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Karl Marx & Buddhism
‘The class that possesses the means of material production, by virtue of this also possesses the means of spiritual production… The individuals composing the ruling class possess, among other things, consciousness as well, and by virtue of this, think. In so far, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and scope of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in all its spheres, hence rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age; and that means that their ideas are the dominant ones of the epoch.’ Marx and Engels
The 19th century saw the emergence in the West of a fledgling interest in the subject of Buddhism. In Germany and England, particularly toward the latter half of that century, important translation work began to appear in print, through the efforts of Max Muller and Samuel Beal, etc Karl Marx, of course, died in 1883 but it is reasonable to assume that he did have contact with Buddhist texts of one kind or another in the British Library and elsewhere, even if only briefly and in passing. During his young days at university in Berlin, and due primarily to his interest in Hegel, the study of religion was a very important aspect of his research. Compared to the over-all size of his collected works (50 volumes), his discussion of religion is surprisingly small considering his philosophically devastating criticism of it, a criticism based primarily upon the thinking of Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). Feuerbach, in his book entitled Essence of Christianity (1841), had suggested that Hegel’s assertion that humanity is essentially alienated spirit, or more specifically‘self-alienated God’, born into a physical world, is incorrect and opposite to the truth of the matter. Hegel had suggested that humanity is born into the world alienated from God, and that physical existence amounts to the opportunity of re-discovering, through experience, that divine intimacy. Feuerbach, using what he termed ‘transformational Criticism’ believed that he had discovered a fundamental flaw in the thinking of Hegel that could be corrected by simply inverting Hegel’s proposition, or to be more exact, transposing subject with predicate. More than this, however, Feuerbach believed that in so doing, a scientifically valued principle would be revealed. Instead of accepting the Hegelian notion that spirit creates, or gives rise to physical matter, Feuerbach asserted that in fact physical matter gives birth to spirit. This is the basis of the Marxian criticism of religion, and effectively dismisses all creationalist theology as being the product of human imagination. Humanity is born into a physical world, and through the use of the mind, creates false constructs of ‘something else’ that exists ‘somewhere else’, but is never in the present ‘here and now’.
This new way of looking at Hegel’s work may be construed as materialistic, and indeed it does speak of the physical world being directly available to the senses. However, in reality it is primarily a theory of psychology that describes thought processes and their origination within the mind. As a transformed theory it has nothing to say upon the possible origination, or nature of the physical world itself, and although there is a danger of interpreting it as ‘materialist’, it is important to remember that Marx referred to the good use of the mind as ‘spiritual’, even if he is using this term in a special sense. Early Buddhism, that is the teachings of the Buddha as found in the Pali texts, has an equally indifferent approach to the origination of the physical world. The Buddha taught that suffering originates within the mind due to attachment to experiences of the external world, as these experiences are interpreted through the psychological filter of greed, hatred, and delusion. Both philosophers (i.e. Marx and Buddha) agreed that humanity suffers, and both advocated a radical transformation to end this suffering.
When Karl Marx worked as a journalist for the New York Daily Tribune, he wrote in March 1854 the following despatch:
"...the religion of the Tartars is Buddhism, and Tibet, the seat of the great Lama ... is the sanctuary of the Buddhist faith… Now on both sides of the Himalayas Buddhism is confessed and as England cannot but support the new Chinese dynasty, the Czar is sure to side with the Tartar tribes, put them in motion against England and awake religious revolts in Nepal itself."
He was commenting on current events and not writing as an academic, but his treatment of Buddhism appears respectful as would be expected. This demonstrates that Marx had at least a working understanding of Buddhism at that time and certainly understood the regional importance of the Dalai Lama and of Tibet. He even appears to hint of a difference between Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism and the implications this might have for world events, particularly the Buddhist (and Hindu) country of Nepal, but generally speaking, Marx had virtually nothing else to say on the matter of Buddhism even though he knew of its importance for a large portion of humanity. This is why it is important to examine the theoretical basis of the Marxian critique of religion and strive to ascertain whether its premise included all philosophical and spiritual paths, or whether it was specifically designed to counter only theologically based, monotheistic religious constructs. Whatever the case it is clear that Marx did not advocate a physical attack on religion or its adherence. Instead he suggested that as the conditions of outer society improved, there would be an ever decreasing psychological and physical need to create and adhere to theological constructs, as the outer circumstances of society would eventually evolve to such a degree that imaginary escapism through religion would die out quite naturally with no need for the use of force. This demonstrates that the various regimes in history that have referred to themselves as ‘Marxist’, and who openly attacked and oppressed religion and its adherence (including Buddhism), have fundamentality misunderstood the thinking of Karl Marx.
