Monday, June 18, 2018

2947. Buddhism and Marxism: Points of Intersection

By Karsten J. Struhl, International Communication of Chinese Culture,  February 2017

I contend that Marxism and Buddhism can mutually enrich and support each other, offer constructive criticisms of each other, and intersect in a variety of ways. To demonstrate this, I follow the order of Buddha’s ‘‘four noble truths.’’ I focus first on the general concern which informs both perspectives—their respective analyses of suffering (the first noble truth). While Buddhism emphasizes the pervasive existential and ontological nature of suffering (dukkha), and Marx focuses on its historical construction, I argue that the former is always mediated by the latter. Second, I examine their respective analyses of the causes of suffering (the second noble truth). While Buddhism locates the cause of suffering in the illusion of self and its attendant desires, cravings, and attachments and while Marxism sees suffering as caused by the division of labor, class exploitation, and alienation brought about by the capitalist mode of production, I argue that capitalism both feeds on and reinforces these cravings and attachments; and that the illusion of the self provides the desperation that capitalism turns into profit accumulation, competitiveness, and consumerism which, in turn, reinforce this illusion. Third, I consider their respective ways of understanding the overcoming of suffering (the third noble truth). For Buddhism, this requires extinguishing the illusion of self and its attendant desires, cravings, and attachments. Here, I argue that Marxism’s vision of communism, the construction of a classless society which would ultimately overcome all divisions of labor and forms of domination, will require extinguishing of the illusion of self and its attendant poisons; and that the possibility of overcoming dukkha and attaining Nirvana will, for the vast majority of human beings, require the construction of such a society. Fourth, I argue that Buddhism’s analysis of the eight-fold path as the praxis necessary to attain Nirvana (the fourth noble truth) needs to be extended to a ‘‘socially engaged Buddhism,’’ to a social praxis which confronts and struggles to change the oppressive social institutions that cause suffering; and that Marx’s understanding of revolutionary social praxis can inform and, in turn, be guided by this Buddhist social praxis. Finally, in the last section of this article, I use the challenge to the ecological crisis as an example of how Marxism and Buddhism can work together as well as to critique one another, how confronting this crisis requires both challenging global capitalism and the anthropocentric assumption which separates our species identity from the whole of nature. 

I hope to demonstrate that Marxist and Buddhist modes of understanding can intersect and mutually enrich and support each other (and sometimes offer constructive criticisms of each other). I am not at all claiming that Buddhism and Marxism can be simply combined to form a synthesis. In fact, the ability of these two perspectives to mutually enrich each other depends in part on their differences on the basis of which they can offer constructive criticisms of each other. However, this is only useful if there are sufficient parallels so that they can mutually engage each other. In order to make these parallels clear, I will follow the order of Buddha’s four noble truth in the hope of demonstrating that both Buddhism and Marxism follow a similar pattern of problem-solving. They both confront the problem of human suffering (the first noble truth). They then proceed to analyze the fundamental causes of suffering and the impediments to overcoming suffering (the second noble truth). They both envision the possibility of the extinguishing and overcoming of suffering (the third noble truth). And finally, they both suggest a practice which could overcome suffering (the fourth noble truth). 

I also recognized that historically both Buddhism and Marxism have evolved and that both take a variety of forms. Therefore, when I talk about Buddhism as such, I will be referring to either early Buddhism or what I take to be a claim that all Buddhist traditions have in common unless I specify that I am referring to some other specific form of Buddhism. When I talk about Marxism, I will be referring to a version of Marxism which is sometimes referred to as humanistic Marxism or Marxist humanism. This version of Marxism assumes a continuity between the early Marx of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and the later Marx of Capital and the Critique of the Gotha Program. 

