by Stefan Schindler
All things pass; life is brief; seek freedom; be kind. Siddhartha Gautama, Gangamala Jataka
“A Buddha arises for the welfare of the multitude.”
This is a common refrain in Buddhist sutras. On Buddha’s Eightfold Path to the common good, a spoke in the Dharmachakra – Siddhartha’s “Teaching Wheel” – is “right vocation.” Right vocation is ethical employment guided by the medical maxim, “Do no harm.”
Buddha’s politics aim for moral-egalitarian economics, informed by the main Buddhist issue: suffering and freedom from suffering (the first and third of Siddhartha’s Four Noble Truths).
A just society is peaceloving and peaceful. Violence opposes that. Violence and poverty go together. But if poverty is the breeding ground of crime, so too is wealth. Indeed, the primary cause of poverty is wealth itself. Excess wealth among the few creates insecurity, fear, desperation and despair among the many. This is a crime against humanity.
Buddhist social democracy offers economic balance, making space for personal and communal creative evolution. Heart-centered pedagogy is its path, where all the institutions of society support lifelong educational opportunity. Giving peace a chance through voluntary simplicity and the joy of learning.
A psychiatrist for the criminally insane once noted that her clients’ crimes were mere drops of blood in the sea of pain inflicted by the captains of industry and their political, military and media puppets.
Locally and globally, economic apartheid is capitalism run amok; a collective Faustian bargain. The delicate balance of freedom and authority tilts toward fascism.
Benito Mussolini said: “Fascism ought rightly to be called Corporatism, since it embodies the fusion of state and corporate power.”
American Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis declared: “We can have democracy, or we can have vast wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.” Howard Zinn observed: “While the jails are full of petty thieves, the grand thieves are running the country.”
Thirsting for distraction after long hours of competitive work, citizens become historically and politically illiterate; ignorant of their actual past, present and trajectory. Trapped by “chains of illusion,” in a high-tech version of Plato’s cave. Worldview warped by a blizzard of epistemological confetti. Unable to cope with the power elite’s weapons of mass dysfunction. This is important.
An informed citizenry is the prerequisite for a functioning democracy, gifted with the leisure, skills and desire to comprehend, critique and oppose plutocratic ruptures in domestic and global harmony. George Santayana elaborates: “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
The more a government serves capital profiteering instead of the welfare of the multitude, the more fractured a society becomes.
Martin Luther King offers a diagnosis: “Wealth, poverty, racism and war always go together; and we cannot solve one without solving the others.”
H. G. Wells warned: “History is now a race between education and catastrophe.” Accordingly, a just society does not empower a news media which critiques peacemakers in the name of patriotism.
Nagarjuna says to a sophist: “When you cast your faults onto me, you are like a man riding a horse who has forgotten where his horse is.”
Mark Twain says, with an exasperated sigh: “The lie is half-way around the world before truth has its boots on.”
Chogyam Trungpa – twentieth century Tibetan Buddhist in the West – shows Buddha’s teachings to be therapeutic: “Buddhism is all about returning to the sanity we were born with.”