Through the 50 volumes that comprise his collected works, Karl Marx (1818–1883), is considered the founder of scientific socialism. He is viewed as a staunch materialist who taught that all religions were pointless, as they fundamentally mislead humanity and prevent, through their man-made dogma, the systemic improvement that society requires if the standard of life for the ordinary people is to be radically and permanently transformed. This viewpoint, although common, is a mixture of fact and fiction. It is true that religion is essentially conservative in nature and assumes a priori that their teachings are the product of divine inspiration and not of the minds of men. A religion strives to maintain the integrity of its philosophical and physical presence in the world by convincing each new generation of its uniqueness, and in so doing preventing any new thoughts, or thoughts that if allowed to develop free of the influence of dogma, would facilitate the advancement of humanity. However, Marx wrote comparatively little about religion, but instead philosophically critiqued the capitalist system through the study of political economy. He did not speculate on the nature of the universe, but rather developed a system of philosophy that clearly interpreted the inherent inequalities within the economy. From a purely economic perspective, Marx wrote that whoever controlled the means of production controls the manner of thought within society. This is not a statement on the nature of the universe, or a theory regarding the origination of matter. In this respect Marx can not be called a materialist in the strict sense of the word, although it is true that due to the later development of the theory ‘dialectical materialism’ by Georgi Plekhanov, he is often associated with it. He was of the opinion that the condition of the outer, material world, dictates the condition of the interior of the mind. In this respect Marx used the term‘spiritual’, not to refer to a theological attribute, or religious state of being, but rather in reference to the creation of good and progressive thought. The Marxian interpretation of the term ‘spiritual’ is linked inherently to the healthy and advanced function of the human mind. Therefore it must be understood that the Marxian criticism of religion is not aimed at the progressive use of the human mind, but rather at the mind that formulates theological constructs that manifest in the world as established religions. Marx views theological religion as arising within the human mind, but presenting the false assertion that the physical establishment of the religion precedes man’s apparent awareness of it. Marx writes;
‘The foundation of irreligious criticism is this; man makes religion, religion does not make man. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state and this society produce religion’s inverted attitude to the world because they are an inverted world themselves.’
It is obvious that Karl Marx extolled the use of the human mind and was not criticising it per se when he wrote about the inverted perspective of religion. If religion is an idea produced in the mind, then Marx is criticising a particular type of thought, rather than the psychic mechanism that produces thought itself. For Marx, religion was a theological construct that taught humanity to believe in something that could not be seen, or proven to exist. Theological religion replaces the need for empirical evidence with that of the generation of a blind faith. The faith is necessarily ‘blind’ because it must ignore the complete lack of evidence or proof that would justify its presence. In a material world, the faithful often seize upon any number of physical circumstances to add purpose to their belief system. In all theological religions, the reward for a faithful life is believed to be experienced following the death of the physical body. The reward is always somewhere else and never situated in the present moment. Marx writes;
‘…the struggle against religion is indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world and the soul of soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people… The criticism of religion is therefore the germ of the criticism of the valley of tears whose halo is religion’
The tyranny of oppressive and unjust outer circumstances in the world, create the inner psychological conditions for the notions of theological religion to emerge as an idea. Whilst living in a physical world of suffering where there is no chance of social change, those who are socially powerless resort to creating a rich inner world of escapism. This inner world accepts implicitly that nothing can be changed, and so nothing is solved here and now by the theological religion that emerges. Marx likens this interior creation of thought and emotion as an opiate, the effect of which prevents humanity from seeing clearly exactly what is going on, and what could be done to change it. The mind of theological religion is clouded and can not produce the advanced thinking that Marx referred to as ‘spiritual’. Once the Marxian attitude toward theological religion is established, the question must be asked as to whether it is directly applicable to the self-developmental philosophy of Buddhism.
