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Religion Library: Buddhism

Vision for Society

Written by: Julia Hardy

As Buddhism spread and expanded, many Asian rulers welcomed the Buddhist organizations because they encouraged people to maintain strict moral principles, and some followed Ashoka's model as rulers. Ideally, the people benefited from a greater concern shown to them by rulers who considered their needs. They also received spiritual guidance and practical benefits. Rulers received the advantage of a well-behaved populace, and the monasteries received financial support and official recognition.

This was the ideal, and, as is often the case, the reality usually fell short of the ideal. Sometimes rulers disregarded the needs of the people. Sometimes the monasteries became wealthy and corrupt. Sometimes there were monks or lay people who mistreated and exploited others. Many times, however, rulers, monks, and communities benefited from supporting and cooperating with one another.

The specifics of Buddhist social organization changed with time and place, but the central idea of social harmony and cooperation between all levels of society remained a focal point of the religion as Buddhism moved from country to country. The goal was to unite the entire cosmos and all beings within it — whether god or human, animal or plant, living or dead — into one harmonious whole.

Study Questions:
1.      Why where Buddhist social structures first created?
2.     What did the Buddha's teachings offer to politicians? Why were the teachings beneficial to them, as well as their constituents?
3.     What was Buddhism's goal as it expanded?