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occupy buddhism: or why the dalai lama is a marxist

August 3, 2012

An interesting article exploring the rather unlikely partnership of Buddhism and Marxism, and the need for Buddhism to consciously “enter the movement of the real and be engaged with the struggle to end suffering, and man’s inhumanity to man” instead of continuing its transformation into “a fetish that ultimately enables the status quo to maintain its continuing control, dominance, and expansion”:

Occupy Buddhism: Or Why the Dalai Lama is a Marxist

Smithers asks, “Does [Buddhism] have the legs of an emancipatory religion, a religion of liberation with the power to transform societies and cultures?” and seems to answer in the affirmative. And from my own experience, I’m inclined to agree. Buddhism definitely has that potential.

Before I became interested in Buddhism, for example, I didn’t really have any political-economic views to speak of. In fact, I was more or less completely uninterested in politics whatsoever. After years of studying and practicing Buddhism, however, I began to take more of an active interest in the world. This was partially due to cultivating compassion and being more sensitive the suffering of others, as well as Buddhism’s encouragement to analyze our actions and their effects in the world in an effort to make ourselves and the world a better place. And in this aspect, I’ve found the seemingly unrelated aims of Buddhism and Marxism to be quite complementary.

To me, the main difference between the approaches of Buddhism and Marxism is one of focus; whereas the Buddha’s focus was primarily on how to liberate the individual from their mental suffering by mastering the process of ‘I-making and my-making’ involved with our conception of self, Marx’s focus, the bodhisattva that he was, was primarily on how to liberate society from its suffering and alienation by changing the material conditions that support it.

But the article isn’t about turning Buddhism into some kind of revolutionary political philosophy; it’s about applying the ideals of Buddhism in all that we do, which for me (and others like the Dalai Lama) includes trying to help society overcome and advance beyond what Thorstein Veblen called ‘the predatory phase’ of human development. So for me, instead of canceling the full impact of reality and making me “indulgent, pleasure-seeking, distancing, and largely apathetic to worldwide suffering and misery,” Buddhism has done the exact opposite, leading me to become more disciplined, involved, open, socially engaged, and sensitive to worldwide suffering and misery.

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