Karl Koppen (1808 - 1863) was a Young Hegelian in 1830’s Berlin, and was a very good friend of Karl Marx. Marx had met him at university, and so taken was Koppen with the thinking of Marx, that he dedicated his book entitled ‘Frederick the Great and his Opponents’ to him. Koppen was a history teacher who would eventually become an expert upon the origins of Buddhism. Although Marx did not write a great deal about religion in his own developed writing, it is known that whilst at university in Berlin, he made an extensive study of the Judeo-Christian religion, and explored the Greek philosophy of Socrates as presented by Plato, Stoicism, and the teachings of Aristole. Of course, this extensive learning was carried-out in conjunction with the study of Leibniz, Hume, Kant, and Hegel, as well as many others. Although Buddhism was known in the West at this time, particularly through the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche, it is doubtful whether its presence was either substantial or complete. It is interesting to note, however, that the great German Pali scholar and translator Max Muller (1823-1900) was a contemporary of Karl Marx, but nevertheless, the presence of Buddhism in the West at this time (i.e. the 19th century) was in its infancy, and reliable source materials and translations were extremely thin on the ground. More than this, however, the understanding of Buddhism in its cultural context within Asian society was virtually unknown within Germany. Buddhism as it existed in the West at that time was essentially fragmented and incomplete, but it is possible that the young Marx was aware of it as a system of thought originating within the East, even if such an appreciation was vague and lacking reliable academic texts. The point is that Marx was not unaware that there existed in the world systems of philosophy that were not necessarily predicated upon the theological notion of monotheistic thinking. Greek philosophy, for instance, particularly the lineage of Plato, demands that the spiritual seeker disciplines and directs the mind, whilst controlling the body through behaviour modification – incidentally two developmental traits associated with Buddhist thinking.
Marx was opposed to predicating philosophical observation (and the making of theory) upon the notion of ‘idealism’. Feuerbach placed the material world at the fore-front of philosophical speculation, and as Marx adhered to Feuerbach’s theory (although not without criticism), he is often accused of supporting gross materialism. However, ‘idealism’in this regard, and as used by Feuerbach, refers to the Judeo-Christian notion that the physical universe was created out of nothing by a monotheistic entity. This is what Hegel meant when he taught that spirit creates matter; he was simply creating a philosophy that has its roots in the Judeo-Christian theology. As humanity was believed to ‘know’ the divine primarily through the mind, the ‘mind’ became implicitly associated with religious understanding and attainment, and it is through this association that Judeo-Christian spirituality has become confused with the intellectual use of the mind, or the mind processes in general. The Marxian critique of religion is not a critique of the mind or its processes; Marx never taught that possessing or using a human mind was incorrect, or the product of physical circumstance in the existential sense. What he criticised was a particular use of the mind. He understood that physical circumstances have an effect upon what is thought, and the kind of habitual thought patterns that the mind creates and sustains. Although the physical world is always in front of the mind, so to speak, it is the use of the mind itself that has the potential to transform the circumstances of that physical world as it is experienced: Marx and Engels wrote;
‘Man can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.’
