Filed in Politics, History

Occupy Buddhism

Or Why the Dalai Lama is a MarxistStuart Smithers

Wisdom Collection

To access the content within the Wisdom Collection,
join Tricycle as a Supporting or Sustaining Member

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.

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

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

1. Join as a Basic Member

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

2. Enter Your Message Details

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

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.

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

If you read the article carefully, you would see His Holiness did make related comments acknowledging the unequal distribution of wealth as being a major problem of Capitalism… also, that the Chinese Communist Party failed, precisely because no one has realized the aims of Marx, but merely of authoritarianism.

foggedin's picture

Thank you and I don't think I said anything that would suggest otherwise.

QuietRainDragon's picture

In America, over the last thirty years, every police department down to the smallest village has been armed to the teeth with military "surplus" equipment and a military, confrontational police culture has replaced To Serve And Protect. Police freely admit that their primary task these days is to protect their own lives and those of their comrades. This is not the mindset of a constabulary concerned with public safety - it is a military view of Us vs Them. And, unfortunately, the American citizenry appears to be Them in this equation.

Currently, the SWAT team is the most popular response by police departments everywhere to almost any situation, no matter how trivial. Last year, here in Albuquerque, a man dodged out of a diner without paying his bill and the police responded to the owner's call with a SWAT team. They swarmed the street of the diner, set off stun grenades and with a greatly entertaining and theatrical deployment of "troops" managed to "capture" the diner only to be told by a horrified waitress that the man had walked away up the street some time before they showed up. Naturally. He was dodging a bill, not robbing a bank or looking for a shoot out.

It would be a funnier story if it didn't illustrate the ominous truth all military people understand -- it is not possible to heavily arm and train troops and then expect them not to use what they've been given and taught to do. Lapses of the sort that happened at the Albuquerque diner are as small clouds on the horizon that tell the wise that a real storm is coming.

The notion of using military force against American citizens has been trained out of the American armed services most rigorously, with excellent reason. Quite cannily, The Powers That Be have realized that it would take very little pushing to get the American police to finish their journey to the dark side -- they were already in the habit of confronting and sometimes even killing their fellow Americans. After a couple decades of the right arming, training and cultural "enemies" (war on drugs, illegal immigrants, terrorists, gangs) to practice on, the American constabulary has become the perfect tool for use by power and money to protect their possessions in the dark days just ahead. Their years of practice have led to an America with more people incarcerated than any other country on this planet.

I think the reasoning behind this huge build up in police weaponry and tech will become more obvious as the summer progresses and more people try to exercise the right of assembly. I fear we are about to see the next moves in the end game of capitalism, at least in America; the universal last refuge of the incompetent - violence. And, unfortunately, due to the nature of power and the frailty of flesh against bullets, I think we're in for a century or more of outright oppression with the police being used as the instruments of power.

It is ironic in a way that makes me very sad that the movement of people toward freedom has chosen to call itself "Occupy..." since we ourselves are an occupied people. We were occupied in small, incremental moves over several decades and the cordon sanitaire that separates the rich from the rest of us has just about been completed. And using our own money. Very clever; quite wicked. We did, of course, participate but that does not make the situation any less miserable.

So - what do we do now? That is the question. As this article says, we need to at least start imagining what another, post-capitalist, culture would look like, how it would work, what it would feel like and how it could be sustained. We must imagine and start building what we can while we still can. And, perhaps this journey to another culture should be imagined without the masses of people in the streets that appear to be imminent. Why present ourselves for slaughter? Why provide those who would oppress us with the opportunity to weaken and rob us? Why not use the energy and motivation that assembly requires to move away from the current culture and into another mode of existence? Assembly has a place in social change but I do not think it is the place to start -- perhaps it is the place to end -- a big party after we have crossed over to another way of living. History demonstrates that assembly and confrontation and violence only leads to more of the same. Ever notice how revolution born out of assembly becomes Hail to the new boss; same as the old boss.

