Buddhist Approaches to Social Change

Volume 6, 1999

Changing the Way Society Changes: Transposing Social Activism into a Dramatic Key

Peter D. Hershock
East-West Center
Asian Studies Development Program

While many Buddhists are rightly committed to working in the public sphere for the resolution of suffering, there are very real incompatibilities between the axiomatic concepts and strategic biases of (the dominant strands of) both current human rights discourse and social activism and such core Buddhist practices as seeing all things as interdependent, impermanent, empty, and karmically configured. Indeed, the almost startling successes of social activism have been ironic, hinging on its strategic and conceptual indebtedness to core values shared with the technological and ideological forces that have sponsored its own necessity. The above-mentioned Buddhist practices provide a way around the critical blind spot instituted by the marriage of Western rationalism, a technological bias toward control, and the axiomatic status of individual human being, displaying the limits of social activism’s institutional approach to change and opening concrete possibilities for a dramatically Buddhist approach to changing the way societies change.

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