Marx did not deny either the existence or the importance of consciousness in the mind, but protested about its habit of creating monotheistic, theological constructs in response to the facing of difficult physical circumstance that push the individual psychologically back upon himself, and thus creates a physical paralysis that prevents the individual from acting in the world to bring about a constructive change in society and its organisation. Theological religion becomes a means for mass psychological and physical paralysis that is both theoretical and practical, as nothing can change, and the only choice is one of replicating the straitjacket. Marx believed that the mind was the great innovator, and that to achieve its maximum spiritual output, it must be freed of the psychological (and physical) trap of theological religion. Obviously it is not the case that all physical circumstance create all psychological thought, as if in a closed system; after all, Marxian philosophy is a system of thought created by a man who lived within bourgeois, capitalist society, and yet despite the obvious conditioning this physical existence would have guaranteed, Karl Marx was able to use his intellect to ‘see through’ the reality he inhabited, and in so doing fully understood the conditioning that had led to its creation. This suggests that even within the context of mind-environment interaction there exists what might be referred to as a ‘transcendent’ quality. Although the physical world and its associated psychological patterns are habitually replicated from one generation to the next, there does exist, according to the thinking of Marx, the ability to radically transform the continuous mind-environment interaction. Marx and Engels wrote;
‘The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct effect of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc. Men are a product of their conceptions, ideas, etc…’
This philosophical statement is very close to a number of Buddhist teachings upon the mind and existence. The Buddha emphasises the transformation of the physical world through the transformation of the individual mind that observes it. By replacing hatred with compassion, and ignorance with wisdom, human interaction is transformed from within the mind through the method of meditation, and as a consequence the nature of physical existence is transformed. The Buddha states;
‘Mind is the forerunner of (all evil) states. Mind is chief, mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with wicked mind, because of that, suffering follows one, even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox.’
Merely changing the physical world, for either Marxism or Buddhism, does not necessarily transform the mind of those who inhabit it. Both schools of thought require the mind to undergo a radical re-education. Within Classical Marxism, this is the study of the writings of Marx and Engels, the debating of these writings, and the development of understanding of these writings through familiarity with all their complexity of meaning. The mind is transformed through exposure to the philosophical observations contained within the numerous texts, and a new psychological perspective emerges that is the product of education and constructive criticism. Within Buddhism, a path of rigorous self-disciple is imposed upon the practitioner. Through the careful control of the physical body, behaviour modification is achieved. Through the control of the physical body, effective meditation, or disciplining of the mind can take place. By disciplining the body the mind is not distracted from its intended course of self-transformation. The thinking process itself is brought under a strict control, and through the continuous replication of the technique of meditation, the thought processes are eventually, and permanently transformed – regardless of the pressure associated with physical circumstances of the existential society. For the Buddhist, theoretical guidance is found within the numerous texts that comprise the Buddhist sutras, and through the wisdom of Buddhist masters who have already trodden the path of self-cultivation. Both Marxism and Buddhism share the same notion that a living founder, who was not a god, or otherwise divinely inspired, used the power of his mind to ‘see’ more than others see. This is because, as two distinct philosophical schools, Marxism and Buddhism place humanity firmly in the centre of creation with no need for theological justifications or embellishments. Both systems view the mind as the decisive factor in human transformation, and acknowledge that the material world is dangerous, unpredictable, and full of suffering. Once these extensive similarities of structure and content between Marxism and Buddhism are understood, it is now possible to assess whether Buddhism can be justifiably subjected to the Marxian critique of religion as described above.
Through his writings, Marx suggests that religion is the human response to an unjust world. Religion, in this model, is the inner reflection of this outer suffering that is simultaneously ‘mythologicalised’ within the mind, to benefit the individual in an imaginative sense. As Marx views religion as essentially an imaginative construct of the individual mind, it can not be taken seriously in the scientific assessment of the world and its working. For Marx, it is a truism that physical suffering creates religion. Through the Buddhist teachings it is clear that the historical Buddha lived a life of comparative luxury and ease.  He did not want for any thing, and all his needs were instantaneously met. He was well educated, physically fit, and allowed to fully engage his sexual appetite. He was of the Kshatriya caste, and his father is often presented as a king of a region in north India. The texts say that he lived in a palace, but this may be taken to mean a substantial dwelling suitable to the India of the day. The Buddha’s name was Siddharta Gautama and he lived between 563-483BCE, although there is some debate regarding the exactness of these dates. He was brought up within the Brahmanic tradition of ancient India, and Karl Marx obviously understood this when he wrote about the establishment of the caste system within India which was the effect of an ancient foreign invasion;
‘While these foreign intruders made themselves, as princes, soldiers, priests and landholders, the masters of the country, the original population, pressed more and more toward the southern extremity of the peninsula, were included in the inferior caste of Sudras, handicraftsmen and artisans, wholly excluded from political or intellectual influence, and restricted exclusively to industrious labour as the servants of the higher classes.
