.

 Waking Up to Capital: Buddhist Insurrection

What do Marx and the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring and the indignados in Spain and the suffering surplus poor and the unemployed and the debt-ridden college graduates living at home and the consolidation of wealth and the destruction of middle-class wealth and the subprime collapse and bailout of banks “too big to fail” and the working conditions at the Fox Con Apple factory in China have to do with BUDDHISM?

In my classes, at conferences, and in conversation with friends, we have tried to imagine a world without capitalism. We are all swimming in the world of capital. Buddhism lives in the culture of capital, too. Capitalism is not just an economic system, it is the dominant world culture. History has provided numerous examples of political, economic and cultural collapse, including many societies that were in denial about what was happening during the shift. In 1932, the 13th Dalai Lama made a political prediction that proved fairly accurate:

In the present age the five great degenerations seem to totally dominate life on earth, to the extent that fighting and conflict have become part of the very fabric of human society. If we do not make preparations to defend ourselves from the overflow of violence, we will have very little chance of survival.

In particular, we must guard ourselves against the barbaric red communists who carry terror and destruction with them wherever they go. They are the worst of the worst. Already they have consumed much of Mongolia, where they have outlawed the search for the reincarnation of Jetsun Dampa, the incarnate head of the country. They have robbed and destroyed monasteries, forcing the monks to join their armies or else killing them outright. They have destroyed religion wherever they’ve encountered it ….

Therefore, when strength of peace and happiness is with us, while the power to do something about the situation is still in our hands, we should make every effort to safeguard ourselves against this impending disaster. Use peaceful methods where they are appropriate; but where they are not appropriate, do not hesitate to resort to more forceful means. Work diligently now, while there is still time. Then there will be no regrets.

Marxists often joke among themselves that they have successfully predicted ten of the last two crises. It truly is an unimaginable transition—a world without capitalism. And yet that is where many scholars, economists, and academics think we are headed. Marxian oracles like Eric Hobsbawm and Immanuel Wallerstein provide predictions for the end of a worn-out capitalism ranging from 15 years to “a very unpleasant” 40 or 50 years. Last fall at Occupy Wall Street, Zizek pointed out the systemic nature of capital’s precipitous decline:

We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath this ground. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street, “Hey, look down!”    

We are beginning to live between two worlds, in a cultural bardo. And the point should be made that we need to start imagining a new world, thinking of alternatives to this world, or we will very likely end up with something “very unpleasant”: an alliance of police, military and security interests with a very few in possession of consolidated wealth.

Income inequality and the consolidation of wealth are also the consolidation of power, and the threat of violence against the people when the people don’t obey. The consolidation of economic power displayed in capitalism is not necessarily a benign event. The “invisible hand” of the market hasn’t benefitted all peoples. Capital, according to Marx, has replaced organic and traditional relations between people with “naked self-interest,” with “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.” And the people doing the exploiting don’t seem much better off than the exploited. In the 1970s, the Tibetan scholar and translator Lobsang Lhalungpa (1924–2008) stopped midconversation while walking with people in San Francisco’s financial district. He surveyed the busy lunchtime scene, looking up, then down California Street, and finally observed: “I don’t see any humans here.” Roaming the streets of the financial districts, it is sometimes hard to escape the feeling that we live in a land of well-dressed hungry ghosts.

The materialism and affluence of the West was certainly a new and unknown condition for the Buddhist pioneers who scouted the West and studied our culture. Now 50 or 60 years into Western Buddhism, there has been a shift in emphasis from a critique of rank materialism to the need for a Buddhism free of, say, the old Tibetan or Japanese cultural forms, one suited for Western sensibilities, one without  “Asian cultural baggage.”

But the truth is that the entire world is much more “Western” now that capitalism is globalized. The world is merging with capitalism’s materialist zeitgeist: globalization isn’t just about commodity, production, and consumption—it is about culture, too. Some Buddhist teachers who have set up schools in the “West” pretend to critique aspects of American culture, but they are mostly superficial attempts that leave the root culture of late capitalism’s pervasive materialism firmly intact while adopting the technological fascinations of the moment. As Buddhist teachers and practitioners sort out the essential teachings from their own “cultural baggage”—the “blinding influence of culture,” as one teacher recently put it—are they aware of the forces of speed, chaos, alienation, and technological magic of late capitalism? Are we aware of the forces of capitalism?

My favorite image of Buddhism’s modern challenge appears in Chögyam Trungpa’s autobiography where he recounts an important lesson about the subtle seduction of the force of materialism that he received from his guru, Khenpo Gangshar. Escaping Tibet following the Chinese invasion in the 1950s, Trungpa was about to climb into the back of a truck—his first experience with a motorized vehicle—when Khenpo Gangshar grabbed him and warned, “You know how strong material forces are: now you are having one of your first direct encounters with them. Study what you are; don’t lose yourself. If you simply get excited about the journey, you will never find out what we are really up against.”

What are we really up against? Car and trucks are nothing now; faxing is an antique technology. What is the speed and seductive force of a Chinese truck bouncing along a dirt road at 15 miles an hour compared with smart phones, the internet, tweets, and the consumer’s life of instant gratification? Many teachers and adepts have exposed some of the cultural overlays of imported Buddhism and simultaneously unearthed aspects of the essential teachings. But we need to ask the same questions about Western culture if we wish to “see beyond cultures.” In many respects it is easier for us to see the Tibetan or Japanese cultural components of Buddhism than it is to see the American capitalist realities at work.

The Movement of the Real

Is Buddhism irrelevant in a world of brutality and permanent crisis? Does it have the legs of an emancipatory religion, a religion of liberation with the power to transform societies and cultures?

