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Full transcript here. In this episode, Graham Priest returns to discuss Buddhist political philosophy with me and Henry Curtis. (Last month, we talked with him about Buddhist metaphysics.) Click here to download Episode 124 of Elucidations.

Last month, we discussed the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism: that suffering happens, that this suffering is (partially) caused by emotional attachment, that you can deal with it by changing your headspace, and that you can change your headspace by understanding the world, understanding your mind and body, and treating other people well. In this episode, our guest adds something to that list, which he calls the ‘0-th noble truth’. This is the idea that suffering is bad. That idea appears as a foundational premise across many different Buddhist philosophical traditions, and he suspects that it can be used as the basis for political philosophy.

You might remember last month’s episode when we talked about anatman, which is the Sanskrit word for the Buddhist principle that there is no self. Priest makes the interesting proposal that the 0-th Noble Truth plus anatman gives us the view that we should care about suffering equally no matter who is suffering. We should just try to reduce the global amount of suffering anywhere in the world.

Graham Priest then argues that industrial capitalism is the cause of a lot of the suffering in today’s world. Countless numbers of people are compelled by circumstance to work in exploitative jobs that overwork and underpay them, while others reap the profit from their work. If that further claim is correct, then it would seem to lead to the conclusion that a political philosophy based on Buddhist ethics would have to propose some alternative to industrial capitalism.

Would a political system based Buddhist principles then have to look like socialism, or communism, or anarchism? Maybe, but it’s a bit complicated. Tune in to find out!

Matt Teichman

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Further Reading

Once again, Graham Priest has put together an incredible reading list, in case you would like to do a little background reading. You can read all of these papers of his for free in pre-print form:

Buddhist Ethics: A Perspective (2017)
Compassion and the Net of Indra (2015)
Marxism and Buddhism: Not such Strange Bedfellows (2018)

In addition, he recommends the following books by other authors:

Tantric State, William J. Long (2019)
Why the Dalai Lama is a Socialist, Terry Gibbs (2019)

You can also browse through the full archive of Graham Priest’s published papers here: