Class-Struggle Buddhism FAQs


What is class-struggle Buddhism?

Class-struggle Buddhism is a distinctive kind of social activism and Dhamma-practice, which (1) highlights the explicitly egalitarian, implicitly anti-capitalist, and consistently liberation-seeking dimensions of Buddhism; (2) opposes capitalism as a system of greed sustained by systems of hatred and delusion; and (3) seeks to help build mass movements of exploited and oppressed people, premised upon a recognition of what, in Buddhist terms, may be called their "self-power" (as opposed to other-power), that is, their capacity to liberate themselves by their own efforts.

What are class-struggle buddhists?

They are Dhamma-practitioners who:

1. Dedicate themselves to supporting the liberation of all beings from
dukkha (unnecessary suffering);
2. Oppose systems of greed, hatred and delusion, including capitalism, while supporting systems of compassion [
karuna], kindness [metta], and wisdom [panna];
3. Aspire to emulate the Buddha's example by renouncing whatever privileges may come their way due to the operation of systems of greed, hatred and delusion;
4. Refuse to co-operate with or intentionally benefit from "caste" systems in the widest sense, that is, structures of social inequality and oppression associated with ways of identifying people in terms of "race," class, gender, and so on.
5. Cultivate the quality of equanimity, not as an excuse for inaction in the face of unnecessary suffering, but as preparation for clear-sighted, wise and compassionate action "for the welfare of the many"; and
6. Seek to adopt and develop methods of struggle -- what the Buddha called "skillful means" -- that do no harm to living beings, even when (as in the case of general strikes, mass demonstrations, and civil disobedience campaigns) these means are skillfully, and in accordance with right action, designed to harm interests with which certain powerful people identify.

It is important to see that the Buddha himself was in many ways already a class-struggle Buddhist.  True, the specific forms taken by greed, hatred and delusion -- which he identified as the causes of unnecessary human suffering -- have changed enormously in the past 2500 years, necessitating developments within the Buddhist way of understanding the causes of suffering and the means available to us for struggling for liberation from that suffering.  But class-struggle Buddhism is not a move away from the Dhamma taught by the Buddha; it is a return to the Buddha's example of uncompromising commitment to the possibility of liberation and to the necessity to strive toward the realization of that possibility.

What is class struggle?

Social theorists, both Marxist and non-Marxist, have pointed out that a pervasive feature of most social systems -- but never more so than in capitalist systems -- is a basic conflict between two social, political and economic agendas.  On one side there are those who want social co-operation to serve what the Buddha called "the welfare of the many," that is, the peace, happiness, and liberation of living beings.  On the opposing side are those who want social co-operation to serve, not the welfare of the many, but the enrichment of the few, that is, the accumulation of wealth and power by the ruling class and other elites aligned with that class.  Obviously, it is not possible for both of these agendas to prevail at the same time.  The result is social conflict between proponents of the welfare of the many and proponents of the enrichment of the few -- a class struggle.

Is the concept of "class struggle" compatible with Buddhism?

Some Buddhists believe that struggle and conflict are intrinsically contrary to Buddhist principles.  Buddhists, they hold, are supposed to cultivate insight into "non-duality," and to put aside conflicts between "us" and "them."  This is a grave error.  Where do these views go wrong?  In classical Buddhist terms, they confuse the quality of equanimity (to which class-struggle Buddhists aspire, and for which they train) with its "near enemy," that is, a trait that is superficially similar but fundamentally opposed to it.  The "near enemy" of equanimity is indifference.  Equanimity implies that we can retain the kind of psychological balance and cool-headedness that we need to take wise and compassionate action against the causes of unnecessary suffering, and therefore agaisnt systems of greed, hatred and delusion.  Indifference implies that we have no preference between suffering and  non-suffering, that we don't care whether there is more or less of it in the world.  Indifference is antithetical to Buddhism, which gives a central role to the practice of compassion and the cultivation of "right effort" toward the elimination of unnecessary suffering (

Suggested Readings:

Santikaro Bhikkhu, "The Four Noble Truths of Dhammic Socialism"
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu,
Dhammic Socialism
Bhiikkhu Bodhi,
"Message for a Globalized World"
David Brazier [Br. Dharmavidya],
The New Buddhism
Ken Jones,
"Buddhism and Social Action: An Exploration"
Sulak Sivaraksa,
"Radical Buddhism"
Lawrence Cox,
"Liberation Buddhology"

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