In several essays around 2000, when Buddhism in America was enjoying seemingly universal “success”—celebrity status for many of its authority figures, increasing institutionalization as it galloped  into the mainstream—Zizek wrote, and said in interviews, that Buddhism in the West was functioning as a fetish. Buddhism in the globalized capitalist world, he argued, functions as a “fetish” in the sense that “fetishists are not dreamers lost in their own private worlds, they are thoroughly ‘realists’ able to accept the ways things effectively are—since they have their fetish to which they can cling in order to cancel the full impact of reality.” In other words, the world we are faced with is full of injustice, suffering, pain, confusion, hopelessness, and stress, all in different orders of magnitude, and the Western Buddhist’s orientation, primarily through meditation practices, allows him or her to blunt or avoid the full impact of this reality.

For Zizek, Western Buddhism coincides to some degree, with the “comtemplative view.” This general critique is not original (think of Nietzsche on Asiatic nihilism, for example), but Zizek’s frequent remarks on the subject seem to hit a nerve with some Buddhists who have blogged their regret that Zizek clearly wasn’t familiar enough with Buddhist sources (and what are his sources, anyway?), or have complained about his general characterization of Western Buddhists as indulgent, pleasure-seeking, distancing, and largely apathetic to worldwide suffering and misery.

These criticisms are certainly valid to some degree, but they also express a defensiveness that fails to engage the bigger point: Western Buddhism, with its introspective emphasis on personal liberation, fundamentally aligns itself with the societal status quo. In many respects Buddhism does seem to function as a fetish. And for those who would point to various modes of “engaged” Buddhism, we might step back and ask the same question: Are these projects transformative, or do they too functioning primarily as a fetish to maintain an image of the self as a good Buddhist, while leaving the ground conditions of suffering and injustice unaddressed? In Zizek’s view, Buddhism in the West is the perfect ideological supplement to global capitalism

To be clear, Zizek criticizes the Western Buddhist attitude not because he has a theological axe to grind, but because he is adamantly in favor of a realistic engagement with the world and its forces. Following his Marxist bent, he argues that if one possessed such a realistic view, then one would naturally feel compelled to act and not withdraw. Zizek sees the meditative and contemplative position as withdrawal. Meditation as fetish allows us to withdraw—to distance ourselves from the world—and thereby maintain our sanity. Further, the structure of the fetish relationship enables us to pretend to accept reality as it is. It enables us to fully participate in the stressful, greedy, pressured, alienated, painful working world of contemporary culture while maintaining the conceit that we are separate from the spectacle, able to play the game as we like, and supposing that what really matters is this contemplative self detached and uninvolved. What riles Zizek about this scenario is that this fetish logic leaves the world intact as it is, and even strengthens hegemonic threats.

If the fetish were removed, the structure of false consciousness would collapse, often with devastating effects for the subject. As T. S. Eliot wrote: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

I think it is important to say that Zizek and cultural critics increasingly see differences between East and West dramatically diminished as Asia has been absorbed by global capitalism.  Asia might be the geographic origin of Buddhism, but the distinction is of little importance as the world becomes modern, Westernized, and the hegemony of global capitalism has become total, worldwide. So it is not surprising that Zizek would maintain that Buddhism globally is becoming Western Buddhism—and increasingly functions as a fetish that ultimately enables the status quo to maintain its continuing control, dominance, and expansion.

If Buddhism is finally about liberation from ignorance and errant views, both individually and collectively, then we might consider studying not only what we are but also the culture that invisibly influences and dominates us. Quite apart from advocating any alternative to the current system, we may discover sources of suffering and new patterns of desire and ignorance that are embedded in our actions. The study of capital would quickly become the study of suffering and false consciousness. The study of capital and the revelation of the conditions for what we might call an “emergent communism” could supplement our contemplative approaches as the movement of the real. Marx approached something similar in German Ideology, a work he wrote with Engels in 1846 (first published in 1932).

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.

The movement of the real abolishes error and simultaneously manifests as the self-liberation of society.

I realize that it’s unrealistic to think that sanghas will start Marxist study groups to actually try to understand capitalism, understand the misery and suffering that systemically result from capital, or to use his ideas on issues of identity, attachment, subjectivity, consciousness, materialism, alienation, and happiness to inspire alternative modes of living in the world. For those who are interested, the Dalai Lama’s half-Marxism seems like a good place to start, and if somebody finds his stance confusing or misguided, that seems like a good reason to take another look at Marx. But the charm of capital remains so great that I doubt Buddhists will be any less seduced by it than other groups.

No Regrets

Some of the Dalai Lama’s friends have asked him not to mention that he is a Marxist. Why?   

Regardless of the answer, there is something threatening and potentially discomforting about mixing Buddhism with discussions of money and politics. For some Buddhists the conversation is too profane, while others think it is impolite: they would prefer not to (to borrow a phrase from Melville’s Bartleby). They would prefer not to talk about property, income inequality, structural poverty, permanent unemployment, and the structural weaknesses of capital.

For a long time now, Wall Street, politicians and the media have preferred not to talk about these issues. However, that wall seems to be breaking down. Republican presidential candidates were especially anxious during the last primary cycle to label any discussion of wealth inequality as “class warfare,” insisting people drop the issue. But it didn’t work. Even Warren Buffett famously declared, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

The Dalai Lama’s friends would prefer he didn’t, yet year after year he reminds us of his Marxist leanings and his apprehensions about capitalism. Many Buddhists seem to have preferred not to hear him.

Like the Dalai Lama, the Occupy movement represents the true spirit of Melville’s Wall Street scribe: inexplicably, its members refuse to do what they are told, refuse to go away, but appear and again to the frustration of Wall Street and the mayors and police who represent the non-rocking boat of the status quo.

Americans and Buddhists might want to think about capitalism and how it can possibly be reconciled with the Buddha’s teachings. It’s difficult, to be sure, and gets very emotional for some. It might seem scary to think about its future, but that’s probably a good reason we should look at it: why is it scary to think about capitalism? It is as if Occupy has taken on the role of society’s collective therapist: patiently waiting and witnessing the tortured machinations of a society that tries to finally come to grips with its own state of denial.

