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"The revolution is inside."
February 4, 2013 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Buddhism and Marxism have been called two of the most compelling arguments we have against capitalist exploitation. The Dalai Lama would agree. Once in a discussion about his meeting with Chairman Mao he spoke of his affinity for the ideals of communism, adding with a finger to his temple, "The revolution is inside, in the determination of mind." The Tricycle essay Occupy Buddhism is very well written and perhaps interesting for those who believe another (post-capitalist) world is possible.
posted by ecourbanist (74 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
how is a post-capitalist world not inevitable? Impermanence is a mark of being and every other economic system has moved on and changed.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:38 AM on February 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


For a guy appointed by fiat, the Dali lama is a pretty smart guy.
posted by GuyZero at 11:46 AM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. This argument sounds very problematic to me, but I shall give it a read.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:01 PM on February 4, 2013


For a guy appointed by fiat, the Dali lama is a pretty smart guy.

His Holiness has a long history of being courted by various car manufacturers keen to corner the 'dharma-dollar'. One day an orderly came in with a parcel, saying it was from Nelson Mandela. The Dalai Lama opened it to find a steering wheel. Two weeks later, he received another, again from Nelson Mandela. This time, it was a set of alloy wheels. Another fortnight went by, and yet another parcel arrived from Nelson Mandela, containing a car stereo. Finally, his Holiness's legendary patience gave out, and he grabbed the parcel.

'Give that here!' He read the return address. 'You idiot! That's not "Nelson Mandela". It says "Nissan Main Dealer"!'
posted by RokkitNite at 12:05 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


For a guy appointed by fiat, the Dali lama is a pretty smart guy.

Add it to the list.

When you understand, you belong to the family;
When you do not understand, you are a stranger.
Those who do not understand belong to the family,
And when they understand they are strangers.

posted by mrgrimm at 12:05 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


The quote from the Dalai Lama is excellent, but I can't find it used in the article. What's your source for it? (Or am I just searchng poorly?)
posted by Going To Maine at 12:09 PM on February 4, 2013


how is a post-capitalist world not inevitable?

well, from where i sit, the capitalists will have their way until the whole place is wrecked. what comes after capitalism is microbes.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:10 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The two Koreas are an excellent way to compare capitalist versus communist. Which one has a better lifestyle? Which one has a better natural environment?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:20 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The two Koreas are an excellent way to compare capitalist versus communist.

Well, yeah... But what do you think Marx would have made of the exploitation of the workers, and gathering of the spoils by the ruling class, that's going on in North Korea?
posted by Jimbob at 12:23 PM on February 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


The two Koreas are an excellent way to compare capitalist versus communist. Which one has a better lifestyle? Which one has a better natural environment?

This is a false dilemma, though - the real question is which of their aspects might realistically be combined to create something other than the iron cage you invariably get with the pure expression of each?

Or, from a Buddhist perspective: the sane path is always the middle one - not extreme, not hindered by illusions of dualism.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:37 PM on February 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Anyone who uses North Korea as an example of anything but a Totalitarian Inherited Monarchy is lying to you. True "Communism", like truly "Merit-Based Capitalism", is a system that has never been successfully implemented on Earth, and considering human nature, is unlikely ever to be.
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 12:49 PM on February 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


There's a saying, "never let the perfect be the enemy of the good." In other words, never turn down something which is good because you can imagine something which is better. (This gets trotted out a lot during election time.)

My response to those who trot out communism as a proof that capitalism is the best thing ever is a similar saying to the one above: "never accept a bad system because you can imagine an even worse one."
posted by Roentgen at 12:52 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


What is Marxism but applied Judaism?
posted by No Robots at 12:52 PM on February 4, 2013


He lives in quite a bit of luxury while most of his people live in poverty. Not sure how sincere his argument against capitalist exploitation can be. His exploitation of people beliefs in myth has served him very well.

And when he refuses to speak out against people setting themselves on fire, to ask that they don't kill themselves, well Mr god-pretender can go fuck himself.

He calls setting oneself on fire a non-violent way to protest. Well it is pretty violent against the person committing suicide.
posted by 2manyusernames at 12:53 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The bit about the Dalai Lama is interesting, but the stuff from Zizek on "Western Buddhism" is what caught my eye.

So it is not surprising that Zizek would maintain that Buddhism globally is becoming Western Buddhism—and increasingly functions as a fetish that ultimately enables the status quo to maintain its continuing control, dominance, and expansion.

See, for example, the emergence of Soka Gakkai from Nichiren Buddhism. Or here for the SGI perspective. Or better, just google along the lines of Soka Gakkai+materialism to read a lot of holier-than-thou Buddhists posting about how their genuine non-attachment is superior to the mere repeating of mantras for material gain.

As far as the Dalai Lama, well he loses a bit of credibility for threatening not to reincarnate because of the apparent inevitability of the Chinese gov't choosing his successor. Didn't you take some kind of ... vow? What, if you don't get to come back with your title intact you're gonna take your ball and go home? Can't he just make a statement along the lines of "I'll reincarnate, but not where anyone can find me" and then excercise his infinite compassion from there? What I'd really like to see is a late-in-life Tenzin Gyatso sowing his wild oats; a real fear-and-loathing vibe with the express purpose of dropping his next rebirth down a few rungs, down here with the rest of us peons.
posted by Lorin at 12:56 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's a saying, "never let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

I don't think that North Korea is really the perfect being the enemy of the good, it's more like a cautionary tale in why we should always be worried of the "really, really tremendously bad" that can happen when we're ostensibly trying to do good.

That, of course, requires you to give the Soviets the rather tremendous benefit of the doubt that they were even trying to do good when they set up a Communist client state in North Korea. But really that just pushes the conundrum back to the Soviet Union.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:57 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am a bit ambivalent on the 14th Dalai Lama. While I am definitely not on the side of the Chinese government in regarding him as a terrorist that foments separatism and unrest, I do wonder how spending most of his adult life among the Davos crowd and being a famous celebrity himself could have changed the Dalai Lama.

Of course, I'm not really ambivalent about Mao. Guy was a savage and would be the first person in history I'd assassinate if I had a time machine.

Oh yes, and there OTHER ideas that also reject capitalism out there, not only Buddhism and Communism. China itself also has Taoism, Confucianism, and Legalism among numerous others.
posted by FJT at 12:59 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Roentgen: "There's a saying, "never let the perfect be the enemy of the good." In other words, never turn down something which is good because you can imagine something which is better. (This gets trotted out a lot during election time.)

My response to those who trot out communism as a proof that capitalism is the best thing ever is a similar saying to the one above: "never accept a bad system because you can imagine an even worse one."
"

True, except many point out communism as a proof that capitalism is the best bad system we have. It is easy to imagine an even worse system, it is successfully implementing a better system where things get difficult.
posted by 2manyusernames at 1:00 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It would depress us, Karl
Because we care
That the world still isn't fair.
posted by bicyclefish at 1:03 PM on February 4, 2013


FTA: Marxism talked about an equal and just distribution of wealth. I was very much in favor of this.

We'll get this Marxism thing right just as soon as we nail down what "equal and just distribution of wealth" means.
posted by Behemoth at 1:08 PM on February 4, 2013


Or, from a Buddhist perspective: the sane path is always the middle one - not extreme, not hindered by illusions of dualism.

I don't know much about Buddhism to start applying it to win an argument. Which is why I am somewhat troubled by this Tricycle article.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:16 PM on February 4, 2013


Justice and equity in Marxist terms are functions of the distribution of the surplus value of labour.
posted by No Robots at 1:17 PM on February 4, 2013


The first page of that article was not bad but it was nowhere near good enough to psych me up for 6 more page clickies. I tried loading page=all and looked for a print icon but those tricycle.com capitalists are too sneaky for that trickery.
posted by bukvich at 1:18 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know much about Buddhism to start applying it to win an argument.

I think it's worth emphasizing that the Dalai Lama is not only a Buddhist but a Tibetan Buddhist, a tradition whose texts are among the most dense and esoteric I've tried to read. Even early books by the Dalai Lama himself are a far cry from the accessible stuff he wrote later on. The Opening of the Wisdom Eye for example seems to me more appropriately shelved with books of occult or esoteric knowledge than with Thich Nhat Hanh. I don't feel qualified myself to say more than that, but Tibetan Buddhism and its roots in Bon are rather different from the practical wisdom of Zen meditation presumably most common on bookshelves in the west.
posted by Lorin at 1:26 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know much about Buddhism to start applying it to win an argument.

