SuttaCentral

Disengaged Buddhism


#1

This is to discuss Lele’s paper “Disengaged Buddhism”.

Journal of Buddhist Ethics | Disengaged Buddhism

Buddhist modernism has brought us Engaged Buddhism, the idea that Buddhists, including monastics, should be engaged in social issues, participate in activism, and even try to influence politics.

According to Lele, engaged Buddhists have failed to engage (pun intended) with the classical Buddhist arguments against political engagement and instead have either seen classical Buddhism as lacking or deficient (Lele calls them modernists) or have seen them as always having been engaged (traditionists).

But, argues Lele, classical Indian Buddhists often argued for “disengagement” with politics and larger society. In his paper he presents the arguments for this from Pali suttas, Asvaghosa, Santideva and Candrakirti.

For example, Lele cited the following texts:

"Becoming a cakravartin is something that every buddha is capable of doing—and yet every buddha decides not to do it. The Pāli texts repeatedly proclaim that a great person (mahāpurisa) has only two options: to be a cakravartin, or to be a buddha. 11 Several texts praise the buddhas for declining the former option and selecting the latter. They have the option of not merely improving, but effectively perfecting, society—and they decline it. "

The Rajja Sutta 13 (SN I.116-117) goes yet further. Here, even to rule according to dharma (dhammena) is presented to the Buddha as a temptation from Māra, the evil tempter figure. As the Buddha comes closer to awakening, he wonders: “Is it possible to exercise rulership righteously [dhammena]: without killing and without instigating others to kill, without confiscating and without instigating others to confiscate, without sorrowing and without causing sorrow?” Māra replies that he can and should indeed rule righteously. But the Buddha, of course, refuses this temptation, and proceeds instead on the monastic path.

In the Gilāna Sutta (SN IV.302-304), the highly regarded householder disciple Citta is sick and about to die, and the gods ask him to vow that he will become a cakravartin. But he turns them down, saying: “That too is impermanent; that too is unstable; one must abandon that too and pass on.” Citta is not a bodhisattva or aspiring to be a buddha; he is simply aiming at arhatship, the lower kind of awakening possible for a normal person. But even that is a greater goal than being a ruler who will bring general prosperity and flourishing to his society.

So far, I have cited only mainstream (non-Mahāyāna) texts. One might imagine that the thoroughgoing altruism of the Mahāyāna would demand political engagement for the benefit of the world. But Śāntideva, one of the greatest Mahāyāna ethical thinkers, lists learning about law and politics (daṇḍanīti śāstra) among the kinds of learning that are fruitless, against liberation, and leading to delusion, which should therefore be avoided by bodhisattvas (ŚS 192). When he offers advice to kings, the advice is that they give their kingdoms away (ŚS 27). Nor does the alleviation of poverty take high priority in his work, as he asks: “If the perfection of generosity consists in making the universe free from poverty, how can previous Protectors [buddhas] have acquired it, when the world is still poor, even today?” (BCA V.9). Candrakīrti, too, quotes and comments approvingly on a verse that a “sensible person does not acquire a kingdom” (CŚ IV.13).

For Lele the main reason that engagement is rejected by classical Buddhist texts is:

First, they reject the idea that social problems such as war or poverty are significant causes of suffering (dukkha), when that suffering is properly understood. The Second Noble Truth states that the origin of suffering is craving; disengaged texts typically agree that the causes of suffering are primarily or entirely within the sufferer’s mind. To the extent that these texts identify causes of suffering beyond the sufferer’s mind, they are inevitabilities of life from which no amount of privilege will allow escape, such as old age, illness, and death. For that reason, they claim, attention to social problems is a distraction at best. So, the Tiracchāna Kathā Sutta explains why one should abstain from talk of society and its problems: “Because, monks, this talk is unbeneficial, irrelevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and does not lead to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna” (SN V.420).

In the Rajja Sutta, Māra notes the Buddha is so powerful he could create great prosperity, sufficient to turn the Himalayas to gold. But the Buddha refuses, noting that any wealth always leaves one wanting more: “If there were a mountain made of gold, Made entirely of solid gold, Not double this would suffice for one . . .” (SN I.116-117). Śāntideva, as is well known, takes the well-being of others as his first priority. That he is an altruistic thinker, concerned with others’ well-being, is not in dispute. And yet, as we saw clearly in the previous section, he still explicitly rejects social and political engagement. Why? Because that social engagement does not actually remedy the real causes of suffering. For him as for the non-Mahāyāna thinkers, the real causes of suffering are mental: “all fears and immeasurable sufferings arise from the mind alone” (BCA V.6). Furthermore, the things of this world are unworthy of our attention because they are metaphysically empty. (See Lele “Metaphysical” 273-277.) They will not get us out of suffering; they may even trap us there further.

