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BUDDHISTS VIEW OF THE WORLD & ENGAGED BUDDHISM

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A Term Paper
Presented to the
Undergraduate Faculty of the
College of Arts and Sciences
University of San Carlos
Cebu City, Philippines

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In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirement for the Degree
Bachelor of Philosophy

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By
Karl Labartene Archuleta
October 2011

Introduction
Buddhism is a known religion in the world; that is many people know of it, many are its
followers and it has reached almost anywhere in the world. It is one of the products of the
ancient times that have endured over a long period of history. Much older than Christianity and
even Islam to which are the two most popular religions. It is even in its proud history that it has
the least bloodshed happenings that occurred because of its name compared to the two.
Usually we picture Buddhism as monks in congregations meditating in isolated places.
Hermits or people that is more likely to be detached from the world. Even in its teachings of the
no-self and the end of suffering is to the removal of the self and the clinging in this world has
brought Buddhism into the question, how do they act towards the world? Knowing that they live
a life of simplicity and that they disregard any material progress or abundance; still it poses the
question that is the world only for abandonment. Is the world only an object that must be left
unclinged unto to gain ones own liberation? Although there is Mahayana Buddhism that does
not only look onto ones self liberation but also of the others, but even so, they gave primacy to
the world beyond even in their charitable deeds. They cultivate their ethics and mind but in order
to transcend somewhere. Buddhism also has to answer the question that do you treat the world as
an end in itself or as a means for self liberation? But then again, the word world sometimes is
all too confusing whether what could it mean. To find then the meaning of world in Buddhist
thought, means to find there also how will they treat the world in correspondence? What is their
world and do they just aim for something beyond or do they treat it because it needs the help it
can get rather than making it a ticket to Nirvana or Pure Land? And in so doing to those
Buddhists who also desire to bring peace down to earth not only to themselves in a realm of
transcendence may could have looked the world in a way that they respond to it as one that is the

object of ones responsibility. There then is this Engaged Buddhism, to which it is Mahayanist in
leanings but believes of proactive and the same compassion that what Buddhism taught all
throughout.
Though Buddhism aims to the no-self, but since there is this indubitable an inevitably
world before ones end, how then one sees it that he acts to it not just that it will be a means to
liberation but treating the world as if it is my responsibility to bring peace to it. Making oneself
then attached to it by taking responsibility in reforming it or help in its development.
My World
It is in this fathom-long carcass . . . that, I declare, lies the world.1
In the heading, my world, it already entails the idea of a self and then a self-world
relationship. As my is used, it is inevitable that there is a substance owning the world, and that
is the self; what then is a self? A self is an established concept in the first noble truth, that when
we say life is suffering then it must point out to the being concerned with suffering and that is a
self and then follows why that being suffers. That being is the self, to which suffering is open to
it. The self then is composed of the 5 Skhandas (aggregates), in which these aggregates also
points out why the self is not immune to suffering. First is BODY that is the vessel or the
container of the other aggregates. Second is FEELING, that is the tendency to be moved by any
object which the body comes into contact with. Third is PERCEPTION that is where the body
meets the objects or where the senses meet with the sense objects. Fourth is VOLITION or
WILL, that is where man is desiring or longing for the object wherein the consequence of which

Peter Harvey. The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press: St. Johns Studios. 1995. P. 78.

is that man is pushed towards the object craved or willed. And lastly is CONSCIOUSNESS,
which is the base of all sense activity and mental activity.
This concept of the self composed of the 5 aggregates makes clear that a self has to relate
with something because self carries with it an aggregate called perception. Self and world is
equivalent to I. This would make sense if self and world meant self and my world, i.e. I and
my world of experience.2 The world that is experienced or that is perceived then comprises
part of the self, because there is even in the Buddhas days. . . a clear conceptual link between
the ideas of self and world.3
Buddhists has the word Loki in which it means a beings experienced world. It means
that a being exists and what the being experiences is a part of his being. That is the world is
undeniably linked with a being that is of a self. But then again the Buddha only adhered the
world that is physical as illusory. That this world is not actually what people should live in. This
world is the world-as-sensed-and-thought-about, which exists as a constructed experience
within a sentient organism.4 Sense and thought belongs to the six senses category wherein the
first 5 senses are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching and the other one is mental
formations that are then that the self has to relate with an object, or a world since the self
inevitably contacts with it.
There is also another world which the Buddhists also coined and that is the internal
world, it is different from the previous that was sensed and thought of, but this internal world is

Ibid. p. 78.

