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The Non-Duality of Personal and Social Transformation


Why Buddhism and the West Need Each Other

Buddhism has come to the West and the West has come to Buddhism. Every time Buddhism spreads to a new culture, the cultures interact with each other. One result in the West has been the development of socially engaged Buddhism. This does not mean that Buddhism is merely incorporating a concern for social justice; Buddhism offers a different perspective on social suffering (dukkha). Our obsessions with entertainment, money, and fame are more than individual problems: they reveal where our society is stuck.

The ‘three poisons’ that the Buddha identified have become institutionalized and taken on a life of their own:

  1. Our economic system institutionalized greed.
  2. Racism and militarism institutionalize ill will.
  3. The corporate media institutionalized delusion.

Any personal awakening we may experience remains incomplete until it is supplemented by a “social awakening” that realizes the importance of responding to these institutionalized causes of widespread suffering.

sense of separation

“Our collective sense of separation from the rest of the biosphere lies at the heart of the ecological crisis.”

This is the first time in history that Buddhism does not need to align itself with feudal power structures: Buddhism has arrived in a modern/post-modern society, and because of these social freedoms there is the possibility of a real social awakening.




Healing Ecology: A Buddhist Perspective on the Eco-crisis 

Does Buddhism offer any special perspective on the ecological crisis? Do its teachings imply a different way of understanding the biosphere, and our relationship to it, which can really help us at this critical time in history when we are doing so much to destroy it?

There are reasons to doubt it: after all, Śākyamuni Buddha lived in a very different time and place, Iron Age India. But the Buddha did know about dukkha, the term usually translated as “suffering” yet to be understood in the broadest sense: dissatisfaction, discontent, anxiety—basically, our manifest inability to be happy, which does not mean that life is always miserable but that even those who are wealthy and healthy experience a disease that keeps gnawing. That we find life frustrating, one damn problem after another, is not accidental, because it is the nature of an unawakened mind to be bothered about something.

What, if anything, does that imply about the ecological crisis?

  • There are precise and profound parallels between our usual individual predicament, according to Buddhism, and the present situation of human civilization. This suggests that the eco-crisis is as much a spiritual challenge as a technological and economic one.
  • Does this mean that there is also a parallel between the two solutions?
  • Does the Buddhist response to our personal predicament also point the way to resolving our collective one? …

The text of this lecture is available online.



About the Author

D.LoyDavid Robert Loy is a professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism.  He is a prolific author, whose essays and books have been translated into many languages. His articles appear regularly in the pages of major journals such as Tikkun and Buddhist magazines including Tricycle, Turning Wheel, Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma, as well as in a variety of scholarly journals. Many of his writings, as well as audio and video talks and interviews, are available on the web. He is on the editorial or advisory boards of the journals Cultural Dynamics, Worldviews, Contemporary Buddhism, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, and World Fellowship of Buddhists Review. He is also on the advisory boards of Buddhist Global Relief, the Clear View Project, Zen Peacemakers, and the Ernest Becker Foundation.

David lectures nationally and internationally on various topics, focusing primarily on the encounter between Buddhism and modernity: what each can learn from the other. He is especially concerned about social and ecological issues.

Loy is a professor of Buddhist and comparative philosophy. His BA is from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and he studied analytic philosophy at King’s College, University of London. His MA is from the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and his PhD is from the National University of Singapore. His dissertation was published by Yale University Press as Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy.

David is married to Linda Goodhew, a professor of English literature and language (and co-author of The Dharma of Dragons and Daemons). They have a son, Mark Loy Goodhew




*Topical collage above used by permission from author.

2 responses

  1. WOW – that is an amazing insight about the three poisons! I would consider adding ‘advertising’ to the institutionalised poison of delusion. And NSA & the way America deals with the terror threat is a good example of institutionalised ill-will. Either way, it opens up immense possibilities of seeing modern society in a new way…

    October 29, 2013 at 9:53 am

    • Thank you for sharing your comment Aalif.
      Your three topical [modern] realities are certainly worthy considerations for the list.
      Glad you liked the article/post.
      Keep up the great insight/sharing on your SuperAaliFragilistic blog!

      Much Love,

      C.Matthew King

      November 6, 2013 at 7:26 pm

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