Buddhism’s Next 40 Years: Right Activism

In the fourth issue in our 40th anniversary series, Melvin McLeod looks at the interface of activism and modern Buddhism.

Melvin McLeod
20 November 2019
Illustration by Sydney Smith.

I believe modern thought’s greatest contribution to Buddhism is to our understanding of the second noble truth—the causes of suffering.

According to Buddhism, the root cause of suffering is ego, our mistaken belief in a solid, separate, and continuous self, and the three poisons we use to protect it—aggression, attachment, and ignorance. We act selfishly in service to a non-existent self.

This is Buddhism’s essential, life-changing insight. By understanding and acting on it, we can reduce, and maybe even end, the suffering of beings. The second noble truth is the diagnosis that leads to the cure, and today our diagnosis is more accurate than ever.

Buddhism traditionally said that the cause of suffering was personal and individual. Now to the personal causes of suffering we have added the psychological and the political.

We understand how suffering and trauma are passed down within families, generation to generation. We work to break the cycle.

We see how ego and the three poisons operate on a vast scale in our political, social, and economic systems. We take action against injustice and work for a more caring society to fulfil our basic vow as Buddhists—to reduce suffering. Buddhists are political because suffering is political.

In this anniversary series, we’re looking at the challenges facing Buddhism in the next forty years. In this issue, we hear from five Buddhists on the front lines of right activism. Because in the next forty years, there’s no greater challenge facing Buddhism than the challenges facing our world.

—Melvin McLeod

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Read the rest of the series, “Buddhism: The Next 40 Years”

Melvin McLeod

Melvin McLeod is the Editor-in-Chief of Lion’s Roar magazine and Buddhadharma.