After the country had been thus ruled, nobody knows for how many ages, but not without violent internal commotions and bloody religious quarrels, which ended in the expulsion of the Buddhists – who seem to have been a sort of Brahmanical rationalists from India, and the complete triumph of the orthodox creed, not, however, without incorporating into itself, as generally happens in such cases, many of the ideas and superstitions of the rival faith…’
Marx presents Buddhism as a form of Brahmanical rationalism, acknowledging the cultural roots of Gautama (Brahmanism), and the fact that his new teaching was based upon rationality and reason. The Buddha, of course, rejected the teaching of caste as not useful for the relieving of human suffering, and although acknowledging the many gods of Brahmanism as existing, he removed the requirement of worshipping these theological constructs, and replaced reliance upon divine entities with the reliance upon the human mind only. The human mind became central to self-cultivation and through the use of meditation; its thought constructs are radically transformed and permanently altered. The Buddha uses the concept of ‘awareness’ to replace blind faith in objects that can not be seen, or may or may not exist. The awareness cultivated by the Buddha strictly observes outer physical phenomenon whilst simultaneously observing the inner psychological response to such circumstances. Through this observation, will power is used to prevent unwholesome or otherwise destructive thoughts from arising within the mind, and ensures that only positive thought constructs are generated. This system of meditation was developed not because the Buddha was dissatisfied with his life circumstance, far from it, if the sutras are to be taken literally, he experienced nothing but pleasure, but rather because when he finally ventured outside of his palace environment, he was suddenly made aware of illness, old age, and death. This was a profound shock that can not be underestimated. Never before had the Buddha witnessed such suffering, as such suffering was kept from him whilst in the palace. It was only when he mixed with the ordinary people of his kingdom that he finally saw how people actually lived. The basic situation was one of poverty, hunger, and death for the common people. The Buddha, coming as he did from the Brahmanical system, assumed a priori that the cause of human suffering lay exclusively within the mind and not the environment (contrary to Marx), but in so doing abandoned the theologically led, polytheistic religion of his family and community. Blessings from divine beings, acquired through acts of worship, were replaced by the physical discipline of the body, and the enforced re-education of the mind. In a sense the Buddha transformed physical circumstance not by changing those circumstance, but rather by changing how those circumstance were perceived in the mind. When perception is permanently altered, or as the Buddha taught, when reality is actually perceived clearly free of greed, hatred, and delusion, then the world is no longer tainted by greed, hatred, or delusion. This state was achieved by the Buddha who gave up his life of luxury and became a homeless beggar. Such was his compassion for those that he saw suffering that he voluntarily entered exactly the same set of poverty stricken circumstance as they, to experience the same suffering. It was within these circumstances that his psychological transformation occurred, free from the influence and limitations of theological religion.
Marx, of course, did advocate an attitude of ‘practical materialism’ for all those who consider themselves communists. He saw the physical world itself as the means of humanity’s enslavement, and its transformation the means for their salvation, but ‘Marxism’, that is the thinking of Karl Marx, is just that – a construct of the mind. It did not originate in the physical world but emerged from a human mind. It is an idea about the physical world; an idea that places the physical world before the ‘thought’ construct that has conceived and understood it. Karl Marx was a philosopher, but his developed thinking evolved around economics and the structure of society. Through labour (i.e.‘work’) society is both maintained and transformed. The effects of labour are seen within the physical environment, and it is the physical environment that serves as the area of focus for Karl Marx. This analysis is the materialism of practicality that Marx refers to in his work. It has nothing to say about the origination of matter and does attempt to comment about subjects beyond its remit. Marx often emphasises materialism of this nature because it is key to his entire critique of capitalism. Concomitant with this emphasis is the embracing of atheism, as theological religion, as we have seen, is presented by Marx as a psychological dysfunction that serves as a distraction to the perception of reality. This is very similar to the attitude toward gods that is found in the early Buddhist sutras, although the Buddha does not go as far as to deny the existence of divine entities – through his teachings the Buddha simply states that whether gods are present or not, they have no power over human beings with regard to the attainment of enlightenment. The Buddhist perspective is that humanity must save itself through its own efforts. Like Marx, the Buddha (within early Buddhism) does not speculate on the origination or nature of the physical world, and considers such speculation to be unproductive on the path to enlightenment. The Buddha does not deny the existence of a material world and within early Buddhism appears to be explaining the enlightened mind as one which is free of greed, hatred, and delusion, whilst inhabiting a body that