For Śāntideva, as a consequence of all these points, the way one can best benefit others is to help them learn to follow the bodhisattva path, not to alleviate any social problems they might be facing. Jenkins disputes this interpretation of Śāntideva, noting correctly that on occasion Śāntideva does say the bodhisattva gives to the poor (ŚS 274, for example). But as I have argued elsewhere (Lele, “The Compassionate”), forŚāntideva the primary purpose of the bodhisattva’s compassionate giftgiving is to make the recipient better disposed to receive the teaching. 14 The bodhisattva gives to the rich as well as the poor; the recipient, rich or poor, receives no real material benefit from the gift. It is a common mistake in discussions of Mahāyāna to miss this point: they assume that Śāntideva’s concern for others must necessarily imply social or political engagement, even though (as we saw in the previous section) he explicitly rejects it on multiple occasions. So, while King is correct to note that Śāntideva’s meditations on self and other are designed to lead us to compassionate action, she is wrong to equate compassionate action with social action (“Social Engagement,” 164). And while Macy is correct, strictly speaking, to say that Śāntideva “saw service to others as the path leading to enlightenment,” she is not correct to identify that service with social service, or to segue as she does into the Sri Lankan reformer A. T. Ariyaratne and his movement to build “repaired roads, de-silted irrigation canals, nutrition programs, and schools” (Macy 174-175).

The badness of politics is also theme in classical Buddhism

Let us turn now to politics and government, an area that, as we saw, plays a major role in engaged Buddhists’ engagement. Many classical Indian Buddhist texts reject the activity of governing because they view it as inimical to advancement on the Buddhist path because of the kinds of acts and mental states that governing requires. This is not to say the texts are anarchistic. Governing is a necessary evil—but it is no less evil for being necessary. One will be better off, progress further on the path, if one can avoid engaging in the processes of government.

The Aggañña Sutta’s brief section on the kingly (khattiya, equivalent to kṣatriya) caste has become renowned for expressing a “social contract” theory of government. (See Collins, “Discourse” 387-389.) That is, once people first begin to steal and do other bad things, other people decide together that if someone takes on the job of punishing these wrongdoers, they will reward him with a portion of rice, and the sutta presents this as the origin of government. 17 What is less frequently noted is that the text explicitly proclaims that accusation, punishment, and banishment are bad (pāpaka, akusala), just as the original thefts are (DN III.93). Their role in maintaining society does not stop them from creating bad karma and interfering with one’s progress to nirvana.

Likewise, in the Mūgapakkha Jātaka, the Bodhisatta (buddha-to be) is born as a prince whose father rules according to dharma (dhammena). Yet even so, when the Bodhisatta sees his father punishing criminals, he thinks: “Ah! my father through his being a king, is becoming guilty of a grievous action which brings men to hell” (Ja VI.3, emphasis added). So, the prince pretends to be deaf and mute in order to get out of the burden of rulership—so concerned to avoid it that he resorts to deception.

Aśvaghoṣa’s Buddhacarita makes this point as well. The family priest (purohita) tells Siddhārtha that he will fulfill dharma better as a king than a renouncer (BC IX.15-17). Siddhārtha responds that kingship is dangerous and interferes with liberation because of the harshness or fierceness (taikṣṇya) that it requires:

As for the scripture that householder kings have attained release, that cannot be! The dharma of release [mokṣadharma], where calm prevails, and the dharma of kings [rājadharma], where force prevails—how far apart are they! 19 If a king delights in calm, his realm [rājya] falls apart, if his mind is on his realm, his calm is destroyed; for calmness and fierceness [taikṣṇya] are incompatible, like the union of fire and water, heat and cold. (BC IX.48-50)

In the Buddhacarita, a major Buddhist author not only makes an explicit distinction between the domains of mokṣa and of rājya, he claims that the mental states they involve are incompatible. Perhaps there were some classical Buddhists who did not accept such a split, but Aśvaghoṣa was not among them. So, likewise, the idea of engagement as a duty is explicitly rejected: the kings tell the buddha-to-be that dharma requires his political involvement, and he says no. Indeed, the higher Buddhist dharma of liberation requires the exact opposite.