The problem of suffering 
The key problem which Buddha identifies as the first of the ‘‘Four Noble Truths’’ is dukkha which is most often translated as ‘‘suffering’’ but which can also be translated as a sense of unsatisfactoriness, of unease, of insubstantiality, of emptiness. However, two points need to be made immediately. The first is that Buddhism does not to claim that existence ultimately has to be dukkha. The whole point of the third Noble truth, which is the cessation of dukkha, is that it is possible to reach a level of understanding which overcomes dukkha and that it is possible to attain Nibbana (Nirvana) in one’s lifetime. The second point is that Buddhism is not claiming that we never experience pleasure or moments of happiness. Rather the claim is that even these moments of pleasure or happiness have a lack of substance, and, thus, there is always a sense of disquiet, a suspicion that there is something deeply unsatisfactory and insubstantial about them. Of course, when we do not get what we want, we are dissatisfied. But even when we get what we want, loss or the threat of loss remains an ever-present possibility. Everything that is will eventually cease to be. From the Buddhist perspective, impermanence is a fundamental fact of all existence, and, therefore, we will eventually lose everything, and, as much as we may try to avoid thinking about it, we know that it will all end in old age, illness, and death. Hence, life has at its core a deep existential anxiety, a sense of inner emptiness, and a feeling of that there is no substantial grounding for our existence. 

For Marx, suffering takes a number of forms. There is first the suffering of immiseration which is still a lot of perhaps the majority of people in the world. This includes hunger and the lack of what is materially necessary to live a comfortable life. It also includes relative immiseration in which there are glaring and growing inequalities between the capitalist elite and those who are wage workers. There is second suffering that is based on the way work is organized in capitalist society. Work is most often experienced as physical and mental exhaustion, boredom, and an inability to express one’s creative energies. This last entails a third form of suffering, as the worker is alienated from the product of her labor and from her own activity. As a result, we are alienated from our ‘‘species being,’’ from ourselves and from our sense of being human. In addition, there is an alienation from others because others are perceived as competitors, because we take ourselves as individuals independent of others, and because our relation with others is mediated by the commodity form. This last is the problem that Marx termed ‘‘commodity fetishism’’ in which our social relations take the form of relation between things. As a result, our relations to each other are reified in work, in leisure, and in our consuming activities. 

It seems to me that the Buddhist and Marxist understanding of the nature of suffering are complementary, but this is not because they designate two different and separate spheres of suffering. While Buddha emphasizes the pervasive existential and ontological nature of dukkha and Marx focuses on its historical nature, dukkha never exists independently of a specific social and historical context. The suffering of impermanence is never simply the existential difficulty of accepting impermanence but always manifests itself as the attempt to cling to that which is impermanent within a specific historical moment and takes a specific historical form. Furthermore, dukkha is never simply my individual dukkha in that our suffering always occurs within a social context, which entails that our individual suffering cannot be separated from our social relations and from the suffering of others. Conversely, the alienation, reification, and dehumanization which Marxism analyzes is the historical form of the emptiness, impermanence, and insubstantiality at the core of our being which Buddhism discovers. 

The causes of suffering
For Buddhism, the proximate cause of suffering is tanha, which is literally translated as ‘‘thirst’’ but which is often translated as craving. This includes craving for sense pleasures, for existence, and even for non-existence. As a result of these kinds of craving, we get attached to things, to objects or ideas which give us pleasure, to our physical being, and, in the case of desiring suicide, to the destruction of our physical beings. We also develop aversions to that which would cause us pain and which would threaten our physical being (and, in the case of desiring suicide, to that which would maintain our existence). These cravings also cause us to be attached to whatever seems to satisfy the cravings. However, these cravings rests on a fundamental ontological illusion—the illusion of a permanent and independent self which has executive control of our intentions and actions. This illusion is generated by our attempt to avoid confronting the impermanence, emptiness, and insubstantiality at the core of our being. The problem is not the impermanence itself but the desire that there be something permanent within us, a desire that cannot be fulfilled, since everything is impermanent. In other words, the problem is not the fact of impermanence but our inability to accept impermanence. The problem is compounded by what Buddhism calls the three poisons—ignorance, greed, and ill will. These three poisons are also grounded in the illusion of our being a separate, independent self. Ignorance is ultimately the ignorance of the fact that there is no self. Greed is motivated by the desire to do everything for me and to make everything mine, which, since there is no self, can never succeed. Ill will, which takes such forms as hatred, anger, envy, and the desire for revenge, is based on the sense that I am separate from others and that, therefore, these others are a threat to me or to that to which I am attached. 