Better switch to Zizek!
posted by thelonius at 1:31 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


how is a post-capitalist world not inevitable?

Indeed, post-capitalism is inevitable because of laws of nature. It's only a matter of recognizing this or keeping up the pretense until the very end. Or what j_curiouser said, basically.

A friend of mine often says: the belief that the market determines the value and/or the price is similar to the belief that meat comes from supermarkets. The thing is, on the superficial level both claims are true.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:34 PM on February 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't know much about Buddhism to start applying it to win an argument. Which is why I am somewhat troubled by this Tricycle article.

Well I think this is a misreading of the article. The point is that Buddhism is an argument against capitalism; its ideas are outside or against it in some way. The ideas that are good in Buddhism happen to be ones that challenge capitalist ideology. So to understand that argument, one must necessarily know a few things about Buddhism. And most certainly, it's not about winning.
posted by polymodus at 1:40 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


but Tibetan Buddhism and its roots in Bon are rather different from the practical wisdom of Zen meditation presumably most common on bookshelves in the west.
posted by Lorin at 1:26 PM on February 4 [+] [!]


I don't know about the West, but I had the opportunity to participate in a Zen retreat in Japan for lay members of the monastery, and I made friends with a monk who had practiced there for 30 years. I asked him which books would help me get started understanding Buddhism - the Shobogenzo? - and he said that trying to learn about Buddhism by reading books or talking about it informally is a waste of time.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:41 PM on February 4, 2013


I don't understand how there can be a Buddhist economic theory. Wouldn't economics be engagement with the illusion of worldly reality and binding oneself to the wheel of change? I think that is more or less the counterpart of the point Zizek is making from the other side of the chasm. Buddhist economics seems as paradoxical as a Christian theory of warfare... erm...
posted by Segundus at 1:47 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't wait to read another bunch of fuzzy headed wank from slumming hippies who attack every other religious leader but pay $300 to hear the Dalai Llama speak.

Open your mind, man! What if capitalism is, like, an illusion? What if true wealth comes from inside? Maybe wealth is just, like, the mind?

Don't get me wrong. I love European style socialism and hate American hyper-capitalism. But attacking some vague 'system' as a whole isn't going to do anything.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:48 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am a bit ambivalent on the 14th Dalai Lama. While I am definitely not on the side of the Chinese government in regarding him as a terrorist that foments separatism and unrest, I do wonder how spending most of his adult life among the Davos crowd and being a famous celebrity himself could have changed the Dalai Lama.

Well, given some of the hints he's dropped, it's apparently made him mildly skeptical of his political and theological position. He's certainly not perfect, and sometimes his "I'm just a guy" thing doesn't quite work.

On Marx, it's interesting to me that Darwin's theories have undergone no less than four, perhaps five scientific revolutions, with another one on the horizon (and his ideas on psychology and human behavior treated as historical curiosities) while the legacy of Marx seems to be considered only in terms of Stalin, Mao, and their ideological descendants. Perhaps Marx, like Darwin and many other 19th-century intellectuals, is someone from whom we should take what works and discard what doesn't.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:50 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


For a guy appointed by fiat, the Dali lama is a pretty smart guy.

Choosing a leader by divining some random child out in the sticks as the new leader and bringing them back to the capital to be the religious and political leader of a nation is sort of an interesting experiment in random leader generation. It kind of sidesteps one of the problems western countries face, where so many of those who seek to lead do so compelled by deep psychological flaws, a pathological need for approval and for victory and superiority over peers - flaws which often make it nearly impossible for the politician to "serve" his or her constituents.
posted by aught at 1:58 PM on February 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


The quote from the Dalai Lama is excellent, but I can't find it used in the article. What's your source for it? (Or am I just searchng poorly?)

Personal interview, around 1985. Sorry for not citing.
posted by ecourbanist at 2:06 PM on February 4, 2013


Tibetan Buddhism in no way, shape, or form resembles the teachings of the Buddha, and how on earth the Dalai Lama came to be the representative of Buddhism on this earth is a testament to the triumph of marketing over reality.
posted by gsh at 2:06 PM on February 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


what do you think Marx would have made of the exploitation of the workers, and gathering of the spoils by the ruling class, that's going on in North Korea?

He would have insisted that the state is going to wither and away and die ANY MINUTE NOW, GUYS! Which is one of the reasons why no one can take communism very seriously any more--it's promises turned out to be not just false, but the very opposite of true.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:06 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do wonder how spending most of his adult life among the Davos crowd and being a famous celebrity himself could have changed the Dalai Lama.

I think you misunderstand how he spends his time. The majority of his efforts consist of teachings (sometimes long and detailed) to Buddhists around the world, punctuated by meetings with leaders whom he hopes will help with the goal of bringing some political and social autonomy back to Tibet. It's also possible that his meditation practice keeps him centered on his core values in the midst of all the media attention.
posted by aught at 2:07 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tibetan Buddhism in no way, shape, or form resembles the teachings of the Buddha, and how on earth the Dalai Lama came to be the representative of Buddhism on this earth is a testament to the triumph of marketing over reality.

I like to be contrarian towards the West's expectations of lamaism as much as the next guy, but your statement makes you sound like that you just realized that systems of thought change over time and distance from the original founders' work. Perhaps that is an inevitable part of culture and memes and human nature???
posted by Apocryphon at 2:15 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


He would have insisted that the state is going to wither and away and die ANY MINUTE NOW, GUYS!

He most certainly would not have. Marx was well aware of that history does not proceed in teleological fashion, that workers' movements often act contrary to their own interests, and that state power is an ambiguous good at best. For a good example of Marx's real view of history -- a more nuanced one than the bumper-sticker bullshit you're spouting -- you might be interested in reading his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, an actual book he wrote on historical events.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 2:20 PM on February 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


I don't understand how there can be a Buddhist economic theory. Wouldn't economics be engagement with the illusion of worldly reality and binding oneself to the wheel of change?

Buddhism has been concerned with the ethics and significance of work from the outset. Even monks and bodhisattvas have to eat.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:22 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


not just false, but the very opposite of true

Uh...
posted by adamdschneider at 2:32 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


@aught I once deployed that argument to explain why I was a monarchist that day. While I was being tongue in cheek when I first declared it, it is a pretty good theory. "OK, you gained power through cunning and violence, you can live out your time as king, but we know that sociopathy isn't hereditary so we'll take your chances with your offspring instead of going through this crap again in a few years."
posted by Space Coyote at 2:34 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


for those who believe another (post-capitalist) world is possible

There will most certainly be a post-capitalist world. Whether or not it affords us the same or better intellectual, moral, social and economic freedoms as capitalism currently does is another matter entirely. I'm not saying it's not possible, but it's also not assured. One can imagine a liberal society which is "post-capitalist" in every sense that is meant in the FPP, a society run by sensitive intellectual types who love art and are intellectually curious and deeply care about right and wrong which nevertheless becomes totalitarian, for example. That is, essentially, what happens in 1984. O'Brien can befriend Winston precisely because Winston makes the mistake we all would be prone to make - in assuming that person with the same basic set of tastes, political leanings, and aspirations as ourselves might not also be an agent of an oppressive government.

One could also argue that the U.S. and China are both headed toward that very sort of society, from opposite starting points.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:42 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I like to be contrarian towards the West's expectations of lamaism as much as the next guy, but your statement makes you sound like that you just realized that systems of thought change over time and distance from the original founders' work. Perhaps that is an inevitable part of culture and memes and human nature???

I (mostly) agree. Tibetan Buddhism most certainly is a branch of Buddhism with the four noble truths, eightfold path, a metaphysics derived from dependent origination, a fair dose of skepticism, and syncretism.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:05 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK, this might be a stretch...but: one aspect of Tibetan Buddhist practice involves intensive work on visualizing deities, colors, etc. before actually experiencing them as real. All along, built into their theology is the subtext that, after all, they are not real. All is emptiness. Nevertheless, the visualization to feeling-as-reality takes place. Could Marxism be like this? If we act as if Marxist principles are real, and set up a society as if they are, could Marxist equality end up as a result?

True, it has not ended up as a result yet. But the thinking seems parallel: act as if it were real, and it becomes so. Adjust your posture and breath and face as a happy person, and you may become happier. (It sounds like New Age woo-woo, but it does work to some extent.)

