The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory by David Loy

The most essential insight that Buddhism offers is that all our individual suffering arises from three and only three sources, known in Buddhism as the three poisons: greed, ill-will, and delusion. In The Great Awakening, scholar and Zen teacher David Loy examines how these three poisons, embodied in society’s institutions, lie at the root of all social maladies as well. The teachings of Buddhism present a way that the individual can counteract these to alleviate personal suffering, and in the The Great Awakening Loy boldly examines how these teachings can be applied to institutions and even whole cultures for the alleviation of suffering on a collective level.

This book will help both Buddhists and non-Buddhists to realize the social importance of Buddhist teachings, while providing a theoretical framework for socially engaged members of society to apply their spiritual principles to collective social issues. The Great Awakening shows how Buddhism can help our postmodern world develop liberative possibilities otherwise obscured by the anti-religious bias of so much contemporary social theory.

David Loy

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Liberation as Revolutionary Praxis: Rethinking Buddhist Materialism by James Mark Shields


Although it is only in recent decades that scholars have begun to reconsider and problematize Buddhist conceptions of “freedom” and “agency,” the thought traditions of Asian Buddhism have for many centuries struggled with questions related to the issue of “liberation”—along with its fundamental ontological, epistemological and ethical implications.
With the development of Marxist thought in the mid to late nineteenth century, a new paradigm for thinking about freedom in relation to history, identity and social change found its way to Asia, and confronted traditional religious interpretations of freedom as well as competing Western ones. In the past century, several attempts have been made—in India, southeast Asia, China and Japan—to bring together Marxist and Buddhist worldviews, with only moderate success (both at the level of theory and practice).

This paper analyzes both the possibilities and problems of a “Buddhist materialism” constructed along Marxian lines, by focusing in particular on Buddhist and Marxist conceptions of “liberation.” By utilizing the theoretical work of “radical Buddhist” Seno’o Girō, I argue that the root of the tension lies with conceptions of selfhood and agency—but that, contrary to expectations, a strong case can be made for convergence between Buddhist and Marxian perspectives on these issues, as both traditions ultimately seek a resolution of existential determination in response to alienation. Along the way, I discuss the work of Marx, Engels, Gramsci, Lukàcs, Sartre, and Richard Rorty in relation to aspects of traditional (particularly East Asian Mahāyāna) Buddhist thought.

James Mark Shields

Max Stirner and Eastern Philosophy

From the Introduction of the latest translation of Stirner’s “The Unique and its Property” by Wolfi Landstreicher

“I realized on my first reading of Byington’s translation of Stirner that there were many parallels between Stirner’s ideas and aspects of taoism and buddhism. Already, in 1906, Alexandra David-Neel15 compared Stirner’s ideas to those of the taoist Yang-Chou. Stirner emphasized the transience of each individual and rejected any crystallized, permanent “I” as much as any other permanent idea, seeing it as yet another phantasm. He saw getting beyond the limits of thought as a necessary part of living fully as one’s transient self here and now. He saw self-enjoyment as most fully achieved in self forgetfulness. And in Stirner’s Critics, he spoke of the unique (der Einzige) in ways quite similar to those used to speak of the tao in the Tao Te Ch ing: “Stirner names the unique and says at the same time ‘names don’t name it.’ He utters a name when he names the unique, and adds that the unique is only a name . … What Stirner says is a word, a thought, a concept; what he means is neither a word, nor a thought, nor a concept. What he says is not the meaning, and what he means cannot be said.”16 Was Stirner aware of these similarities? I don’t know which of Hegel’s lectures Stirner attended while he was at the university in Berlin, but I have confirmed that Hegel gave lectures on Eastern philosophy. This indicates that buddhist, taoist, and other Eastern writings were available in Germany at the time. And I would like to think that Stirner read some of these and, as is appropriate for an egoistic self-creator, took what he found appealing and useful from these writings to enhance his own way of living and viewing the world. If so, this adds a certain ironic depth to his play on German “mongolism.” “

Wolfi Landstreicher

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Hierarchies by Bhante Sujato

“Once you have two people together, it seems, it’s difficult to avoid creating some kind of hierarchy. Even between an older sibling and a younger there is an unspoken dynamic. Unlike most religious organizations, however, the guidelines for the Buddhist monastic community are anti-hierarchical. Despite this, modern Buddhist organizations tend towards a strongly hierarchical model. Is this just a practical evolution, reflecting the more complex times we live in? Or is hierarchy something fundamentally unjust, to be suspected and rejected wherever it appears?

