What Would the Buddha Do?


Life in the predominantly Buddhist country of Sri Lanka….

While the three Abrahamic religions are famous for violence in the name of their God, we are often led to believe that Buddhists are universally pacifistic, in alignment with the Buddha’s teachings on nonviolence and goodwill toward all beings.

History, as Michael Parenti points out, does not quite conform with this view:

A glance at history reveals that Buddhist organizations have not been free of the violent pursuits so characteristic of religious groups. In Tibet, from the early seventeenth century well into the eighteenth, competing Buddhist sects engaged in armed hostilities and summary executions. In the twentieth century, in Thailand, Burma, Korea, Japan, and elsewhere, Buddhists clashed with each other and with nonBuddhists. In Sri Lanka, armed battles in the name of Buddhism are part of Sinhalese history.

Just a few years ago in South Korea, thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order fought each other with fists, rocks, fire-bombs, and clubs, in pitched battles that went on for weeks. They were vying for control of the order, the largest in South Korea, with its annual budget of $9.2 million, its additional millions of dollars in property, and the privilege of appointing 1,700 monks to various duties. The brawls partly destroyed the main Buddhist sanctuaries and left dozens of monks injured, some seriously. The Korean public appeared to disdain both factions, feeling that no matter what side took control, “it would use worshippers’ donations for luxurious houses and expensive cars.”

But what of the Dalai Lama and the Tibet he presided over before the Chinese crackdown in 1959? It is widely held by many devout Buddhists that Old Tibet was a spiritually oriented kingdom free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La.

The Dalai Lama himself stated that “the pervasive influence of Buddhism” in Tibet, “amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment.” A reading of Tibet’s history suggests a different picture. In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is quite a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army.

To elevate his authority beyond worldly challenge, the first Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, and acting in other ways deemed unfitting for an incarnate deity. For this he was done in by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized status as gods, five Dalai Lamas were murdered by their high priests or other courtiers.

And it goes on from there.

I’m posting this as a reminder that, despite the profound teachings set forth by the Buddha some 2,300 years ago, all has not gone according to plan since then. We all want to believe the myths referred to in Parenti’s article, but we must acknowledge that humans are humans, and Buddhist humans are no less susceptible to unskillful living than are the rest of us.

I do think that the Buddha’s model for enlightened living is valid, and I continue to meditate according to his detailed instructions; if the world is going to change for the better, it will be due to individual practitioners bringing peaceful vibes into the collective energetic soup, and not because some Savior comes down from the heavens to impose His/Her Will upon all us sinners.

In the meantime, we’re better served not to blindly give our power away to a Buddhist institutional matrix that has, in many cases, become little more than an entrenched priesthood seeking self-proliferation at the expense of its founder’s actual teachings. We don’t need the priesthood in order to realize what the Buddha pointed toward — and, in fact, we’re probably much better off doing an end-around the priesthood.

[Cross-Posted at Spontaneous Arising….]

The Wisdom of Gandhi


I just found an incredible site that is filled to bursting with Gandhi quotes. Here are some samples:

  • If you have faith in the cause and the means and in God, the sun will be cool for you.
  • A fear-stricken person can never know God, and one who knows God will never fear a mortal man.
  • The force of nonviolence is infinitely more wonderful and subtle than the material forces of nature, like electricity.
  • Forgiveness is the quality of the brave, not of the cowardly.
  • A life of sacrifice is the pinnacle of art, and is full of true joy.
  • The human society is a ceaseless growth, an unfoldment in terms of spirituality.
  • If it is man’s privilege to be independent, it is equally his duty to be inter–dependent.
  • An India awakened and free has a message of peace and goodwill to a groaning world.

Lots more of Gandhiji is available online:

In college I T.A.’d two classes on Gandhian nonviolence, and found it to be one of the most powerful experiences of my entire life. Popular conception says that nonviolence (usually derided as “pacifism”) is a gutless, cowardly way to avoid confrontation. Nothing could be further from the truth, and an honest, in-depth study of the Mahatma would leave no doubt in your mind that engaged nonviolence is not only a truly effective strategy against oppression, but one of the most intense spiritual exercises available to humanity.

Unfortunately, without a Gandhi to stand up as a living example to the masses, we cannot expect this most demanding of philosophies to arise automatically.

Thus, we must live the philosophy in our own lives, one person at a time, leaving mass movements to arise according to the Divine Plan.

Peace Refuses to Die


Our friend Sadiq brings the good news of a worthy Nobel laureate:

Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus has urged world leaders to get on with the fight against poverty, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. He has called on world leaders to stop spending money on wars like the one in Iraq.

The 63-year-old and the Grameen Bank he founded have won the peace prize for their work to lift millions out of poverty by granting tiny loans to the poorest of the poor, especially women in rural Bangladesh.

Mr Yunus and Grameen Bank representative Mosammat Taslima Begum have received gold medals and diplomas at a ceremony at Oslo’s City Hall to applause from about 1,000 guests.

Sadiq supplies part of Mr. Yunus’ prepared speech, in which he states plainly, “Poverty is a threat to peace.”

War, on the other hand, increases and deepens poverty, which is a protracted state of suffering that should long ago have been irradicated from the collective human experience.

Thank God for people like Mr. Yunus, whose organization sets a shining example of what can be accomplished when our hearts are in the right place.

And thanks to Sadiq, who hails from Bangladesh himself (at least part of the time), for giving coverage to this inspiring story.