Thursday, 3 May 2012

Understanding World and Self


Why is the world as it is? Why is life often unsatisfactory? What can we do about it?

Buddhist answer, formulated two and a half millennia ago:
Greed, hate and delusion turn the Wheel of Life. Human beings can end this process in themselves.

Marxist answer, incorporating modern knowledge:
Scientific cosmogony, natural selection and class conflict explain our condition. Workers collectively organized at the point of production can end exploitation and oppression and emancipate society.

Buddhism assumes consciousness. Science explains it.
Social relationships transcend individual motivations. We are economically compelled to compete to survive whether or not we are individually greedy. Individually, we may patiently address our motivations but, collectively, we must urgently change the economy.


Can you and I know how we appear to and affect others? (We often believe that we are reasonable, honest, helpful etc.)

Buddhist answer: Yes, through meditation.
Marxism does not address this question. By understanding society, we can overcome social prejudices and campaign for a better society but social psychology does not fully explain individual psychology. Political activists can lack self-knowledge in personal relationships.

According to Buddhist teaching, understanding of the world and of the self are identical. The same process occurs in both.

According to Marxist theory, they are not identical. Natural processes preceded consciousness. Material forces of production determine historically developing relations of production and qualitatively differing social structures whose causes are therefore not simply reducible to the most basic attachments and aversions to be found in individual consciousness. The study of history and economics informs political activity whereas only personal experience is necessary for meditation.

Two understandings are not identical but both are necessary if we are both to change society and to know our effects on others.

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