The disengaged Buddhist texts we have considered—the Mūgapakkha Jātaka, the works of Aśvaghoṣa, Śāntideva and Candrakīrti, and various Pāli suttas—are at odds with claims of both “traditionist” and “modernist” engaged Buddhists. Against the traditionists, we have seen that South Asian Buddhists not only made an explicit separation between liberation and socio-political domains but thought that the two were in direct opposition to each other. Against modernists we have seen that, far from constituting a “failure” or a lack of development, these Buddhists had plausible, considered reasons to oppose social and political engagement. The texts in question are hardly obscure; the Ten Great Jātakas and the works of Śāntideva are among the most beloved works in contemporary Theravāda and Tibetan traditions respectively. The widespread nature of disengaged Buddhism in classical South Asia should have been easy to see.

Lele then finishes the essay with a long critique of modern Buddhists, both traditionists and modernists, who have completely ignored these arguments and failed to address them, while assuming that sociopolitical engagement is a good thing a priori. He notes how his might be a reaction to the colonial critiques of Buddhism by Christians, who saw it as totally disengaged from society and therefore a defective religion.

So what do you guys think about this issue of socio-political engagement? Can engaged Buddhism mount a good defense of its position while respecting the Buddha’s words? Or perhaps apolitical Buddhism is mainly for monks, but laypersons can be politically engaged?


#2

Being ‘engaged Buddhist’ one is prevented from accomplishing the jhanas and so fulfilling the supernormal eightfold way and so becoming awakened. You can be ‘engaged Buddhist’ and maybe accumulate some good merit and go to heaven at the expense of actual liberation.

“Idhāvuso, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati—idaṃ vuccati, āvuso, paṭhamaṃ jhānan”ti.


#3

I feel that a layperson must be politically engaged to do their proper duties to family and to community. It’s one of the “pains” of being a layperson, especially if you live in a democratic society. Government service is seen as a legitimate trade in the Dīghajāṇu Sutta (AN 8.54) which you could easily see as being a bureaucrat or working in some kind of socially engaged programming, or and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that serves in a similar manner to a government position. I don’t know if it can count as being an elected official, it probably depends on the position.

As for being politically engaged as a layperson who isn’t working for government I feel like it’s a social obligation in a democratic or semi-democratic society. If your voice can matter then you should make it count. The Dīghajāṇu Sutta and the “Childless (1st)” (SN 3.19) both at least mention rulers as ones who can take your money and that it’s not the best thing,

When a bad person has acquired exceptional wealth they don’t make themselves happy and pleased. Nor do they make their mother and father, partners and children, bondservants, workers, and staff, and friends and colleagues happy and pleased. And they don’t establish an uplifting religious donation for ascetics and brahmins that’s conducive to heaven, ripens in happiness, and leads to heaven. Because they haven’t made proper use of that wealth, rulers or bandits take it, or fire consumes it, or flood sweeps it away, or unloved heirs take it. Since that wealth is not properly utilized, it’s wasted, not used.

Your vote can influence policies put in place that can help or hurt your livelihood. So this is doing your duty according to Sigālaka Sutta (DN31) since you should honor one should support their family and friends according to the six quarters. They are not all social obligations but some financial too. This isn’t to say that someone should hoard their wealth for themselves, their family and friends though because this would go against generosity as described throughout the Pali Canon. You can see it also in the Dīghajāṇu Sutta and in The People of the Bamboo Gate (SN 55.7) where the virtue is praised in general terms and not just to monastics.

This likely means that if someone can socio-politically engage to protect or improve their livelihood and family, or as an act of generosity then they should do it. Of course one should be mindful while being engaged in politics,

You should distinguish two kinds of people: those you should associate with, and those you shouldn’t associate with.’ That’s what I said, but why did I say it? Take a person of whom you know this: ‘When I associate with this person, unskillful qualities grow, and skillful qualities decline. And the necessities of life that a renunciate requires—robes, alms-food, lodgings, and medicines and supplies for the sick—are hard to come by. And the goal of the ascetic life for which I went forth from the lay life to homelessness is not being fully developed.’ In this case you should leave that person at that very time of the day or night, without asking. You shouldn’t follow them.

from Association (AN 9.6)

Like most things it’s a balance between action and inaction, or engagement and disengagement, and we shouldn’t be attached to any result we get from those actions and deal with whatever hand we’re dealt as it comes along.


