Can social change end our suffering?

Continuing the discussion from Are social-ills the result of kamma?:

My understanding is that social changes can’t end suffering.
The only way to end suffering is by the change of your mind by understanding the four noble truths.
However, I am not advocating that we should not strive for social changes.
It is the duty of the true Buddhist politicians and Buddhist lay people to make social changes.
The monk’s duty should be to propagate the Dhamma.
I know that there is lot of pressure on Buddhist monks in Western world to join the Christian bandwagon. But we should not let the tail wag the dog.


Being a mod I might suggest we find evidence to support this in the EBTs. Coz y’know EBT forum…maybe Bhikkhu Bodhi’s anthology on social change might help /mod

My opinion, informed by the EBTs :wink: is that we are each responsible for our actions and immediate environment. We can through our own skilful actions influence those around us to make positive change and this flows on to the community. As a result of skilful actions we inherit wholesome results and lessen our suffering.

The problem with putting our hope in good politicians is that their sphere of influence isn’t as large as we hope and they too are conditioned by their surroundings.

I’m not sure what you mean by ‘the Christian Bandwagon’.

Firstly realise the Dhamma :wink: this will have a much stronger effect than just preaching. We can see this in all our great teachers.


Christians churches are heavily involved in setting up schools, hospitals, and charitable activities.

This is what I exactly meant.
Bhikkhu Bodhi’s environmental activities are just the preaching.
We have tons of environmental preaches but very little practitioners.

Isn’t that dāna?

Many of our lay community help with supporting these types of places and it brings gladness to their hearts and brightens their practice. Ditto for my monastic friends doing charitable work. Most of those I can think of doing this kind of work are ethnically Buddhist

This is what I meant exactly.
Many Sri Lankans practice mainly Dana, not the Sila and Samadhi.

If you can’t do samādhi, do sila; if you can’t do sila, do dana.

From a personal point of view, I think we should be encouraging what little wholesome activity people can do rather than criticising them for not doing enough. Often criticism of wholesome activities stifles and discourages further progress. An alternative approach may be to acknowledge that they are where they are on the gradual path, rejoice in their wholesome activities and encourage them on.


Excellently put, Stu!


No. And not even an implication of this idea is found in the EBTs. This existence is impermanent, with one’s birth ending in one’s death. How could an impermanent conglomeration of human social conditions be the end of dukkha for a mind immersed in its own cravings, going from birth to birth like a monkey swinging from from one vine to the next?

A preposterous question for one with even a cursory knowledge of the EBTs, as you assuredly have.

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Clearly social change cannot bring our suffering to an end, since suffering is endemic to the human condition, for all but those who have achieved a complete liberation from it.

But there is suffering and there is suffering. The kinds of suffering we experience come in varying degrees, and some kinds of personal suffering can be eradicated by changing our lives a bit. Only a fool would not remove his hand from a burning stove on the theory that suffering is pervasive in life.

And similarly, there are many practical things we can do to lessen some of the suffering other people experience.


Exactly. Which makes the question valid, even if one has a good grasp of the EBTs. Especially so, even.


Nicely said.

I always come back to this Path being one of personal responsibility. A personal journey informed by the Buddha’s Dhamma as based in the EBTs. It comes back to what monks like Ajahn Chah say when they talk about looking at yourself 95% of the time.

When I hear of monks like Bhikkhu Bodhi wanting to do what he can to influence people to live ethically and harmlessly on this planet, I see it primarily as an activity that he needs to do for himself, for the cultivation of his own Path. So I can’t judge. I can’t know another Buddhist’s journey and wholesome cultivation of their own mind - that is very much, and has to be, their business.

Dana, or Generosity, ultimately is about growing ourselves into selfless beings who value the 3 aspects (renunciation, loving-kindness and compassion) of Right Intention. It’s still selfish as it’s about our own development…but it’s a positive selfishness, it’s selfish in the best of ways as it benefits ourselves and others.

When I am truly thinking of another and not of what I can get, paradoxically, I feel wonderful. I feel light and free. I feel I’m immersed in a sense of love and kindness. I thinking this is what that little saying, “the gift is in the giving” means…

I think this is the heart of the path. Everything we do should be about growing kinder, more light-hearted, more peaceful beings in our own minds. The growth of goodness for ourselves and others is inextricably linked to us taking personal responsibility for ourselves SN 22.43 and recognising the all important power of our own minds Dhp 1 in shaping our own hearts.

This is the most powerful way we can alleviate any suffering in the world. The more that we become the best that humanity can be, the more skillfully and effectively will our interactions with the world - born out of our interactions with ourselves - be of value to others.


Perhaps social change may make our life little comfortable but it will not end suffering.
I do not believe that the queen is more happier than a child living in a slum.
It does not mean that we should not make an effort to improve the living conditions of a child living in a slum.
If improving living conditions make people happy, the people living in the west to be the most happiest. My personal opinion is that the people living in a western country is not happier than a person living in a third world country.
Dhamma Danan Subbadanan Jinati.

This idea of a duty reminds me of this piece:

Stand Against Suffering: A Call to Action by Buddhist Teachers

As long as a society protects the vulnerable among them, they can be expected to prosper and not decline.
—The Buddha, in the Mahaparinirvana Sutta

Moving past the problematic alleged quotation they lead with … the gravamen of their statement seems to be:

… when great suffering is at stake, Buddhists must take a stand against it, with loving-kindness, wisdom, calm minds, and courage.

I’d ask where is that in any EBT or mainstream Buddhist text early or late?

P.S. A possible outcome of the idea that we must take a stand is that Buddhists must take a stand by denouncing the signatories of the statement!

There are some teaching in Buddhism about rulers.
One instance there is a story about Lichavi kings about how they run the country.
Another one is the Dasaraja Dharma…Dasavidha-rājadhamma or Rajādhamma 10 (“tenfold virtue of the ruler”) is one the Buddhist dharma that rulers of people, organisations, companies, offices, countries or other organs are purposed to hold. It could be found in Sutta, Kuddakanikāya, Jātaka, stating:>

@SarathW1 where in those documents does it support the idea of “great suffering” as some criteria for a “take a stand” kind of action
or a condition where Buddhist must take a stand.

(The statement put as a conditional “when great suffering is at stake”).

So we can also ask if “great suffering” is distinguished from just suffering.

I’m wondering if this is all or mostly a recent invention/interpretation.

Buddhist teaching all about an individual effort, not a collective effort even though that may produce collective results.
We as individuals see the suffering of our family, neighbors, workmates, and the world as a whole and do our best to eliminate the suffering of ourselves and others.
Only collective effort advocated by the Buddha is the Sangha community.

I think DN26 is a good example of the importance as Buddhist practitioners to hold good sīla and that this has a real and beneficial effect on a society which is otherwise becoming more greedy. However, this sutta could also be argued to be predicting society’s downfall due to greed and ill-morality.

So the stand of ‘loving-kindness, wisdom, calm minds and courage’ that is being suggested might not be a loud stand. It might just be practicing with Dhamma in the heart with urgency and sincerity because this has a tangible flow on effect.

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Remembering a talk by Ajahn Martin where he recalled his first years with Luang Ta Maha Boowa, and his responses to monks who opened their mouths where simply: Have you done the job ? …, and if not, shut up and practice more! …

speak only if it improves silence … - Ajahn Chah :bodhileaf:

And my suggestion to the question in op: As long as the basic delusion of : i’m here and you are there … exists in man, man must suffer


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What inspires your intensity might be of concern to you.

Can sila be practiced in isolation?

The Buddha remained on earth among people for many years. :slight_smile: