First, the Abstract:
This paper argues that effective compassionate action must address two kinds of human cause of suffering.The first kind, pointed out by Buddhist epistemology, are universal human tendencies of misperception and mis-reaction, tendencies of delusion, greed, and ill-will.The second kind of cause of suffering, pointed out by Christian liberation theologies, are socio-economic systems which incorporate individuals into structures of inequity that organize resources and ways of knowing in oppressive ways.Effective contemplative practice is essential to address the first cause of suffering: deluded misperception and reaction, since social analysis alone does not remove the pervasive, unconscious misperception that some persons matter more than others, a misperception that distorts anyone’s attempt to build better social systems.Contemplative practices (from various spiritual traditions) that deconstruct that delusive tendency can also empower human capacities of discernment, love, compassion, peace, courage and creative responsiveness essential for effective work for social change.On the other hand, social analysis is essential to address the second kind of cause of suffering, oppressive social structures, which, if not addressed, promulgate systemic patterns of harm while socially conditioning individuals into the first cause of suffering: delusion, greed and ill-will.Contemplative practice that lacks social analysis may also prop up oppressive structures, by improving people’s ability to tolerate, but not to challenge, those structures.The conclusion is that neither contemplative practice nor social analysis alone effectively addresses enough man-made causes of suffering.Each must inform and empower the other to provide what is necessary for effective compassionate action.
Then, from body:
This deluded habit of misperception is not solved by social analysis or activism alone, because the mind that engages in social analysis is the same mind that unconsciously mistakes everyone included in its analysis for its reductive thoughts of them, perpetuating habits of misperception that exclude many from genuine care and compassion, even when we think we are working for social justice. When those of us seeking to dismantle oppressive social systems remain unconsciously identified with our own patterns of deluded perception, those patterns become woven into whatever new social system we may create (Knitter 2009, 200). In recent history, this has been evident, for example, in the actions of communist regimes of Russia, China, Cambodia, and Eastern Europe, which came into power under high ideals of social equity, then instituted death-dealing policies against masses of people whose lives held little value within the new regime.
Another sign that this basic habit of misperception is operative when we work for social change is how often dysfunctional rage and anger are experienced by social justice activists, anger that lacks awareness of its own tendencies of misperception. Many social justice activists report that, over time, they become caught in recurrent feelings of painful rage and anger, making it difficult to work effectively, to attract support, and often contributing to burnout (Gross in Gross & Reuther 2001, 181; Knitter 2009, 175; Makransky 2016, 89-90). Such dysfunctional anger is supported by the habit of reification and misperception described above, which triggers endless reactions to our own fragmented images of ourselves and others. Such reactive habits of anger, in themselves, lack any means to stay in touch with the fuller humanity and potential of everyone involved, especially those who oppose our positions. Such habits prevent us from accessing our fuller capacities for discernment, more inclusive care, inner replenishment, inspiration, and energy (Dass & Gorman 1985, 159-160).
By pointing out this tendency to mistake our reductive thoughts of persons for the persons, I am not arguing against the need to confront oppressive social systems and behaviors. Rather, to confront such things effectively we need a kind of knowing that can maintain awareness of the fuller personhood of everyone involved, including those we may confront, and for this a contemplative practice is essential. The Buddhist epistemology I draw on here assumes that there is much to be confronted in persons—all their ways of thinking and acting that are harmful to themselves and others. But in the moment that we confront others out of anger, even supposedly righteous anger, we tend not to sense their deep dignity and human potential beyond the single, reified image that our anger has made of them. And to declare our anger ‘righteous’ does nothing to correct that error.
For this reason, the power to confront harmful persons in many traditional Buddhist stories is understood as a fierce form of compassion rather than any ordinary form of anger. This is exemplified in stories of bodhisattva figures that fiercely confront an individual or group, out of compassion for all involved, and is also imaged in wrathful tantric Buddhist images of enlightenment. Fierce compassion is a power forcefully to confront someone who thinks and acts harmfully, both on behalf of those he harms and on behalf of his own underlying potential, his fuller personhood or Buddha nature.2
Finally, the conclusion:
In sum, individual forms of delusion, greed and ill-will have been the focus of Buddhism as the main cause of suffering, while systemic forms of delusion, greed and ill- will have been the focus of Christian liberation theology as the main cause of suffering. Yet both of these causes of suffering, individual and systemic, are mutually conditioning and mutually reinforcing. Neither can be adequately addressed unless the other is also addressed. This means that neither contemplative practice and action alone, nor social analysis and activism alone, are sufficient to address the world’s man-made
suffering. Each such practice must inform and empower the other. Another conclusion is that neither classical Buddhist epistemology nor Christian liberation epistemology alone are enough to inform effective compassionate action in the world. Both are needed to effectively address man-made suffering, and to illumine critical elements of the process toward individual and social awakening and liberation.
(--from, The Need to Integrate Buddhist and Christian Liberation Epistemologies, by John Makransky, 2019, Buddhist-Christian Studies Journal)
As year ends, Thursday turns to see where it's been. Just so, Friday tidies its room wondering what welcome might wish to be extended to whatever could appear.
In order to see things whole, you have to be seeing things whole.