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Social sphere
March 7th, 2014

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Social sphere

   One of the 'sexist' aspects of historical Buddhism (i.e. the historical actualisation of the message, in contrast to the philosophical psychological religious message itself) is the repeated promotion of seclusion and / or monasticism, and the devaluation of social engagement.

   The social sphere is 'traditionally' or 'conventionally' associated with women, hence seeing social engagement here&now as inferior to withdrawing in a forest or in a monastery, or to wandering, is implicit condemnation of women.

   One may note that such a focus on monastics (when not even a narrower focus, on the sole male monastics…) was in contradiction with the Buddha's unambiguous focus on the "fourfold saṅgha" (male and female, monastics and laypeople, 2×2=4) and the multiple acknowledgements by the Buddha of lay attainments.

   It doesn't matter whether this was a deliberate under-handed message by venerables who thought they had to be 'practical' in the social context of their time, or the mere continuation of subconscious old views and old tendencies by 'seniors' who were not free from biases yet (and ended up spreading a rather self-serving "monks > nuns > laymen > laywomen" or even "monks > laymen > nuns > laywomen").

   What matters is that this is unwholesome… and we can be mindful of not  perpetuating this any longer.
   Acknowledging that it is easier to practice in the monastic orders, isn't the same as claiming a superiority of the practice itself! No more than an 'easier' practice necessarily goes 'deeper' (as the monastic rules —and regular scandals— make abundantly clear).

   I previously explained that "leaving home" in Buddhism is actually not  about the naïve sense of these words ( and

   The Buddha is repeatedly quoted as the  example of abandoning the social sphere, of course (I replied on this to J. Brian at ).
   One key point to remember is that to assume one has to follow the same steps is to assume one needs to re-invent the wheel! The Buddha already left us with the Dharma, and a fundamental part of the message is about selflessness, not separation!
   Now that the eightfold path was given to us, the wholesome approach is not  to reinvent it, but to seek how to implement it  here&now in our lives (e.g.

   I also explained that "there is no inherent half-sky", i.e. 'separation' between genders isn't a solution to the unsatisfactoriness of the world (

   'Experiencing' is genderless: there's no difference in men's and women's capacities to develop wisdom. And selflessness is one of the three traits of existence! If you're neither a body nor in a body, nor the owner of a body, nor independent of a body, how could gender be an inherent limitation? Imagining it to be a limitation might prove a self-fulfilling prophecy (like fear alone might prevent you from doing something, regardless of any actual' danger) but that's the cyclical efficiency of ignorance, not an inherent trait of gender.

   Applying the teachings (generosity, compassion, etc.) takes the form of wholesome engagement to embody / create a wholesome world.
   You co-dependently arise with the world, you cannot be separate from it, and your individual practice is inseparable from a focus on the collective…
   It is time that we all  embrace the "social sphere", and this includes ceasing discriminations and promoting equality (promoting for real, "doing the right thing", not just paying lip-service to it when there's no personal cost associated).


   Postponing or waiting "for the right conditions" (e.g. a more 'mature' society…) are hindrances (, usually called "sloth and torpor" in Buddhism, or "ill will".

   The attached photo says: « teach your sons to respect women »

   This is critical… but let's be clear: this is done by "leading by example". This is done by respecting women ourselves (and this includes women respecting women, regardless of differences in views or lifestyle…). This is done by dropping porn ( And this is not  done just by 'telling' another  generation to do so!

   The "social sphere" today includes enough unsatisfactoriness as it is; gender discrimination isn't exactly welcome "on top".
   Is it easy to challenge the status quo? No (e.g. the prejudice that 'women' equates 'mothers' seems hard to address even by feminists…). 
   Are there predefined answers? No (e.g. there's little point pretending "we're all the same" when it's obvious we're not, the denial of reality isn't constructive…).
   But that it's challenging and unchartered doesn't make it less necessary! That women oppress women too, or that men suffer from sexual violence too (many of the men suffering are prisoners, but is that a reason to ignore that they're routinely raped?), do not make gender equality less necessary!

   'Experiencing' is genderless.
   As a meme states it: « you're the result of millions of years of evolution, act like it! »  In buddhist karmic terms (, seeking the origin of the causal chain leads to infinite regress, but intentions have consequences, intentions do matter… so, what led to the current situation doesn't matter much (it's only a narrative about "who you are"), what matters are your intention here&now, your action here&now: the "social sphere" is our "field of merit", what will you do about the current situation? Beyond educating 'others'…

#engagedbuddhism     #HeforShe     #inspiringchange     #IWD2014   
PS: my previous "social engagement" post was called 'political' and dismissed by those who think spirituality is separate from reality ( Here is my answer: spirituality is not  separate from reality, every engagement is political when it impacts others, and virtually all engagements will impact 'others' one way or another, at some point, down the line… If you see gender equality as an issue unrelated to you (and the status quo you co-dependently arise with), you're not really interested in buddhist practice  yet: how could "this is not my problem"  be a manifestation of compassion, loving-kindness, wisdom?