Human societies are more complicated than individual humans, who are complicated enough (!), so Marxism, for me, is more valuable as a critique of capitalism than as a model for a working society. All we've seen so far is unworkable and disastrously unworkable models.
posted by kozad at 3:59 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Better late than never, I suppose. I noticed the Occupy Samsara website registration expired after a year and got grabbed by somebody else months ago.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:35 PM on February 4, 2013


So it is not surprising that Zizek would maintain that Buddhism globally is becoming Western Buddhism—and increasingly functions as a fetish that ultimately enables the status quo to maintain its continuing control, dominance, and expansion.

I think this is a really important point. Discussion of Buddhism I see increasingly in the West - and plenty of it here on mefi, I might add - is almost stunningly racist and willfully ignores the heterogeneity of Buddhism. This is not to criticise Western Buddhism, per se, I think it's generally a kind and tolerant philosophy that totally-not-conincidentally seems to slot ever-so neatly into a long tradition of political liberalism/social democratic thought in the West.

But, its connection to other strands of Buddhism, or rather how Buddhism is actually practiced by the vast majority of its adherents, grows more faint, as does its link to the history of practiced Buddhism.

I don't know, I felt the article - though indisputably well-researched, aggressively cherrypicked its supporting evidence conclusion and lacked very much depth at all. It read like a first year essay. Of course Marxism and Western style Buddhism have a lot in common - at least, in the relatively facile conceptions of both in the article. But there is so much more to either. The author has taken the most sympatico, "gentlest" conceptions of both Buddhism and Marxism, and used the former's thread of asceticism to create a connection between that and critique of capital. But Buddhisms ascetism comes from a very different place, nor is it embedded into the religion.

Ask the Dalai Llama - or god help you, the average Buddhist in south eastern Asia - about attitudes to gays, what the dealio was with Tibet pre-CCP when Llamas essentially ran the country (hint: not exactly a worker's paradise), etc. The answers are not going to be aligned to Marxist thought.

It's not a bad thing, it just is.
posted by smoke at 4:37 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


If we act as if Marxist principles are real, and set up a society as if they are, could Marxist equality end up as a result?

Couldn't you apply this to any ideology or system of government? Maybe if we all visualized really hard, we could achieve Objectivist liberty.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:46 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ask the Dalai Llama - or god help you, the average Buddhist in south eastern Asia - about attitudes to gays, what the dealio was with Tibet pre-CCP when Llamas essentially ran the country (hint: not exactly a worker's paradise)
Quoted for truth. Human Rights in pre-1949 Tibet - the Dalai Lamas, historically at least, were fundamentalist religious dictators of a militant theocracy.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 4:56 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


But, its connection to other strands of Buddhism, or rather how Buddhism is actually practiced by the vast majority of its adherents, grows more faint, as does its link to the history of practiced Buddhism.

I'm kinda dealing with this at the moment, having decided that Buddhism might be a good way to develop some compassion and control of my mind, but being aware of the distortion that is Western Buddhism, being aware of the problematic history of the oh-so-popular Tibetan Buddhism, and being aware that, dammit, I'm a Dawkins-reading atheist. I guess there's a middle-way to be found there, somewhere.
posted by Jimbob at 4:58 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, sometimes I just love eating meat. Love it.
posted by Jimbob at 5:00 PM on February 4, 2013


For a guy appointed by fiat, the Dali lama is a pretty smart guy.

Well, he is a bodhisattva who deliberately becomes reborn so as to selflessly usher sentient beings to nirvana
posted by Ironmouth at 7:47 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, he is a bodhisattva who deliberately becomes reborn so as to selflessly usher sentient beings to nirvana (Ironmouth) emphasis on sentient.
posted by kozad at 8:12 PM on February 4, 2013


thin post
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:22 PM on February 4, 2013


Jimbob: you might be interested in reading the very interesting Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, by Stephen Batchelor. The problem after reading it is finding like-minded people to meditate/read/discuss with.

CB: " the legacy of Marx seems to be considered only in terms of Stalin, Mao, and their ideological descendants" That's true, if you're speaking of the popular press, but if you're speaking of the popular press, they're still pretty much stuck on Darwin too. Serious intellectual discourse about Marx/modern socialism, while definitely stunted by Red Scare stuff, is a pretty flourishing place. If you want to read more, I would recommend Marx's Revenge (basically a book-length discussion of dwh's point above) or Envisioning Real Utopias. Neither are light reading, exactly, but they aren't Zizekian babble, and they do represent serious engagement with the modern implications of Marx.
posted by louie at 9:27 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Jimbob: Also, sometimes I just love eating meat. Love it.

