There have been a number of threads that have shown a delineation between a focus on self liberation versus focus on alleviating the suffering of other, and the resultant question of which focus is ‘more right’.
I’m cross posting from this thread to here, so that we can continue discussing this aspect in a new thread, rather than de-railing the original topic.
We cannot change the essential nature of samsara - maybe in a small location for a brief period of time. But to expect to turn samsara into a heavenly realm ? ?
By the essential nature of samsara I meant that the essential nature of samsara is one of unsatisfactoriness and impermanence. One can fiddle around the edges, but one can not change it’s essential nature of being dominated by ignorance, and have it result in a state of lasting right view. When I speak of a brief period of time , and a small location , I’m talking about a state or a country for some years. Public policy can change very quickly, even in the best of times. Within 10 years in a county or a state, public opinion, public policy or legislation regularly changes, and not always for the best. To expect that one can effect a longer, semi-permanent change, for a part of the earth that encompasses cross national/political boundaries… well I don’t think that is realistic. This is what I’m talking about. One just has to read history to see the ebbs and flows of beliefs and practices. So yes, in a long term view – hundreds of years – is it realistic to expect a particular view to remain unchanged? Suffering will always exist in Samsara, that is its essential nature – just in what way it is expressed will alter, this century it may be pandakas, next century women, some other century those with different skin colour… or perhaps all of these at the same time somewhere on this planet…
That is the hard, unpalatable truth and reality of samsara. Does this mean we condone it? As practicing Buddhists, the answer is NO. We do not do anything to make other beings suffer. This is enshrined in the precepts, in the 8 fold path and in the Vinaya. Basically we undertake to be compassionate and kind to those with whom we have contact specifically and to all beings generally.
But the underlying question is what complicates everything, and that is about whether being pro-active is a “should” or a requirement, beyond simply being harmless and compassionate.
This is unfair and should be called out as such. It is harmful, based on ignorance and hatred. So, as spiritual practitioners we should acknowledge unfair discrimination anywhere, especially on the monastic path, and work hard to overcome it.
But what exactly does this mean. Is it about overcoming this within our own views and actions, or is it about trying to get others to overcome it and to change their behaviour, like the arguments about socially engaged Buddhism. How far outside our own circle of influence should we intervene?
To me this is about the interface between samsara and the spiritual path. It is based upon ones perceptions about which is the ‘Real World’ and which is the ‘Deluded World’ . Which-ever one has primacy, is the result of causes and conditions of every human being.
There have been a couple of threads recently on D&D that clearly brought out these different perspectives, eliciting different responses depending on which perspective participants were taking. Today I attended a dhamma talk at BSV and this same issue was evident. It is almost like there is a perspective of ‘Lay buddhism’ and ‘Monastic Buddhism’ or mundane v/s supramundane, or even more emotionally charged, a contest of what is Right est View, with regards to being compassionate and working to reduce suffering.
Now this is way, way above my pay-grade or level of competence to speak about in any definitive way, but I think this question is one that importantly underpins so many peoples practice today, that I would like to encourage our resident Ajahns to perhaps share their wisdom on this issue.
As Ven Akaliko has so poignantly illustrated, the Right Action is difficult to penetrate with regards to difficult issues today, be they related to gender, as in this thread, or climate change, socio-economic conditions or any of the proliferation of real issues that cause suffering today.
My own adult life could be cut in half, to actually resemble this division of views. The first half of my life was spent actively and consciously working on reducing the suffering of others and trying to make the world we live in a ‘better place’. Now I only apply it on an immediate interpersonal level – ie to reduce my own suffering, and through the practice of Sila, to contribute towards beneficial conditions and well being of those beings with whom I have direct contact instead of working from the big picture.
Is one of these approaches more correct or better than the other? – I don’t think so. Each one applies due to causes and conditions and ones’ personal circumstances at the time.
The solid base though, is one of No Harm, of ensuring that ones actions are harmless, as far as it is possible given the lack of control we have over outcomes… intentions do not guarantee outcomes.
Now I have purposely talked about the ‘ proliferation of real issues that cause suffering today’ , instead of just addressing the issue of Pandakas and Ordination. I have done this on purpose, because, in my view, the question behind it is much broader, and applies equally to each issue that causes suffering. The solution about how to address this kind of situation, where one is witness to conditions that cause suffering, needs to be able to applied to all such situations – indeed in principle there is no difference between them except for in a superficial way – whether the suffering is caused by ideas/conventions involving gender, or religion, race or age, or any other socially constructed and accepted view/convention at this point in time. What is the Right view, Right Action, Right intention, Right effort in regard to the dilemma of witnessing suffering as a Buddhist practitioner, either Lay or Monastic?
As Buddhists, we are committed to harmlessness, so at the minimum, acknowledging that many things are unfair, and that they cause suffering, and that we should not personally or knowingly contribute to that suffering but show compassion, and use as much wisdom as is possible in those situations, is a given. But beyond this, is there an obligation to change the system?
For me, this goes to the heart of each practitioners own causes and conditions and the aspects of the 8-fold path that is the current focus of practice. As has been mentioned, even the most senior teachers do not agree on the best way to address this, within the debates about socially engaged Buddhism.
In my personal view, this is because there is no ‘objective or static’ best/right way. It is conditional. Because it is conditional, it will be different for each individual, and each practitioner will have to answer it for themselves.
Again in my view, the least harmful way forward is to acknowledge this conditionality, and not to cause suffering to those for whom the ‘right action’ at this point in time varies from ones’ own. It is the understanding and tolerance, to see that, as long as harmlessness is maintained, no-one can determine the specific right action for another practitioner with regards to their spiritual journey toward enlightenment (within the structure of the 8-fold path, the precepts and the Vinaya depending on their status,).
But these are just my views based on my limited experience and limited knowledge of the Suttas, which is why I have limited confidence in them!
So what did the Buddha say about this situation?
with much metta and karuna for all beings