Sociopathic Buddhism: Contemporary Western Buddhism as a Moral Failure



Didn’t read it, but there’s plenty of Mahayana Buddhist organisations who does much engagement.

Even in Theravada, there’s just the few who become hermits, many of the rest do help to spread the Dhamma, even if the Theravada world in general don’t take an active stance in promoting veganism, etc.

Perhaps the author didn’t regard western branches of Tzu Chi, Fo Guang shan as western Buddhism?

It would be good to read it. The primary locus for his ire is mcmindfulness and escapist Buddhism. He doesn’t mention, say, FGS or Plum village specifically, but he does mention Asian engaged buddhism, specifically their focus on instruction on Sila. He speaks very positively of it.

I agree with that point, at least, and it was one of the primary reason I posted it.

I actually attend local FGS temple myself, as many of my local western “buddhist” centers are stuffed with starbucks buddhists who don’t even know what Sila is, instead only looking for MBSR meditations in between yoga sessions

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I would wonder if there is any choice of significance at all, before insight into dependent origination.

Suppose an eagle flying about, a truck of enthusiastics drives on a long winding road, with firm believe to arrive at a better place. The eagle may wonder where they are going, that road is long and with an obvious dead end.

I do think once one understands the nature of our experience, we finally have the luxury to choose how to devote our energy and time. Before that, to make mind a singleton upon practicing in seclusion as much as possible, is the only choice that possibly lands us a better destiny.

The world is not very complicated - there is mind and there is a body. There is a suffering being in front of you, you go helping. Otherwise, keep mind composed and do be ready to help.


One can go join in the Mahayana societies to look at the charitable work they do. Just on Tzu Chi, they promote Veganism, recycling, sending doctors to disaster areas (using their own money), volunteer in free clinics, etc.

Compassion is a quality which can be cultivated, and can be developed to many degrees. Karen Armstrong’s Twelve steps to a compassionate life is a wonderful resource.

Of course, meditation is important too for wisdom.

For Tzu Chi, the entrance into Buddhism for them is charity, compassionate action. For McMindfulness, the entrance into Buddhism for them is meditation. It’s good to have balance, to learn all one can from all sides. Which is what I did as a lay person, running around to so many buddhist societies and temples and events, consisting of categories of: meditation, youth, social work/charity, academic, and even work as a staff inside a Mahayana temple (job).


Hello @MattStL and all.

I hope what I say below isn’t too political for this forum.

There isn’t much about early Buddhism that directly supports large-scale engagement with the wrongs of the world. Early Buddhism is very much about withdrawal from the world for monks and nuns and small-scale ethics for all. Had early Buddhism promoted the modern idea of Engaged Buddhism, it would have been brutally suppressed and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. To me this means that the ethical view of the early texts and that of Engaged Buddhism are very much orthogonal, leaving us free to implement Engaged Buddhism as it should be implemented as long as we don’t violate the basic small-small ethical principles in the process.

That said, we should be wary of suggestions that we should wait until we are fully enlightened before we engage the world. If we are to change the world we the unenlightened must start now.



An angry rant full of sweeping, prejudicial generalizations of millions of Western Buddhists. I agree with the author’s complaint that Western Buddhism has had a tendency to ignore or downplay ethics in establishing a Dharma practice; it’s a serious flaw, though I think it’s become better in the last 20 years or so. Perhaps the criticisms of Buddhist institutions have some validity. But I find that institutions, whether religious or secular, are often ethically compromised. Even so, these political attacks on Dharma practice as “socially bankrupt” are kind of ridiculous and unfair. With all due respect to engaged Buddhists, I don’t believe that the Buddha was a political philosopher or social activist. I do appreciate engaged Buddhism and don’t consider what they do as incompatible with the Buddha’s teachings, however. The Buddha was a spiritual doctor, not a political revolutionary. If Western Dharma followers aren’t politically engaged enough, that doesn’t mean that they’re bad Buddhists but perhaps lazy citizens of democratic polities. The author has kind of created a strawman primarily in order to set it on fire.