lives in a physical world. As the mind has extinguished all desire and ignorance, it abides in the non-conditioned state of ‘Nibanna’ and all is at peace. There is no longer attachment to any aspect of the material world, the mind is empty of the notion of a permanent self, and no longer generates greed, hatred, and delusion as a reaction to it. The Marxian image is one of cultivating a desire (generated through insight), to change the organisation of society, and in so doing, completely reform the economic basis. Exploitation is replaced with equality, and superstition and religion are replaced with a reliance upon the study of science freed from bourgeois (i.e. middle class) control. The Buddha strives to completely end ‘desire’as a means to motivate human behaviour, because he sees suffering as a product of it. Of course, desire is initially used within Buddhism as a means to strive for enlightenment; a striving that ultimately achieves the transcendence of desire itself. For the Buddha, desire is used to end desire, whilst for Marx desire is the mechanism for social change.
Karl Marx did not make a detailed study about Buddhism, but it is clear from his comments that he knew of its existence and had a broad understanding of its workings. Buddhists, of course, would not refer to their religion as ‘Brahmanical’ as Marx does. Contemporary Buddhism, for instance, is very different to Brahmanism (or ‘Hinduism’), despite the fact that certain Hindus view the Buddha as an avatar of the Brahmanic god Vishnu. The Buddha clearly criticised the caste system and did not advocate the worship of gods, or the making of sacrifices, etc. He declared these practices unprofitable in spiritual cultivation, and even disagreed with the Brahmanic notion of deterministic karma. He does appear to have accepted the existence of the Brahmanic pantheon, but in so doing disempowered these divine entities. Furthermore, he often referred to their presence as transitory, impermanent, and of an illusionary nature. The Buddha, through his enlightened attitude moved a substantial philosophical distance away from the Brahmanism of his day, but from a historical perspective, it is known that he was a product of a high caste within Brahmanism. Marx is correct in his reading of the superficial or surface history of Buddhism, but as he refers to Buddhism as ‘rationalist’, it is reasonable to speculate that he had read about Buddhist teachings and had a working appreciation of their philosophical structure. For Marx, the suffering of humanity is the product of the exploitative society. He advocated a physical transformation of society that would bring about justice and equality in the physical world, and in so doing create in the individual mind’s of humanity an entirely ‘new’ and positive psychological state. This advanced inner state would be maintained and developed by an outer society that would endorse and encourage its presence and development throughout history. The Buddha was not interested in the social or economic nature of the physical world. He viewed all human interaction as the product of deluded desire, and to change one form of social interaction for another would be tantamount to merely changing the outer presentation of deluded desire, regardless of any benefit such a transformation might entail, which the Buddha viewed as impermanent and transitory. Instead, the Buddha viewed human suffering as always existing in the unenlightened mental state, regardless of the socio-economic system that prevailed. In other words, it did not matter for the Buddha whether society was feudal, capitalist or communist; the human mind would still be infected with the presence of greed, hatred, and desire, and human behaviour still motivated by delusion. A deluded mind inhabiting otherwise good or pleasurable circumstance is still, according to the Buddha, suffering in the state of delusion. Furthermore, the Buddha taught that no social conditions are forever lasting – as all conditioned things come into existence, are prone to change and transformation, and eventually pass away. The Buddha saw the transitory nature of physical phenomena and defined human suffering as holding the false idea that things are permanent when in fact they are not. Revolutionising society, for the Buddha, was just another example of suffering caused by change; there was no point in doing it, if the human mind was not purified of greed, hatred, and delusion, as these attributes would simply re-emerge in the ‘new’society and corrupt any advancement made. The Buddha taught that ultimately human suffering lies primarily within the mind and that through the transformation of the mind, the environment is transformed (through a change in perception), even if no social structures are actually changed. Marx would probably view this perspective as ‘idealist’ and disagree with its ‘mind-centric’ perspective. Marx wrote;
‘We shall, of course, not take the trouble to enlighten our wise philosophers by explaining to them that the “liberation” of “man” is not advanced a single step by reducing philosophy, theology, substance and all the truth to “self-consciousness” and by liberating man from the domination of these phases, which have never held them in thrall. Nor will we explain to them that it is only possible to achieve real liberation in the real world and by employing real means, that slavery cannot be abolished without the steam-engine and the mule and spinning-jenny, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture, and that, in general, people cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. “Liberation” is a historical and not a mental act, and it is brought about by historical conditions, the (development) of industry, commerce, agriculture, the conditions of intercourse.' 