For Marx, suffering is caused by the division of labor in all its forms, with its attendant exploitation, oppression, and alienation. In The German Ideology, the division of labor is not only class division but also the division between intellectual and material labor, the gender division of labor, and even the division of labor in terms of people being locked into different kinds of labor. Within each of these divisions of labor the surplus product is appropriated by the dominant group. As the history of human species progressed, class division became the most significant division, and Marx analyzed class exploitation and alienation as the result of class division in which the ruling class controls the forces of production and appropriates the surplus product, while the members of the subordinate class produce the whole product but get only what is necessary for their continued existence. This subordinate group, at least in capitalism, also has no control over the labor process and is, in that sense, alienated from the very activity of their labor; and since, for Marx, one’s activity is essential to one’s being human, it is also alienation from one’s ‘‘species being’’ and from oneself. In addition, with the advent of capitalism, the ruling class, now the bourgeoisie, or capitalist class, appropriates the surplus in the form of surplus value which continues to grow relative to the total product, and the subordinate class, now the proletariat, or wage worker, becomes at least relatively if not absolutely immiserated. It should be added that Marx thinks that even the ruling class suffers from alienation, although they do not experience their suffering in a way that calls them to challenge the system. Finally, as capitalism turns everything into a commodity, our social relations are mediated by the commodity form, which produces the illusion that commodities and money have a reality independent of human beings. In short, the reification of the commodity conceals our social relations as workers and as consumers. 

Capitalism both feeds on and reinforces the greed and possessiveness which, for Buddhism, is rooted in the illusion of self. Conversely, it is precisely the illusion of our sense of a separate and independent self which provides the desperation that capitalism turns into profit accumulation, competitiveness, and consumerism. Money in particular becomes a way to evade dukkha and, at the deepest level, a way to evade the recognition that the self is empty and, therefore, that there is nothing within us to which we can cling. We interpret this lack of self as a feeling that there is something missing to which money may supply the answer. Money creates a false sense of solidity and reinforces the illusion of an independent self. Since money cannot really take away the sense of emptiness, a sense that there is something lacking, there is a continuous drive for more money, which is the basis for capital’s continuous need to expand. David Loy puts it this way. ‘‘In modern developed...societies such as the United States, I am likely to understand my lack as not having enough money—regardless of how much money I already have. Money is important to us not only because we can buy anything with it, but also because it has become a kind of collective reality symbol. The more money you get, the more real you become.’’1 However, since money does not provide any genuine reality, since it cannot fill the emptiness within us, it simply increases the craving and attachment which produces dukkha. We must, we think, need even more money. No amount can ever be enough. Wall Street feeds on tanha. Thus, there is a reciprocal relation between the motives of capitalism and the existential-ontological problem which Buddhism identifies. It is the illusion of a separate and independent self which provides the fuel which capitalism transforms into profit accumulation, competitiveness, and consumerism; and capitalism, in turn, reinforces this illusion. Tanha fuels a continuous drive for more money and, thus, provides the existential basis for capital’s continuous need to expand. Conversely, the capitalist imperative for continuous expansion reinforces tanha. 

The way in which Marxism and Buddhism can mutually engage each other goes beyond Marx’s specific analysis of capitalism. Buddhism’s analysis of the causes of suffering as rooted in the illusion of self needs to be supplemented by a historical account of the forms of this illusion. Different historical periods will produce different forms of self constructions and, thus, produce historically specific forms of attendant suffering. ‘‘To be sure all the different forms of samsara are forms in which ego-consciousness is pervasive. But the specific degree and quality of humanness that is shaped to be what it is in specific historical conditions.’’2

The overcoming of suffering: Buddhist compassion and Marx’s vision of communism 
While abolishing the division of labor, class exploitation and oppression, and alienation are necessary conditions for the overcome suffering, it is not sufficient. As long as there is the illusion of self, suffering, however socially attenuated, will still exist. Furthermore, it is unlikely that these goals can be attained without extinguishing the illusion of self. Conversely, while extinguishing the desires, cravings, and attachments generated by the illusion of self may be necessary to overcome suffering, it is not sufficient. Overcoming individual dukkha requires that we overcome social dukkha, and this means that we must confront the economic, social, and political causes of suffering as well as its fundamental ontological cause.3 

The goal of Buddhist practice is ‘‘Nibbana’’ (the Pali word) or ‘‘Nirvana’’ (the word in Sanskrit). The word ‘‘Nibbana’’ means literally ‘‘extinguish,’’ as in extinguishing a fire, or blowing it out. It is the extinction of the cravings and the flames of the three poisons, both of which are derived from the illusion of self. It, therefore, requires extinguishing the illusion of the self, and this, in turn, requires, a society which instead of promoting individual separation and competition extols interdependence and solidarity. Furthermore, extinguishing the illusion of self removes the primary boundary to the development of compassion which, for those who have attained enlightenment, would be impartial and boundless. This is not only because the illusion of self draws a boundary between my individual ego self and all others but also because it creates boundaries between those with whom I identify and those outside my social identities. As a result, our social identities (ethnic identity, religious identity, religious identity, etc.) are reified and we become indifferent or hostile to those outside these boundaries. In short, our compassion is no longer constrained within the boundaries of our social identities. Extinguishing the illusion of self can extinguish these boundaries and allows our compassion to flow freely and universally. But this will also require political engagement and struggle to eliminate all the social conditions which are obstacles to the cultivation of compassion, and this political engagement needs to be animated by a vision of another kind of society, a society which would make universal compassion possible. It will require the creation of a ‘‘society in which loving kindness is the primary basis of social in which the vast majority of human beings understand and act based on nonattachment and compassion. This is the ideal society according to Buddhism.’’4 It is also, as I shall argue below, the ideal society for Marxism. 

As the goal of Buddhism is Nirvana, the goal of Marxism is communism. As Buddha did not say very much about the positive features of Nirvana, Marx does not offer a blue print for a communist society. However, Marx did offer a vision of communism in broad strokes. Consider two main ideals of Marx’s vision. The first appears in The Communist Manifesto, where Marx and Engels declared, ‘‘we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.’’5 Thus, as capitalism fosters competitiveness and antagonism between individuals, so that one person’s gain is another person’s loss, a communist society would foster mutual caring through which each of us would strive to promote the capacities of others in conjunction with the development of one’s own capacities. In other words, the communist society which Marx envisioned would be organized in such a way that each individual could develop his or her potentialities and would take responsibility for the development of the potentials of all its members. Thus, communism, as Marx envisioned it, would provide the social foundation for extinguishing the illusion of self, for nonattachment, and for the development of universal compassion. 
The second main ideal appears in the Critique of the Gotha Program where Marx envisions the principle of distribution of this society to be ‘‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.’’6 While the second ideal sounds utopian, Marx prefaces it with several main preconditions, among them that the forces of production have so developed that necessary work time can be drastically reduced and that work is something people do for its own sake, both because it is a way to develop their creative potentials and because it makes a contribution to the social good. The last is, for the purposes of this paper, especially important as it entails that human beings could work without material incentive for the benefit of the society as a whole. In other words, communism, as Marx envisioned it, requires that human beings develop a strong sense of solidarity with each other. Once again, the realization of this ideal would provide the social foundation for extinguishing the illusion of self, for developing nonattachment, and for cultivating universal compassion. 

In all, the possibility of attaining the goal of Buddhism will require attaining the goal of Marxism, and the possibility of attaining the goal of Marxism will require attaining the goal of Buddhism. While certain individuals may, through the recognition that there is no self, attain Nirvana and remove the internal barriers to universal compassion, the conditions of global capitalism will prevent most people from moving in this direction. On the other hand, while abolishing capitalism would provide the economic and social basis for communism, it would not be sufficient as long as most individuals retained the illusion of self. What each lacks, the other can provide. ‘‘The Buddhist prescription for personal happiness lacks one key ingredient: an understanding of the relatively durable social conditions that block our ability to limit suffering and live happy, fulfilled lives. At the same time, the Marxist vision of an ideal society elides the obdurate, existential facts of human suffering. Yet, both perspectives also provide us with valuable insights about how all human beings can attain a good life.’’7 

The eight-fold path and revolutionary social practice 
Buddhism proposes a practice to attain Nirvana, which Buddha called the eight-fold path. Marxism also proposes a practice for achieving communism. The practice is the organization of the working class into a political organization able to overthrow capitalism, to use the machinery of political power to establish collective ownership and control of the forces of production, and to begin the construction of socialism, which Marx understood as first phase communism. The practice, to be successful, would need an authentic sense of solidarity among the proletariat. Marx envisioned this solidarity as international, and in the twenty-first century, the overthrow of capitalist globalization requires a global solidarity. Whether the revolutionary agent is still the proletariat is now much debated, but it is clear that whatever form the revolutionary agent would take, it would need to be a global one. 
This global agent will include Buddhists who are socially engaged. In fact, there is now a movement which openly calls itself ‘‘socially engaged Buddhism,’’ a movement which is an evolving form of life and method of confronting our deepest existential problems as they are socially mediated, a practice which simultaneously confronts individual and social dukkha as it intersects with our global historical conditions. The Ven. Bhikku Bodhi has defined social engaged Buddhism as the ‘‘application of Buddhist principles and practices to the task of instigating systematic changes in social, political, and economic institutions and policies so as to further the well-being of the people (and other beings) affected by them.’’ Its goal is ‘‘to change the systems and structures responsible for communal suffering’’ and not merely alter the views and attitudes of individuals.8 Bhikkhu Bodhi also argues that while Mahayana Buddhism inaugurated a second stage in the development of Buddhist ethical consciousness, socially engaged Buddhism brings into being a third stage, one in which the universal compassion must be manifested in social action. Although engaged Buddhism reaches back to classical Buddhism and uses ‘‘Buddhist principles as guideposts to change society,’’9 it represents ‘‘a decisive shift...away from transcendent liberation or heavenly the task of transforming oppressive systemic structures that cause grave suffering for people in this present world of concrete experience.’’10 I would add that socially engaged Buddhism is as much an Asian phenomenon as it is a western one and that it presents itself as a confrontation of Buddhism with the problems of globalization in the twentieth and twenty-first century.11 

In all, while certain individuals may, through the recognition that there is no self, remove the internal barriers to universal compassion, the conditions of global capitalism will prevent most people from moving in this direction. On the other hand, while changing social conditions in the direction of Marx’s vision of communism would provide the political-economic basis for social solidarity, it would be not be sufficient as long as most individuals retained the illusion of self. In other words, the possibility of extinguishing the illusion of self, for non-attachment, for universal compassion, and for a genuine social solidarity requires both a radical social and subjective transformation. Unless we radically change social conditions, we cannot expect most people to develop the understanding necessary to recognize that their idea of the self is an illusion and for cultivating universal compassion. Conversely, simply changing social conditions will be insufficient to achieve social solidarity without a practice to develop the insight to extinguish the illusion of self and to cultivate non-attachment and universal compassion. Furthermore, each of these perspectives can not only support and complement each other but can also interrogate and guide the other. I will conclude with a suggestion made by Jeff Waistell. ‘‘Communism should guide Buddhist practice. In particular, the criterion for selecting meditation practices should be to ask; which ones inspire Socialism? A corollary of this is to cast aside those types of meditation that lead to an illusory nirvana that leaves us feeling self-satisfied, imagining that we have gained individual insight, when all around us is social and environmental suffering from which we have disengaged... And the key success criterion for evaluating meditation is to ask—to what extent has it reduced social suffering?...Buddhism should guide Communist practice. For example, mindfulness meditation is needed to keep calm when non-violently fighting the class war that continues to rage around the world. Meditation can provide insight to the causes of structural violence and the solutions to it. Buddhism can help Communism to drive social change non- violently, while having zero tolerance for structural violence.’’12 

Bringing Marxism and Buddhism together: the ecological crisis as an example 
In the age of globalization, capitalism is in crises on the global level. There is an explosion of credit and debt, increasing rates of exploitation, inequality and impoverishment, and continuing financial instability, and the very real threat of a financial meltdown. There is a growing recognition that trans-national industrial and financial corporations act like global psychopaths. Perhaps the symptom of the crisis which is most immediately dangerous is global warming/climate change and the more general ecological collapse, which not only threatens the survival of our own species but within the next twenty-five to fifty years may extinguish half the species on this planet. 

