Of all the thinkers of the nineteenth century it is Karl Marx who has most influenced the events of the twentieth. He has been adored by those who see in him the champion of the causes they espouse, and derided by others for whom he is the very epitome of everything that is evil and destructive. It is thus not surprising that objective evaluations of his theories are rare. Marx has also suffered the fate of many original thinkers whose ideas have been modified, elaborated, and transformed to the extent that they have departed considerably from their original meaning. It will be recalled that the same fate has befallen the teachings of the Buddha, which have been subjected to a much greater process of transformation, sometimes to the extent of transmuting their very essence. But in the case of Marx, because of the proximity of his times, we have a complete record of his writings. In spite of this various interpretations; purporting to represent what Marx "really meant" began to appear even in his own lifetime leading Marx to deny that he as a Marxist (cf. Marx's purported remark to Paul Lafargue: "Moi, je ne suis pas marxiste!" ). In this article by "Marxism" we shall mean the theories advanced by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (who was the alter ego of Marx and co-founder of his system), rather than the later elaborations based on their theories.
A great deal has been written on Marx who was one of the most eminent of Western thinkers. But hardly any of this is from the Buddhist standpoint. Modern Buddhists are not noted for their critical examination of Western philosophical and religious theories, and their attitude to Marx has been no different. But if Buddhism is to be better known in the West an examination of its relationship to Western ideas, of which Marxism is one, is necessary. This essay is a modest step in that direction.Marx wrote extensively on religion but not on Buddhism which he did not really encounter.
But if Buddhism did not come to the attention of Marx, Marxism came to the Buddhists of Asia in altogether different and unfortunate circumstances. They encountered two diametrically opposed views on Marxism. One was from the apologists of colonialism who wanted to paint Marx in the worst possible light; the other was from "Marxist" revolutionaries who had seized power in various parts of Asia where a Buddhist presence had existed for several centuries Both versions were distortions - the colonialists had an interest in promoting the emergence of right-wing regimes, and the revolutionaries advanced versions of Marxism that had gone through the distorting prisms of national revolutionaries like Lenin, Stalin or Mao-tse-Tung. Both sides uncritically used the strictures that Marx had made against "religion" to represent him as an opponent of Buddhism. This revealed an ignorance not only of Buddhism but also of Marxism on the part of both sides. There has therefore been no real encounter between the ideas of Marx and those of the Buddha.
Marx wrote extensively on religion and philosophy, especially in his early years when these subjects were his major concern. His most authoritative writings on these subjects were completed in the 1840s . After the publication of the Communist Manifesto (1848) Marx's attention turned to economics and politics, but these were based on the philosophical foundations he had established earlier. It is only recently that interest has turned to the writings of the young Marx, many of which were published only in the last 50 years. During these early years Marx was completely unaware that a Buddha had existed in far-away India some 24 centuries before his time.
There is a reference in Marx's doctoral dissertation (written in 1840) on Democritus to the story that Democritus "had met the gymnosophists in India" (it being recalled that by "gymnosophists" the early Greeks meant the Indian sramanas, which included the Buddhist sangha). In an article in the Reinishe Zeitung in 1842 Marx refers to the Dalai Lama as "God's representative" which shows his ignorance on that subject at that time. It was only after he was appointed the European correspondent to the New York Daily Tribune (in 1852) that Marx began to follow events in Asia. The first direct reference to Buddhism occurs, as far as I can ascertain, in a despatch in March 1854. Referring to Anglo-Russian rivalry in Central Asia he wrote:
But this is simply journalistic speculation. The first reference to Buddhist doctrines occurs in an article on Burma written by Engels for the New American Cyclopaedia in 1858. He wrote:"...the religion of the Tartars is Buddhism, and Thibet, 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."
Unfortunately Engels does not describe or examine what he calls the "ancient faith" which must refer to original Buddhism; but he seems to be aware that Buddhism as practiced in Asian countries was a corruption of this original doctrine. There does not seem to be any other direct discussion of Buddhism in the writings of Marx and Engels. [Marx and Engels, Collected Works (London, 1975f), Vol.I, pp.41,199; vol.XIII, p.41; Vol.XV, p. 282]."The Burmese are Buddhists by faith, and have kept the ceremonies of their religion freer from intermixture with other religions than elsewhere in India and China, and their monks are more than usually faithful to their vows of poverty and celibacy. Toward the close of the last century, the Burmese state religion was divided by 2 sects, or offshoots froe the ancient faith. The first of these entertained a belief similar in some respects to pantheism believing that the godhead is diffused over and through all the world and its creatures, but that it appears in its highest stages of development in the Buddhists themselves. The other rejects entirely the doctrine of metempsychosis, and the picture worship and cloister system of the Buddhists; considers death as the portal to an everlasting happiness or misery. according to the conduct of the deceased, and worship. one supreme spirit (Nat) ."