Buddhism and America should enter the movement of the real and be engaged with the struggle to end suffering, and man’s inhumanity to man. The movement of the real is emotionally tough, because its first move is to reveal error. But it also appears in the emerging sangha, an invisisble movement of unification that appears in the action of the collective. The action of the collective is to be collected, to come together and deal with whatever arises from this being together. In the decline of capital, the saving power of the collective might appear in new and unexpected forms. Buddhist insurgency might look like a shift to a new leaderless sangha, or a new type of leader and teacher who discovers and understands the vast unrecognized potential of the collective movement of the real.   

The mode and manner of the collective movement of the real, of the new sangha, won’t live in the same forms that we expect and have grown comfortable with. If the movement of the real lives, it must constantly escape the known, the easily reproduced form:

A general uprising, as we see it, should be nebulous and elusive; its resistance should never materialize as a concrete body, otherwise the enemy can direct sufficient force at its core, crush it, and take many prisoners. When that happens, the people will lose heart and, believing that the issue has been decided and further efforts would be useless.... On the other hand, there must be some concentration at certain points: the fog must thicken and form a dark and menacing cloud out of which a bolt of lightning will may strike at any time. (Carl von Clausewitz, On War)

This is an image of Buddhist insurgency, of the future sangha. The bolt of enlightening energy, the sincerity of search for the real, could appear at any moment and in anyone, not just a sanctioned or authorized leader. The dark and menacing cloud is only menacing to the old order, to ignorance and forces of manipulation. The awakening energy of the lightning bolt is nearly invisible in its descent, but it becomes visible in the ascent of  the “return stroke”: lightning strikes from the ground up. The thickening collective of the group is the ground for the movement of the real and the abolition of error. The new sangha will be nebulous and elusive, yet it will appear in moments when the movement of the real is especially concentrated in individuals. In that moment the group will know the presence of the real.     

The Dalai Lama lamented that there had not been enough time for a transition to genuine communism. Maybe the time has come to ask him what he thinks genuine communism looks like. Events are happening now that signal, for some, the end of capitalism as we know it. Several critics have suggested that we need to start thinking now about what alternatives we might work toward. We need to remember Khenpo Gangshar’s warning: study what you are, don’t lose yourself. The challenge is probably greater than we think.  We are facing the same challenge today, even more intensely: we need to study ourselves, and not lose ourselves in the rebellious excitement of capitalism’s undoing. As Zizek told the Occupy Wall Street crowd: “There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves…. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives.”

Wall Street wasn’t built in a day, and its undoing won’t happen in a day either.  But as the 13th Dalai Lama recommended in his own period of radical transition, we should make every effort we can “while the power to do something about the situation is still in our hands… Work diligently now, while there is still time. Then there will be no regrets.”

Stuart Smithers is chair of the religion department at the University of Puget Sound, director of the Smoke Farm Institute, and a contributing editor to Tricycle.

An edited version of this article will appear in the July issue of Adbusters.

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Mrzader's picture

Important to me as I read this article is that HH Th Dali Lhama refers to "authentic communism" as an ideal that might have been helpful to Tibet. I don't think he is referring to the communism that has been corrupted by the confusion, greed, and hatred of humans.

mfesmith's picture

HH Dalai Lama:

'I am a supporter of globalization'
http://www.dalailama.com/news/post/362-exclusive-interview---i-am-a-supp...

Hardly a marxist by any stretch of the imagination.

cleefy69's picture

Are there two or more Dalai Lamas ? One is Gelug head Lama other one is ( was) leader of exile government of Tibet and then one a Marxist?
Sometimes I think it is time for next Buddha to show up in our realm and remind to all those Buddhist " leaders" what he (Buddha) was talking about. How can so called " spiritual" leader of Buddhism be so short sighted by saying that he is a Marxist? Does he not know a bit of History?
If he wants to affiliate himself to some political ideology he should do some reading on anarchism.
But at the end of the day would Buddha take any of political sides and affiliate himself to them?
My guess that he would not , none of them help to understand reality we live in and help us to understand suffering and its causes.

Halflotus's picture

I asked this on another article, and I don't like being redundant, but I think it's appropriate to ask here as well.

How does one reconcile one's Buddhist understanding of compassion with a Marxist ideology which has resulted in governments that have brutalized and killed tens of millions of human beings?

Jimbosimbo's picture

Interesting article, thanks. I read or heared in a dharma talk that one of the things Buddha discovered was that anyone can attain enlightenment, old, young, male, female,smart, dumb etc. He did not anticipate capitalism. So today we have to omit rich and poor from the list. If you are from a working class background, low waged or unemployed what chance do you have? In the west at this time you have to have money to do any kind of serious buddhist training. The price of doing a sesshin or retreat in a monastery is extortionate. And sorry Tricycle, but one of the things that made me subscribe to this magazine was the film club, this month it is canceled and an additional charge on top of subscriptin fees for the film festival.There is an industry developed around Buddhism (look at the ads in this magazine) with lots of accessories to buy. A cushion is definetly needed for meditation but cushions can be bought generaly for a few pounds,when it is sold as a meditation cushion it goes for £30 upwards. I could go on but I'm sure you get the picture. We all know the benefits of a daily meditation routine backed by 2500 years of wisdom. What would the world be like if more people meditated? Would there be less talk of capitalism,Marxism or any other ism?
The dharma should be freely available to all.

Dominic Gomez's picture

A bit off topic but yes, the Law should be freely available to all. But it is not the possession of one group to be bestowed from on high. The Law exists within the life of each human being, although most are unaware of that.

