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Buddhist anarchism

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Buddhist anarchism

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Some observers believe certain Buddhist teachings form a philosophical ground for anarchism.

Inferences drawn from the Three Universal Truths[edit]

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"; from this Buddhist anarchists infer that it is only possible to try to approach an ideal community for all. 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.

That being said, the aim of a bodhisattva is to try to minimize the amount of suffering that goes on during the lives of conscious beings. The socialist 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.

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 have seen the conjunction of anarchism and Buddhism (in various ways) arguably include Edward Carpenter, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Lala Hardayal, Liu Shipei, John Cage, Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, Gary Snyder, Jackson MacLow, Peter Lamborn Wilson, John Moore, Kerry Wendell Thornley, Max Cafard, William Batchelder Greene, as well as the pro-Situationist Ken Knabb and others.[unverified] The anarchist thinker Peter Kropotkin saw primitive Buddhist communities as embodying the principle of mutual aid,[2] and Matthew Turner noted that some Buddhist priests were involved in the anarchist movement in Japan in the early part of the 20th century.

Buddha and the State[edit]

Siddhartha Gautama, whilst he did not actively fight the state, could be described as displaying a high level of indifference towards different forms of government, teaching as he did in lands with all manner of government (republic and monarchy), and endorsing neither. In his eyes, the pursuit of enlightenment, and compassionate behaviour were more important than finding ways to govern human beings. As well as this, he would teach against the traditional caste structures of his time, deeming them irrelevent.

Differing interpretations[edit]

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 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[edit]

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].

It should be noted that the relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism remains a controversial issue. (See Gautama Buddha in Hinduism and Buddhhadharma 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"[edit]

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 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 hemp, eat peyote, be polygymous, polyandrous or homosexual" which he saw as being banned by "the Judaeo-Capitalist-Christian-Marxist West".

See also[edit]


  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.

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