Max Müller has observed that in the 1840s "almost the only scholar [in Europe] who could read Pali texts was Eugene Burnouf". Even though Burnouf and Marx were both active in the Paris of the mid-1840s there is no evidence that either was aware of the interests of the other. It was only in the second half of the nineteenth century that scholarly works on Buddhism began to appear, but by this time Marx's views on religion were formed and his interests had moved to other subjects. In this early period Marx was aware of some aspects of Hinduism. In the German Ideology (1843) he wrote: "When the crude form of the division of labour which is to be found amongst the Indians and Egyptians calls forth the caste system in their state and religion, the historian believes that the caste system is the power which has produced this crude social form" (Collected Works, V, p.55). And later in 1853 Marx described what he calls the "religion of Hindustan" as follows: "That religion is at once a religion of sensualist exuberance, and a religion of self-torturing asceticism; a religion of the Lingam and the Juggernaut ; the religion of the Monk and the Bayadére ". However apposite these remarks may be of Hinduism they seem to imply that Marx was unaware that the Buddha had advanced a critique of the caste system, and shown the Middle Way between the two extremes of Hinduism.
Several sources contributed to the fashioning of Marx's ideas on philosophy and religion.
The immediate and most important single source was Friedrich Hegel, the German philosopher of Absolutist Idealism. But behind Hegel was Marx's own Judeo-Christian heritage. Both Marx and his father had been converted from Judaism to Christianity. Marx was to rebel against both. He initially joined the "left Hegelians" like Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner, but was soon to break with this group and carry their anti- Hegelian and "anti-Christian" critique to its logical conclusion. But in the process Marx absorbed some of the very principles that he was criticising , and he remained a Hegelian in his thinking (only, as he put it, he sought to stand Hegel "upside down"). One of Hegel's most important critics (and a rival for the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Berlin) was Arthur Schopenhauer , who had opposed a kind of subjective idealism to the "objective" idealism of Hegel. Schopenhauer was the European philosopher who had most absorbed "Indian" philosophical ideas such as was then known in Europe. But Marx was not impressed with Schopenhauer's ideas, and there are no references to him in his writings.
Schopenhauer s major work The World as Will and Idea was published in 1819, and at this time only Hindu works like the Bhagavadgita had been translated into Western languages. The first Buddhist work to be translated, the Dhammapada, appeared only in 1855. Because of the pessimistic tenor of Schopenhauer's philosophy some people see a similarity with Buddhism. But this is incorrect because the Dhamma is not pessimistic. Since Schopenhauer's ideas were closer to Hinduism than to Buddhism Marx's failure to accept any of Schopenhauer's views does not imply a total rejection of Buddhist philosophy had he known it.
It is best to begin with a consideration of what Marx understood by "religion", and whether this definition would encompass Buddhism. A classic statement in this regard occurs in the Introduction to his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel s Philosophy of Law (1844), which was the only part of this work to be published in Marx's life-time. In view of frequent misquotations from this source it is worth quoting the passage at some length:
Thus in Marx's view religion is an artificial creation of the human mind, seeking to explain that which appears inexplicable, to justify that which is often unjustifiable, and to console those who seek consolation. The purpose of religion is primarily to conceal reality in a veil of delusion. What Marx calls religion corresponds to what the Buddha would have called miccâ-di.t.ti, i.e. false views and metaphysical speculations aimed at refusing to see reality as it truly is (yathâbhuuta.m). Both are illusions, precisely in the same way that Freud, much later, was to consider religion an "illusion". Thus when Marx describes religion as the opiate of deluded people, this description cannot apply to the Dhamma which is not concerned with creating illusions, but with the analysis of reality. In fact Marx observes elsewhere that "Christianity is the religion par excellence" (V.III, p.30)."Religion is the self-consciousness and self-esteem of. man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being encamped outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state and society. This state, this society, produce religion, an inverted world-conciousness, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realisation of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress, and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." (Collected Works, V.111, p.175]
Engels unmasks the true nature of theistic religion in even more forthright and forceful language. Commenting on a book by Carlyle which itself had been critical of religion Engels writes:
"We too attack the hypocrisy of the present Christian state of the world; the struggle against it, our liberation from it and the liberation of the world from it are ultimately our sole occupation; but because through the development of philosophy we are able to discern this hypocrisy, and because we are waging the struggle scientifically the nature of this hypocrisy is no longer so strange and incomprehensible to us as it admittedly still is to Carlyle. This hypocrisy is traced back by us to religion, the first word of which is a lie - or does religion not begin by showing us something human and claiming it something superhuman, something divine? But because we know that all this lying and immorality follows from religion, that religious hypocrisy, theology, is the archetype of all other lies and hyporisy, we are justified in extending the term "theology" to the whole untruth and hypocrisy of the present, as was originally done by Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer." [V. III, p.462].