RFidler's picture

There is much, much more on this story of the relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan and Chinese Communists in the autobigography of the founder of the Tibetan CP, as told in the book edited by Melvyn C. Goldstein, Dawei Sherap and William R. Siebenschuh: "A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phüntso Wangye" (University of California Press, 2004). Bapa Phüntso Wangye introduced the Dalai Lama, then a very young man, to Mao Tse-tung in Peking.
At p. 190 there is a photo of Chairman Mao and other leaders of the central government officially meeting with the Dalai Lama in 1954. The Dalai Lama was invited to participate in the National People's Congress; he accepted and served as its vice chairman.

kammie's picture

A wonderful article, loved reading it. Can't agree with everything, of course. Myself, I've distrusted capitalism for a long time. And corporate capitalism has been unending disaster for the centuries we've had it. Free Market is a completely separately standing thing and doesn't need corporatism or capitalism at all.
Regularly sitting with oneself to eliminate delusion is not withdrawal, it is preparation.

robertomainetti's picture

thankyou very much for this great awakening essay...

dhRma4all's picture

Thanks for the article. I've noticed a vast distinction between romantic, theoretical Marxism and actual Marxism, although both are clearly founded on hatred and revenge rather than a love for humanity. I think the Buddha did social equality much better, and you don't need to be a Marxist to believe in social equality. It's hard to read much of Marx, let alone people like Trotsky and Stalin, without being impressed with how much it demands hatred, and a self-righteous, inevitable class warfare. If you want to read something that will curdle your non-violent Buddhist blood, read Trotsky's "Terrorism and Communism" (Trotsky was one of the founders of the Soviet Union). Yes, when the Dalai Lama visited China in the '50's, he saw many attractively idealistic and dedicated revolutionaries. Many of them, however, doubtlessly contributed to the indifferent murders of tens of millions, many were no doubt themselves liquidated in the subsequent purges, and even their current government has called them into question. Sure, Pol Pot, Lenin, and Beria were probably fine people, but absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it would no doubt do the same if serious Marxism took hold in the US or (again) in Europe. As Martin Amis notes in his book "Koba the Dread" (about Stalin), the many Western intellectuals who supported Marxist Stalinism share a responsibility for the purges and the murders.

Marxism has many wonderful points, but we've got to be v-e-r-y careful. If you look at the history of the 20th Century, it's hard to imagine a single more murderous entity in all of human history. Sure, I dallied with the elitist "coolness" of Marxism, but after the arrival of the Boat People, I agreed with Allen Ginsberg that we were misled. I also tend to agree with Bertrand Russell's comments about Marx -- a philosophy based so much on hatred cannot be commendable. To turn Jack Kornfield's book on its head, a Path Without Heart is not to be trusted. What the Dalai Lama does is his business, and I kind of suspect a Stockholm Syndrome, but I can hardly respect his stated views on this subject. You don't need to be a Marxist to be vitally concerned for the well being of others -- the Dharma and the suttas do it better, thank you, and without the all the bloodshed.

forstudentpower's picture

I think it's important to understand Marxism not as a single monolith — there are many Marxisms, particularly those who draw from Marx and Engels' insights but reject the crass powerplays of Lenin and his successors.

You say "You don't need to be a Marxist to be vitally concerned for the well being of others", and that's very true. But what Marxism (and other forms of socialism and communism) brings to the conversation is the need for *systemic* change to ensure the well being of others. Individual acts of charity aren't enough. Personal enlightenment isn't enough.

As another religious leader, Dom Helder Camara, put it: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist"

Edwburke's picture

Thank you dhRma4all.

Also, Harvest of Sorrow by Conquest should be read.

James Mullaney's picture

A bracing wake-up call.

I've always found, though, that I'm most energized to act politically in the real world after a good introspective meditation session. First look within and gather your energies; then "return to the marketplace" - the bodhisattva ideal - and join the protesters in the march on Wall Street. Then go back into jhana in your holding cell at One Police Plaza. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King made this his spiritual practice.

And so it goes, just like watching the in-breath and the out-breath. Ultimately, both are empty of any real nature, and both are luminous.

baronneri's picture

I am new to Buddhism and the American form it takes, that I see in the few articles and sources I'm learning from, thru and about. The above article is interesting, and the replies add good nuance to the subject. I have noticed that the advertisements about Buddhist stuff to buy online require that "no poor need be interested".
As for intentional communities, I am far more knowledgeable than most people as I have considered them an option for my 67YO body and soul to transition to someday. But the ones I have visited, inquired about from members, researched, and read about in general, seem to draw people who aren't likely to be able to integrate well into an "un-well" group.
The overwhelming lack of basic educational, quality and thought-thru guidelines, mores, and folkways absorbed and integrated into selves, seems to me to be the Universal Problem of mankind.
Sadly, the wise elders, haven't been so wise since after the Civil War. The cumulative damages done to surviving combatants of cumulative wars, who come home from the wars, marry-not marry-"hook-ups", have kids, be estranged from careers and work poorly done, unhappy wives, abused in multiple ways kids, and themselves, aka "their self-souls", have produced what we have today!
Those spouses, kids, relatives, fellow employees, neighbors, got "messed up" from the cumulative damages of war and have continued the mess to this day. It's a system that, in my humble view, isn't able to enhance a quality renaissance of a kind that will make things better.
And when the collapse finally comes (I feel it started in earnest, about 1976, and has sped up in the last 16 years, Really fast now), the World Societal Chaos will be calamitous! 7.5 billion hungry, scared, people won't, CAN'T POSSIBLY agree on who will get what to eat, drink or where to sleep.
I graduated from a quality, Catholic University taught by brothers and priests who, when all of us were drinking beer on Friday eves at their residence on campus, would let out the most amazing tidbits of facts! Facts they would find being pilloried for by the Pope if he knew how they really felt! AND THEIR FACTS WERE FACT CHECKED BY ME, AFTER I WOKE UP THE NEXT DAY! THEY WERE RIGHT! AND NOT CATHOLIC DOGMA EITHER!
So, what for me to do? I don't really know! Except get in my 1Ton Crew Cab Dually Diesel, 4WD, with my 5 dogs and try to practice Buddhist principles, without ever mentioning what they are to anyone, be thrifty, drink only filtered water THAT I FILTER, be skinny, take garlic and cayeene in moderation, and meditate my way around the USA's natl and state parks. One more thing: I'm OK financially and not a misanthrope, though the above may suggest it!
Namaste!
I think that's what I should say in closing.? My 3 successful, 2 of whom are college degreed sons, along with their college degreed wives, and 7 grandkids I pray will be OK.