Given that hierarchies dominate organizational systems, their misuse is a major source of suffering. Hierarchies are not merely one benign option among others for organizing things. They are a method whereby power is created and controlled by some, and as a necessary corollary, taken from others. The ethics of hierarchical systems are, therefore, an essential dimension of justice.

Full disclosure: I’m an anarchist by temperament and political leanings, and have been ever since I learned what it meant. I dislike hierarchies, and the feeling is, I suspect, mutual. I am strongly disposed to be suspicious, especially when I hear defenses of hierarchies spoken by powerful men. However, I am not blind to the fact that hierarchy is a fact of the world that we live in, and I have benefited from it as much as anyone.

Hierarchies vary, so let’s look a little at some different dimensions. Please be aware, this is not a subject on which I have any great expertise. I am sure that these things have all been studied in detail in a vast literature of which I am unaware. Here I am simply making a few observations based on my knowledge of the Vinaya and observation of modern organizations.”

By Bhante Sujato

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This article was brought to my attention by /u/dhammaflow on reddit.

Mud and Water: A Collection of Talks by the Zen Master Bassui Translated by Arthur Braverman

The fourteenth-century Zen master Bassui was recognized as one of the most important Zen teachers of his time. Accessible and eloquent, these teachings cut to the heart of the great matter of Zen, pointing directly to the importance of seeing our own original nature and recognizing it as Buddhahood itself. Bassui is taking familiar concepts in Buddhism and recasting them in an essential Zen light.

Though he lived centuries ago in a culture vastly different from our own, Zen Master Bassui speaks with a voice that spans time and space to address our own modern challenges – in our lives and spiritual practice.

Like the revered Master Dogen several generations before him, Bassui was dissatisfied with what passed for Zen training, and taught a radically reenergized form of Zen, emphasizing deep and direct penetration into one’s own true nature. And also like Dogen, Bassui uses powerful and often poetic language to take familiar Buddhist concepts recast them in a radically non-dual Zen light, making ancient doctrines vividly relevant.

Arthur Braverman

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Critical Buddhism: Engaging with Modern Japanese Buddhist Thought by James Mark Shields

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the relative calm world of Japanese Buddhist scholarship was thrown into chaos with the publication of several works by Buddhist scholars Hakamaya Noriaki and Matsumoto Shiro, dedicated to the promotion of something they called Critical Buddhism (hihan bukkyo). In their quest to re-establish a “true” – rational, ethical and humanist – form of East Asian Buddhism, the Critical Buddhists undertook a radical deconstruction of historical and contemporary East Asian Buddhism, particularly Zen. While their controversial work has received some attention in English-language scholarship, this is the first book-length treatment of Critical Buddhism as both a philosophical and religious movement, where the lines between scholarship and practice blur. Providing a critical and constructive analysis of Critical Buddhism, particularly the epistemological categories of critica and topica, this book examines contemporary theories of knowledge and ethics in order to situate Critical Buddhism within modern Japanese and Buddhist thought as well as in relation to current trends in contemporary Western thought.