Marx's atheism was what has attracted the greatest ire of the religionists; it is also one of the points of contact he has with Buddhism. But how did he arrive at his atheistic standpoint? Hegel (a Lutheran) had considered Christianity the most absolute and perfect" religion, but his literal interpretation of the Bible was questioned by D.F.Strauss in his book Das Leben Jesu (1835). However while many of the "Young Hegelians" were prepared to accept Strauss' allegorical interpretation, and considered this a sufficiently radical position to take, Marx went to the root of the matter by examining the "arguments" for God's existence. Marx not only agreed with philosophers like Kant in rejecting the traditional arguments, but also rejected the "new" ones proposed by Kant. In fact he went further and showed that the so-called proofs for the existence of God were really proofs for his (or her or its) non-existence:
"... all proofs of the existence of God are proofs of his non-existence. They are refutations of all concepts of a God. The true proofs should have the opposite character: 'Since nature has been badly constructed God exists', 'Because this world is without reason, therefore God exists', 'Because there is no thought, there is God'. But what does that say, except that, for whom the world appears without reason, hence who is without reason himself, for him God exists? Or lack of reason is the existence of God". (Appendix to Doctoral Dissertation, V.1, pp.104-5
The argument that Marx advances here to disprove the existence of God is sometimes called the argument from evil". Furthermore it is one of the arguments adduced by the Buddha for the same purpose. There are several places in the Pali Cannon where such arguments occur. The following brief stanza from the Mahâbodhijâtaka (Jataka story No. 528, Jataka, ed. Fussb”ll, vol. V, p.238) establishes the point that Marx makes, viz. the very omnipotence postulated for God also makes him guilty:
"If God be who for every being can determine
States of happiness or woe, and actions good or ill
Then is that God stained with sin; man but works His will.
Issaro sabbalokassa sace kappeti jîvita.m
iddhivysanabhâ.n ca kamma.n kalyânapâpaka.m
nidessakâri puriso issaro tena lippati
Another place where the concept of Creator-God is rediculed is in the Bhuridatta- Jâtaka.
A different interpretation of Marx's atheism is given by Erich Fromm. In his Marx's Concept of Man (New York, 1961, p.64) he writes: Marx's atheism is the most advanced form of rational mysticism, closer to Meister Eckhart or to Zen Buddhism than are most of those fighters for God and religion who accuse him of godlessness . It is difficult to agree vith this Interpretation. Marx's atheism is based on rationalism, not mysticism; "rational mysticism" is a contradiction in terms. If there is any sympathetic echo in Buddhism to this aspect of Marx's thinking it has to be sought In the Pali suttas, and not in Zen Buddhism.
When we leave the critique of religion and God, where Buddhism and Marxism have something in common, and consider ether aspects, the differences in the two systems begin to emerge. These differences exist and are real; but they should neither be exaggerated nor minimised. We may commence by considering to what extent the three signata (tilakkhana) discouvered by the Buddha could be traced in Marx's writings.
The three fundamental laws discovered by the Buddha are that all phenomena are characterised by Impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) and insubstantiality (anatta). The proximity of any philosophical system to Buddhism could be gauged by the extent to which it affirms the existence of these three slignata" in phenomena. To apply this test to Marxism we have to identify the basic categories which Marxism uses in the analysis of phenomena, and see how far they are related to the signata of Buddhism. Now Marx frequently uses certain concepts, which he burrowed from Hegel but gave them his own interpretation, in the analysis of phenomena. These are: (1) the theory of the dialectic, (2) the notion of "contradiction", and (3) the concept of alienation. How far are these basic Marxian categories related to the Buddhist signata?