poetess1966's picture

You make many good points. But what if, instead of 7.5 billion scared, hungry people, we as Buddhists, leaning on TRUE Dharma, were able to lessen the suffering of the very transition you speak of? Notice I said TRUE Dharma. One of the major problems I see with Western Buddhism is a trend away from studying the sutras and towards meditation alone. The Three Wisdoms of the Buddha are Study, Contemplation and Meditation. We seem to leave out the Study and Contemplation parts in the West. Buddhism has become synonymous with meditation. And it's much much more than that. The sutras point the way, like the finger pointing at the moon, but it's not the moon any more than meditation is. When you have studied the sutras, thought about how they apply to you and your life, then you have a different way of seeing the world. Too many so-called Western Buddhists have never read a single sutra and think meditation alone will lead to Enlightenment. It won't. But if we read the sermons of Buddha, apply them to ourselves and then get off the cushion, we can make a difference in the world that will lead to a REAL renaissance for all of humankind.

oliverhow's picture

I couldn't agree with you more. I belong to a sangha and as far as I can tell, there are only two of us who study the sutras. In fact several have openly said, "I don't have time to read and study but meditation makes up for it."

pdfolk's picture

Thank you for a fascinating article, which I have only recently discovered. The comments were also quite thoughtful, although I didn't see much consideration of the geopolitical perspective through which HH must view the world. He has tried valiantly over the years to speak for the oppressed people of Tibet--as a fellow Tibetan and a Buddhist--without soundling like he is opposed to Chinese rule as he is so often portrayed in Chinese political propaganda. Stating he has no opposition to the priniciple of Marxism, the concept of Marxism, could be viewed as a good means to avoid antagonizing the Chinese government. You haven't read anywhere that the Dalai Lama welcomes Chinese or Soviet-style communist rule--as it is currently (or historically) practiced in those countries or his native Tibet. Clearly he recognizes the divergence of practice from theory in matters both political and economic.

The more interesting question at this point in time is to ask what we should think of nominally communist states like China, Vietnam, and now Cuba, who are riding the tiger of capitalism in search of a better life for their citizens and greater wealth and world standing for their countries.

As others have noted here, the Dalai Lama has also spoken favorably of the opportunities available in more capitalist societies, as well as that system's shortcomings. On balance, I am persuaded that there is more potential for right practice in a capitalist system than in a communist one. Through the engagement of individuals in seeking proper livelihoods, and in the application of mindfulness and right intention in their private and political endeavors, they can generate the benefits of capitalism without its well-publicized detriments.

In contrast, we have seen that the perfect state of communism hasn't existed in nature, unless one would count the experience of small communities such as the Shakers in the US (for example), and even those intentional communities have found it difficult to persist over time. We haven't found a means for a larger body politic and its economy to operate as a commonly owned collective, where self-interest is subjugated to the interests of the group. In our history, communist nation states all evolved under the control of a smaller group of leaders who imposed their vision of what was best for all. We have seen time and again that this vision did not translate into action that could be considered consistent with Buddhist practice or the precepts.

l.daniaux's picture

Marx's analysis of capitalism was based on the political economics of his day; things have changed, especially since the end of WWII, and even more so since the recent recession. The problem with Marxism is precisely that it is an ideology. It has its own logic and rationalism, but as an economic system it can never work because Marx had little understanding of what motivates people on a day to day basis - love of family, the quest for harmony, the constant search for a little happiness. He dealt in ideals, and ideals are dangerous. I see this reflected in your article. There is a thinly veiled call to arms that echoes the threats of the countless idealists that have inflicted their frustrations on the rest of us. I would urge you to re-read what you wrote and meditate on your words. Recall that the Buddha said "do no harm."
Unfortunately, you also make the error of believing "there is no alternative" to either capitalism or communism. Of course there is. One alternative is the cooperative movement. The largest bank in my home province of Quebec is a cooperative, for example, and it performs very well - it even returns part of its profits to its depositors. The cooperative movement is sometimes criticized because it appears to limit economic growth. This a myth perpetrated by mainstream economists; where has the never-ending demand for growth taken us? Actually, cooperatives resemble the half-Marxism that the Dalai Lama seems to favour.
Your essay was very interesting, but it is limited by the same "all or nothing" ideological blinders that affect our politicians and business leaders, as well as their economic advisors.

vt2018's picture

often the Buddhist message of self reliance is overlooked.

jbearden246's picture

You'd have to be pretty well off to afford Tricycle itself, actually.

jimgoldsworthy's picture

I live in a small rural town in the Nevada desert. Our hospital is owned by the county, our water system is a government entity, garbage collection is done by the city (and contracted to the county), and the agricultural irrigation district is owned by the farmers who draw water from the system. In all these instances socialism works about as well as any system, but they all have one thing in common; the individuals are working together for their own enlightened self interest. Once a socialist system starts to depend on the good intentions of people who don't have a real world stake in the outcome, they will horde resources for themselves at the expense of those who they are supposed to be responsible to. In the United States we were founded on a system that restricted the political power of the individual citizen and protected the minority from a tyranny of the majority. How can we do the same with economic power and prevent the rich from using their wealth to buy and take over our civic institutions? The working people of the world have seen one movement after another proclaim their intention to produce fairness and justice for them only to see the leaders find a new way to live lives of ease on the labor of others. I admire the intentions of His Holiness but lets face facts; in a large scale Marxist system that admires him he won't be sent out to dig ditches or pick fruit.

