Pomnyun Sunim
Kungto Society - KR

Understand the social engagement of Buddhism with Pomnyun Sunim

recently shared a story in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley in the United States, about the importance of engaging with on a social level.

During the era of ’s lifetime, 90% of the population were slaves. As they aged and became ill, they were deemed worthless and cast .

Even when they were unwell, they were not given any care or protection. Generally, when someone passed away, they were cremated, however, the slaves were not given this courtesy.

Their remains were simply thrown into the like garbage. It was due to observing the neglected elderly, sick, and dead bodies in the vicinity of his palace that Buddha started to contemplate life.

The Buddha was confronted with the harsh realities of and inequality among the lower classes in his society. He was moved to ask himself, ‘What should I do?’ when he observed that all people eventually grow old, get sick, and die.

“Do I seek a winner’s life to avoid becoming like them? Or do I dedicate myself to creating a world without such suffering?”

Suddhodana gave the Buddha a region to govern in an effort to distract him from his worries, but the Buddha freed all the slaves and .

He soon realized that this approach was not feasible for everyone. The Buddha concluded that he could not find a solution through worldly means and decided to take the path of renunciation.

The Buddha encountered great opposition from the society of his due to his views on class and gender discrimination.

Women were seen as mere accessories to men, with no independent identity of their own. It was a difficult task for even the Buddha to allow women to renounce and become bhikkunis ( nuns), as it meant they would no longer be someone’s accessory but have their own identity.

It took nearly 20 years after the Buddha’s for this to be permitted, however it disappeared again 500 years after his death.

This demonstrates how severe gender discrimination was in the society of the time.

Furthermore, when slaves sought to join the , they faced much opposition from their owners. The thought of a slave renouncing their servitude meant that the owner would lose their property, so they often tried to take them back.

Becoming a meant that the slave was no longer bound to their owner and could take control of their own life, which contradicted the existing social order.

When you focus on Buddhist ideas or doctrine, you will deal with philosophical issues alone. Only by studying the life of the Buddha can we talk about real-life social problems. This is because Buddha was a person who lived in a concrete social reality. ~ Pomnyun Sunim

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