Ibid. p. 78.

Ibid. p. 80.

a world that is constructed by conception and cognition.5 What makes this world different
from that which is thought of, is that this internal world is the reconstruction of the perceived
world outside. Hence it is called internal because it is only a world that can exist form the within,
or in the creative constructs of the mind of the self. But as the Buddhist prevail over the thought
of no-self, the impermanence of a self thereof also leads to an impermanence of a world,
especially to the inner world.6
Response-ability then comes as another thing to be tackled since there is always the
existing of the self. Though the self seen in a continuity of births and rebirths destroys the
permanence of it, but it is a solid fact that one, a self exists for a moment in time. Since the
Buddhist loves to view the existence of a self in a huge context of time, that then is problem
because when one is reborn, he carries the Karma from the past existence and therefore the
previous existence is responsible for the new one and the one that is reborn unknowingly,
without even the impossible semantics of the before and the after, took hold of the responsibility.
This continuity is confusing and therefore one has to devote more time into reflecting of his past
life, meditating, being ascetic therefore neglecting the current situation wherein a self is situated
in a world. The self must respond to a world accordingly therefore not to detach ones self from
it. The response-ability must not be hindered because of ones figurations of the past, but how to
live the present situation. The present world has to be acted upon accordingly. When the no-self
idea is focused, one begins to focus more on the transcendence rather than the current situation

Ibid. p. 81.

6
Though I cannot reconcile whether that there is the no-self and the consequential world as not true. But
every rebirth done makes one situated in the same changing world, but I agree with the world too as untrue when
there is no-self especially to the conception of the world as an inner world since the state of mind cannot be reborn
together with a new self. But the world is always there or is existing and it becomes untrue where the notion of the
no-self occurs. That is a contention because every new self is situated in a world; the same changing world.

one is in. Therefore the self has to matter in the sense to respond to a world now/ This then opens
a way to a more active Buddhism, that is the Mahayana with more extended arms for
compassion, to act upon the reality that one is in.
Engaged Buddhism
The Vietnamese word tiep means continuing continuing the way of enlightening, of
being awake and being in touch with reality the reality of the mind, the process of
our inner life, the wellspring of understanding and compassion, and the reality of the
world, the wonders of life and also the suffering. Hien means realizing
transforming ourselves, manifesting the presence of understanding and compassion
rather than talking about the idea of understanding and compassion. Hien also means
making it here and now the deep understanding that the means are the ends, that the
present moment contains the future.7

Above mentioned is the reality of the world, wherein it means of the world that is of
the here and now. A world wherein it may be conceived as a means to ones liberation but must
be taken as an end in itself. That the world must be treated as the end in itself not to make it as a
stepping stone towards the enlightening of the self only, but as the world that is need of our
compassion and understanding. Engaged Buddhism is not anymore concerned with the
theoretical argumentations about compassion or understanding, or even the scholarly manner of
talking about it, it is then more on the practical manner that in turn emphasizes the doing rather
than the discourse. The statement then serves as a critique to an armchair Buddhism if there is
any that concerns itself only in academics and even to isolationist trends, since according Thich
Nhat Hanh8, that Buddhism is already engaged Buddhism. If it is not, it is not Buddhism.9
Recalling the basics of Buddhism, it has more to do on practice than theorizing, but the eventual

Christopher Queen. Engaged Buddhism in the West. Wisdom Publications: Boston. 2000. p.40.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk advocating Engaged Buddhism in response to the outbreaks of
Historical Events like the colonial stage of Vietnam, wars and the Communist epidemic.

