“Dharmic Materialism (and Anti-materialism)
Problems, Prospects, Paradoxes"
It is almost a commonplace to assert that Buddhist ethics is anti-materialistic, in the sense that traditional Buddhist teachings reject the idea that material objects and/or physical pleasures can in and of themselves serve as the primary goal or “good” of human life. And yet, “materialism” is a polyvalent term that includes a variety of meanings, ranging from the above “ethical” sense to the various permutations of metaphysical, historical and dialectical materialism, some of which might be not only compatible with but even necessary to particular interpretations of Buddhist ethics. In this talk, I will discuss some of the problems and prospects of Buddhist materialism by looking at the work of Seno'o Girō (1889–1961), founder and leader of the Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism (Shinkō Bukkyō Seinen Dōmei), an experiment in radical Buddhist political activism from 1930s Japan. Seno’o developed a theoretical foundation for the work of the League that I call “Dharmic materialism,” which fuses philosophical and historical materialism with traditional (Mahāyāna) Buddhist teachings. Through a careful study of the theory and practices of the Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism the following questions are addressed: 1) What are the implications of “Dharmic materialism,” and how might such an interpretation of Buddhist ethics contribute to contemporary debates about economics and social justice? 2) How does the Dharmic materialism of Seno’o Girō and the Youth League relate to post-war theories of “Buddhist economics,” including those developed by E. F. Schumacher and P. A. Payutto? 3) How does this movement relate to more recent attempts in southeast Asia and the West to develop forms of “engaged” Buddhism—i.e., Buddhist organizations dedicated to alleviating material suffering and combating social and political inequality?
Friday - October 28, 2011
Rm. 101 in the Department of Religion 80 Claremont Avenue