What is the best social system? Which is the closest to Dhamma?

I think, the concept of ‘Dhammic Socialism’ brought by Buddhadasa Bhikku is worthy to explore. It was/is controversial topic in Thailand.

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu: Life and Society through
the Natural Eyes of Voidness


I have a problem with the way it’s presented. A quote from Buddhadasa:

Look at the birds: we will see that they eat only as much food as their stomachs can hold. They cannot take more than that; they don’t have granaries. Look down at the ants and insects: that is all they can do. Look at the trees: trees imbibe only as much nourishment and water as the trunk can hold, and cannot take in any more than that. Therefore a system in which people cannot encroach on each other’s rights or plunder their possessions is in accordance with nature and occurs naturally, and that is how it has become a society continued to be one, until trees became abundant, animals became abundant, and eventually human beings became abundant in the world. The freedom to hoard was tightly controlled by nature in the form of natural socialism.

Birds store food in nests. Ants and other insects also store food, and they will have scores and scores of offspring without any concern about long-term issues. Trees store water in food tubes. Animals plunder food stores and kill each other. Fat is in and of itself present for the purpose of food hoarding, the brain hoards sugars, and on & on it goes.

A system that accords with nature is in fact the one(s) we currently see (this really should be obvious). Humans are natural, so their behaviors are natural - this un/natural dichotomy with respect to humanity is a false one.

Furthermore, “abundant”? That’s quite naive; what of overpopulation, or resource depletion, or climate change? I’m sorry to say, this sort of romanticization of nature is full of problems.

Now, there’s another approach that has a bit more academic rigor…

…but it, too, seems quite naive to me. Climate change is running rampant, and yet (for example) you can still find green golf courses in the southwestern deserts of the United States. A hole the size of the state of Maine has opened in the antarctic ice sheet, and so it goes.

Buddhist social structures may sound nice, but it’s far too unpopular, far too little, far too late. The topic is a violin concerto on the sinking Titanic.


We can’t eliminate suffering from human life, because no matter what social system we live in, we all age, sicken and die. And our dear ones age, sicken and die. Along the way, we dream of good things we do not have, and suffer when they are not realized. We grow attached to good things we do have, and suffer when we lose them. Greed, hatred, anger and bewilderment poison everything, and not just because social institutions are poorly organized - although that can exacerbate the problem. It’s just part of our samsaric programming.

We can imagine possible societies is which human beings have all internalized the wisdom of the dhamma, live tamed and with constraint, cooperate smilingly and effectively on whatever modest projects they have to carry out, don’t crave much beyond the requisites, and cultivate peace and seclusion from worldly winds. Getting there would require a lot of human transformation and training.

In the meantime, we have to rely on a fair amount of coercive regulation to compel people to cooperate in socially useful ways and prevent people from plaguing themselves with unnecessary misery. But the coercion itself causes its own harms, since lust-ridden and aggressive beasts who have to be externally constrained are agonized by the constraints.


If people kept their precepts at least (no war, to begin with) the world would be a much better place.

With metta


Sorry daverupa, the following comment was meant as a reply to Jarek. The system would not let me relocate it ho hum!

Which is the closest to Dhamma? The closest to the Buddha Dhamma is the one instituted by the Buddha. We know - from the Buddha’s teachings that the three roots is where all our problems stem from - individually and collectively. Any social system or economic system that encourages greed, hatred and delusion will be leading human beings away from the Dhamma. Do you know of an economic system that encourages people to consume as much as they can? Do you know of an economic system that encourages people to acquire goods and services, property, that exceeds their personal needs or, the needs of those who depend on their support? Do you know of an economic system that has a voracious appetite for natural resources and human resources that has an enormous and profoundly destructive impact on the environment - consuming everything like a ravenous and insatiable beast?

The Buddha had his bhikkus/bhikkunis live frugally - content with little. The renunciate community are not materialistic. I am pretty sure the Buddha was not materialistic. He did not encourage greed, hatred and ignorance. He also taught that we should have love and compassion for our fellow sentient beings. 'As a mother protects with her life, her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart one should cherish all living beings." - Metta Sutta

The dynamic he set up between lay people and monastics looks like a social security system to me. Anyone can walk off the street - the needy - and be fed at the collective shared meals provided as Dana - in temples and monasteries etc. If India had become a Buddhist society on a large scale there would be Buddhist temples and monasteries everywhere were people could practice generosity and share their food. That would mean far fewer hungry mouths and desperate people that are very common in India. It is clear that the Buddha wanted to encourage generosity and sharing as well as frugality and simplicity as ideals that we should aspire to if we wish to counter the forces of greed, hatred and ignorance.


I recommend The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony by Bhikkhu Bodhi. It uses the suttas to explain what the Buddha actually said about living in a fair, kind, & peaceful social order.


@dougsmith has a video discussing the book.

Additionally, @dougsmith also has a video about Buddhist economics.


What is the best social system, which is close to Dhamma?>

This is given in the Mangala Sutta and the Parabhava Sutta.
Generally, the ideal society will be a society living like the order of the Buddhist monks.
The problem is that Buddhist monks in modern society do not follow the Buddha’s teaching. We have a corrupt society and corrupt Buddhist monks. I agree there are some good monks as well. But they are outnumbered by the bad ones.

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Why is it worthy?

The fact that you don’t grace this worthy topic with a few words of your own that explore the idea – a brief summary perhaps – is puzzling.

And why not dhammic capitalism along similar lines? Or a dhammic middle way?
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu rejected all or most existing forms of socialism, communism and Marxism insisting that the system supported by Buddhist must act and practice correctly in line with Dhamma principles. (page 167) That suggests to me that a dhammic capitalism and a dhammic neither-capitalist-nor-socialist system are viable options.

