Buddhism Social and Political Perspective

Date: Nov 23, 2018


Buddhism emerged 2,500 years ago in India and it is credited to Siddhartha Gautama. He discovered how happiness could be brought to the world which made him embark on a mission to teach people of his discovery. The religion has spread and currently has a major presence in the world. Majority of Buddhist sects believe in existence of karma that is a link between the present and the future. The two are connected when events from the present die and subsequently get reborn in the next life. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is achieving a society devoid of karma to eliminate suffering that gets reborn from past events. Buddha’s teachings were centered on four principles:

  1. Dukkha. It means that life is full of suffering, sorrow and trouble.
  2. Samudaya. There is a reason of suffering that is brought about by cravings to have more and the desire to avoid pain.
  3. Nirodha. There is an end to suffering after managing to flee from attachments and obtaining liberation from all the suffering.
  4. Marga. The forth truth provides a pathway to obtaining this liberation by following some steps.


Buddhism is a pragmatic teaching that starts from certain fundamental propositions about how to experience the world and how to act in it. Embedded in their teachings are different principles that govern the follower’s social code or how they interact with other persons. Buddhism as a philosophy or religion inculcates various moral teachings that by a large part influence the social interactions of its followers. Buddhism’s main goal is to eliminate suffering by eliminating both positive and negative karma. According to Buddhism, all events are related and one event leads to another. Nothing occurs in isolation. Thus, to achieve this objective, one has to live a worthy life that is in line with the core values of human beings.

In general, Buddhism offers its followers a path to end suffering. Buddhist social action comes from the need to eradicate suffering that human beings face which is the ultimate goal of Buddhism. It is crucial to note that the religion does not believe in the lack of a proper remedy to social suffering or the presence of a perfect society. It teaches that all the social imperfections can be reduced through concerted efforts of reducing self-gratifying motives and actions, hatred and most importantly ignorance. Carrying out actions while being guided by wisdom also contributes hugely to the reduction of the social imperfections which is illustrated through a number of sayings. Anguttara Nikaya clearly put the point across when he said that a person who has wisdom and understanding does not think of hurting himself or others but rather thinks of his personal welfare and that of the society as a whole. Samyutta Nikaya also said that protection of a person and others are intertwined in that when one protects oneself one protects others and when one protects others one protects oneself at the same time. It is a clear manifestation that according to Buddhism teachings, the state of the society welfare is due to the conflicting interests that a human being possesses. Everyone acts in light of self-interest; each looking out for things and circumstances that favor him or her.


Karma has a huge effect on the prevailing social suffering witnessed in the world. Individual karma is directly connected to that of the society. Buddhism teaches that when children are born, they are introduced to the cultural practices of that time. They then inherit the culture and grow to act as they have learnt. Thus, the same values are transferred to the younger generations. The three causes of human suffering: greed, hatred and ignorance are, therefore, inherited from generation to the next one which makes the stemming of the problem difficult since it is deep rooted. Social karma arises because of the integration of the different individual wills of the society both of the present and the past. Each generation inherits the karmic collection of the previous generation and tries to remodel it. They try to fashion it and establish their own identity to perpetuate their existence.

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David Brandon states that people have become embedded in social structures and institutions. He further claims that persons in the society who have succeeded at attaining wealth have created barriers safeguarding their success and thus protecting their interests. In the process, the propagation of greed, hatred and exploitation has been encouraged. Some people’s happiness and satisfaction depend on other people’s misery. Thus according to him, the suffering cycle continues (Brandon, 11). Dalai Lama on his part claims though everybody talks of peace, justice and equity, practicing what he or she says is difficult due to the underlying strong social impact (Dalai Lama, 17). What this means is that though people may have the will to practice the above virtues, the prevailing negative environment surpasses their desire.

