Is a Buddhist Praxis possible?

I have recently come across the article thus entitled (link) and propose we discuss the question here.

To help us starting a discussion I highlight and reproduce below its abstract:

The question that forms the title of this essay may well evoke an instant response: “Of course, why not?”
This answer assumes a vague and quite elastic understanding of praxis. Latin American Liberation theologians saw praxis, to the contrary, as arising from a dialectic of critical reflectionand practice.
Following the example of Liberation Theology, this paper argues the thesis that the pieces of thepuzzle of an adequate critical reflection on Buddhist praxis exist but they have yet to be put together into a Buddhist theory of political transformation akin to any number of Liberation Theologies.
The following definition of praxis serves as a heuristic device to examine engaged Buddhist theoretical contributions to a Buddhist praxis:
Praxis is action that is:
(1) symbolically constituted;
(2) historically situated;
(3) critically mediated by a social theory; and
(4) strategically and politically directed.


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They’re usage of praxis is bizarre to me. Afaik, it literally just means “practice”.

Is Buddhist practice possible?

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The article is indeed very nice, well worth reading!

As a beautiful flower
without fragrance is disappointing,
so are wise words
without right action.

As a beautiful flower
with a delightful fragrance is pleasing,
so is wise and lovely speech
when matched with right action.
—Dhp 51 - 52


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I advocate a praxis built upon precepts, as it were, of :

  • trans-partisan, multi-perspectival and/or heterodox understanding
  • Privileging of the honest broker role while recognizing the roles of advocates as well as the non-engaged.
  • Dialectical mindset consistent with the “middle way” modeled by the Gautama Buddha.
  • trans-partisan dialog

I see the value of the proposed heuristic device as an exercise. Especially when situated and critically evaluated in a heterodox context.

One of the several functions of the precepts I’m advocating are to guard against the ideological capture of praxis by the dominant, historically situated social theories and critical methods of a time and place which arguably are external to the dharma. Each of those 4 items of definition suggest a method situated historically and intellectually in one of several divergent schools and traditions.

I’m curious as to why, for example, “symbolically constituted” is even on the definitional list.
In terms of Liberation Theology what is “symbolically constituted” understood to imply? Especially with a focus on how that understanding might contrast with the understanding of persons not in the intellectual sphere of liberation theologians or related academic schools of thought.

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Certainly possible, and happening to some extent already. The question is what for? :slight_smile:

From what is described in the article, this looks like “Can we politize Buddhism even more?”, which is certainly damaging to it. From the definition: “Praxis is correctly understood as the critical relationship between theory and practice whereby each is dialectically influenced and transformed by the other” - we can clearly infer “change through societal processes”. Why is this not good, one may ask?

Monks, there once was a time when the Dasarahas had a large drum called ‘Summoner.’ Whenever Summoner was split, the Dasarahas inserted another peg in it, until the time came when Summoner’s original wooden body had disappeared and only a conglomeration of pegs remained.

While in the sutta context it concerns literary works vs. suttas themselves, the process is the same. Buddhist teaching and practice influenced by and transformed by saṃsāric processes will lead to its further degradation and quicker disapperance. This is happening anyway, by the way, especially now, in the era of globalization and rapid information exchange. Those two things are like a double-edged sword, or as we say “stick with two ends”. One one hand these two things allowed more people to learn Dhamma, on the other - exposed it to external influnces more.

I would like to show this on the example of the work reviewed in the article, which is Rita Gross’ work.

Although it was published over two decades ago, Rita Gross’s Buddhism after Patriarchy, I argue, remains the model of a fruitful critique of Buddhism in the service of its transformation. Gross dissects the androcentric bias in traditional Buddhist stories, beginning with Gautama’s abandonment of his wife and child but she also unburies a few classic non-androcentric texts.

Amazing. So Buddha going forth abandoning the life’s burdens is androcentric. :man_facepalming: This is waht happens when you’re so involved in your fight you see enemy spies in every bush.

Gross concludes that the majority opinion across traditions is that there is some problem with female birth. Yet the minority opinion that gender is irrelevant to practice is the one most consistent with core Buddhist teachings.

How about realizing that these are not two separate opinions, but a single solid one? Being born as a woman is considered worse kammic result than being born a man, and this is clearly so, especially in old times. What is better, to be born poor or rich? No need to discussion here. Who of them is more able to achieve Liberation because of this characteristic? None, both are equal. Same story with genders/sexes.
But a person does not understand the teaching, is triggered and publishes a work demanding changes to suit her own worldview.

The teachings of emptiness and dependent co-arising express an emancipatory potential. We are not locked into fixed gender roles (173-185).

Just in the same way I have encountered so many “proofs” that Buddha, apart from being a feminist, has been a communist, marxist, capitalist, etatist… Choose what you like.

All this stuff has nothing to do with the Teaching, when brought into and/or associated with it ,it is damaging to Dhamma because of unnecessary reinterpretations and pressure for change to suit the zeitgeist. Imagine this happens over several centuries, every century with its zeitgeist. After that, no Dhamma is left, because it has been reinterpreted and rewritten several times over.
If social processes are allowed to freely alter the Teaching, the Teaching is over. It is supposed to be supramundane, detached from everyday chores, a path to escape, not to engage even more.