Sociology and the Cultivation of Buddhist Wisdom

Richard Madsen

Buddhists speak of the need to overcome the four major vices of greed, anger, delusion, and hatred. This message is timeless, but in our modern age the challenges of practicing it have reached a new level. We now confront capitalist greed, militarized anger, technological delusion, and ethnic hatred – all globalized to an extent that Buddhists in an earlier time could never have imagined. In his writings on spiritual ecology, Master Sheng-yen taught us much wisdom about how to face these challenges. Sociology by itself cannot really give us wisdom, but it can help us understand the challenges more deeply. It can show us how these global forces shape our character in ways that can make it difficult to follow the dharma and thus can open the way to continued wise reflections on how to overcome them.