So does the Dalai Lama!

In 1999, it was published that the Dalai Lama would only be vegetarian every other day and partakes of meat regularly.[27] When he is in Dharamsala, he is vegetarian, but not necessarily when he is outside Dharamsala
posted by molecicco at 1:43 AM on February 5, 2013


Jimbob: You might also be interested in the Secular Buddhist podcast. Sam Harris has written about his experiences meditating as well. (don't have a link, sorry).

And not only does the Dalai Lama eat meat, but so did the Buddha. Buddhism's relationship to eating meat is complicated.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:46 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nichiren Shoshu is heretical Buddhism
posted by eggtooth at 11:01 AM on February 5, 2013


Jimbob: Seconding the Stephen Batchelor book.

I thought this talk called "Beyond Belief" by Steve Hagen* was interesting. He's talking about an upcoming discussion with some skeptics, and how Buddhism would lead an honest practitioner to not just a clear-eyed skepticism about everything, but eventually the absence of belief.

*Head teacher at the Dharma Field Zen Center in Minneapolis
posted by sneebler at 11:08 AM on February 5, 2013


"Tibetan Buddhism in no way, shape, or form resembles the teachings of the Buddha."

What? You mean all the great yogis, 1000 year old tradition of meditation, all of it?
I know we're not supposed to disparage individuals, but you don't make sense.
posted by eggtooth at 11:08 AM on February 5, 2013


Buddhism's relationship to eating meat is complicated.

tl;dr version - the only reason buddhist monks ate meat was that they depended on alms and people would give them meat.

"monks and nuns may eat fish or meat as long as it is not from an animal whose meat is specifically forbidden, and as long as they had no reason to believe that the animal was slaughtered specifically for them"

I'm cool with buddhism, but that's a jive distinction (the slaughtered specifically for them exclusion).

I thought this talk called "Beyond Belief" by Steve Hagen* was interesting. He's talking about an upcoming discussion with some skeptics, and how Buddhism would lead an honest practitioner to not just a clear-eyed skepticism about everything, but eventually the absence of belief

I am FAR from expert, but isn't that at least part of the point? Again, NAE, but I always thought Buddhism was the only religion that let you leave it behind once you're done with it. Let me look up where I got that from ...
posted by mrgrimm at 11:12 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess that ties into what I was ineloquently trying to point to when comparing Tibetan Buddhism to Buddhism at large. You often hear skeptics and people who would otherwise shun religion qualify their interest in Buddhism with the idea that it's a practice or merely a philosophy. Tibetan Buddhism is unmistakably a religion. You can tell because they have a pope.

On the subject of eating meat, well, what could be more beneficial in attaining a fortunate birth than being eaten by a human being? That bacon you had for breakfast could easily be a deva reaping the fruits of kotis of kalpas worth of actions with disregard to karma. The soul isn't digestible, it'll keep going! This is not religious advice, I am not a Buddhist.
posted by Lorin at 11:20 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't believe in heresy, but it seems clear that whatever else they are, Nichiren Shoshu and SGI are pretty straight-up cults. That's based on knowing some people who were heavily involved with NS in the 80's.

"Tibetan Buddhism in no way, shape, or form resembles the teachings of the Buddha."

That makes no sense to me either.

I always thought Buddhism was the only religion that let you leave it behind once you're done with it.

That's my belief also. I just thought the Steve Hagen talk was interesting because he's trying to address the general skepticism about religion, but also discuss how Buddhism could contribute to the ongoing discussion regarding how do we talk rationally about science/atheism/etc. Because that's a hard discussion for everyone involved.
posted by sneebler at 11:41 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I apologize in advance, because I know better and really ought to be more aware of the fact there really is no "Buddhism at large".
posted by Lorin at 11:47 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess my view on this is two fold. First, rather like the gospels it's a bit hard to distil what the Gautama Buddha actually taught from the oral tradition, folklore, and commentary on who he was and what he taught. Secondly, Tibetan Buddhism certainly isn't the only tradition that's taken to shoving complicated history, metaphysics, esoterica, and folk beliefs in the closet in an attempt to communicate with American audiences. Whether that's a good or bad thing is a matter of debate.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:45 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


On Marx, it's interesting to me that Darwin's theories have undergone no less than four, perhaps five scientific revolutions, with another one on the horizon (and his ideas on psychology and human behavior treated as historical curiosities) while the legacy of Marx seems to be considered only in terms of Stalin, Mao, and their ideological descendants. Perhaps Marx, like Darwin and many other 19th-century intellectuals, is someone from whom we should take what works and discard what doesn't.