wanwaimeng's picture

Marxism was an idealistic philosophy that looked to bringing about some kind of social equality but not very practical hence most despite many countries embraced it at one time or another eventually they gave it up eventually. People will never be equal in theirs and other people's eyes.

trishaenglish's picture

Only the unquiet mind is fixated with "isms" and "mental concepts".
Everything you need for a gentle and prosperous life is already
within you. With metta.

n.cuccia's picture

Thank you for this revealing article. You have given some clarity about the difficult topic of political /economic philosophy regarding social justice, no matter what the "tittles" imply. I struggle about my politcal beliefs and my studies and practice in Buddhism, as I think many others do. This article has enforced my committment to social justice and the foundation on which I justify those beliefs. I hope that more articles continue this discussion, Occupy Buddhism may be a breakthough for many of us who want to take this subject on-with head-on truthfulness. I agree with the call that Revolution is Enlightenment and it can be accomplished without massive violence- but we know it will include some of that too.

wtompepper's picture

Of course, the Dalai Lama is no more a marxist than state-run-capitalist China is communist. The virus capitalism cannot be separated from its results: fascism, the slave trade, environmental destruction, the impoverishment of billions, and the death of at least 400 million. Total refusal to think or theorize cannot excuse these results. I do not see how anyone could accept the teachings of Buddhism, and also endorse a system that requires violent oppression of the majority of the population and the destruction of the natural world.

Will.Rowe's picture

If you do not know that the China is ruled by one party--The Communist Party, if you do not see the benefits of capitalism allowing anyone the opportunity to better themselves, their family, and their others versus the communist state where a citizen’s value is a mere state slave to use as the one party who controls the state sees fit, then I could only advise you to read some history. Read about the 60 million murdered by Mao or the 20-30 millions by Lenin and Stalin. You might even visit a communist country if you dare. I have, and I appreciate even more the greatness of America and capitalism.

forstudentpower's picture

Of course wtom knows it's ruled by one party. He's saying that the "Communist Party" has nothing to do with actual communism, just like how the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" isn't "democratic" or a "republic".

Why do you assume that because one critiques capitalism that one must propose authoritarian communism in its place? That seems very closed-minded, Will.

These aren't sports teams we can either root for or against. There are human lives we're talking about.

Will.Rowe's picture

100 million dead by communism. Millions more tortured and put into slave camps by communist leaders. Totalitarianism under the guise of dictatorship of the proletariat and equality.
Yes, these were real human lives. What other conclusion could one reach? Moreover, how could one not be against such terror? Is the defense of Marx more important than the horror it spawned?

Will.Rowe's picture

If the Dalai Lama is Marxist,then he should have no problem with Communist China. The virus Marxism cannot be separated from its spawn Communism or the result: totalitarianism, slavery, and the death of approximately 100 million. Lofty, quixotic theories do not excuse the results. I do not know how anyone could accept the precepts and endorse a system that excels at breaking them.
The Dalai Lama does much good for peace, and he can be forgiven this ignorance. However, reality cannot be ignored because of his authority.

The Saint's picture

So, if the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist he should have no problem with what goes on in Burma; if he is a Christian he should have no problem with the Inquisition, Holocaust, slaughter of Native Americans, many other atrocities and dictatorial regimes. It is precisely where basic precepts and principles meet historical reality and entrenched institutions that leaders must demonstrate their commitment to the principles. Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, torture renditioning, drones, NSA surveillance, many secret atrocities including sweat shops, collapsed textile mills, child labor, ruthless exploitation of workers--these are what happens to systems with lofty ideals and rhetoric but become manipulated in the interests of profit, greed, national ego, etc. Monasticism in most world religions calls together men and women who want transformation and a dedicated life. Yet, even there, history shows many abuses as well as courageous uses. Both capitalism and communism need individuals in politics and government who have a deeper, more humane and egalitarian commitment but also are willing to counter those who see the system as a means for power for their group, class, religion. Our gov't is being bought and paid for by capital. Go! forstudentpower

Dominic Gomez's picture

To paraphrase: It is where one's principles interface with reality that awakened individuals can demonstrate their commitment to their principles. That individual can be the Dalai Lama or you or me. That reality can be Tibet, China, or Seattle WA (where I live and work).

awaytobetogether's picture

What does constitute meaningful engagement in the world? Can we say that to act is not a realistic engagement with the world but a withdrawal into its unreality? To avoid the full impact of “this reality” might, in fact, lead us to a willingness to face a more expansive truth. Marxism can call upon “equality” just as capitalism can summon “prosperity” to its cause. Both are wonderful ideals but, like many others, they all must pass through the individual consciousness of men and women to be implemented and sustained. Perhaps if Marx had been the Dalai Lama…..? Surely real engagement in the world is to bring our attention inwards; to fling open the doors to another reality and allow the influence of a higher consciousness to animate and guide all our actions and govern the ideals that would lead us to our true home. Jean Pierre de Caussade, an 18th century Jesuit priest, talked about the ‘sacrament of the present moment’. To enter this – call it shunyata, mind or divine presence if you wish - would allow us to find true Marxism and capitalism in ourselves… and (dare I say it!) to discover that both would be contained by Love. Now that would be something!
Alastair R. McNeilage

m.christian.eriksson's picture

A very interesting article on the whole. Keep up the good work! I would say, however, that HH the Dalai Lama has on a number of occaisons endorsed free-market capitalism. See here:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/07/28/us-workplace-dalailama-idUSTRE...

In which he is quoted as writing, three years ago, that:

"I have come to put my faith in the free-market system.... The fact that it allows for freedom and diversity of thought and religion has convinced me that it is the one we should be working from."

Far from being genuine contemplative, then, he appears to be merely appended his name upon whatever comes his way.

