Buddhist anarchism

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SomeTemplate:Who? observers believe certain Buddhist teachings form a philosophical ground for anarchism.

Inferences drawn from the Three Universal Truths

Buddhism is rooted in three fundamental truths of the universe, the dharma seals, viz.:

  1. Everything is in a constant state of change, nothing is permanent. (anicca)
  2. That "suffering" exists everywhere in Samsara. (dukkha)
  3. That everything is devoid of a "self." (anatta)

Thus, there can be no "perfect State" in Samsara. Any man-made institution is impermanent as well as imperfect, as people and the world change constantly. Further, no material wealth or political power will grant people permanent happiness—unenlightened satisfaction is an illusion that only perpetuates samsara. Individual liberty, while a worthy goal for anarchists, is nevertheless incomplete, to the extent that it precludes our common humanity, since there is, ultimately, no "self" that is inherently distinct from the rest of the universe.

The Buddhist anarchist argues that both the state and capitalism generate oppression and, therefore, suffering. The former, the state, is an institution that frames the desire for power, and the latter, capitalism, the desire for material wealth. Trying to control other human beings, in the view of Buddhist anarchists, will only cause them to suffer, and ultimately causes suffering for those who try to control. Trying to hold on to and accumulate material wealth, likewise, increases suffering for the capitalist and those they do business with. Buddhism can also be viewed as inherently at odds with capitalism when the need to consume goods on an individual level is considered unnecessary and ultimately destructive.

Compassion, for a Buddhist, springs from a fundamental selflessness. Compassion for humanity as a whole is what inspires the Buddhist towards activism; however, most, if not all, political groups tend to go against the Eightfold Path that steers Buddhist thought and action. Thus, anarchism, lacking a rigid ideological structure and dogmas, is seen as easily applicable for Buddhists.[1]

Those who may be said to have identified the conjunction of anarchism and Buddhism include Uchiyama Gudo, Robert Aitken, Edward Carpenter, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Lala Hardayal, Liu Shipei, John Cage, Tabula Massy of Electric Caves, Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, David Tibet, Gary Snyder, Jackson MacLow, Peter Lamborn Wilson, John Moore, Kerry Wendell Thornley, Robert Anton Wilson, Robert Shea, Max Cafard, William Batchelder Greene, Alexander Storm, as well as the pro-Situationist Ken Knabb.[no citations needed here] The anarchist thinker Peter Kropotkin saw primitive Buddhist communities as embodying the principle of mutual aid,[2] and Matthew Turner noted that some Buddhist monks were involved in the anarchist movement in Japan in the early part of the 20th century.

Differing interpretations

Eisai (明菴栄西), the founder of Rinzai school in Japan held quite a different view as regards the state (which is otherwise universally abhorred by all forms of anarchists) as shown in Ko-zen-go-koku-ron (The Protection of the State by the Propagation of Zen). This, however, has not prevented the promotion of Zen Anarchism as "whatever you make it" or of Zen Anarchists as "scholar warriors" with little reference to Zen Buddhism itself, but rather promoting a literary and psychological view rooted in Japanese militaristic tradition. Parts of Japanese anarchism embraced this militarism and became ultra-nationalists.[3]

Anarchism and Hindu fundamentalism

The Indian anarchist Har Dayal understood the realisation of ancient Aryan culture as anarchism, which he also saw as the goal of Buddhism. A prominent Sanskrit scholar influenced by Swami Dayananda Saraswati (founder of Arya Samaj), he wished to create a movement which he saw as replicating a return to ancient vedic culture. He was active in the Industrial Workers of the World in San Francisco and was a central figure in the Ghadar movement which attempted to overthrow the British in India by reconciling Western concepts of social revolution - particularly those stemming from Mikhail Bakunin - with Buddhism.[4]

The relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism remains a controversial issue. (See Gautama Buddha in Hinduism and Buddhadharma and Hinduism). The controversy includes the usage of the term "Aryan", which does not necessarily carry racial connotations in Buddhism (where it more often means "noble" - see also aristocracy which comes from the same Aryan root).

"Dharma Bums"

In the 1950s, California saw the rise of a strand of Buddhist anarchism emerging from the Beat movement. Gary Snyder and Diane di Prima were a product of this. Snyder was the inspiration for the character Japhy Rider in Jack Kerouac's novel The Dharma Bums (1958). Snyder spent considerable time in Japan studying Zen Buddhism, and in 1961 published Buddhist Anarchism where he described the connection he saw between these two concepts originating in different parts of the world: "The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void." He advocated "using such means as civil disobedience, outspoken criticism, protest, pacifism, voluntary poverty and even gentle violence" and defended "the right of individuals to smoke ganja, eat peyote, be polygymous, polyandrous or homosexual" which he saw as being banned by "the Judaeo-Capitalist-Christian-Marxist West".

Kerouac himself was fairly conservative and eventually returned to Catholicism. But the ethos he embodied in The Dharma Bums had a definite anarchist flavor of living freely and unconventionally; riding freight trains, getting in touch with nature, living simply, and experimenting with sexuality. The book, along with his other novels, went on to inspire generations of young people and anarchist culture in general to live beyond the limits of the domain of mainstream, capitalistic culture. Kerouac's vision of the dharma bum as a free-spirited "bhikku" was influenced by the legendary crazy, wild monks in Zen Buddhism beginning with Bodhidharma himself. This kind of zen "madness" revered by Kerouac, though without any clear anarchist ideology accompanying it, is something that disrupts the normal flow of the state of things and the normal patterns of people's thought through spontaneous, eccentric, and bizarre behavior, which has the potential to undermine all of the consolidations of a state-ruled society, even if just in individual consciousnesses.

See also




  1. See also Kalama Sutta
  2. Kropotkin, Peter (1902). Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, "Conclusion".
  3. Militarism and Fascism in Japan by O. Tanin, E. Yohan, English Translation 1934
  4. Ghadar Movement: Ideology, Organisation and Strategy, Harish K. Puri, Guru Nanak Dev University Press, Amritsar: "The only account of Hardayal's short stay in that island Martinique, comes from Bhai Parmanand, a self exiled Arya Samajist missionary from Lahore, who stayed a month with him there. Har Dayal used that time, says Parmanand, to discuss plans to found a new religion: his model was the Buddha. He ate mostly boiled grain, slept on the bare floor and spent his time in meditation in a secluded place. Guy Aldred, a famous English radical and friend, tells us of Hardayal's proclaimed belief at that time in the coming republic "which was to be a Church, a religious confraternity . . . its motto was to be: atheism, cosmopolitanism and moral law' Parmamand says that Har Dayal acceded to his persuasion to go to the USA and decided to make New York a centre for the propagation of the ancient culture of the Aryan Race." (page 55) and "the ideal social order would be the one which approximated to the legendary Vedic period of Indian history because, as Har Dayal affirmed, practical equality existed only in that society, where there were no governors and no governed, no priests and no laymen, no rich and no poor." (page 112), referencing The Social Conquest of the Hindu Race and Meaning of Equality.

Further reading

External links

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