Marx did not agree with the idea that liberation was a ‘mental act’, after all his work aims at the liberation of society as a whole, and not necessarily of the individual, although implicit in the thinking of Marx is the idea that individuals achieve liberation as a class. This liberation is not achieved through an individual act of introverted self-study, but rather through the consequence of the interplay of historical forces (i.e. ‘historical materialism’), which Marx believed would inevitably transform an advanced capitalist society into firstly a socialist society, and then into a communist society. This is the power of unstoppable historical forces which individuals have no choice but to be swept up in. Marx views his notion of liberation as the inevitable unfolding of history that leads to the eventual achievement of a communist state and his philosophical interpretation of that process to be ‘scientific socialism’. It is interesting to note in passing that nowhere in the collected works does Marx actually explain what form a communist society would take. His theory explains the past, critiques the present, and predicts the future. Marx can do this because he believes that he has perceived trends of related activity within social history, that repeat in transformative cycles, and that the industrial age – the age of his era – will usher in the conditions that will eventually lead to an entirely new society that can not be explained satisfactorily from the intellectual premise of the current society.
What are the implications for Buddhism of the Marxian perspective? From a recent historical perspective it has been devastating. Regimes, following the Bolshevik (i.e. Leninist) line, openly interpreted Marx to mean that religion was the product of ignorance that its teachings misrepresentative of the true human condition. As a result the USSR oppressed Buddhism, and ethnically cleansed Buddhist populations, and countries like China and Cambodia initiated full-scale attacks upon a religion that was once the predominant spiritual expression within their respective cultures. The problem with this behaviour is that it did not follow the thinking of Lenin who was of the opinion that religion should be a private affair and have no state power. He interpreted Marx to mean that as society transformed into socialism and then communism, the outer conditions of injustice that once justified the existence of religion would fall away, and that as a consequence the need for religion would eventually die out. The new society would possess the conditions to fully satisfy the intellect of humanity, and as a consequence spirituality would be replaced with sublime thinking. Today, for instance, the communist country of China has realised this error and is now allowing the practice of Buddhism again. It is doubtful whether Buddhism is a religion in the Western sense, although it seems that Marx interpreted it as such. The Buddha’s path is premised upon the notion of relieving suffering – just as Marx defines a religion to be, and yet there is much more to Buddhist philosophy than its historical association with its Brahmanic past. In many ways associating Buddhism with Brahmanism, although technically correct, is nevertheless misrepresenting it and distorting its unique ‘mind-centric’ approach to suffering. This misrepresentation would be the equivalent of viewing the developed work of Karl Marx as being a ‘rational’ and ‘secular’ re-invention of Judeo-Christian theology (his ancestors were Jewish), with a communist state representing a heaven on earth, and communist ideologues replacing priestly authority, etc. Such associations are convenient but philosophically naïve, and interpretively unhelpful. Whatever the philosophical differences that exist between the teachings of Buddha and Karl Marx; it is true to say that both men were driven by compassion to seek an end to humanity’s suffering. Both devised sophisticated philosophical systems that explained a distinct method to attain freedom, and in so doing both denied the relevance of theological religion. Neither the Buddha, nor Karl Marx explained the ultimate state of freedom; instead both men taught exactly what this state ‘is not’. Enlightenment for the Buddha is the end of delusive desire, whilst a communist state for Marx is the end result of a capitalist state that has fully transformed itself whilst travelling through the intermediate state of socialism. The ultimate aims of both systems are precise and yet remain vague. Enlightenment is not delusion; communism is not capitalism, and yet both states are presented as solving existential suffering. Out of any other religion or philosophy in the world, it is Buddhism that shares a close proximity to developed Marxian thought. Although Marx was aware of Buddhism it remains a matter of speculation as to the depth of knowledge he possessed about the subject, simply because reliable and genuine knowledge was thin on the ground in Europeduring his life time. Perhaps if he had been able to make an in depth study of Buddhism, and actually met real Buddhists, he might well have written a text about Buddhism explaining its unique nature, and why it can not be associated with his criticism of theological religion.