James Mark Shields

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How Much Is Enough?: Buddhism, Consumerism, and the Human Environment edited by Richard Payne

“The massive outpouring of consumer products available today might alone lead one to ask “How much is enough?” But at the same time, if we allow ourselves to see the social, political, economic and environmental consequences of the system that produces such a mass of “goods,” then the question is not simply a matter of one’s own personal choice, but points to the profound interconnectedness of our day to day decisions about “How much is enough?” The ease with which we can acquire massive quantities of food, clothing, kitchenware, and various electronic goods directly connects each of us with not only environmental degradation caused by strip mining in West Virginia, and with sweat shops and child labor in India or Africa, but also with the ongoing financial volatility of Western capitalist economies, and the increasing discrepancies of wealth in all countries.

This interconnectedness is the human environment, a phrase intended to point toward the deep interconnection between the immediacy of our own lives, including the question of “How much is enough?,” and both the social and natural worlds around us. This collection brings together essays from an international conference jointly sponsored by Ryukoku University, Kyoto, and the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley. The effects of our own decisions and actions on the human environment is examined from several different perspectives, all informed by Buddhist thought. The contributors are all simultaneously Buddhist scholars, practitioners, and activists – thus the collection is not simply a conversation between these differing perspectives, but rather demonstrates the integral unity of theory and practice for Buddhism.”

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Buddhist Responses to Globalization Edited by Leah Kalmanson and James Mark Shields

“This interdisciplinary collection of essays highlights the relevance of Buddhist doctrine and practice to issues of globalization. From various philosophical, religious, historical, and political perspectives, the authors show that Buddhism–arguably the world’s first transnational religion–is a rich resource for navigating today’s interconnected world. Buddhist Responses to Globalization addresses globalization as a contemporary phenomenon, marked by economic, cultural, and political deterritorialization, and also proposes concrete strategies for improving global conditions in light of these facts. Topics include Buddhist analyses of both capitalist and materialist economies; Buddhist religious syncretism in highly multicultural areas such as Honolulu; the changing face of Buddhism through the work of public intellectuals such as Alice Walker; and Buddhist responses to a range of issues including reparations and restorative justice, economic inequality, spirituality and political activism, cultural homogenization and nihilism, and feminist critique. In short, the book looks to bring Buddhist ideas and practices into direct and meaningful, yet critical, engagement with both the facts and theories of globalization.”

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McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality by Ronald Purser

“A lively and razor-sharp critique of mindfulness as it has been enthusiastically co-opted by corporations, public schools, and the US military.

Mindfulness is now all the rage. From celebrity endorsements to monks, neuroscientists and meditation coaches rubbing shoulders with CEOs at the World Economic Forum in Davos, it is clear that mindfulness has gone mainstream. Some have called it a revolution.

The evangelical promotion of mindfulness as a panacea for all that ails us has begun to give way to a backlash, with questions arising whether its claims for achieving happiness, wellbeing and career success have been over-sold. Expanding on his influential essay “Beyond McMindfulness”, Ronald Purser debunks the so-called “mindfulness revolution”, arguing its proponents have reduced mindfulness to a self-help technique that fits snugly into a consumerist culture complicit with Western materialistic values.

In a lively and razor-sharp critique of mindfulness as it has been enthusiastically co-opted by corporations, public schools and the U.S. military, Purser explains why such programs inevitably fall short of their revolutionary potential. Simply paying attention to the present moment while resting snugly in our private bubbles is no mindfulness revolution. Mindfulness has become the new capitalist spirituality, a disciplined myopia, that mindlessly ignores the need for social and political change.”

Ronald Purser

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Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution by David R. Loy

“In little time, Loy has become one of the most powerful advocates of the Buddhist worldview, explaining like no one else its ability to transform the sociopolitical landscape of the modern world.

In this, his most accessible work to date, he offers sharp and even shockingly clear presentations of oft-misunderstood Buddhist staples – the working of karma, the nature of self, the causes of trouble on both the individual and societal levels – and the real reasons behind our collective sense of “never enough”, whether it’s time, money, sex, security…even war.

Loy’s “Buddhist Revolution” is nothing less than a radical change in the ways we can approach our lives, our planet, the collective delusions that pervade our language, culture, and even our spirituality.”

David R. Loy

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