Proposing a Buddhist Socialism for the 21st Century

as established by an

Association of Laywomen and Laymen

meeting for the recitation of the 10 vows taken by

each Upāsaka and Upāsikā twice every month

and the launching of

community engendered by projects of mutual aid.

“Two aspects of human life have demonstrated themselves to be  

  consistently the case from my childhood through my adulthood  


      1.     the veracity of the Four Noble Truths

      2.     and the sweet respite enjoyed by enkindling benevolence in ones own heart and joining together with others to benefit all.


I was in my Spring Semester at California State University at Long Beach California when I “Took Refuge” in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, (the Three Jewels of Buddhism). This ancient ceremony of acceptance into the community of Buddhists took place in the red beamed yellow ‘Ananda Hall’ of the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles California. As I sat amidst the burgundy robed monks and nuns as well as the more conventionally dressed men and women seated, like I was, on a flat square cushion I noted what a thorough sampling of the inhabitants of Southern California we were” artisans, musicians, College Instructors and the young men and women whom one find in their class-rooms. all the professions - everyone one might need if you were to need to staff a new community on Mars, right here in the middle of the 20th Century - surrounded by sacred Buddhist paintings and facing a three tiered alter with golden statues of every size and shape of deity.

In Los Angeles a new Lama or Guru came to town like a Rock Band every week accompanied by an entourage of translators, and inner circle of followers, enthusiastic men and women who represented publishers selling the books on the card-tables at the back as well as the obligatory local TV news crew with video cameras on their shoulders and tall serious Sikhs who acted as a kind of police force at these events.

In retrospect I rue just how much it was like a new Band from Britain every week, the gush of dharma fans, the impassioned entreaties for financial support for needy communities in the foothills of the Himalayas, and the red and ochre velour  covered blades of each sect arguing the failings of all the others.

The Stock Market crashes the very next year. My parasite uncle moves in with my venomously alcoholic newly-widowed mother. I studiously endeavor to remain aloof, on my own path just slightly dimensionally-shifted from the Outside World.

Retreats, fund drives, chanting, new baby gurus to fete and fund, books and months and years pass in a joss stick cloud created blur.

Can it be that a decade passed? The Lama who was my teacher passed away…into Nirvana and seven years later his successor was passive-aggressively shown the door for reasons that need not be named because the divorce, muffled under pillows, was “Mutual”. He no longer believed nor taught that the Bodhisattva Commitment, (the foundation of Mahayana Buddhism), was necessary or that our highest teaching was even Buddhist. Yet his slow drift into “Teaching his own thing” took place right in front of our Board of Directors, who, receiving lodging and stipends and a gig with benefits we slow to rise to the occasion of a confrontation as well fed Liberals often are. I said good-bye with a letter, but I actually date actually engaging the struggle to actually be a Buddhist to that Letter.

I don’t think that is surprising at all… in retrospect.

And a decade passed, 2009 turned into 2019 I began to put my own take on my own beliefs into words, written words, and so it is 2022. And…

… I look back to see BUDDHISM appears to have been ebbing from Public Conversation over the years even as the number and size of “Sanghas” dwindle.

Has it all been a fad?

Like all people who have walked in my shoes it was impossible to admit I was wrong and stop throwing good money after bad.

Like all people who have walked in my shoes it took way to long for me face the fact I was going along to get along and walk away from a Family that Failed, to admit I slept walked when I should have asked “is this this working for you?” for other followers and “How does this work” from the leaders - and then compared their words with their deeds. [a hint… being willing to learn from your mistakes takes some of the sting out of admitting you have only yourself to blame.]

Has it all been a waste?

Not for me. I got hot. I threw myself into studying the [Guru reviled] works of academics and studying [real, not legendary] History. I began to judge for myself what seemed real and true.

AND as for turning my gaze outward to the World, I have found for my Inward Path an unexpected match and for myself a new vitality in another ‘fad of Public Affection’ - Socialism.  Socialism? Yup. Socialism. The tobacco in the pipes smoked by H.G. Wells, George Orwell and [my difficult angel] Simone Weil!  I have renewed my nuptial vows to Liberalism. Yes I have.

And as for Liberalism? Heartbreakingly, the United States has ‘fallen out of love’ with Liberal Values. And what has come with that? The demonization of SOCIALISM, "The Left" and by association the American Democratic Party.  The Authoritarians have beat their blood splatter drum and ruined all kind and gentle things and truly pissed me off!

And so this Essay on Buddhist Socialism.


     “My socialism does not derive from that of Karl Marx. Nor does it follow from Tolstoy's pacifism. I do not seek to interpret it scientifically and propagate it throughout the world, like Katyama [Sen], Kosen [Sakai Koshihko], or [Kōtoku] Shūsui. I have a faith that is mine alone."

     Takagi Kenmyō  Born: June 24, 1864 - Died: June 24, 1914


     (Takagi 2000, 54) From the chapter Takagi Kenmyō and Buddhist Socialism A Meiji Misfit and Martyr in Swanson, Paul L. Modern Buddhism in Japan. Edited by Paul L. Swanson. Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, 2014. p. 154)

     “This new Buddhism is not immersed in internal trance. Nor is it engaged in a fanatical self-glorifying quest for political power. It is not remote and withdrawn from the sufferings of ordinary men and their problems in a world of revolution. It seeks to help them solve these problems.

     But at the same time it struggles to keep itself independent of massive pressures - whether American or Chinese or Russian - in order to assert certain claims which have never been clearly apprehended or understood in the West. These claims issue from a state of mind which is widespread all through Southeast Asia. To ignore the state of mind is fatal. It must be known and understood.”  

     Thích Nhất Hạnh  Born: October 11, 1926 - Died: January 22, 2022


     (Thomas Merton from the Forward of Hanh, Thich Nhat. Vietnam - Lotus in a Sea of Fire. 1st Ed, 2nd Printing ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 1967. p.vii)

     "One may also practice the ten virtues as one’s [main] activity, pass it on to others to transform the masses, expound virtue and ceremony, reform vulgar customs, work to end war and punishments, provide for the people’s livelihoods, help the young and give peace to the aged, recover waste and bring comfort to the lonely. You could bring stability to the laboring and capitalist classes by ending corruption and think of ways to bring peace between nations. This is how one might create the Pure Land in the Human Realm by improving the human condition through safeguarding the security of life and property"

     Taixu  Born: January 8, 1890, Haining, Jiaxing, China - Died: March 17, 1947, Shanghai, China

     (Taixu 太虛 . 1956.) From “Jianshe renjian jingtu lun” 建設人間淨土論 “On the Establishment of the Pure Land in the Human Realm”, Jones, Charles B. Taixu’s ‘On the Establishment of the Pure Land in the Human Realm’: A Translation and Study. Bloomsbury Academic, 2021.)


'The vow to achieve Buddhahood and understand all dharmas is tantamount to the vow to neglect no good dharma,  the vow to sever all defilements to the acceptance or the monastic code,  and the vow to save all beings to that to exert oneself for the weal of all.”

P'u-sa chieh pen 菩薩戒本(1 fasc)  

*Bodhisattva-śīla sūtra (On Conferring Bodhisattva Vinaya)