#4

If we take the 8 characteristics of people suited for the Dhamma as a criteria, engaged Buddhism does not seem to be a very good idea:

  1. This Dhamma is for one who wants little, not for one who wants much (appicchassāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo mahicchassa).

  2. This Dhamma is for the contented, not for the discontented (santuṭṭhassāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo asantuṭṭhassa).

  3. This Dhamma is for the reclusive, not for one fond of society (pavivittassāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo saṅgaṇikārāmassa).

  4. This Dhamma is for the energetic, not for the lazy (āraddhavīriyassāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo kusītassa).

  5. This Dhamma is for one with well-established mindfulness, not for one of confused mindfulness (upaṭṭhitassatissāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo muṭṭhassatissa).

  6. This Dhamma is for the composed, not for the uncomposed (samāhitassāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo asamāhitassa).

  7. This Dhamma is for the wise, not for the unwise (paññavato ayaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo duppaññassa).

  8. This Dhamma is for one who is free from impediments, not for one who delights in impediments (nippapañcārāmassāyaṃ dhammo nippapañcaratino, nāyaṃ dhammo papañcārāmassa papañcaratino).

(Anguttara Nikaya iv. 227)


#5

As is often the case, there is not a single ‘answer’ here. All things are conditioned, and actions and ‘choices’ need to be looked at in terms of causes and conditions. Engaged Buddhism may be good for some people in some circumstances, and not beneficial for others. Not only that, but what is beneficial may change over time :slight_smile: I used to be engaged in social issues, but now, it is no longer beneficial regarding my path of practice. Was one set of actions more correct than another? Is there even such a possibility as an unchanging and permanent ‘correct thing’ ?
:sweat_smile: :upside_down_face: :smiley:


#6

Speaking from the position of having been raised Christian (I would be interested to hear from those of other backgrounds):

The Buddhist assumption is that suffering can only be relieved by working on one’s own liberation. The Christian assumption is that the way to relieve suffering is to sacrifice oneself for the good of others. These positions are logically incompatible. Not every Buddhist person of Christian background can let go of deep levels of conditioning imbued from birth, or can do so only slowly.

Is engaged Buddhism a step on the path of self-liberation that ultimately needs to be abandoned?

Is engaged Buddhism a desirable middle way?


#7

It’s helpful to forum members who don’t read Pali if we give translations when we quote.
It’s also helpful to give a reference, eg

Reverend, it’s when a mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. MN43

Just a reminder, offered with metta


#8

The second factor of the eightfold path is all about developing thoughts, intent and attitude of love, renunciation and non-violence.
The development of this factor means to me setting up the foundations for engaging oneself in developing words, actions and livelihood marked by such values.
Ideally, as found in EBTs, by fully investing oneself in such engagement and endeavour, one should be open for the adoption of a lifestyle aligned with the values and disciplinary principles symbolized by the joining of a community of renunciants, wearing of robes and subsidizing from others generosity - as a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni.
Hence, I see as perfectly compatible with the proposal of developing the eightfold path to participate in socially engaged initiatives as long as this engagement is based on the values and principles key for the development of right attitude and right intent, and eventually lead to a more refined adoption of discipline which only contribute to bringing about awakening and liberation.
The engagement disengagement dilemma is thus pointless and not really problematic vis-a-vis with the task at hand: understanding suffering and brining about its end.
:anjal:


#9

Well i’m actually going to make a thread in translations giving a new translation of that piece accompanied with commentary and outlining some problems with the existing translations which is also the reason i did not find it really helpful to just copy paste any of the existing translations and give it along the Pali. After that i have planned to update my comment and before that i’m ready to answer questions about that quote if someone had them.