Despite all this hiccups, there exists hope for humanity. In the end, one benefits from the wisdom. If humanity were to embrace the wisdom, hatred would pave the way for love, greed for contentedness and compassionate actions would dominate the world. Wisdom is the tool that enables people to overlook their personal gains and benefits and instead, focus on a bigger picture, which is the society’s welfare. Buddha advocates for a compassionate nature that reaches out to everyone in an attempt to eradicate the common oppressor that all humanity shares. Buddhism has no obvious frame of political and social theory as compared to its metaphysics or psychology. Buddhist doctrines tend to disagree with political governments. Despite this perspective, they lack a clear political policy and, instead, seem to embrace different political perspectives. It approaches politics at a neutral position, one devoid of prejudice. It concerns itself in addressing questions involving power and conflict, social oppression and social justice. Buddhism offers a way of handling these issues with wisdom. Such teachings can be derived from basic Buddhism teachings. It then goes down to doing what is morally right and beneficial to the society as a whole. When dealing with political matters, Buddhism advocates for people to be open, cooperative, and exemplify goodwill and equality. When Siddhartha Gautama began teaching Buddhism, he taught and explained that all human beings are equal. He called for the empowerment of women. From the ancient times, Buddhism acknowledged the importance of women. In those years, women would gather in temples where they could engage in meditation and yoga which served to enrich them with spiritually. In so doing, their faith would be made stronger enabling them to inculcate good morals in their children. They were also tasked with the role of guiding men in both social and political matters. Whenever the men committed mistakes, it was upon the women to point out the wrongs and rebuke the men for that. It could imply that with women acquiring social freedom, they are free to engage in the political issues of the society they live.

Buddhism teaches against taking of life. It is, therefore, against all forms of violence in the quest of achieving political advantage or people trying to get their point heard. It advocates for dialogue as the best way of solving conflicts between parties who are in disagreement. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent struggle against religious intolerance is a clear example that conflicts and disagreements can be solved without the use of violence. When people are led by wisdom, the will to solve issues in a non-violent nature will be strong and override hatred and self-centeredness. It, therefore, states that there is no justification for war. Just war does not exist but is a cover created by people who want to mask their true intention of propagating cruelty, hatred and violence. Dalai Lama claims that when a person criticizes another, the one being criticized should take it positively since they are being given a chance to learn of their weaknesses and thus correct them and finally emerge as better persons (Dalai Lama, 29). Thus according to him, one should not hate the person who criticizes a person, but rather should be thankful to him or her so the conflict is solved with both parties benefiting. Buddhism teaches that violence and taking of lives has a deep negative effect on all the parties involved. In particular, Buddha stated that weapon and slave trade is wrong and a contributor to negative karma. In the current world, the development of nuclear warheads, the torture of suspects in secret detention facilities by various governments is equally wrong.

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Overall, Buddhism takes a conservative approach when it comes to political matters. It does not, however, assume that individuals should sit back and fail to point out the political injustices that occur. In remaining silent, one contributes in the acquiescing of the wrongs. Buddhism as a religion has some political implications. Politics does not deserve all that attention. Moreover, the issues surrounding power and conflict lie beneath politics. Through its teachings, it points the way for the followers to achieve the desired society without the recurrent suffering.


Buddhism is a religious idealism that guides Buddhists in the political and social circles of their lives. The society that Buddhism aims at can only be achieved by mutual tolerance and understanding and, unfortunately, there is no shortcut to attaining this goal. Buddhism is seen as a silent religion since it advocates for individuals to strive and attain the cleanliness of the heart. When this is done, the society attains morality which is exemplified by its teachings on subjects touching social justice as equal distribution of resources, human rights as well as political freedom. As Dalai Lama noted, while social development is vital and essential to human beings, there are extremes when one gets too much of something. A balance has to be found to avoid creating problems due to having too much of one thing (Dalai Lama, 29). Material growth must go hand in hand with mental development of the people and in doing this the society produces people who are in harmony with their own selves as well as with others.

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