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Buddhist doctrine for all
Ven Dr Beligalle Dhammajoti
Some scholars with a little knowledge of Buddhism are of the opinion that there is no socio-economic and political philosophy of Buddhism. A well-known scholar, Max Weber, who is considered as’ father of sociology of religion’ explaining the socio-political aspect of Buddhism says: “Buddhism had no sort of tie with any sort of social movement, nor did it run in parallel with such and it has established no social and political goal.” He further says that Buddhism is a social and anti-political and it can be considered to be an ‘other-worldly religion.’
This is a misleading and distorted concept of Buddhist doctrine. It is very clear that Max Weber never analyzed and understood Buddhist teachings deeply. Early Buddhism is in no way another-worldly religion. It includes a well-defined socio-economic and political philosophy and also a philosophy of history. Professors D D Kosambi and Rhys Davids explicitly recognize that there is a socio-economic and political philosophy of Buddhism and their idea give one lie to the above-mentioned notion of Max Weber.
A dagoba seen through a gong. Picture by Saman Sri Wedage
Another misconceived idea of Buddhism states that Buddhism is such a sublime system that ordinary people cannot practice it. One has to retire to a monastery if one desires to be a true Buddhist.
This is a partial and distorted view. The doctrine of the Buddha is meant not only for mendicant monks but also for ordinary men and women living in their homes with their family members. The Noble Eightfold Path, meditation on loving-kindness and ten perfection are meant for all. They can be practised in their daily life.
It is extremely incorrect to say that Buddhism is social. Addressing the first 60 Arhaths, the Buddha says: “O monks walk on tour, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, for the welfare of the many, good and happiness of human beings and celestial beings.” This shows that the Buddha has laid much emphasis on the members of society and their welfare. Therefore the old Buddhist monasteries had become the spiritual centres and the centres of learning and culture. The five precepts are meant for the whole human society. Any person can observe them and lead a spiritual life and that would be of great benefit for him and to this competitive society.
The Sigalovada Sutta explicitly explains the family and social relationships. It gives a set of instructions and teachings that pertain to man’s socio-economic and spiritual progress. Modern man can lead a very happy and prosperous life if he understands the significance of these social relations explained in the Sigalovada Sutta.
Some scholars are of the opinion that Buddhist philosophy is interested only in higher morality and it ignores the social and economic welfare. This is also another misconception of Buddhist socio-economic and political philosophy. The Kutadanta Sutta explains the way and approach of development of a country with proper planning and also it shows the nature of socio-economic progress. We should not forget that the Buddha expounded these words in the 6th Century BC and even today that they are of great value.
The Cakkavattisihanada Sutta explains poverty, revolution, poverty-related crimes and the reasons for the chaotic situation of a country and also the reasonable grounds for arising those social ills. Today our competitive global society experiences these socio-economic and political ills and tribulations that are explained in the Cakkavattisihanada Sutta.
In the Agganna Sutta we find a theory of the origin of social classes. There the Buddha explains the arising and evolution, the origin of State, the evolution of human race and social grades, the changing nature of moral values and the relationship between moral degeneration and the deterioration of environmental elements. The Sutta explains how beings were becoming less hard-working, less honest, less ethical and how they lost their physical and mental qualities with the passage of time.
Fundamental unreasonable concepts related to social organisations were radically transformed by the Buddha. The Buddha explained the nature of those concepts and their connection with the ditthis or dogmatic views of certain religious traditions.
The socio-economic and cultural transformations by the Buddha can be seen explicitly even in the present time in our Buddhist societies. Making a comment on the social upheaval of Buddhism, Narendranath Bhatthacharya says:
“The rise of Buddhism was certainly to serve some social purpose. It had some distinct social and functional role. But very few attempts have been made to understand all these.”
It is a well-known fact that Buddhism is capable of making a drastic transformation of the present day competitive and war-like Society. For such a transformation, it needs a proper knowledge and correct understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.
The first significant work in the Buddhist social field was Die Religion des Buddha (1957) written by C F Koppen. In his book Koppen explains.
“.....the Buddha was viewed as the emancipator of the oppressed and a great political innovator.”
Here it is very interesting to note that Koppen was a close friend of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Karl Marx ruthlessly criticized religion and the widely accepted concept of omnipotent God. Buddhism is completely free from that criticism, for it has no concepts of God. Trevor Ling in his great work on Buddha, Marx and God explains that Buddhism is free from his critique. French scholar La Loubere says that Buddhism is totally different from other religions as it does not possesses a doctrine of God and it teaches rebirth (re-becoming or Punabbhava) without accepting the concept of a soul. Addressing the Berlin Science Academy in 1856, Albrecht Weber explained that Buddhist teachings were so helpful for social reformation and it had accepted the equality of all human beings.