#10

This is an interesting point, especially when taken together with Gabriel L’s post, about those actions being founded on kindness. However, and with regards to the wording of being “at the expense of liberation” - it may be that most people don’t have a choice between full liberation and earning merits by living a wholesome life. But ALL people can progress along the path to liberation by basing their actions on kindness :slightly_smiling_face:


#11

:slightly_smiling_face: Gillians reminder was simply about forum etiquette


#12

Well its not that liberation would be prevented forever… but it would be delayed then and one can not know when one is going to get a human birth again with Dhamma available, thats the important thing…

Speaking of universal benevolence / metta if one pursues that as meditation practice that alone can be a device for accomplishing jhanas and liberation, if done correctly :blush:

Relevant sutta: SuttaCentral The Great Forty

Right action is twofold, I say.

There is right action that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment.

And there is right action that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path.


#13

Yeah, it’s very interesting. I mean, I’m rather disengaged myself, but I am highly supportive of those who choose to engage more.

I recently listened to Robert Purser talk about McMindfulness. This idea that “all the blame for suffering is on the shoulders of the individual” is deeply conservative and even antisocial. It’s certainly made it convenient and easy for people in positions of power to continue to exploit and harm others while absolving themselves of guilt. “Mindfulness” champions could (can) be found on the boards of Enron, Goldman Sachs, Monsanto, etc before and during their most egregious ethical violations.

In his book, he brings up the extreme example of the US Military using “mindfulness” training for its soldiers to make them more efficient and remorseless killing machines (just as, of course, the Zen priests did for the Japanese soldiers during their own imperialist phase).

I am reminded that there are external factors for stream entry in addition to internal ones: association with good friends, physical safety… If someone is actively being abused (by a partner, relative, boss, government…) “mindfully being with their feelings” is extemely bad advise The correct answer is to get them out of there!

Of course, I’m a coward. My Pāli name literally means “Delighting in Safety” :joy: So, true to my name, I’m not standing in front of tanks anytime soon if I can help it!

I see my role more as creating khema (sanctuary): on the material level, by maintaining the monastery (a physical sanctuary) and, on the spiritual level, by working on my own defilements, so that I may become more worthy of the trust that many people place in my robes.

It’s not as flashy as chaining myself to things, but I’d like to think that building a spiritual community like this does count as a form of “engagement” It’s certainly a positive thing for the world! And, if we forget that spiritual friendship is the essence of the holy life, and make Buddhism solely an individualistic commodity, we risk neutering the very liberative potential of the religion which even “disengaged Buddhists” seek.

So, I guess that makes me a “Traditionalist”, huh? Well… what did you expect from the monk? :joy:


#14

I don’t see how engaging in politics breaks any precepts or reinforces any fetters. Politics is a means to set the course of a society. By not engaging, bad leaders can gain power, and life can be made terrible for a lot of people. I’m not going to only care for my own practice while everyone around me suffers.


#15

While not wishing to distract from Dr. Lele’s recent article in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, I’d like to briefly address the term “McMindfulness”. The term was introduced in a Huffington Post article titled “Beyond McMindfulness” by Professors Ron Purser and David Loy. The former’s recent publication of McMindfulness—also the subject of the podcast episode linked by Ven Khemarato—might lead to a further popularization of the term, (It should be noted, however, that Google Trends shows the phrase has so far only caught on in the US state of California.)

A forthcoming article by Professor Anālayo in Mindfulness critically examines if Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and similar mindfulness programs deserve the designation “McMindfulness”. Below I have cited the abstract in full with a link which provides access to the article. Anyways, that’s my $.02 :upside_down_face:

Abstract

This article examines to what extent the teaching of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can accurately be referred to by the term “McMindfulness.” The application of this term appears to rest on the expectation that teachers of MBSR and similar mindfulness programs, in order to be true to their Buddhist heritage, should inculcate political awareness in their patients, motivating them to resist the neoliberal capitalist system. Moreover, another assumption seems to be that present-moment awareness, viewed as another departure from ancient Indian Buddhism, prevents critical thinking and thereby supports obedient submission to exploitative conditions. Closer examination shows that expecting mindfulness teachers to stimulate political activism is not in keeping with relevant Buddhist antecedents. The relevant sources even testify to the employment of mindfulness for mere health benefits already in ancient India. Besides, the same textual sources show that mindfulness of the present moment is not a later innovation. The belief that such mindful presence disables critical thinking appears to mistake the goal of the cultivation of mindfulness for the mere absence of thoughts. At least as far as MBSR and related programs in healthcare are concerned, the term “McMindfulness” is not justified and its recent indiscriminate application to any contemporary mindfulness practice appears to have turned it into a myth. Rather than being merely a tool to ensure subservience to the neoliberal capitalist system, in view of the impending climate catastrophe, mindfulness can offer an important resource to face the ravages caused by unbridled exploitation of the environment.