When comparing the communist ideal of Karl Marx and the enlightenment achievement of the Buddha, an interesting parallel emerges. This parallel reveals possible connection between the two distinct philosophical accomplishments. The Buddha’s path is designed to eradicate from within the mind the delusive taints of greed, hatred, and delusion. Such an accomplishment eradicates from the mind any notion of greed and reveals a state of compassionate feeling toward humanity and the world. The world, of course, is transformed not from without, but from within, and to all intents and purposes remains structurally the same even after enlightenment has been realised. It is the way the world is viewed from within that change the life condition for the Buddhist. As greed has been eliminated, and there is no longer competition for resources inspired by hatred of those who possess more, and the need to despise those who have less, the enlightened Buddhist exists in a state of harmonious tranquillity, treating all with equality. The Communist State suggested by Karl Marx as the highest level of evolutionary development for humanity, emerges through collective effort of all in society. It is essentially an outward effort based entirely within society itself. Society eventually, and inevitably transforms from the greed inspired capitalist system that outgrows its relevance through excessive economic development, into that of a much fairer Socialist system that facilitates social justice across the board. These social changes also transform the psychology of those who experience them. The greed that inspires and fuels the capitalist system gives way to universality of class consciousness, which is signified through the development of engaging in actions that benefit the well being of many others, sometimes to the detriment of the individual. The transition to Socialism requires that selfishness is replaced with selflessness. Marx never adequately described a Communist State, but believed that it would be vastly superior, both morally and practically, to the prevalent capitalist system. It is a state of social being that is as yet unrealised in the world. Communism requires a lack of greed and this is exactly what the Buddha taught, and it could be suggested that the enlightened Buddhist mind attains an inner state of communism that prepares the way for the attainment of the outer state of communism as envisaged by Karl Marx himself. Although Buddhism as an idealist teaching appears in opposition to the essentially materialist derived Marxist philosophy, perhaps it is the case that the two schools of thought are in fact opposite and yet complementary, as they both endeavour, through differing means, to achieve a fairer, peaceful, and more advanced form of human interaction and culture.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2013.
On Communist Education: By MI Kalinin Page 139 – quoted from The German Ideology, chapter 2 entitled‘Concerning the Production of Consciousness’.
 The Marx-Engels Reader: By RC Tucker – Pages xxii-xxiii.
 What the Buddha Taught: By Walpola Rahula for a reliable discussion on early Buddhism as preserved within the Theravada tradition.
 Marxism in Buddhist Perspective: By Victor Gunasekara < http://www.vgweb.org/bsq/marxbud.htm> Accessed 20.4.13.
Karl Marx – A Biography: By David McClellan – Page 78.
Karl Marx – A Biography: By David McClellan – Page 79.
Karl Marx – A Biography: By David McClellan – Page 25.
 The Marx-Engels Reader: By RC Tucker – Page 150 from The German Ideology.
The Marx-Engels Reader: By RC Tucker – Page 154 from The German Ideology.
The Dhammapada: By Narada Thera – Page 1.
What the Buddha Taught: By Walpola Rahula - Pages xv-xvi for a basic biography of the Buddha.
 Karl Marx on India: Edited By Iqbal Husain – Page 247. New York Daily Tribune, September 1, 1857. Printed as a leading article – Marx discussing the Sepoy Revolt in India.
The Marx-Engels Reader: By RC Tucker – Page 169 from The German Ideology