Oh Boy, David Loy

I just deleted a post on David Loy that was a pretty harsh vent, where I cast him as whiny and ineffectual. In his defense, he openly admits the disparity between his expectations and reality, and also has never claimed to be a man of action. David Loy is certainly doing his best to change the world for the better, and doing it the best way he knows how—through writing.

Via the Jizo Chronicles, I was pointed to a recent opinion by David Loy on Shambhala SunSpace. He has a very strong view that Buddhists have a unique role to play in the progressive movement. But I don’t see much unique substance to his argument beyond the following two points.

  • We should improve society and the world.
  • Buddhism gives us a unique way to do so.

I suppose the first point isn’t unique. He frames the Buddhist solution very broadly, in terms of general awareness. Because Buddhism is about moving beyond delusion, it provides the tools to better be aware of not just individual ills, but also social ills. He breaks down our social dilemmas in terms of greed, ill will and delusion, tying these defilements to various institutions. His rhetoric is clever, but I feel his words are utterly pointless beyond spurring people to action. How does a Buddhist perspective make change any different, be it easier, faster or more thorough than a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or simply a non-religious perspective?

I’m all ears.

You can read more work by David Loy at Enlightenment Ward.

Race as Karma

Over on Drums of Dharma, GK Sandoval discusses topical issues from the perspective of karma.

From a Dharma perspective, it has nothing to do with race or anything else. It all has to do with seeds of karma ripening in this lifetime.

Reading these words, I remember a certain article by David Loy

The other problem is that karma has long been used to rationalize racism, caste, economic oppression, birth handicaps, and so forth. Taken literally, karma justifies both the authority of political elites, who therefore must deserve their wealth and power, and the subordination of those who have neither. It provides the perfect theodicy: if there is an infallible cause-and-effect relationship between one’s actions and one’s fate, there is no need to work toward social justice, because it’s already built into the moral fabric of the universe. In fact, if there is no undeserved suffering, there is really no evil that we need to struggle against. You were born crippled, or to a poor family? Well, who but you is responsible for that?

But I doubt that Loy’s rhetoric conveys the precise sentiments that GK is trying to promote. A topic worth more discussion, but I’m trying to keep these posts short.

Why Buddhism Doesn’t Need the West

In the Spring 2009 issue of Tricycle, David Loy’s “Why Buddhism Needs the West” predictably whipped up the Angry Asian Buddhist in me (again). When I got down to reading the piece a second time, his words began to appear less provocative and more simple minded.

From a Buddhist perspective, it would be naive to expect social transformation to work without personal transformation. But the history of Buddhism shows us that the opposite is also true: although Buddha-dharma may focus on promoting individual awakening, it cannot avoid being affected by the social forces that work to keep us asleep and submissive. It is the mercy of the West that those social forces need no longer be mystified as natural and inevitable.

These words didn’t explain anything to me, and I had to track down his article “Religion and the Market,” which presents the same notion in a different framework.

The great sensitivity to social justice in the Semitic religions (for whom sin is a moral failure of will) needs to be supplemented by the emphasis that the Asian enlightenment traditions place upon seeing-through and dispelling delusion (ignorance as a failure to understand). Moreover, I suspect that the former without the latter is doomed to be ineffective in our cynical age.

David Loy is simply a philosopher who wants Buddhism to merge with Western social justice to transform society and the world for the better. But he has no empirical argument to show that this can actually happen. He’s a philosopher doing what philosophers do best: enjoying that armchair. Buddhism doesn’t need the West “to realize its own deepest promise,” rather this is Loy’s way of describing how he’d like to make society fit his worldview. That’s great, but I think I’ll pass.