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"Left-Wing, Western Liberalism" and "Early Buddhism"

To what degree and in what ways are “Left-Wing, Western Liberal Philosophy” and “Early Buddhism” in disagreement?

To what degree and in what ways are “Left-Wing, Western Liberal Philosophy” and “Early Buddhism” in agreement?

Predictions:

  • Some will argue Early Buddhism supports progressive politics
  • Some will argue Early Buddhism supports conservative politics
  • Some will discuss how and why the question is mis-formed
  • Eventually a moderator will lock the thread

With much metta, @SeriousFun136. :heart: Couldn’t resist.

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Isn’t it obvious? The Buddha taught [insert highly specific political ideology here].

:smile:

In all seriousness though, apart from a few points that transcend political lines but are usually found on the right (like being anti-abortion) the Buddha taught Dhamma which transcends politics. He taught householders the precepts, loving-kindness and so on. These are meta-concepts which we can then use to reach political decisions in our worldly life. However, that does of course mean that whilst, say, you and I can have the same motivations we can reach differing conclusions and so different ideas on what is good and bad policy due to our different perceptions and experiences. We would both be members of the same religion with the same spiritual Master, but we could find ourselves on different sides when it comes to elections etc.

In other words, I see the teachings of the Buddha as being the tools and framework by which I reach political decisions rather than being teachings specifically aligned to one and only one political school of thought or another. That being said, obviously some political ideologies are ruled out by following the Dhamma. Nazism, Fascism and Stalinism come to mind. However, apart from these select few and some others there can still be a wide range of political ideologies that a Buddhist can adopt.

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lol :rofl:

I guess each political ideology must be measured up point-by-point in order to see to what degree it measures up and accords with the Dhamma-Vinaya.

Maybe even these are in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya to some degree. I think it should be acknowledged if one were to wish to be truly objective.

I am curious how the positions adopted by left-wing, western liberalism compare to those positions conveyed in the Dhamma-Vinaya.

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Hitlerism involves race based politics and the murder of others. Stalinism involves fermenting hatred against a certain class, theft of property and murder. I struggle to see how these political positions can find support in the Dhamma. Marxism-Leninism, as in Stalinism, is also an explicitly materialist philosophy and worldview. Materialism is a wrong view in the Dhamma.

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There are also some things in politics which are not explicitly endorsed nor proscribed by the Dhamma. An example would be gay marriage. There isn’t anything explicit in the Dhamma which says we should legalise or proscribe it, nor that people should like or oppose it. Personally I am in favour of gay marriage, based on my classical liberal values, but I can’t quite see how someone is going against the Dhamma if they think that marriage can only mean a union of a man and a woman. I wouldn’t agree, but I can’t see how its an immoral position on their side that is totally ADhamma.

The parts that you mentioned obviously would likely not find any support in the Dhamma at all.

However, even these probably had parts that did not involve hurting and did involve helping - and to that degree, I think that even these philosophies likely had certain parts that were not contrary to and were in accordance to Dhamma.

I agree, there is nothing explicit.
But I think there is something implicit though.

Unfairness against homosexual beings and for heterosexual beings.
I think this unfairness is harmful - I think it might logically follow that banning gay marriage is a harmful policy.
So I think those beings who think marriage is only union between one man and one woman - and then imposes this on other beings by means of government laws - are doing harmful actions, I think.

It might be more okay to think that that is what that specific individual wants - but maybe it is contrary to the Dhamma to think that is the right way for everyone.

It seems like there are something things that the Dhamma says wrong or right for everyone, like say hurting or helping. Or maybe even abortion - this seems more of like an objective issue, not a matter of subjective preference any more than killing another being is, I don’t think.

But other things seem to be a matter of subjective preference. Marital choice seems to fall into this category - but policies regarding what marriages are okay and not okay, seems to fall into objective concerns.

What do you all think?

I think it’s important to bear in mind that in different contexts, the constellation of issues will change. For example, no-one on the progressive left would advocate for a monarchy, yet they would support many of the ideals that the Buddha enjoined on monarchs. This is, I think, a point of difference with most progressives, who would call for a change in unjust systems and abolition of institutions such as monarchies.

The basic principle is, I think, that the Buddha advocated for responsible government, where the ruler took responsibility for the people and the environment, and made decisions for the greater good. He was not a revolutionary, in the sense that he did not advocate a change in political systems, but rather argued that those running the systems should operate from a sense of responsibility.

