Posted inDharma, Other Teachings

Buddhism for a Post-Axial Age, Review of David Loy’s A New Buddhist Path, Part 3

August 5, 2016

…in seeing through and overcoming the delusion of a sense of self as separate from the natural world, provides a key toward addressing and overcoming the roots of our ecologic crisis.


Ruben Habito reviews A New Buddhist Path: Enlightenment, Evolution and Ethics in the Modern World by David Loy, Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2015.  Click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of his review.

What is particularly insightful, thought-provoking, and challenging in David Loy’s work is his depiction of the traditional “three poisons” (greed, ill-will or aggression, and delusion or ignorance), the root causes of human dissatisfaction and suffering (dukkha), as characteristic not only of our individual, personal lives as unenlightened worldly beings, but more significantly so, as operative in our socio-politico-economic institutions in which our individual and collective lives are inevitably and intricately entangled, a state of affairs we can call our socioecological or global dukkha. This key insight into the intimate connection between the individual/personal and the socio-politico-economic dimensions of the three poisons has already been spelled out in detail in Loy’s previous works, most notably in The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory (Wisdom 1997). This is also a recurrent theme in the work of Siamese lay Buddhist, activist and social gadfly Sulak Sivaraksa, from whom Loy derives inspiration.

“Greed” is rampant in the current global economic system of capitalist consumerism that dominates our world, propelled by an inner sense of lack, i.e., the sense that “something is missing” which thereby makes us want more, do more, have more, know more, in an incessant drive for acquisition. Loy gives one definition of greed as “never enough,” which is operative throughout all levels: “corporations are never large enough or profitable enough, the value of their shares is never high enough, our national GDP is never big enough…[i]t is built into these systems that they must keep growing, or else they tend to collapse.” (p. 121) Greed is thus seen through as a monster that exacerbates the ever-growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in our contemporary world, wherein more than a billion of our seven billion (and counting) human population are consigned to live in dehumanizing and degrading poverty and approximately twenty thousand children under the age of five die daily of malnutrition-caused factors, while a very scandalously minuscule number continue to expand their personal wealth and their control of the world’s resources.

The enduring effects on our contemporary global society of the other two poisons (aggession and delusion) are also pointed out, though not spelled out as fully in this book, having been dealt with in greater detail in Loy’s previous work. The poison of Aggression, or Ill-will, is institutionalized in the military-industrial complex that continues to feed lethal weapons to the numerous armed groups in different parts of the world, who use them in waging their particular battles under varying political, ideological, religious, and other banners, wreaking untold destruction that takes its toll in countless human lives. “Delusion,” or ignorance, is institutionalized in the mass media and information technology that portray mainly what is useful, profitable and favorable to those in control to help maintain the status quo of an unjust and exploitative system, and which tend to shield the vast majority of us from those realities that would disrupt our complacency or tend to rouse us from our slumber and move us to take concerted action.

Traditional Buddhist practice is geared toward overcoming the three poisons of Greed, Aggression, and Delusion that are the causes of dissatisfaction and destructiveness in our individual lives. This new Buddhist path presented to us enhances our vision and broadens the field of Buddhist practice, enjoining us not only to uproot the three poisons in our own personal lives, but also to give ourselves wholeheartedly in the work toward dismantling the institutional forms of Greed, Aggression, and Delusion that together comprise the root causes of our contemporary global malaise. Loy offers some helpful hints here in his section on “The Economic Challenge” (pp. 118-123), noting that it will take more than just some form of redistribution of wealth, and more than just an inclusion of the theme of social justice in Buddhist ethical teaching. What is called for is “an alternative evaluation of our economic situation, which focuses on the consequences of individual and institutionalized delusion” (p. 123)— addressing the roots of our collective dissatisfaction (socioecological or global dukkha) in seeking to overturn that sense of lack that fans our consumeristic lifestyles, and the institutions that feed on it.

Hand in hand with this economic challenge, the ecological challenge (pp. 123-126) is undoubtedly the most pressing among those confronting our contemporary global society. Loy names our collective sense of estrangement from the natural world, and our “collective response to that alienation—attempting to ‘self-ground’ ourselves technologically and economically” (p. 124)—our tendency to place undue reliance on technology to find solutions to our ecological problems, as symptoms of a deeper, spiritual problem. “The ecological crisis is also a spiritual crisis” (p. 126), and the resolution of the latter…

in seeing through and overcoming the delusion of a sense of self as separate from the natural world, provides a key toward addressing and overcoming the roots of our ecologic crisis.

In a recent book entitled This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014), investigative journalist and best-selling author Naomi Klein has convincingly demonstrated that our deteriorating ecological situation that is bringing about a gradual climate change in our Earth’s atmosphere with its dire consequences, is inseparably linked to the flawed economic system of a globalized capitalism that dominates the lives of all of us on this planet. The suggestion of this eye- opening and also hope-giving volume is that the wake-up call of our planet threatened with ecological destruction is now being heard by more and more people across the globe, and is leading increasing numbers of good-willed people of this Earth to concerted action on many fronts, in ways that cannot but bring about transformation in our economic, social, and political institutions across the board.

To effect such a transformation that can be truly effective and wide-ranging, it is crucial that as many people of good will as possible heed the call and join forces with all those seeking change, doing their share and participating in the various local, national, and international movements with their specific tasks to address. David Loy’s A New Buddhist Path describes the contours of a vision and a path of practice that grounds engagement in the enormous work involved in healing our wounded world (Tikkun Olam). Its underlying message is that our own personal woundedness that is rooted in the sense of lack, and the dysfunctional state of the entire Earth community that is now at a point of threatening our very survival as a species, rooted in the collective sense of estrangement from one another and from the natural world, are inseparably linked, and conversely, that our own personal healing and recovery of well-being and the healing and the restoration of the well-being of the entire Earth community are likewise intimately interconnected.

The “new Bodhisattva” that Loy describes as the bearer of this vision and path of practice is not one who has first taken care of one’s own need for psychological and personal healing and, having done so, is thereby now prepared to take on the task of healing the world. Rather, she or he is one who has acknowledged and accepted one’s own brokenness as inseparably linked with the very woundedness of our entire global society itself, and who is now disposed to giving oneself entirely over to this path of practice that seeks to address both fronts of one’s individual dukkha as well as our socio- ecological or global dukkha.

Click to read the fourth and final installment. 

Ruben L.F. Habito teaches world religions and spirituality at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, and also serves as Guiding Teacher at Maria Kannon Zen Center, Dallas, Texas. Author of Experiencing Buddhism: Ways of Wisdom and Compassion (Orbis Books, 2005), Healing Breath: Zen for Christians and Buddhists in a Wounded World (Wisdom, 2006) and many other volumes in English and Japanese.

Originally Published as Buddhist Wisdom from Healing the Earth in Tikkun Magazine, January 26, 2016

Featured Image: Elements-Imagination, by Hartwig HKD, CC by- ND 2.o, from
Image: Transcendence, by Damian Gadal,CC by 2.0, from

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