I would like to offer a few steps that anyone, anywhere can take right now, right in their own home. First, turn off the television. Turn it off. Right in the middle of whatever it's doing, just turn it off and leave it off. Send the equipment to the recycling facility nearest you. Next, get rid of your lawn. If you're going to grow a crop in that space, at least make it one you can eat or get some goats. Third, cook your own food in your own kitchen from real ingredients. Stop eating out, stop eating InstaFood and McCrap.

That's all for now. Just those three things and you will be on your way to reinventing our culture and being a very "dangerous" revolutionary. Ghandiji started by making salt and weaving cloth. Small lights are easy to kindle and by the illumination of those small lights, I am sure we will see the next step on a path out of this Hell.

foggedin's picture

Good grief - another Buddhist (I assume) prepper! I thought I was the only one.

Note to readers: Despite the horror stories associated with "survivalist" - "prepping" need not violate a single word of the Noble Eightfold Path. It might include the ability to defend one's family in the most extreme situations out of compassion and not anger. It often entails kindness and generosity towards those who are less prepared (with the notable exception of those who would use violence). It is politically neutral as most of us realize that any form of government feeds itself by taking from and manipulating its citizens.

Although there are those unfortunate few whose fear and confusion causes them to build bunkers, amass arsenals and physically or emotionally isolate themselves from others, the huge majority of us plant vegetable gardens and learn how to bake bread, store water and stay warm if the power goes out.

We reach out to our neighbors not only out of metta but because of the certainty that we'll experience much less suffering as part of a small community than if we go it alone.

Finally, and you heard it hear first, it IS possible to be politically conservative (and many of us aren't) and still be a well intentioned, path trotting Buddhist. I mention this only because 95% of the Dhamma teachers who I learn from (and deeply respect) would suggest otherwise.

paul6316's picture

"Finally, and you heard it hear first, it IS possible to be politically conservative (and many of us aren't) and still be a well intentioned, path trotting Buddhist. I mention this only because 95% of the Dhamma teachers who I learn from (and deeply respect) would suggest otherwise."
I second that emotion. Paradoxically and inexplicably, in a culture in which the Establishment is New Left, freedom, self-reliance and independent, critical thought are deemed "conservative." Those virtues are also thoroughly Buddhist.
The Dalai Lama is a politician, and he says what's politically expedient. With a Marxist in the White House, it's pragmatic to announce that he's a Marxist too.That might let him leave the White House, if he's ever invited back, by the front door, and not past mountains of bin liners, like the last time

forstudentpower's picture

If the President is a Marxist, he's the Worst Marxist Ever. It's very clear that the policies he pushes are to the direct benefit of the super wealthy.

QuietRainDragon's picture

Haha! Yes, I am a Buddhist and a "prepper"...that's a new term to me but I suppose it fits my outlook very well. Although, I think of it as just "doing otherwise" or, on most days, simply refusing to be a marketing victim. I feel my family is prepared for difficult times but we're still hoping the old hippie poster from the '60s will turn out to have been prophetic..."What if they threw a war and nobody showed up?" If enough of us simply turn aside and refuse to participate in the violent follies that appear to be coming, maybe we can defuse the situation and change our culture without bloodshed. I refuse to stop hoping and working, anyway, and we are trying to drag along as many people as possible into this way of living. I begin to think perhaps the conscious householder life, or prepping, is more common than we feared and even possibly more common than we hope. Someday, when we old timers ask someone what they "do" I hope the renaissance human will be so common that they'll look at us like we're crazy and say "About what?" Wouldn't that be cool?

micko's picture

Ditto ....Wouldn't that be cool.