The problem of global warming is now a climate emergency. In 2007, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Emergency (IPCC) issued a report which said that if carbon gas emissions were not reduced the following would happen: increase of major storms and floods, deadly heat waves, agriculture will collapse and deserts expand, hundreds of millions will suffer from water shortage and famine, there would rapid melting of the earth’s ice sheets, oceans would swallow the world’s coastlines including cities like New York, Calcutta, Shanghai, Mumbai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, and London. The world’s temperature is already one degree centigrade above average. A two to three centigrade increase would mean no arctic sea ice and perhaps a seven to twelve foot rise in the sea levels. A three to four degree increase would mean a loss of perhaps seventy percent of the snow and glacial areas of the world. The 2014 IPCC report makes it clear that the situation is even worse than it was thought in 2007. The polar ice caps are already melting an alarming rate. We can expect increasing extremes in heat waves, storms, floods, etc. The rise of sea levels has already destroyed certain islands and will continue to rise. Global warming will continue even if we stop all GHG emissions now. We can expect increasing disease, malnutrition due to low crop yield, displacement due to natural disasters food and water insecurity, loss of biodiversity. Perhaps, most alarming of all, the 2014 IPCC report predicts that at the present rate of GHG emissions, we will have reached the tipping point by the year 2025. 

Furthermore, the problems of global warming and the other forms of ecological destruction have a variety of feedback and multiplying effects. Ecosystems are internally related and the results are, therefore, nonlinear, chaotic, and unpredictable. For example, the burning of the tropical rainforest cause 25 per cent of all carbon gas emissions. The melting of the sea ice releases huge amounts of methane, which is more aggressive than greenhouse gas. The melting of the polar ice eliminates the albedo effect (wherein solar energy is reflected from the ice). The result is a greater absorption of solar energy and an even greater increase in global temperature. The melting of the frozen tundra also releases methane. The ocean acidification caused, in part, by oil means that the ocean has less ability to absorb carbon and, therefore, there is more global warming. Finally, the changing climate zones, as a result of global warming, results in the collapse of ecosystems, the extinction of species dependent on these ecosystem, which results in the collapse of more ecosystems and the extinction of more species. Climate scientists now warn that we may be facing the 6th largest species extinction in our earth’s history. 

However, while many of these facts are known, the world’s political leaders, while expressing concern, do not begin to confront the magnitude of the ecological crises. Why this denial? Consider the following: 

What prevents the world community from adopting measures to curb carbon emissions rapidly and on the required scale? If a fire breaks out in my house, I would quickly take any action necessary to extinguish it, even calling for the fire department if it gets out of hand. Yet, oddly, when our planetary house is aflame, we spend more time squabbling over who should extinguish the fire than we do actually pursuing ways to put it out. Those most responsible for setting the fire in the first place scheme and bargain to avoid making a full commitment to the firefighting.13 
What are the impediments to rationally dealing with the crisis, since surely no one wants species extinction or a significant debasement of human life on the planet? 

It is beyond debate that the ecology of Earth – including the life support systems on which humans and all other species depend – is under sustained and severe attack by human activities. It is also clear that if we don’t radically change our ways, the results will be devastating. The multifaceted, complex, and rapidly accelerating character of the planetary environmental crisis is traceable to a single systematic cause: the economic and social order in which we live.14 

The economic and social order which is the underlying cause of this ecological crisis is global capitalism, and there are several reasons that this crisis cannot be solved within the parameters of capitalism. 

The first reason is the imperative of profit accumulation. Capitalism changes C-M-C (Commodity-Money-Commodity) into M-C-M0 (Money-Commodity-more Money). The circuit cannot be continued unless it generates, surplus value, which requires both the exploitation of labor and the domination and exploitation of nature. It requires exponential growth without limits. As Marx wrote in the Grundrisse, ‘‘Capital is the Endless and limitless drive to go beyond its limiting barrier. Every boundary is and has to be a barrier for it. Else it would cease to be capital—money as self-reproductive.’’15 The second reason is that globalization has as its basic mission to convert the entire world to the accumulation process. It must, therefore, penetrate every life world in order to foster accumulation. The whole of nature is simply a resource for this process. Any CEO of a corporation who wants to remain a CEO must disregard that which is not profitable, and, in any case, Capital selects persons who are self-seeking and ruthless. The third reason is, to quote Michael Parenti, that ‘‘pollution pays, while ecology costs. Every dollar a company spends on environmental protections is one less dollar in earnings. It is more profitable to treat the environment like a septic tank, to externalize corporate diseconomies by dumping raw industrial effluent into the atmosphere, rivers, and bays, turning waterways into open sewers.’’16 The fourth reason is that the commodity form places exchange value over use value, which has its culmination in finance capital. Financial capital is even more abstract/pure capital—more liquid; it has more need for immediate rewards (short-term profitability), and Wall Street is the command center. Pure financial capital becomes a self-expanding machine which must constantly seek ways to overcome any limits which nature would impose. Fifth, as capital can never be satisfied, it forces a constant sense of lack, creating conditions which foster greed (for profit), attachment (to consumer objects and money), and a variety of cravings and artificial needs. Hence, capitalism creates a consumer society which needs a constant infusion of energy and resources to satisfy it.17 Thus, even those who do not have much of a stake in capital accumulation are tied psychologically to the commodity form through their needs as consumers. 

As I mentioned earlier, Wall Street feeds on tanha. Financial capital in turn reinforces and inflates tanha, which in turn, provides the existential basis for capital’s continuous need to expand. While the expansion of money can continue for a while without the growth of an underlying productive base, these financial bubbles eventually burst. Capital then needs to find other investment outlets, and this requires still more production which despoils nature. 

However, while the Marxist critique makes it clear that the ecological crisis cannot be solved within the parameter of capitalism, socialism, as it is often understood, cannot in itself overcome the ecological crisis. The problem here is not just that what has been called ‘‘really existing socialism’’ in the twentieth century, most notably the Soviet Union and China, were ecological disasters, but also the anthropocentric, Promethean, and productivist assumptions that were built into classical socialist thinking. The anthropocentric and Promethean assumptions imply that human beings have a privileged position vis-a-vis the rest of nature and have, therefore, the right to exploit and change nature fully to their advantage; in effect, that we can conquer nature. The productivist assumption is that production can be unlimited—in order that we can go from the ‘‘kingdom of necessity’’ to the ‘‘realm of freedom.’’ Nature, then, remains a resource to be controlled and dominated. Here, for example, is Trotsky in an essay in Literature and Revolution: ‘‘through the machine, man in Socialist society will command nature in its entirety....He will point out places for mountains and passes. He will change the course of rivers, and he will lay down rules for the ocean.’’18 Although there is some debate about whether Marx and Engels themselves made such productivist and Promethean assumptions, such assumptions have often framed the way in which many Marxists think about socialism. And it is certainly the case that Marx and Engels assumed a privileged place for human beings in relation to the rest of nature, which is the anthropocentric assumption. 

What all this means is that that the second impediment to solving the ecological crisis is the anthropocentric assumption which predates capitalism and which will not be automatically overcome with the overthrow of capitalism. Buddhism is especially well suited to addressing this assumption. 

I have already discussed the general problem of social dukkha, in which the illusion of self can take a collective as well an individual form. Once these collective self-identities are formed, they open the possibility of needing to protect oneself against members of the other group, exploiting and dominating the other group, and perhaps going to war against members of the other group. It is often thought that this problem is overcome if we can establish a ‘‘human’’ identity, an identification with all members of the species. But a species identity draws another boundary line, between the species-self and what is not the species-self—all other species and the rest of nature. If the sense of a separate self is dukkha, as Buddhism claims, then the sense of a collective species-self is the most fundamental form of social dukkha, as it creates a sense separation from the rest of the biosphere of which, in reality, we are a part. This collective sense of separation creates an alienation from the rest of nature, a sense of collective insecurity and anxiety. Our response to this collective alienation, insecurity, and anxiety is to continually rearrange nature through our technology, to turn it into mere resources for us, to subordinate it to our will, to dominate and exploit it for profit within capitalism; or, in the socialist spirit, ‘‘to change the course of rivers’’ and ‘‘lay down rules for the oceans.’’ Thus, a socialist anthropocentrism would still see nature as a resource to be dominated for the sake of the collective species self. 

The solution to the problem of individual dukkha is to free ourselves from the illusion of a separate, independent, permanent self; to accept the impermanence of existence and to embrace our interdependence with others. The solution to the problem of social dukkha requires both that we abolish the institutional structures of global capitalism and free ourselves from the illusion of a separate, independent self, including a separate species-self, and embrace our interdependence with the totality of the biosphere. ‘‘The environment is not merely the place where we live and act, for the biosphere is the ground from which and within which we arise. The earth is not only our home, it is our mother....The air in my lungs, like the water and food that pass through my mouth, is part of a great system that does not stop with me but continually circulates through me.’’19 This implies compassion for all sentient beings, respect for all living beings, and responsibility for the well-being of the ecosystems which sustain life and ultimately for the whole of the biosphere. 