Use this link to access the article: https://rdcu.be/bZGtf


#16

Some would say that as a lay person in a democratic society it is somewhat of a responsibility to participate somehow in the process. However, if one chooses to not participate I don’t think that is wrong either. It is a privilege to be somewhat “free” in the loose sense of the word.

The problem we see in politics, at least in my own opinion, is the clinging to views in ways that create suffering for oneself and for others. It is important to believe in something, but to think “things must be this way or we can’t go on” is a wrong view in my opinion. Maybe I am wrong. But as we all know, dukkha occurs, so certain things will happen no matter what, it is just the nature of the world.


#17

Here is a link to the whole of Lele’s article: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337367324_Disengaged_Buddhism.


#18

The fact that, for example, artists tend to pursue careers in art over computer science isn’t a case against computer science. Buddhas likely choose the path of the spiritual leader because that’s what they’re better suited for, or it’s what they feel a calling to do after witnessing old age, sickness, and death.

This is an overreach of what the Buddha’s teachings address. It’s like suggesting that surgeons are somehow a distraction because suffering is entirely mind-wrought. Buddhism, surgery, and politics address three distinct issues: Buddhism addresses spiritual health, surgery addresses physical health, and politics addresses social health.

What is even the point of Lele’s paper? If some Buddhists can maintain a practice while engaging in politics, why would anyone wish to discourage that?


#19

I’ve always appreciated Bhikkhu Bodhi’s comment on social engagement. If I recall at all correctly, he once stated that one has to act consistent with their attitudes and aptitudes. Some people may be inclined to seek solitude, and others to gravitate toward engagement. I think the idea was to maintain the Path of practice, but also assess what level of engagement or disengagement works best for the individual. Both approaches are skillful.

What makes his statement compelling for me, is that he walks the walk. He is a monastic and scholar of the highest level, and might have only found a satisfying path in his practice and scholarly work, which we all agree has been prolific and profound. Yet, he gets up off the cushion every day to develop Buddhist Global Relief, one of the world’s leading global food security, climate science, and child education nonprofits. He’s one modern living example of the perfection of original Buddhist practice with very positive engagement with the most significant problems in the world.

We have these perfection of practice examples as well, with Vens. Brahm, Brahmali, Sujato, Analayo, Vimala, Akāliko, et al. We are fortunate to have these examples today, and this gives each of us leave to decide for ourselves what level of engagement, per Bhikkhu Bodhi’s admonition, works best for each of us.


#20

I guess the best synthesis achievable here is the Mahayana Bodhisattava ideal?

I was born Hindu, raised liberal, went to a Jesuit school, have one adult daughter who decided to be Catholic and another who decided to remain Spiritual/ uncommitted and currently live and work in a Muslim country.

From my perspective, most Eastern religions tend to believe that life is circular in nature… what goes around comes around, today’s Greater Good is tomorrow’s Absolute Evil, actions and outcomes are morally fuzzy and its better to either get off the merry go round (Buddhism) or else do your duty and enjoy the ride (Hinduism- every flavor of thought/ behavior from total immersion in sensuality to radical asceticism) since there is really no way out of Suffering while in Samsara.

On the other hand, most Western religions have a linear approach to life, with ideas of Absolute Good / Evil that remain unchanging/ unvarying. Since they don’t believe in rebirth, they tend to believe in the efficacy of human action … but they are actually looking at the effects of that action over just a single lifetime at best, which might not be enough to experience the full ramifications of a particular action. Even within this paradigm, to deal with the possibility of ‘the ends justify the means’ kind of over the top immoral action (Why not just kill all unbelievers?), they need the concept of at least 1 more next life in Heaven/ Hell to keep the seeker grounded.

IMHO, the problem with working on relieving the suffering of others vis a vis my own is that its easy to know what will liberate myself/ reduce my suffering (while not causing others to suffer) … but to know what will liberate others is difficult - and may not be to their immediate liking or might even be harmful to other sentient beings whom we haven’t considered.

It is probably better to let others decide for themselves what is best for them, and assist them if they request our help and then only to the extent they have requested.