Isn't this referred to as 'The New Deal' here in the US ? And the legacy of Stalin and Mao are not just something to discard, but rather serve as a very serious warning?
posted by bartonlong at 1:19 PM on February 5, 2013


Isn't this referred to as 'The New Deal' here in the US ? And the legacy of Stalin and Mao are not just something to discard, but rather serve as a very serious warning?

In part yes. But I question whether Stalin represents anything quintessentially Marxist given how many Marxists died because they disagreed with, or were inconvenient to him.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:43 PM on February 5, 2013


Buddhism's relationship to eating meat is complicated.

That article was good, and confirmed what I already figured - however, it was pretty well focused on monks. What about the laity?
posted by Jimbob at 2:36 PM on February 5, 2013


My lay understanding is that Buddhists won't kill an animal, but if an animal is already dead...

Apparently in India in the Buddhist areas there's a non-Buddhist butcher in each town. From here: "Some sources in the Buddhist tradition hold that it is worse to kill an animal yourself than to eat the meat of an animal someone else has killed. Many faithful Buddhists go to great lengths not to kill animals. Moreover, the professions of hunting and fishing are classified as “wrong livelihood,” and Buddhists are expected not to follow them. In majority Buddhist countries, butchers are often members of non-Buddhist religious minorities."

And as in all religions, Buddhists vary in terms of their adherence to every tenet of their religion.
posted by GuyZero at 2:44 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


My lay understanding is that Buddhists won't kill an animal, but if an animal is already dead...

That's my general approach as a vegetarian, i.e. I won't (intentionally) cook, prepare, serve, or eat animals, but "hey, aren't you going to eat those ribs?!"
posted by mrgrimm at 3:14 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a facultative vegetarian: if there's meat lying around, I'll eat it.
(In reality, I shy away from meat more and more, not for religious reasons, but because the meat industry is so oppressive and unsustainable.)
posted by sneebler at 5:02 PM on February 5, 2013


Having said that I'm sure there are plenty of Buddhists who never eat meat out there.
posted by GuyZero at 5:18 PM on February 5, 2013


I question whether Stalin represents anything quintessentially Marxist given how many Marxists died because they disagreed with, or were inconvenient to him.

That seems to be edging on a No True Scotsman, since you're basically deciding ex post facto that he wasn't your sort of Marxist (though understandable). But certainly he managed to convince a lot of people that he was a Marxist, at least enough to get himself put in charge of a putative Marxist state; I suspect many of those people (including, among others, Lenin himself) knew far more about practical Marxism than any of us do. So if Stalin could do that within the context of the Soviet Union, I don't really see how the problem is not replicable.

You can't blame the failure of a political system on evil people; evil people are always going to be around. Any society of reasonable size -- probably as small as a few thousand, would be my guess -- is going to have a few would-be Stalins and Hitlers. If the system allows them to gain autocratic control and engage in power consolidation through mass murder, then perhaps the political system is flawed.

Or, put differently, a lot of very smart people, with very near to a carte blanche over a major country, with the best intentions of creating a worker's paradise, did the very best that they could, and what they got within two leadership cycles was a whole lot of people being shot in the head in basements. That is not something that you can just hand-wave away as a minor implementation issue.

So if you are going to advocate Marxism today, I think the onus is on the advocate to describe rather specifically how it's not open to exploitation in the same fashion. Because "Stalin wasn't a True Marxist" or other arguments that basically boil down to "they didn't try hard enough" are pretty unconvincing, and frankly are pretty insulting to the true believers who spent their lives trying to make it work. (The converse is also true: whenever it looks as though an intelligent, dedicated person squandered their life in the service of a lost cause, we should be careful to evaluate that cause in the light of their time; a lot of "lost causes" only appear so with the benefit of hindsight.)