Engaging with the world is a public, political decision.

What someone chooses to practice and/or believe is a private, religious/spiritual decision.

Mixing the two is a recipe for trouble, as has been proven umpteen times in the past.

There is within Buddhism itself the path of the lay person and the path of the monastic, in addition to the different flavors of Theravada/Mahayana/Tibetan Buddhism. By conflating it all together, the author does everyone a disservice.

Surely it should be blindingly obvious that every religion has different paths within it. Does Christianity not have meditating Gregorian contemplatives, Social service Jesuits as well as engaged Methodists?

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I see nothing wrong with engaged Buddhism, and in fact think it’s a good idea. Bhikkhu Bodhi started an organization to do more social work. My only gripe is the impact these groups can have on monastics. Work and service always seems to end up replacing meditation as the primary form of practice. So monastics in these engaged Buddhist groups are often times run ragged working 14 hours a day 7 days a week. I think the bodhisattva ideal is partially responsible for this, too. Anyway, this seems especially true in the Taiwanese engaged Buddhist groups.


I mean, whether we like it or not, monastics and lay Buddhist have always been politically and economically active and use Buddhism to base their action on (for better or worse). There are only a handful of examples in the suttas where the Buddha offers direct political and economic advice, but the advice is still there. Historically the monastics would continue to advise rulers wherever Buddhism was a cultural driving force.

It’s pretty standard in the Buddhist traditional cultures for monasteries to offer basic education. Ajahn Chah and Mae Chee Kaew were both educated in this way in Thailand. I’m sure plenty of other examples can be offered in other countries. If anyone has taught children they’ll understand that is certainly distracting, and so monastics teaching can be just as busy and engaged doing traditional Buddhist roles in their communities as they are helping to run NGOs now. Not to mention they also took on community development roles, especially in China where they built bridges and offered famine relief. This is without considering the role that Buddhist rulers played in taking advice from monastics in their policies. The most extensive irrigation projects in Sri Lanka apparently came from a ruler who maintained constant communication with monastics.

If you want to argue whether this engagement is good or bad, that’s another issue. I’m not convinced that there was ever a socially disengaged Buddhism historically. They were always in contact with their communities offering services of some kind beyond dhamma talks (meditation retreats for lay people are a twentieth century phenomena). I’m more convinced that the history of a purely transcendental Buddhism is an Orientalist myth. Orientalists were convinced that Asia was an unchanging land of mystical wisdom and when they found the text was vague or practices didn’t match 2400 year old texts they believed the Buddhist corrupted the philosophy with superstition. We know that isn’t how the real world works, so I’d rather not believe in some original ‘pure’ Buddhism that some white guys created while isolated in their Victorian studies. I take it as a messy and socially engaged religion that historical records traditional Buddhist cultures describe themselves as.

So what if Western monastics want Western Buddhists to be more engaged, and Western Buddhists want to be more socially engaged? That’s just what people do and have been doing as Buddhists. As long as their basic ideas of Buddhist are solid and they aren’t causing harm in the name of Buddhism then I see no real reason to complain.


Here is a wonderful podcast by Domyo Burk, a Mahayanist teacher, I believe she refers faithfully to the EBT’s in this talk: Looking to Buddhism to support values and beliefs we already hold - part I

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I agree with you . I remember reading a story in the Mahavamsa about supposed 8 arhats absolving king Dutthagamani of crimes since the king killed non buddhists ( which is a topic in on itself) . Also the establishment of the Dhammayuttika Nikaya by King Mongkut of Thailand and how it has played a role politically in ensuring support for the monarchy by the lay people etc. In one way or another Buddhists are not living in a vacuum and whether we want to engage or not , we live in an interconnected universe where our actions affect someone . I applaud the monks who engage with helping out people and am fine with those who decide not to.