For my part, I have looked in some detail at whether Buddhism and Marxism are compatible. I conclude that although they are not metaphysically incompatible - they both share a similair denial of the importance of the individual - they are practically incompatible - they each have different moral and political purposes. Read the summary of my findings here:

http://christian-eriksson.co.uk/analysis/2012/01/buddhist-liberal-views-...

I'd also agree with you that Zizek's analysis fails to touch upon any sophisticated understanding of Buddhism - he sets up a straw man, in other words. But surely, then, there's nothing else to say beyond this point?

Best wishes,

Christian Eriksson

wtompepper's picture

Christian,
Do you understand that marxism and liberalism are very different? Your "summary" of your findings discusses the incompatibility of Buddhism and Western Liberalism, but says nothing at all of the incompatibility of Buddhism and marxism.

Zizek may say little about a sophisticated understanding of Buddhism, but that is not his target--he sets out only to critique the superficial Western Buddhism which, far from being a "straw man," is a very prominent force of Buddhism. So, he may not be correct about what Buddhism COULD be, but he is dead on about what it actually IS in its most common form in the West.

neuston2004's picture

On Marx and Religion: Marx said (and he is never quoted in full),

"Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people." Collected Works 1975 vol 3;175.

Religion is protest and historically has often been a revolutionary ideology; it is also the heart of potential universal ethics, an unrealistic projection of the status quo used by elites as an opiate to keep people quiet (ie. pie in the sky when you die). Marx is a complex thinker, as you would expect of a man who spoke 10 languages! and wrote a book on calculus as the basis of the rewrite of his giant work Capitalism.

m.christian.eriksson's picture

Very perceptive point neuston2004, one which far too many people forget. If only Mao had read the preceeding few sentences to the famous 'Religion is the opium of the people' quote in Marx's *Critique of Hegel's Phislophy of Right* China's religious persecutions might not have been as brutal as they were.

neuston2004's picture

Do not ignore the humanist marxism of Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Antonio Gramsciç they strongly criticized the USSR and China, and opted for worker managed factories, a decentralized non-consumer society managed by direct democracy.
Capitalism has shown an incredible capacity to survive and expand during international crises, but the crisis it has created through Global Warming will radically destablilize the climate and primary biomes we rely on to feed our massively overpopulated world, leading to increasingly extreme events, droughts, floods, sea level rise, you know the litany. No oigarchy can spend or kill its way out of this crisis. Consumer capitalism is on life support at a high and increasingly intolerable cost. It may take the whole world down with it, giving us Somalia or Syria as our future.
The utopian and direct democratic forms of life and management spurned by political scientists and economics are the only actual alternative. Buddhism could be the heart and center of a smaller, simpler, non-violent bioregional society. It is important to begin constructing this now with alternative energy and cooperative forms of living, but the official governments are long captured by the oligarchy and will resist to the end. Change depends with our daily initiatives, with our putting enlightenment into practice.

In Patrick Peritore, Adventures in Political Theory, (see it on Amazon) there are chapters on humanist marxism, direct democracy, feminism, and evolutionary biology as a basis for understanding politics. A start to the discussion.

n.cuccia's picture

This is obviously an important piece of background sought out by many, like me. I would hope to be able to find more writing on this subject. If anyone Tricycle or otherwise have access to a bibliography or other sources that address this issue, please share. I've struggled to rectify political belifs with my religious commitments for years. i've even asked or brought it up at classes in my Temple looking for clarification, to no avail. It seemed to be a "taboo" topic". this is not an odd response because the least debatable assumption in our society is not race, religion or national origin but, in my opinion whether Capitalism is a legitimate form of socio-economic organization of a just, equatible and moral society. Somehow Marx, probalbly because of his headon view over religions' controlling assumptions about class has offended so many hierarchical elites of all stripes. This is important, timely and necessary in scope and context.

neuston2004's picture

Dear Friend, see my Adventures in Political Theory (on Amazon), for a comprehensive look at contemporary humanist marxism, feminism, existentialism, even evolutionary biology, plus a big bibliography. Its the result of 40 yeas of university teaching and field research in 8 countries.
Best, Patrick Peritore

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

On some further reflection I would just humbly like to add that, as Buddhists, it is actually not necessary to become "Marxists," is it? since this is precisely the kind of dualistic perspective which our practice should seek to diminish through continued vigilance. Even the "ist" in "Buddhist" makes me balk at times…

However, when these kinds of political issues are raised in Buddhist forums, I think it is best to engage the relativity of the views regarding these matters only to the extent necessary to formulate the goodwill of Bodhicitta, as well as generating better intentions towards all sentient beings… that is to say: say YES to the spirit of what is naturally good as it arises out of the dharmakaya -- and then: resume our practice! (…I would provisionally add that perhaps Dzogchen or Mahamudra practitioners shouldn't even be seen in this vicinity.. ;-)

Thanks again so much, Stuart Smithers, for this wonderful prompt to goodness. Goodlife to all!

shantit's picture

You are right. One need not be a Marxist or any ist. My effort is now based on being true to my natural goodness. Greed pulls me away, an open heart helps steer me.

shantit's picture

Namaste Good Seekers!
I have often thought of myself as the Last Communist standing, but I should change that to Last Marxist standing. Unfortunately Communists hijacked Marxism and used it to control people and capture power in many countries, and wrought devastation and unending sorrow. Marxism is based on what might be described as good Christian values as Christ might have embraced, sharing, brotherhood, which are also the basis of socialism.
It has been said that the missing link between the apes and civilized man is us. We are, as a species, greedy and lazy (and sure we write poetry and make art and plastic). Capitalism knows us well and appeals to our base nature, or the shadow as aura521 would call it. (Hello Aura). To rise above that and share and care for others and work for its own sake, not for reward, we must be better people, be true to our Buddha-nature, and embrace the principles of Marxism. I can't speak for Jesus but I expect he would approve.