And yeah, there is a sort of double-standard going on in that advocates of capitalism don't have to do the the same thing, because advocating capitalism at this moment in history is not a revolutionary position. It is, like it or not, the default, and the thing that any other political system has be demonstrably better than in order to make being worth changing to, particularly given the death and disruption which typically surround violent revolutionary change.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:55 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


That seems to be edging on a No True Scotsman, since you're basically deciding ex post facto that he wasn't your sort of Marxist (though understandable).

No, a No True Scotsman would be to say that he wasn't a Marxist at all, a position that I did not state, imply, or edge toward. The question was why is Stalin the quintessential Marxist but not the Marxists he murdered, much less Marxists in the West? But of course, you know this having actually read and quoted the text in question, so we can leave bullshit like "Stalin wasn't a True Marxist" in the compost pile of Ideas Not Remotely Relevant to This Discussion.

Or, put differently, a lot of very smart people, with very near to a carte blanche over a major country, with the best intentions of creating a worker's paradise, did the very best that they could, and what they got within two leadership cycles was a whole lot of people being shot in the head in basements. That is not something that you can just hand-wave away as a minor implementation issue.

The problem here is that I can't think of a single political system that doesn't have at least one dictator and genocide on its hands. Unfortunately, history doesn't leave us with any comforting lessons beyond the need for constant vigilance.

So if you are going to advocate Marxism today, I think the onus is on the advocate to describe rather specifically how it's not open to exploitation in the same fashion.

Of course it's open to exploitation. If you want an exploit-proof political system, I don't think it exists.

And yeah, there is a sort of double-standard going on in that advocates of capitalism don't have to do the the same thing, because advocating capitalism at this moment in history is not a revolutionary position.

I don't know that Marxism, at this point in history, is necessarily a revolutionary position.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:22 PM on February 5, 2013


My lay understanding is that Buddhists won't kill an animal, but if an animal is already dead...

Disclaimer: IANA Buddhism expert, but have studied it on and off for a number of years. That said, yes, there seem to be a whole set of karmic conditions and intentionalities that matter to many Buddhists that might not occur to many westerners. (It might be worth noting that most of the non-monastic Tibetan refugees I have met do eat meat, and there are always meat mo-mos at local Tibetan association celebrations. As far as I can tell the monks either eat salad or dal or don't eat at all during the festivities.)

The reasoning is often not as straightforward as the average newly-converted vegetarian college student activist would want it to be; frame of mind before, during, and after an action (like eating meat) matter a lot. Yeah, there are always gasps and shocked expressions in the meditation room when a monk or lama mentions that the Dalai Lama himself eats meat, which is usually explained to the newbies as necessary because His Holiness has medical problems digesting most grains and vegetables (sounded kind of like celiac disease when I heard it discussed) and so he eats a little meat on the advice of his doctors (the usual alternative for Tibetans to eating meat are pretty much all grain and yak-milk based).

On the other hand, it's also hard to feel too self-satisfied or self-righteous as a vegetarian Buddhist when, after some study, one suspects that a robust weekend hike in the woods or a virtuous drive in the Prius to the organic food co-op will kill as many sentient creatures as a week's worth of meat eating. (Or to consider how many insects and field animals are killed in larger-scale soy and vegetable farming, for that matter.) In my experience, Buddhism doesn't hierarchize living creatures' worth the way many westerners do, so that knowingly stepping on an ant or squashing the spider on your bedroom wall is every bit as bad karma as slaughtering a pig for a meal - maybe worse, if you kill the insect with an angry, deliberate state of mind but slaughter the pig with genuine regret and sadness and compassion for how the pig felt.

That said, dharma teachers I've encountered do of course encourage students to eat vegetarian, since it might reduce the suffering of living beings and of course considering the suffering of animals that happens as a result of going about your life is a necessary step, but eating vegetarian is one component in a much larger process of learning to be aware of how almost everything one does causes suffering in some way to other people or creatures (i.e., the living nightmare that is karma and samsara) and how learning to live compassionately might break some of those cause-and-effect relations that cause suffering in other beings.

It's also my experience, as someone mentioned above, that Tibetan Buddhist teachers frequently mention the terrible karmic implications of killing for sport / pleasure by hunting and fishing. Such intentional recreational killing for enjoyment is an extremely bad combination.
posted by aught at 9:09 AM on February 6, 2013


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