Aura521's picture

Regardless of the economic system, greed and corruption persist. Compassionate capitalism would work. Unfortunately, the primary advantage of capitalism has ended. People can no longer acquire a higher economic status through hard work. The disadvantage of Marxism is that there is inadequate incentive to work hard and acquire skills. There will not be a reward other than the public good. Much of the focus on the public good has gone. America is focused on selfishness. What is in it for me? I know there are exceptions. Those are huge generalizations. The article also generalises. Has someone studied the degree to which Buddhist are involved in social change work? I didn't see any statistics. Looking around the sangha may not be the best way to judge the degree to which Buddhist are engaged. My experience has been the members of sanghas are involved in social change and social service. My experience is that people who become aware of their own defilements, become more compassionate toward others. There is a consistency between Buddhism and Marxism, in that Buddhism offers compassion for everyone. Marxism is idealistic, It fails to take into account that people are frequently motivated by greed and power. We have varying degrees of motivation toward the public good. We are who we are. That is what is real . Of course, this is only my perception. I have great respect toward the Dalai Lama. I strive to be a realistic socialist.

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

Who says we have to "work hard and acquire skills"? Those are only "benefits" under a capitalist system. Under a Marxist version of democracy, people wouldn't necessarily need to "work hard"… everyone might be able to contribute their share of natural talent and ability to produce what they could, while others contribute other things -- which is pretty much what we have in place now: farmers grow the produce, musicians make the music, carpenters make the furniture, etc.), so that everyone has a bit of what they need, but not too much and not too little. Some have calculated that people wouldn't actually need to work more than a few hours a week, and much spare time could be devoted to education and self-development (learning or practicing whatever…). If everyone wanted it this way, it can be done.

And, please don't write off "idealism," which is usually just a false negative term to mischaracterize "inspiration"… I mean, we have to start somewhere, and without cynicism! Whatever the future manifests, I trust that Sangha practitioners of all kinds worldwide, will help contribute meaningful thoughts and compassionate reflection.

jackelope65's picture

In my work as a physician, I specialized in the care of the acutely and chronically disabled. On a daily basis, I would essentially beg for the necessary care, medications, and equipment for my patients to eat, toilet, dress and bathe, as well as provide for their essential health needs, while the rich received botox or any essential or non-essential health provisions they requested. ( Recall ex-vice president Cheney getting a heart transplant ahead of those who had waited for years as well as those fitting the health criteria for such a procedure; whereas, Cheney did not.) The situation in health care is an ideal talking point in the discussion of capitalism vs. Marxism. Health care in the US has failed under capitalism requiring healthcare workers to struggle daily for balance in the care of patients, taking a huge toll upon the fair minded worker. All people should have equal opportunity for healthcare as well as all life necessities. We act as if there are shortages for life's basic needs for all people, but as discussed by Peter H. Diamandis in his book 'Abundance,' the basic needs for all are and will be available if we work in a cooperative manner. An idealistic form of Marxism may be effective, but, in the past, has degenerated in settings such as China due to personal hunger for power. Alternative business designs may be effective as discussed by Mohammed Yunus in ' Social Business.' Despite the potentially just social structures for society that may evolve, I continue to wonder if Samsara will persist due to continued greed and attachment by individuals.

celticpassage's picture

I don't think there will be any quick ending to greed, corruption and striving; or even a long ending; or even any ending

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

Really? well, for what it's worth... what happens "quickly" is usually called "revolution" and it tends to be rather unpleasant, since that's the main quality of anything changing "overnight"... while, what happens slowly is usually some form of "democracy," since to be inclusive of as many voices as possible takes time and more time (and then some), since the "many voices" don't stop speaking out (nor should they)... As for your last gasp here -- "or even any ending" -- I will be honored to let the late Thinley Norbu Rinpoche have the final words, for us to try to live by:

Suffering in hopefulness is the eternalist.
Suffering in hopelessness is the nihilist.
Beyond both hopefulness and hopelessness is the Buddhist.

— Thinley Norbu (Magic Dance)

micko's picture

excellent post w/words by Thinly Norbu

Danny's picture

I'm not able to bring up page one of this article--any suggestions?


hamzabear's picture
mindseyeinvestigations's picture

I have for sometime been trying to reconcile my long standing Marxist beliefs with my newly acquired Buddhist practice. They always seemed to be a natural fit but I had not really analyzed why this was so. This article has given me the the first real explanation. It has also inspired me to reactivate my political work with a new perspective. Revolution is Enlightenment !