For many, the Dalai Lama is larger than life. As the primary icon for Buddhism, he represents kindness, peace, and mindfulness. His followers exist across the globe, but some of his ideologies do not.
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In 2011, the Dalai Lama proclaimed that he was a Marxist. While he based his argument on human equality, it sparked conversations and scholarship to evaluate the synergy between different versions of Buddhism and Marxism. While large amounts of research compare modern Buddhism as its practiced and Marxist ideals, little research compares Marxism with doctrinal Buddhism. Although Buddhism far predates Marxism, core values in early Buddhist text closely resemble Marxist ideas on religion and social structure. While Buddhism sought to fight the existing Hindu values and Marx sought to free people from a capitalist society, both movements were revolutionary in nature and provided a heavy critique on the status quo. Thus, the question must be proposed: Are ideas found in early forms of Buddhism, specifically in early canonical Buddhist texts, complimentary, congruent, or disjunct from Marxist ideals and to what extent? In this paper, I argue that despite some outlying differences in perception, early interpretations of Buddhism are congruent with Marxism through a multifaceted critique on the status quo by attacks on social structure and religion and complimentary to each other in their interpretations of the notion of the self.
The similarities are far more pronounced than their differences [change the topic sentence]. First, the values in early Buddhism and Marxism are both revolutionary ideals; both provide multi-faceted critiques on the current standing systems. While the critiques found in the early Buddhist texts like Life of the Buddha, the epic poem by Ashvagosa and the first primary Buddhist text, are for Hinduism and the long-standing caste system, the critiques found in the Marxist essays are for the capitalistic society and economic system.
In the Life of the Buddha, Ashvagosa describes the buddha’s journey as leaving the civilization and city in order to find a cure for human suffering and death. To analyze this critique, its necessary to understand the context behind the book. The translator of the Life of the Buddha, Patrick Olivelle, provides a helpful overview; during the estimated period of publication, two primary religions competed: Buddhism and Brahmanism (which evolved into Hinduism). Throughout the book, the Buddha is met with opposing arguments given by members of Brahmanism. In turn, he refutes each argument, claiming that Brahmanism is incapable of reaching enlightenment. The Buddha eventually leaves the city, abandoning his Brahman role in society and Brahmanism in general (Olivelle xxxi).By doing so, Ashvagosa provides a reason to distrust the main religion of Brahmanism and the regimented social structure that is packaged with it. When the caste society and Hinduism is status quo, the Life of the Buddha revolts against the current system.
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