The Most Politically Incorrect Doctrine of Buddhism
And this, monks, is the Noble Truth of the Origin of Unease: it is whatever craving there may be, conducive to further existence, accompanied by indulgence and passion, overindulging here and there; namely, craving for sensuality, craving for existence, and craving for nonexistence.
—from the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, considered by tradition to be the Buddha’s first sermon after his enlightenment
I have written elsewhere on this blog about the political incorrectness, by 21st century standards, of some of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism. Also I recently participated in a video discussion on the same topic (soon to be uploaded on Bitchute and YouTube)…which got me thinking about the strange phenomenon of increasingly radical leftists embracing, or seeming to embrace, Theravada Buddhism, literally the most conservative school of Buddhism in existence. One can argue that the “progressive” left are indifferent with regard to the actual teachings of the religious movements that they infiltrate and seek to control; the argument goes that they simply commandeer pre-existing ideologies, whatever they may be originally, and more or less surreptitiously transform them into little more than platforms for their own brand of political and cultural Marxism. (After all, it is easier to take over and transmogrify a pre-existing social movement, like Buddhism or the American Democratic Party, than to start from scratch with something brand new.) Anyway, for whatever reasons, the “progressive” left have pretty much taken over western lay Theravada, regardless of Theravada having basic doctrines radically at odds with “progressive” leftism. So, since the subject has been on my mind, I decided to write about what I consider the Mother of All Political Incorrectnesses fundamental to scriptural Theravada Buddhism.
Some people may disagree with my choice of Political Incorrectness Number One, as there are quite a few to choose from. One really obvious candidate is the bald assertion, made in some of the most ancient Pali texts, that abortion is the flat-out murder of a human being. Buddhism, like biology in this case, asserts that the a human life begins at conception. A human “spirit” ready to take rebirth is a requisite for conception in the first place, and any ordained monk who helps a woman in any way to get an abortion, or who successfully persuades a woman to have one, is pārājika, excommunicated from the Sangha for life, because he is guilty of being an accessory to murder.
That is a pretty obvious one, which of course many leftist western Buddhists, including at least one high-profile leftist monk, appear reject out of hand; but abortion is clearly not central to Buddhist philosophy, nor is the issue of when exactly a human life begins. There is a huge, glaring, anti-leftist doctrine of basic Buddhist philosophy which is even bigger, in my opinion, and that is part of the bedrock of Buddhist ethics, the Second Noble Truth.
The Four Noble Truths, the second of which is quoted in translation above, are practically the bedrock, the backbone, of Buddhist philosophy and ethics. It may be that the only doctrine more important than the Four Noble Truths is Dependent Co-Arising, yet that teaching is so profound and obscure that few people really understand it. (According to legend the Buddha almost didn’t teach Dhamma at all, and was tempted to remain an enlightened yet silent hermit, because he figured nobody would understand Dependent Co-Arising.) And the Second Noble Truth states that ALL unease, all suffering, all unhappiness, is caused by craving, and in some alternative versions, by attachment—though both amount to the same thing.
What the Second Noble Truth indicates is that, ultimately, all suffering is self-inflicted. Physical pain, for example, is just a sensation, and not actual suffering or unhappiness—the suffering comes from the intense desire or craving for the pain to cease. Likewise with other situations like grinding poverty or social injustice: an enlightened being could endure such conditions with equanimity, accepting his situation as the way things are, in accordance with his own karma; it is the nonacceptance of the poverty or injustice, and a desire for things to be otherwise, than generates the actual suffering.
The problem is, of course, that the self-inflicted nature of unhappiness is not very obvious much of the time, and in the materialistic, extraverted west especially, we are taught from infancy that discomfort or inconvenience, let alone agony or great injustice, is practically the same as suffering itself—the only way to avoid suffering, supposedly, is to avoid unpleasant circumstances, which, of course, are not always avoidable. Even a person well trained in Buddhist philosophy, who furthermore sincerely believes the Second Noble Truth to be True, will often suffer from force of habit: driving a vehicle in the midst of idiots (like the guy right in front who suddenly decides to turn left across heavy traffic, or who blows through a red light that is green for you, etc.), having a dog barking his fool head off outside one’s window when one is trying to sleep, feeling nausea for some reason, etc. can have one responding automatically with some form of unhappiness, due to habitual preferences for things to go well. This kind of automatic pilot running our lives through habit is a relatively obvious form of karma by the way.