In texts such as the Kutadanta Sutta we find the outlines of a system of social responsibility, where the king undertook to redistribute wealth and ensure the happiness and prosperity of his people; and this, apart from the direct welfare, is also advocated as a security measure. In other words, the Buddha was opposed to security based on force, and believe that a harmonious society was built upon justice and prosperity.

He disliked environmental destruction, and in the Aggañña Sutta, the decay of the environment is intimately linked with human decadence. The Buddha advocated for humane application of justice, and did not endorse capital punishment or torture.

In his opposition to the caste system, the Buddha essentially proposed a merit-based system, arguing that a person becomes good or bad because of their choices, not because of how they were born. In this way, the Buddha argued against what today we would call “privilege”, which at the time was embodied by the brahmin caste. This is still relevant today, as the caste system remains a scourge, and Buddhism remains a valuable means to escape it for many Indians. The same principles can be extended towards other forms of privilege, such as race, sexuality, and so on. A human being is not worthy because of their skin color or gender or sexuality or whatever, but because of their actions and their purity of heart.

Another perspective on how the Buddha envisaged a perfect society can be inferred from the Vinaya. He drew from the democratic and consensus-based models available to him, removed the exercise of authority and power, and created what is in its organizational model an anarchist collective: consensus decision-making, non-violence, communal ownership, direct democracy, no rulers, and no coercive justice.

This model is usually only partially implemented even in Sangha communities, and the degree to which it is applicable to society at large is a moot point. Nevertheless, it is the case that all Buddhist societies have at least gestured towards these ideals. That is to say, regardless of the degree to which living Buddhist cultures actually lived up to the Buddha’s ideals, they all believed that there were such ideals that should be lived up to.

This is just a brief survey, but in general, the Buddha applied the basic principles of generosity, compassion, and wisdom to social issues just as he did to personal ones. Obviously he was a monk and a spiritual teacher foremost, so social issues were not the most prominent part of his teaching. Nevertheless, for those who must live in this world and make the choices that the world demands, there is more than enough in his teachings to inform better choices.

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Sorry Bhante but where in this sutta do you find support for wealth redistribution, if by that you mean taxing the wealthy to give to the poor?

In his opposition to the caste system, the Buddha essentially proposed a merit-based system, arguing that a person becomes good or bad because of their choices, not because of how they were born.

A meritocracy sounds good to me.

This is, I think, a point of difference with most progressives, who would call for a change in unjust systems and abolition of institutions such as monarchies.

Now this has stirred my monarchism :smile: Personally I do not think the Buddha had an issue with Kings or Queens. We see him recommending both a republic and a monarchy. I think the Buddha was more interested in good and just governance rather than if it was republican or not, bearing in mind that a republic is not necessarily a full democracy. Here, in the UK, I do not see the monarchy as being unjust let alone tyrannical. I don’t think the Buddha would have had an issue with Queen Elizabeth II.

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Here?

"Rather, here is a plan, relying on which the barbarian obstacle will be properly uprooted.
So let the king provide seed and fodder for those in the realm who work in farming and raising cattle.
Let the king provide funding for those who work in trade.
Let the king guarantee food and wages for those in government service.
Then the people, occupied with their own work, will not harass the realm.
The king’s revenues will be great.
When the country is secured as a sanctuary, free of being harried and oppressed, the happy people, with joy in their hearts, dancing with children at their breast, will dwell as if their houses were wide open.’

Rather Keynesian I would say!

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However, even these probably had parts that did not involve hurting and did involve helping - and to that degree, I think that even these philosophies likely had certain parts that were not contrary to and were in accordance to Dhamma.

Of course Nazism had parts that weren’t unwholesome. For example, one of the few things the Nazis got right was a concern for the environment. However, on the whole, Nazism is an appalling ideology centred around an idea of racial struggle, that war and conquest are ultimately good and that the strong must eliminate the weak in order for the group to survive. Even without invading other countries and the racism Nazism still went against the Dhamma through the Aktion-T4 program, which was a eugenics program aimed at murdering the disabled or mentally ill. In their lingo, it was mercy killing for “useless eaters”. In Dhammic terms it was cruel murder.

Unfairness against homosexual beings and for heterosexual beings.
I think this unfairness is harmful - I think it might logically follow that banning gay marriage is a harmful policy.

Yes well, my point here isn’t to argue against gay marriage. Its only to propose that some people who oppose it, or opposed it back before it was legal, didn’t do so out of any malice but because they genuinely believed that marriage can only be meaningful between a man and a woman and/or gay marriage would prove harmful to society. I happen to think they have reached the wrong conclusions, but I don’t think its fundamentally against the Dhamma for them to hold that position.

