Buddhism, the Individual and Society

You see that other person over there? They’re flesh and blood, just like you. You don’t know what they’re going through, so please be kind; manifest your mind. This is one of the side benefits, one of the depth charges, if you will, of Buddhism, maybe not the most obvious, but just possibly the most powerful. That we are not in this world alone, that if we are created from the same causes and conditions, then we are essentially the same person, one person, indivisible, God optional, with liberty and justice for all.

The simplest word to describe it is empathy, a shot better than sympathy, which implies that you are observing that one there and judging him, her, or it to be worth your while, or your pity, whereas empathy implies that you are literally putting yourself in that one’s shoes and therefore have a very clear feeling of what that feels like. The difference is murky, but I think that pretty well describes it, and while both may be valuable, empathy is more to the point that Buddhism takes care to make in the law of Dependent Origination: there is a process of which we are all part.

I’m only taking that a step further: if we’re all a part of the same process, then we are all essentially One. So, what? What’s the big deal? Well, it IS a big deal when you realize that Western philosophy has done much the opposite, elevating individualism to primacy, while relegating society to secondary status, as if the family were the only true society and everyone else were simply actors on a stage or consumers in the marketplace. And this is the unspoken assumption of Marx, also, whose theories might actually work if society were one big family. But we’re not, not yet. Buddhism is a start in the right direction.