Thursday, 17 November 2016

Dr. Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche Sherpa – Buddhist Social Action

On October 20, McGill's School of Religious Studies presented the annual Numata Visiting Professor Public talk, given by Dr. Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche Sherpa.

Rinpoche Sherpa began with the rhetorical question, why does it seem that Buddhism does not do much social work like Chrisitianity, citing Matthew 10:6-8 (Go preach and heal the sick), comparing it with the Buddhist sutra, ‘’ Whoever, monks, would tend to me, he should tend to the sick.” [Mv. 26, 1-3, pp. 431-2.]  He began by responding that this is only apparently so, and that historically, social work has been important, citing the time of King Asoka, where many hospitals were built and how Tibetan monasteries were involved in assisting in resolving community disputes. Also, Kūkai (空海), 774–835, a Japanese Buddhist monk, civil servant, scholar, poet, and artist built irrigation systems and helped outcasts and Ninsho (1217-1303) began ministry to outcasts, beggars, and lepers in Kamakura.

Moreover, he outlined how colonialist and communist intervention in Buddhist countries hindered Buddhist social action, citing such historical examples as the Chinese temple ordinance of 1928 in Hong Kong and the studies of Donald W. Mitchell, Professor, author, editor and leader in Buddhist-Christian dialogue. He then pointed out that Buddhist social action efforts have grown considerably since the 1960s with several national and international organizations dedicated to care for the sick and the poor, the environment, peace, inter-faith dialogue, substance abuse treatment, care for prisoners, animal rights (citing the work of Norm Phelps), etc…

For the second part of the lecture, he went on to specify how social action is an important aspect of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, following the great medieval Kagyu Buddhist philosopher Dompopa. He stressed the notion of Dana (generosity, charity), and cited such texts as:

\ All these beings strongly desire happiness,
\ And [ordinary] humans cannot be happy without enjoyments [basic enjoyments like food, drink, clothing, and shelter].
\ Knowing that these enjoyments [in this life] come from giving [in former lives],
\ The Able One taught giving first [of the ten paramitas].
Chandrakirti, Madhyamakavatara I, 10

Great blessing arises from continuous yearning for the fields of virtues and kindness, and from an antidote with regard to those who are suffering. (5, 81)
Therefore, when the thought of compassion is impure, one should not sacrifice one's life, but it should be sacrificed when one's thought is unbiased. Thus, life must not be wasted. (Santideva, Bodhicarayavavatara, 5,87)

thinking they are harmless,
because even a small spark
can set fire to a mountain of hay.
Do not disregard small positive acts,
thinking they are without benefit,
because even tiny drops of water
will eventually fill a large container.
—Buddha Shakyamuni, Sutra of the Wise and Foolish

PS –some links about Buddhist Social Action