Also: For a general discussion of Buddhism and economics Skip to about 10:30 for the key points in the video.


It seems to me that a problem with that idea is that Buddhists monks can’t form a self-sufficient society. They can only be sustained as a society because non-monks are producing food, cloth, children and the other requisites for life, and are offering dana to the monks.


What I meant was even monks are producing a service without attachment for the benefit of the masses. The same way our society can produce for the masses without attachment. I understand lay people get marry etc. Perhaps following the Noble Eightfold Path is the best social system.


The Buddha’s social system is the four-fold sangha. It is based on generosity, sharing, the wise use of resources and simplicity. The Buddha did not encourage wastefulness, excess and indifference, wrong livelihood or environmental damage and destruction.

The modern free-market economy is unparalleled in history when it comes to its destructive impact on the natural world - our vital life support systems.

It is difficult to imagine how the Buddha would have approved of late capitalism and the impact it is having on the living planet?

Fair-trade capitalism based on ecological economics may be one way we could move in the right direction? To ignore the problems that have arisen in relation to late-capitalism would be foolish - if not insane?

There have been capitalist ventures in many places in the developing world that have not lifted people out of poverty, that have suppressed the rights of workers to belong to unions, that have insisted on poor environmental regulations and moved most of their profits to first-world countries.


Apologies to you all. I am going for a whole day retreat today and didn’t want to get my mind spinning with all these ideas. I need time to go through the links and promise to do it soon.
The topic came to my mind due to critic of Dalai Lama supporting marxists idea and it was suggested moving this as a separate topic.
Sorry, I should be more mindfull and wait with this post for a time when I could fully engage (couldn’t delete the post)
Much metta


I somewhat agree. However, the state socialist economies of Eastern Europe and Russia also produced devastating environmental impacts due to their rapid industrialization and attempt to increase income, fixed investment and consumption in their society. Contemporary China is doing the same thing. And the reason earlier large and wealthy states such as classical Rome and the the sophisticated states of the Chinese empire did not produce such impacts might only be due to the fact that they were starting at a lower level of technology and population. Nevertheless they all did a lot of killing, mining, building, deforestation, and waste-producing.

I agree that modern capitalism, with its uninhibited, unplanned, desire-driven, advertising-boosted consumption habits - which we sometimes incongruously call “the pursuit of happiness” - is especially good at unleashing the human capacity for exploitation and waste. But the basic problem goes deeper than that.


Yes, the basic problem is the three roots - that is every average Joe’s problem! The collective chaos starts with each one of us! The Roman’s, the Soviet Union and every other Empire made a mess and had trouble cleaning up after themselves. The Chinese are ruled by a Communist clique but as you know their economic policies are a mixed bag - with capitalism playing an important role. Their air quality is in a bad way in their large population centres. They have serious environmental problems. On the flip-side, China is making noteworthy progress as measured by some sustainable development indices. It is dear old Donald - and his Republican buddies - that are the ones that are particularly worrying when it comes to environmental issues near and far reaching.

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Yes, but “development indices” are mainly materialistic standards modern humans apply to the measurement of worldly life.

And so what? Does that make them irrelevant to the interests and concerns of Dhamma practitioners?

I’m just saying that attempts to imagine the best social system from the standpoint of dhamma are all pretty fraught. The Buddha rejected worldly life; but all social systems are ways of organizing worldly life.

The Buddha seems to have preferred the older, smaller assembly-governed republics to the emerging centralized kingdoms. But that doesn’t give us a great deal to go on. Also, we know he extolled the begging life in the forests, on the road and on the outskirts of society as conducive to peace and liberation. But that hardly amounts to a formula for a social system.


I hear what you are saying but it makes no sense to me. What do you think the fourfold Sangha is - why is it not a form of social organisation involving a community? In the event of a whole society becoming Buddhist - it then becomes an integral aspect of the social system.

A social system is not determined by size - you can have a secret society. The social conventions they observe in that society is their social system. The internal methods of governance and decision making within the Sangha is its social system.

The idea you proposed that the Buddha was a renunciate and therefore had no interest in society makes no sense. The Buddha thought about just walking away from everything and turning his back on people and society just after his awakening. He was persuaded to engage with people and teach them instead. Then came the formation of the Sangha and 50+ years engagement with people in the culture and society he inhabited and depended on for his daily sustenance.

The renunciation of Buddhist monastics is a socially engaged practice. Other traditions may run away into permanent seclusion from the world. In Buddhism, there are periods of retreat and periods of being an active member of a community in service to SOCIETY at large - its a middle way practice.

The state of the planet and how we live on it, our social and economic systems, our ability to care for and look after the welfare of other species, are all valid and reasonable Buddhist concerns. They are not some kind of distraction from the holy life with no relevance to Buddhism.

If we wreck the vital life support systems of the planet through suicidal socioeconomic behaviour then where are we going to practice - on Neptune?

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Probably about 45 years, actually. The Buddha set aside worldly things such as politicking and sensual pursuits, but not society in toto - after all, renunciate groups count as social structures.

So, this isn’t accurate:

Because social =/= worldly.

Those are general human concerns, not specifically religious ones. To suggest that there’s a specifically Buddhist approach is already an alienating move: the solution is a human one, not a religious one. (This is where Secular Buddhism has a value: it leaves these questions as non-Buddhist ones, while allowing that Buddhist & other values can inform individual views about how to address them).


OK 45 years very good! Your distinction between religious and human concerns makes no sense to me. Religious people are also human beings. How human beings live in religious social systems or secular social systems can be skilful or unskilful. We are better off whether we live in religious or secular social systems if they give rise to positive social and environmental outcomes.