A wise essay from The Guardian (can you imagine this running in the US press?)
The Dalai Lama reminds us of Buddhism’s radical social and economic messages.
Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
I hope you’ll read the whole thing, but here’s a snip for you:
“…..the Dalai Lama is not the comforting Oriental pet that consumer society might like.
Neither does his tradition match the capitalist fantasies attached to it. Perhaps because Buddhism came to the west on a wave of post-war hippy soul-searching, and was then co-opted as friendly religion of choice by new ageism and the self-help movement, its radical economic and social messages have been lost under an avalanche of laughing fat-man statues, healing crystals and copies of The Secret.
The very idea of self-help in Buddhism is an oxymoron – relief of suffering can only come from the realisation that pleasing ourselves doesn’t bring happiness – instead we must try to work skilfully and compassionately with others, as part of interwoven systems of connectivity that bind us together. A “western Buddhism” that prioritises solipsistic focus on the individual is so great a misconception as to be unworthy of the name – or at the least the Buddhism part – as anyone who pays it more than passing attention knows. It’s also largely a media invention – many western Buddhists are serious, deeply committed practitioners. That commitment means choosing to follow a path that leads against the stream of materialism and selfishness. Of course, we don’t always manage it, but that’s why it’s called a path of practice.
Buddhism goes way beyond the confines of the personal – realising the truth of interdependence implies taking up the challenge of engaging with others in the wider world. This isn’t missionary zeal – proselytising is hardly the Buddhist way – but it does mean social action that embodies dharmic principles, and western sanghas are increasingly prioritising community involvement. As they do so, Buddhism may start to look less like some nice bit of calm and relaxation and more like a radical, uncompromising critique of the status quo.”