The Buddhist traditions have tended towards a view of separation of the Buddha’s teaching from society. Many have been led to believe that the Buddha declined to engage in any kind of social criticism, as one form of protest. Some Buddhists have the impression that the Buddha only created an order of monks and nuns outside of society without addressing the real issues of concern in society. The Pali texts show something quite different.
The Buddha addressed his talks to the Sangha of spiritual nomads who followed his teachings and equally to householders. He directly addressed a wide range of issues. He voiced his concerns to the major powerful influences in society and gave clear advice on their responsibilities as well as sought change in common beliefs. The Buddha established the world’s first major network for women to live a homeless way of life in the exploration of the spiritual – free from duties as wife, mother and daughter. He also addressed:
- rulers, kings and authority figures
- practices and privileges of Brahmin priests
- religious beliefs, including widespread belief in a personal God
- animal sacrifice and protection for all sentient beings
- caste system, humanitarian values
- responsibilities of rich to share their wealth
- yogis and sadhus for engaging in extreme, self punishing practices widespread in India
- consumerism – namely the pursuit of pleasure as the primary reason for existence
- warned against dependency on charismatic figures, reason, tradition and books.
- spoke of the importance of ethics beginning with a commitment not to engage in killing
- significance of love and compassion in all directions
- application of non-harmful livelihoods and lifestyles.
The Buddha did not reject society but engaged in the transformation of society as well as speaking in depth to the homeless Sangha. Hs voice struck a strong chord with growing numbers in society who realised that the old system of authoritarian rule and imprisonment in the caste system could change.
We live in the time of protest in terms of economic and political realities among the Arab nations, European Union and elsewhere.
Let us find creative ways to express protest, to make our voice heard.