So I think those beings who think marriage is only union between one man and one woman - and then imposes this on other beings by means of government laws - are doing harmful actions, I think.

Sounds like you are becoming almost libertarian on some issues. That would be music to my ears.

That is using the Kings own money. In modern terms that would be using tax revenue to provide some measure of welfare. That isn’t exactly the same as wealth re-distribution. For example, you can achieve that through a flat rate of income tax. Its also not necessarily a progressive only policy, to go back to the OP. One Nation Conservatism has a notion of some measure of welfare based on the idea of noblesse oblige.

As an hetherodox economist I would say it is not that simple and to a very good extent what this summarised in these few lines of ancient scripture represents to a good extent and under specific circumstances wealth redistribution.
But I am not interested in debating it further here.
I am sure you will enough plurality of views in the field to pick the side the best aligns with your defilements (as it happened with me :sweat_smile:)

:anjal:

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To go back to the OP, something that has already been touched upon is that the Buddha was not a political radical or revolutionary. In many ways he was quite socially conservative. One example would be traditional gender roles. The Buddha never challenged these for householders, and indeed he did assign specific roles to men and women with women taking on the role of running the household, raising the children and managing the family’s finances. Progressives of course would disagree with this. The Buddha seemed totally fine with such arrangements and actively encouraged what was the social norm in what was an attempt to maintain social harmony.

I think we should all be cautious of not adopting ideas due to the defilments. Sometimes its easier said than done, especially when it really feels like we are doing the right thing.

As far as I understood, the only reason one adopts ideas and points of view is exactly because of defilements!

These things pertain to the aggregates influenced by attachment of choices (sankhara) and perceptions (sañña).

And until fully awakened we are all on the same boat…

The only point of view which matters and could be said is free from that aspect is the one summarised in the usual exposition eightfold path:

  1. the reality of suffering and the task to fully comprehend it ourselves
  2. the reality of origination and causes of suffering and the task to abandon it ourselves
  3. the reality of the ending of suffering and the task to confirm and verify it ourselves
  4. the reality of a path to that ending of suffering and the task to develop and cultivate it ourselves.

I understand that as one faces the third reality listed above endeavours to develop the path, he or she will come to the development of right thought/attitude, directly related to the qualities of a.letting go/renunciation, b.friendliness/kindness and c.non-violence/compassion

So far, I have seen very little of these aspects in what usually falls under the umbrella of right-wing politics, policies and ideologies…

:anjal:

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These are universal good traits that anyone can develop, be they left or right. I find it strange if you think these universals are completely devoid in people on the right, or in right wing points of view/arguments. If we take classical liberalism, i see nothing within that political ideology that is incompatible with being compassionate, non-violent etc. In fact I can perfectly well see how someone can reach a classically liberal position based on those values. I can also see them in a One Nation Conservative position. If we take the left, I can see how those values are sometimes lacking. For example, socialism/communism was very willing to be violent, to kill and to steal other people’s property. With other positions on the left I can see positive motivations. However, having a good motivation does not mean one will reach the right conclusion. I happen to think this is what tends to happen on the left, for the most part. Good intentions but bad solutions, or bad analysis but good intentions. That isn’t to say the right is free from such errors either of course. Naturally someone on the left will think the opposite, but I would raise an eyebrow if the claim is then made that the right is completely lacking in compassion, non-violence etc. That would seem to me to be merely political sectarianism. I would think the same if a right winger said the same about the left and those of it.

This is a strawman. I said I see very little of those things but did not say it is devoid.

No one is saying this, again, mind the strawman! Strawmanning just wastes us all so much time…

Not sure how much of dialectical materialism you understand. I see it analogous to many aspects of Buddhism which emphasizes and acknowledges the importance of real-world conditions, being very much anchored on the four elements and not denying its reality.

Moreover, in SN12.11 the Buddha acknowledges a fourfold form of sustenance which could be the basis for measuring how efficient a social political and economic system is in terms of meeting individuals basic needs in terms of body and mind nutrition.

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This is a strawman. I said I see very little of those things but did not say it is devoid.

I also find that strange. That wouldn’t change my comment put to you.

Not sure how much of dialectical materialism you understand.

In my past I was a Communist for 10 years, so quite a bit. Thankfully I came out the other side and am now vaccinated against it (Marxism), so to speak.

I see it analogous to many aspects of Buddhism which emphasizes and acknowledges the importance of real-world conditions, being very much anchored on the four elements and not denying its reality.

Dialectical Materialism is, being materialism, a wrong view in terms of the Dhamma. Communism itself is against the Dhamma since it requires theft.