Compassion Without Teeth
The Buddhist theme repeated throughout the stories of the life and work of the Buddha stresses significant freedom from social, economic, and political fetters, while directing both implied and direct criticism at these constraints. One example of this is in the Buddha’s scrupulous insistence on not favoring the upper class in his homilies and his acceptance of alms from all donors regardless of class.1 The Buddha treated all people equally and refrained from distinctions based on class, gender, or even age. In one instance he even went so far as to prefer the invitation of the courtesan Āmṛipālī, not only a woman but a harlot of ill-repute, over that of Licchavi lords, men of the upper caste, to dine with them, since Āmṛipālī had invited him first. His fair-mindedness infuriated the aristocratic Licchavis and was considered by all as a great insult.2 Nonetheless, it is difficult to define the Buddha as a social revolutionary or as tenaciously fighting social and political injustices. The significance Buddhists attribute to the Buddha’s work notwithstanding, the general conclusion is that the rebellious social image that emerges from the stories should be understood more in the context of conveying the privileges of freedom enjoyed by the enlightened, holy man than as a message of social change.
KeywordsDine Blindness Spiro
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