There is no clearer evidence for the relevance of Buddhism to the current political debate on the vision for our society and democracy than the reaction of conservative politicians and their supporters to President Obama’s explanation that no one, including the rich, has attained success alone and without assistance from others in some form, whether personal or social/government involvement. He clearly was articulating the principle of interdependence, which is the heart of Buddhist teaching in all traditions. It is really an obvious principle beginning with our individual births. We are part of a vast net and subject to innumerable causes and conditions that create the foundation of any achievement we experience.
Human beings require the longest period of nurture until they can fend for themselves in the environment. No one would survive if from the first day they had to care for themselves, lacking a family or some type of caregiver. We understand the process of socialization through which demanding, ego-centric infants are gradually integrated by discipline into the social fabric and made aware of their mutual relations and responsibilities that are needed for a peaceful family and harmonious community. As Hillary Clinton wrote, “It takes a village.” No one is raised in a vacuum. How many times do we hear modest athletes and even politicians and leaders acknowledge that their victories are the result of the support of others, though they themselves possess significant abilities.
Those who criticize the President for articulating this principle in the context of the vitriolic political atmosphere and an obstructive congress must ignore much of their own experience. The Chinese Sage, Mencius, in the 4th C. BCE described the division of labor in society where each artisan and producer requires each other for society to function properly. Each depends on the other for the product they need but cannot produce themselves. This is was another perspective on interdependence.
Our society has been permeated by the libertarian philosophy taught by Ayn Rand, illustrated by Ron and Rand Paul. She emphasized an untrammeled individualism of each for him/herself. In “Atlas Shrugged” she states: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
A rational selfishness is the dynamic for progress in society as each person works to advance and protect their own interest. “Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing buy rational actions,” Rand declares.
Progress in society is marked by how easily a person can pursue his/her own benefit. There need be no external authority like government to regulate behavior, since each person will self-correct as their efforts are successful or thwarted. Though Ayn Rand and her proponents reject strenuously that her philosophy is associated with social Darwinism, her advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism with its stress on competition suggests that the principle of “survival of the fittest” is also implied by Ayn Rand’s view.
The forthcoming Presidential election gains its significance in part because citizens will decide which vision of society will be the path for the future.
Thank you. Gassho,
Speaking of interdependence…several years ago I wrote to thank you for your website and for any further opportunities to study Jodo Shinshu. You mentioned the BCA Correspondence Course. I completed it this spring and learned a great deal.