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

Thank you shantit for your heartfelt illuminations (also for unexpectedly reminding me of Sloterdijk's comment that we are just "Savannah monkeys" who somehow managed to build cities and create "civilization")… Yes, let's keep going for Buddha-nature: only THAT as the evolutionary project. Namaste!

foggedin's picture

"On reflection, we don't seem to have wound up with much more than a democracy "in name only," either"

I couldn't agree more.

Still I'm a little surprised that HH would make this statement years after the slaughter of 1+ million Cambodians and an attempt to completely eradicate buddhism*. This was done by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, the poster boys for Asian Marxists.

So what does constitute right speech? Since HH was just stating his opinion, were his
remarks necessary considering his position as the most revered and best know Buddhist in the world? Did they bring suffering to others such as refugees from Eastern Europe and Cuba who lived under the oppression of Moscow or Fidel Castro and the millions that currently live under communism and Marxism?

Were the remarks divisive? Maybe a little as they certainly make it more difficult in the US to share Buddhist thought to those already distrustful of anything but Christianity.

I mean no disrespect to His Holiness and I'm sure someone can explain the necessity of his remarks to me but at the moment, I just wish he hadn't made them.

*Taken from Wikipedia which I'll admit is hardly authoritative but a good place to start Khmer Rouge Era

"In 1975 when the communist Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, they tried to completely destroy Buddhism and very nearly succeeded. By the time of the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, nearly every monk and religious intellectual had been either murdered or driven into exile, and nearly every temple and Buddhist temple and library had been destroyed.

The Khmer Rouge policies towards Buddhism- which included the forcible disrobing of monks, the destruction of monasteries, and, ultimately, the execution of uncooperative monks effectively destroyed Cambodia's Buddhist institutions.[10] Monks who did not flee and avoided execution lived among the laity, sometimes secretly performing Buddhist rituals for the sick or afflicted.[10]

Estimates vary regarding the number of monks in Cambodia prior to the ascension of the Khmer Rouge, ranging between 65,000 and 80,000.[11] By the time of the Buddhist restoration in the early 1980s, the number of Cambodian monks worldwide was estimated to be less than 3,000.[12] The patriarchs of both Cambodian nikayas perished sometime during the period 1975-78, though the cause of their deaths is not known.[11]"

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

His Holiness appears to be someone who, historically posited in a relevant location (20th century China), was genuinely able to form an excellent view of what Marxism is — and isn't (vis-a-vis Communism) — and was therefore able to declare his agreement with it. The article also demonstrates why Buddhist practitioners should consider incorporating Marxist perspectives into their view to arrive at a more complex and humane understanding of what a better world might look like…

Those who argue that Marxism equals a lack of freedom or unequal distribution are making the usual mistakes of mischaracterization, instead of coming to realize a fundamental truth: that there has NOT been a single Communist country in existence — to date! — but merely in name only. Many Marxists would offer the valuable reminder that Marx's vision of Socialism or Communism, which would actually amount to something like a truly democratic society, has never actually been realized... at least not yet. And THAT is why his spirit is not going away... On reflection, we don't seem to have wound up with much more than a democracy "in name only," either.

wtompepper's picture

Well put, Traveller. To say that communism has failed is sheer propaganda--it cannot have failed, since it has never been properly attempted. The USSR needed to participate in global capitalism in order to finance its defense industry, and so became a kind of state run capitalism instead of communism. China is the largest state-run capitalist economy ever--they may "officially" have the idea that this is a necessary "phase" in the transition to complete communism, but for the moment, it is the very definition of fascism. The argument that since a communist state has never existed communism should be abandoned is poor reasoning--it is like arguing that if you aren't enlightened yet, Buddhism has been "proven" a dismal failure, and should be abandoned.

For those who think a kinder, gentler capitalism could work, I would suggest reading Mandel's "Introduction to Marxist Economics" or Mattick's "Business as Usual." For those who think communism has been tried and proven a failure, I would suggest Eagleton's "Why Marx Was Right" or Badiou's "The Communist Hypothesis."

For those who think that capitalist competition, greed, self-interest and aggression are our true human nature, well, that's kind of sad--and it's hard to imagine how you could accept any of the teachings of Buddhism.

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

Thanks much wtompepper, for those suggestions -- Eagleton is certainly one of the more eloquent and yet stimulating thinkers around (and, I've always found Badiou a good foil for Zizek)… On this m.o., I would like to add a link to an article by "P.M." (famous for his philosophical project "bolo bolo" back in the 80s), which may give many people an indication that it is possible to rethink our current situation in creative, humane and compassionate ways. This kind of thinking shows up as a good first step to start a more meaningful conversation, and so I highly recommend fellow Buddhist practitioners to have a look…
http://turbulence.org.uk/turbulence-5/potatoes-and-computers/

Danny's picture

Bravo...good to see this kind of discussion here, and extra thanks to you Tom for the reading suggestions.

norman108's picture

This article is great - many thanks for writing.

foggedin's picture

Hoo Boy! With respect to His Holiness, he may be missing a fundamental point that the Buddha and Christ did not - the reality of the unequal distribution of wealth. Capitalism is a deeply flawed system, communism is a deeply flawed system, national socialism (per the Nazi model) was a deeply flawed system - it's just a matter of replacing one impersonal (and sometimes tyrannical) system for another.

An economic system that guarantees equal distribution would require the presence of many "enlightened" individuals to administer that system. We may have enlightenment as our natural state but, at any given time, there are darn few of us that have realized it and would qualify for the job. What would His Holiness suggest, that all economic and political systems be administered by Tibetan Lamas?

Rather than wasting a lot of time pursuing the "something other" (especially when that other has proven to be unsatisfying and unworkable in the past) maybe we should fine tune the old loving kindness and teach others how to take care of themselves regardless of the economic system currently in vogue.