case is that of isolation and the monastic way of life that is detached from the society. So Thich
Nhat Hanh encourages Buddhism that the Buddha adhered to have as many arms possible to
extend ones compassion. That there is a world out there in need of the Dharma, that we ought
also to transmit the Dharma to them by being involved in the movement of the times. Buddhism
is already engaged because of its practice leaning ideas and where to practice such in a society.
One has to be awake that there s a world that has to be acted upon, that socially engaged
Buddhist practice includes mindfulness practice, social service and non-partisan advocacy to
reduce and stop injustice.10
Though Engaged Buddhism may sound like an anti-isolationist concept since we are to
move within a society rather than being monastic, but cultivating also ones self is also a
necessary step but not to the extent of focusing only to the self.
On the international level, we need mutual trust, mutual respect, frank and friendly
discussions with sincere motivation and joint efforts to solve world problems. All these
are possible. But first we must change within ourselves.11

Undeniably change must begin in ones self but if to deny society for ones own
cultivation is no Buddhism after all, since Buddhism is already engaged Buddhism, and then it is
our task also to transmit our cultivations to others. Goodness is finally the most practical, the
most realistic solution.12 Goodness then Is what we ought to transmit to others, though one
cannot be a transmitter again if one is not cultivated accordingly, but in the sense the cultivation

Christopher Queen. Engaged Buddhism in the West. Wisdom Publications: Boston. 2000. P. 36.

10

Ibid. p. 36.

11

Ibid. p. 230.

12

Ibid. p. 230.

should not boil down to a Hinayanist manner, but one must be right in himself to transmit also
the right.
In the first stage, sometimes we need isolation while pursuing our inner development;
however after you have some confidence, some strength, you must remain with, contact,
and serve society in any fields health, education, politics, or whatever. There are people
who call themselves religious-minded, trying to show this by dressing in a peculiar
manner, maintaining a peculiar way of life and isolating themselves from the rest of
society. This is wrong. A scripture of mind-purification says transform your innerviewpoint, but leave your external appearance as it is. This is important. Because the
very purpose of practicing the Great Vehicle is service to others, you should not isolate
yourselves from society. In order to serve, in order to help, you must remain in society. 13

There is the mention of transforming the inner viewpoint, and that is the inner world
mentioned earlier that which on how one perceives the world. It is then undeniable that there is a
world, and that we have to serve it. But before so, self-cultivation is necessary. I have then to
rearrange the world to a viewpoint that then in turn makes me serve my world. In contrast to the
Hinayanist principle of liberating the self primarily, but as mentioned being the advocates of the
Great Vehicle, we have to extend ourselves into the society, to serve it. As the Dalai Lama says
in a Tibetan Youth Congress:
Having held this youth conference during the past few days, let us ask ourselves what is
the most essential task for the young people. The answer is: service to the people. In
order to serve the people, one must learn the difficulties and the sufferings of the people
by keeping close touch with them.14

We have to break the notion of the self being the center of our care by inculcating the
discipline of service to others. This may what the Buddhist ought to mean as no-self or
selfless, rather than the no-self preoccupied with transcendent motives. The no-self here must

13

Ibid. p.230.

14

Ibid. p. 223.

mean that one is selfless, if no one is has no selfish regard for the self, one reaches out in help.
This must what no-self must mean that it must be of the context of where one lives in a world,
rather than devoting the meaning of it to transcendental matters.
Conclusion
The Buddhist view of transcendence may disrupt the view of the world of the here and
now. But it has to be understood clearly that the world which one is situated is his world, that is
one has a world to act upon. The world should not be treated as a means in order one can enter
into transcendence, but treat it as an end in itself that one has the responsibility to be socially
participative. Engaged Buddhism makes known that there are passivity in being solely
isolationists, but one has to engage in society in order to be an advocate of the greater vehicle.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
A. Books
Harvey, Peter. The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press: St. Johns Studios. 1995.
Queen, Christopher. Engaged Buddhism in the West. Wisdom Publications: Boston. 2000.