1. David Loy, Money, Sex War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2008), 19–20 (Loy 2008). 
2. Kevin M. Brien, ‘‘Buddhism and Marxism: Ironic Affinities,’’ Dialogue and Universalism 14 (2004): 58. (Brien 2004). 
3. I am indebted to David Loy for the idea of ‘‘social dukkha.’’ Loy argues that each of the three poisons functions in a collective as well as an individual form and that extinguishing the three poisons in both their collective and individual form will require challenging the power of global corporate and financial capital. ‘‘Our present economic system institutionalizes greed, our militarism institutionalizes ill will, and our corporate media institutionalizes delusion.’’ Loy, Money, Sex, War, Karma, 89 (Loy 2008). 
4. Michael Slott, ‘‘Can you be a Buddhist and a Marxist,’’ Contemporary Buddhism 12(2) (2011):353 (Slott 2011). 
5.  Marx and Engels, ‘‘The Communist Manifesto,’’ 176 (Marx 1994). 
6. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, 321 (Marx 1994). 
7. Slott, ‘‘Can you be a Buddhist and a Marxist,’’ 356 (Slott 2011).
8. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, ‘‘Socially Engaged Buddhism and the Trajectory of Buddhist Ethical Consciousness,’’ Religion East and West 9 (2009): 2 (Bodhi 2009a). 
9. Bodhi, ‘‘Socially Engaged Buddhism,’’ 14 (Bodhi 2009).
10. Bodhi, ‘‘Socially Engaged Buddhism,’’ 15 (Bodhi 2009).
11. Proponents of socially engaged Buddhism include Tich Nhat Hanh from Viet Nam, Sulak Sivaraksa from Thailand, and the Dalai Lama.
12.  Waistell, ‘‘Marx and Buddha: A Buddhist-Communist Manifesto,’’ 209–210. (Waistell 2014). 
13. Bhikkhu Bodhi, ‘‘The Voice of the Golden Goose,‘‘ 162–163. (Bodhi 2009b).
14. Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster, What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011): 25. (Magdoff and Foster 2011).
15. Marx, Grundrisse, 334 (Marx 1973). 
16. Parenti, ‘‘Why the Corporate Rich Oppose Environmentalism.’’ (Parenti 2005). 
17. For these arguments, I am especially indebted to Joel Kovel, The Enemy of Nature: the End of Capitalism or the End of the World? (New York: Zed Books, 2007). (Kovel 2007). 
18. Trotksy, ‘‘Literature and Revolution’’, 287 (Trotksy 1962). 
19. Loy, Money, Sex, War, Karma, 109–110 (Loy 2008). 

Bodhi, Ven. Bhikkhu. ‘‘Socially Engaged Buddhism and the Trajectory of Buddhist Ethical Consciousness.’’ Religion East and West 9(2009a):1–23. 
Bodhi, Ven. Bhikkhu. ‘‘The Voice of the Golden Goose.’’ In A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency, ed. John Stanley, David R. Loy, and Gyurme Dorje, 157–171. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2009b. 
Brien, Kevin M. ‘‘Buddhism and Marxism: Ironic Affinities.’’ Dialogue and Universalism 14(2004):35–59. 
Kovel, Joel. The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? New York: Zed Books. 
Loy, David. Money, Sex War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2008. 
Magdoff, Fred, and John Bellamy Foster. What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011. 
Marx, Karl. Grundrisse. Translated and edited by Martin Nicolas. London: Penguin Books, 1973. Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. ‘‘The Communist Manifesto.’’ In Karl Marx: Selected Writings, edited by Lawrence H. Simon. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994.
Parenti, Michael. ‘‘Why the Corporate Rich Oppose Environmentalism,’’ ZNET, August 4, 2005, online at:
Slott, Michael. ‘‘Can you be a Buddhist and a Marxist.’’ Contemporary Buddhism 12, no. 2  (2011):347–363.
Trotsky, Leon. ‘‘Literature and Revolution.’’ In The Marxists, ed. C. Wright Mills. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1962.
Waistell, Jeff. ‘‘Marx and Buddha: A Buddhist-Communist Manifesto.’’ In Buddhism for Sustainable Development and Social Change, edited by Thich Nhat Tu and Thich Duc Thien (Vietnam Buddhist University Publications, 2014), 195–217. 

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