So in order to really take the Second Noble Truth to heart and act accordingly, one must practice some deep introspection and mindfulness.
Closely related to the Second Noble Truth, and also very politically incorrect and unacceptable to many if not most western lay Buddhists, is the idea of karma, and thus the idea that our position in this world, and our successes and failures, are literally our own doing—karma literally meaning “doing,” “action,” “deed.” So from the Buddhist point of view, people born poor and of low social standing are born that way due to their own actions in past lives, and if they stay that way, it is due largely to their own actions (especially mental actions) that keep them that way. In some parts of India, people born crippled, malformed, or congenitally disabled in some way are viewed as beloved of the gods and blessed in some strange way, because they have taken upon themselves such a huge repayment of karmic debts in this life. But leftist lay Buddhists tend to see things very differently.
It seems that a fundamental axiom of radical leftism is that suffering is too often not one’s own doing, but someone else’s. In classical Marxism the someone else was the bourgeois capitalist who oppressed the working class and necessarily made them unhappy. Nowadays it’s evil Whitey who is to blame for the suffering of chronic malcontents who are taught to blame anyone but themselves, but especially Whitey, for their own failures and inability to prosper—or in some cases to blame Whitey even if they are prospering (“antiracist” grifters immediately come to mind). Thus the adharmic nature of western identity politics becomes readily apparent to someone who takes seriously Buddhism as represented in the earliest Buddhist texts.
I have mentioned a number of times by this point the fact that I have read no fewer than two articles, written by western leftist “Buddhist” scholars and published in western leftist “Buddhist” magazines, claiming that the Second Noble Truth should be revised, because, according to leftists if not orthodox Buddhists, not ALL suffering comes from craving and attachment—some of it comes from racism, systemic oppression, patriarchy, white supremacy, and all sorts of social injustice. This simply demonstrates the abysmal ignorance these scholars and writers have with regard to the essence of Dharma. It demonstrates a grotesque lack of introspection which is displayed not only by superficial academics but also by the new wave of leftist Dharma teachers—you know, the ones preaching about mindfulness of white privilege, offering discounts to non-whites at retreats, offering retreats exclusively to this or that ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference, pontificating about climate change or women’s reproductive rights, and so on.
The ethics taught by the historical Buddha go far beyond the superficiality of leftist lay Buddhists and Buddhistic scholars in leftist academia. They are focused on the center of the problem of suffering, not just the surface—many western Buddhists apparently have greater respect for the teachings of Karl Marx or Ibram X. Kendi than for those of any enlightened sage. The Buddha himself is rejected if he said anything politically incorrect by 21st century standards, presumably because “progressive” leftists are so sure that their absurd beliefs are true that, according to them, a truly enlightened being would have to agree with them. Thus basic teachings of Buddhism are ignored or declared to be corrupt and inauthentic teachings in the texts if they are not rejected outright, just because.
Part of the situation is also seen among some western Buddhists on the political and social right: namely, a conscious or subconscious acceptance of modern science and general western extraversion and superficiality as a reliable version of reality. This perspective has resulted in western civilization becoming the masters of Samsara, since the whole outlook is overwhelmingly samsaric; but it results in distortions and rejections of what the Buddha taught in northern India 2500 years ago.
But the situation remains, as mentioned at the beginning of this little essay, or tirade, or whatever it is, that the “progressive” left (as though decline and fall were progress) has essentially highjacked western lay Theravada Buddhism—though not Asian “ethnic” Theravada in the west or even western monastic Theravada, though some monks go to some pains to be politically correct—and have been twisting and distorting it, and amputating certain inconvenient parts, in order to make it, well, “woke.” And this has the result of what they teach and practice NOT being Theravada, and hardly even Buddhism…but if you tell them that they may become upset, because of course they reject the idea that suffering is self-inflicted and the result of foolishness and delusion. And they reject it the more vehemently, the more unhappy they are.
|Burmese Buddhist monks protesting against Muslim immigrants...|
but that's there, not here