Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Role of Engaged Buddhism In Victimization

This is not a koan, which is designed to bypass lateral thinking. This is a reasoning process given the long tradition of rational thinking in Buddhism. Siddhartha Gutama was a proponent of critical thinking.

The implied call to action of this post may not be to simply occupy Wall Street but to also abandon it by changing the way we consume, not only literally by what we buy, but also what we buy into. Recursively, we can change what we buy into by changing what we consume as Engaged Buddhists.

There has been a lot of talk about corporations and their role in our economic crisis. Corporations are social constructs. They exist as a result of social agreement, much like laws and money. This establishes corporations as objects in our thinking.

A lot of people give objects in their thinking, such as corporations, human characteristics. This is an example of anthropomorphism, where we take something and assign it human characteristics. We can give a deity a white beard and a robe, but in terms of the current economic crisis we assign corporations the characteristics of being evil. Once this begins, people can identify themselves as victims and certain corporations as oppressors.

How did it happen that a mere social agreement became anthropomorphized into an oppressor? Is this an example of a Mahayana illusion?

This begins the dialogue of how corporate leaders establish oppression in democratic societies without the use of the military force. One of the main arguments of this post is that unmindful consumption helped feed the economic crisis. Without unmindful consumption, at least some corporate greed is powerless.

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

Some companies that are profit driven have to generate demand; not only by influencing us to buy, but also by influencing how we think and live through propaganda and advertising. Other companies, like the ones that control the water supply in third world countries, only have to enforce their control through the government via the military. Is the United States a third world country or are we in a powerless democracy?

The mortgage crisis may have been aggravated by a lack of compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act by individuals, which is certainly not being followed up with the Justice Department, but it may also have the result of consumer demand and even fraud among mortgage applicants.

Unmindful consumption not only refers to what we put into our bodies but also what we put into our minds which inevitably plays into how we live our lives. When some people purchase a mortgage they are not only purchasing an interest rate, but a lifestyle. Others may be purchasing a farm to grow food but since farmers only consist of 1% of the population that may not be the 1% we are concerned about.

The American lifestyle is promoted in all forms of media, some which did not even exist at the time that Thay wrote this precept.

This is not an argument that there are no victims and that there is no evil. Once we recognize certain economic dynamics, as the anthropomorphism of a social construction, understanding the role that consumerism plays into our own victimology can help us regain our own participation in the dialogue of how to recover from and avoid an economic disaster and allow us not to participate in our own oppression in a democratic society.

Sometimes the difference between the victim and the oppressor is a mere illusion. It enforces the illusion that we are separate from one another, yet we are all one. This is not an argument that there is no greed or excess, but the excess may also lie within us. At least part of this crisis is may be a projection of what was inside of us and what was placed there from unmindful consumption to advance consumer demand.

Sean E Flanigan
Evanston, IL


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Very well written, thank you. In general media and especially in political discussion, there is not enough said about the personal responsibility that we *all* have for the situations we find ourselves in, but this requires the ability to see the world in greyscale, if not colour, and life seems easier if viewed in black or white. If it's all because of "them" then I don't have to do anything except shout and throw things, or worse. This applies to all situations, especially conflict. I see this problem in school all the time and trying to get young people to start seeing that stuff happens at least partly because of what they choose to do is extremely difficult in the face of the "us and them" view. A very useful blog, thank you.