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Listening to the Buddha: how greed, ill-will and delusion are poisoning our institutions, Part 3 of 3

January 25, 2016

The institution that is most responsible for molding our collective sense of self is the media, which has become a kind of “international nervous system”.


This article, written by David R. Loy, first appeared in Open Democracy on May 12, 2014.

Click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of Listening to the Buddha.

What about the third of the three poisons, or delusion? “The Buddha” literally means “the awakened one,” which implies that the rest of us are un-awakened. Each of us lives inside our own dream-like bubble of delusions, which distorts our perceptions and expectations. Buddhist practitioners are familiar with this problem, yet all of us live inside a larger bubble that determines how we understand the world and ourselves collectively.

The institution that is most responsible for molding our collective sense of self is the media, which has become a kind of “international nervous system”.

Genuine democracy requires an independent and activist press, in order to expose abuse and animate debate. In the process of becoming mega-corporations, however, the major media have abandoned all but the pretense of objectivity.

Since they are profit-making institutions whose bottom-line is based on advertising revenue, their main concern is to do whatever it takes to maximize those profits. It is not in their interest to question the grip of consumerism itself.

An important component of any education worthy of the name is to realize that many of the things that we think are natural and inevitable (and therefore should be accepted), are in fact conditioned, and therefore can be changed. The world doesn’t need to be the way it is; there are other possibilities. The present role of the media is to foreclose those possibilities by confining public awareness and discussion within narrow limits.

The US and most other countries are dominated by power elites that are composed of governments and large corporations, including the major media. People move seamlessly between these institutions, because there is little difference in their worldviews or their goals – expansion, growth and control. Politics remains “the shadow cast by big business over society,” as John Dewey once put it.

The role of the media in this unholy alliance is to “normalize” this situation, so that members of the public accept it and continue to perform the roles that are required of them, especially the frenzied production and consumption that are necessary to keep the economy growing.

It’s important to realize that we are not being manipulated by a clever group of powerful people who benefit from this process. Rather, we are being manipulated by a deluded group of powerful people who benefit materially, but are also victims of their own propaganda.

Not realizing that their own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other people, they are also caught up in the collective web of delusion.

As the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus once said, “How do wars begin? Politicians tell lies to journalists, and then believe what they read in the newspapers.” The same applies to shared fantasies about the necessity of consumerism and perpetual economic growth, and the denial of impending eco-catastrophe.

If the Buddha is correct that greed, ill will, and delusion are the causes of our suffering; and if it’s true that they’ve been institutionalized in all of our systems, then these are matters for deep and urgent concern.

Awakening to the nature of these institutional poisons is just as important as the individual awakening that lies at the core of Buddhist teaching. In fact, the two are inseparable.


Image: Invocation Room Floor, by Miran Rijavec, CC by 2.0, from
Featured Image: Arya Magga, by saamiblog, CC BY 2.0, from

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