Liberation as Revolutionary Praxis: Rethinking Buddhist Materialism

By Shields, James Mark | Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Liberation as Revolutionary Praxis: Rethinking Buddhist Materialism


Shields, James Mark, Journal of Buddhist Ethics


Introduction

A person of wisdom is not one who practices Buddhism apart from worldly affairs but, rather, one who thoroughly understands the principles by which the world is governed. The true path lies in the affairs of this world. The Golden Light Sutra states, "To have a profound knowledge of this world is itself Buddhism." The Nirvana Sutra states, "All the non-Buddhist scriptures and writings are themselves Buddhist teachings, not non-Buddhist teachings." When the Great Teacher compared these passages with the one from the sixth volume of the Lotus Sutra that reads, "No worldly affair of life or work are ever contrary to the true reality," he revealed their meaning and pointed out that although the first two sutras are profound, because their meaning is still shallow and fails to approach that of the Lotus Sutra, they relate secular matters in terms of Buddhism, whereas the Lotus Sutra explains that in the end secular matters are the entirety of Buddhism. The essence of the sutras preached before the Lotus Sutra is that all phenomena arise from the mind. To illustrate, they say the mind is like the great earth, while the grasses and trees are like all phenomena. But it is not so with the Lotus Sutra. It teaches that the mind is itself the great earth, and that the great earth itself is the grasses and trees. The meaning of the earlier sutras is that clarity of mind is like the moon, and that purity of mind is like a flower. But it is not so with the Lotus Sutra. It is the teaching that the moon itself is mind, and the flower itself is mind. You should realize from this that polished rice is not polished rice; it is life itself.

Nichiren, Hakumai ippyo gosho ("The Gift of Rice")

Contrary to the propaganda, we live in probably the least materialistic culture in history. If we cared about the things of the world, we would treat them quite differently--we would be concerned with their materiality. We would be interested in their beginnings and their ends, before and after they left our grasp. As it is, what we are really consumed by are the dreams and myths temporarily attached to the objects around us; and when these dreams and myths wear off, the object to which they were attached is pitched into the waste bin. The consumer heads off again on the trail of the beckoning image of delight.

Peter Timmerman, "Defending Materialism"

The materialistic conception of history is not to be compared to a cab that one can enter or alight from at will, for once they enter it, even the revolutionaries themselves are not free to leave it.

Max Weber, "Politics as a Vocation"

As Critical Buddhists Hakamaya Noriaki and Matsumoto Shiro highlighted several decades ago, the interdependence between Buddhist institutions and various despotic Asian kingdoms and states from ancient times until the modern period is--however problematic to modern and contemporary progressive Buddhists--undeniable. (2) This, of course, is also true for Christianity in the Western world--at least since the time of Constantine--as well as most other major religious traditions. Athough the historical link between philosophy and the state may appear less obvious, for theorists Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) and Felix Guattari (19301992), Western philosophy as well, by way of its "bureaucratization" of consciousness, has never been able to abandon its origins in the codifications of the despotic imperial state. Thus, Deleuze and Guattari follow Marx in asserting the necessity of establishing a new form of thought--a new task for philosophy--one that controverts the traditional philosophy without, somehow, allowing itself to be "codified." (3) The way to do this, argue Deleuze and Guattari, is to reject the "drama of interiority" that Western thought has made foundational, replacing that with "the creation of concepts that can register and delineate the transmission of forces to bodies" (Surin 160).

Here, Kenneth Surin suggests, the precursors of Deleuze and Guattari are less Marx and Engels than Spinoza and Nietzsche. …

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