Protestant Vs. Socially Engaged Buddhism

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Protestant Vs. Socially Engaged Buddhism



Ben Ramsey
Buddhist Thought
Professor Kerin
February 27, 2001


Protestant vs. Socially Engaged Buddhism


Somewhere in the sixth century BCE Buddhism was born, born from a single man Siddhartha Guatama, the Buddha. After gaining his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, the Buddha didn’t think that the rest of the world could handle all that he had learned.  He did not want to teach others, nor did he want to spread his wisdom. Until at last his great compassion came over him and he started to gain the respect of few by going to his old peers first.  By starting with other intellectuals he secured that they at least had the capacity to learn what he had to teach.  From this point on he spread his philosophy on the middle path with everyone who would listen.
He preached pacifism and that it was wrong to take any life be it a man’s or any lesser being’s.  He taught that the noble eightfold path was the route to end all suffering, and that the individual was the most important factor in achieving enlightenment. The Buddha taught about the five aggregates, the notion that the human being is made up of matter, sensation, consciousness, perception, and mental formations.  In all of his teachings however the Buddha did not do so much as a lay a groundwork for which his followers could build a society on.  
The Buddha was acting out of compassion in that he had found the way to end his suffering and wanted to help others do the same.  He was not however trying to build himself up as a God, and create a religion under which he was the focal point.  Since this was not his goal, he did not get into politics, social formations, or anything else of the like.  However, sooner or later, with the rapid growth of Buddhism in India, and the whole of Southeast Asia, these were the things that would determine the survival of its followers.  That is, an entire society of Buddhists had emerged, far greater numbers and organization than even the Buddha had imagined.  With this emergence of community came more and more problems with which the leaders had no frame of reference to combat.  For instance, what to do when pacifism doesn’t work in protecting your community.  How to maintain peacefulness when outside forces are conquering violently.
In many areas, where this sense of a Buddhist community had been created, the members had a great deal of pride in what they had created and were a part of, but their pride was kept in check by their inability to justify the right course of action.  For example the Buddhists of Sri Lanka believed that they were the custodians of the teachings of the Buddha.  It was there, on their Island, where the Theravadan tradition, the only sect of the Hinayana still around, had been born.  Buddhism had prospered in Sri Lanka for over sixteen hundred years, until the first colonizers came from Portugal in the 1550’s CE.  Sri Lanka was then ruled, by one or another European colonizers, until the year of 1948.  The reason for their inability to rule themselves was not because of lack of numbers, for 75% of all people in Sri Lanka ascribe to Buddhism, but because of the non-violent nature of their resistance.  In the contradiction between pride and pacifism they had simply seen pride as a vice and continued to try and live their lives in accordance to non-violent virtues.  For nearly four hundred years the Buddhist of Sri Lanka had tolerated the overbearing nature of their western habitants, that is until Anagarika Dharmapala began his career as a Buddhist revivalist.  
It was Dharmapala who was able to justify a more active resistance; he started by tailoring the innate Sinhala nationalism to correspond to his goals.  He cultivated the natives of Sri Lanka to believe in the “good old days”, the days when Buddhism had prospered under King Aschoke and others.  When there was a great link between the rulers of their nation and them, the people, a time when temples, stupa, and great pillars were being erected in the name of the Buddha.  And once he had the

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