The dialectic has been defined as "the pattern or mechanism of development through inner conflict". A dialectical viewpoint considers motion and movement, and therefore change and impermanence, as central. One of Marx's persistent endeavours was to discover the "laws of motion" of phenomena. Admittedly he applied this only to history and social phenomena. Engels in his Dialectics of Nature attempted to extend its area of applicability further. Here we have a similarity with anicca. However to Marx, as to Hegel, the dialectic was a progressive movement "upwards", always toward some form of perfection. In anicca the emphasis is on the dissolution of phenomena, and there is no necessary implication of movement in any specific direction. Marx's presumption of an eventual ideal state (the inexorable triumph of communism) is infact a leftover from his Christian past. The Buddhist law of anicca assues that no such "promised land" could be found within conditioned existence.
When we come to consider how much of the fact of dukkha was recognized by Marx, we have to distinguish between two meanings of dukkha - its common meaning as empirical "suffering", and the more fundamental philosophical one "unsatisfactoriness" even of things which on the experiential level may. not be apprehendable as suffering. There is plenty of evidence of the recognition of the former by Marx, especially when he describes graphically the conflict and suffering caused by the working of the dialectical process in history. In the Communist Manifesto (1848) we read:
"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of the class stuggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitwtion of society ~t large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes".
What we see here is suffering on the social scale (not the individual suffering emphasised by the Buddha), a suffering which Marx thought he could alleviate but which he. realised could not be entirely eliminated. Freedom for Marx was only the "recognition of necessity", a necessity which will involve empirical suffering. However the notion of personal suffering, and suffering in its deeper philosophical aspects is not entirely absent in Marx. It shows itself only rarely, as for instance in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (which was published only in the 1930s and translated even later). Here Marx actually equates humanexistence with suffering. After establishing that real human beings (as against abstract humanity) are sentient beings (the actual word used by the translator is "sensuous") Marx goes on to say:
"To be sensuous, that is, to be really existing, means to be an object of sense, to be a sensuous object, and thus to have sensuous objects outside oneself - objects of one's sensuousness. To be sensuous is to suffer. Man as an objective, sensuous being is therefore a suffering being - and because he feels that he suffers, a passionate being. Passion is the essential power of man energetically bent on its object". (Collected Works, Vol.111, p.337J
Thus to Marx suffering (a word which he underlined in his manuscript for emphasis) is an essential dimension of human existence, and human beings (unlike animals) are concious of their suffering. Few other Western philosophers have recognised the centrality of suffering for the very quality of humanity, as Marx does in this quotation. Marx does not go on to analyse this personal (or "sensuous") aspect of suffering, and it is not found in his later writing.
The philosophical aspect of dukkha is also seen in Marx's theory of contradiction (Wiederspruch). All states of existence in phenomena are maintained in their equilibrium by contradictory forces. To the extent that "contradictions" characterise all conditioned phenomena (in the Buddhist sense), these phenomena are devoid of inner harmony and, hence of an ultimate perfection, i.e. they would be subject to dukkha in the Buddhist sense.
The central concept of Buddhisa is the concept of anatta the absence of an enduring essence in phenomena including human beings. While it is not possible to equate any of the Marxian categories to the Buddhist concept of anatta, it can be argued that Marx does arrive at a position somewhat close to this, if only as a consequence of his atheism. We have already seen (in the quotation from the Introduction to the Critique given above) that Marx asserts that "the human essence has no true reality", and that religion seeks to impute a "soul" to what are essentially "soulless conditions". These conclusions Marx arrived at through his analysis of the nature of human existence1 an analysis which provides some interesting comparisons with the Buddhist. Central to Marx's thinking in this area are his concepts of Entausserung (alienation) and Entfremdung (estrangement), both of which terms are usually referred to simply as "alienation". What Marx understood precisely by this term has.been the subject of some debate; one definition is the following by L.D.Easton and K.M.Guddat: "By alienation Marx meant, in general terms, that the projections of human experience in thought or social institutions are misleadingly seperated from man in abstract speculation and acquire a harmful power over him in his social life, dividing him from himself and his fellow men so that he is never truly whole and never truly 'at home'" (Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, New York, 1961, p.11). This definition euphasises that aspect of alienation which interested Marx the most, viz. the alienation of man-as-producer from the products of his labour. But several other aspects of alienation are also mentioned by Marx. One of these kinds of alienation is the alienation of man from his true nature which Marx calls the "species-being" (Gattungswesen) of man. It is because of this alienation that an artificial construct referred to variously as "human essence , "Ego", "soul", etc. becomes necessary. It is this aspect of Marx's theory of alienation that has some similarity with the Buddhist theory of anatta.
However Marx's theory is deficient as an anatta theory because he seems to trace the root cause of all alienation to the estrangement of man from his activity and from the products of that activity as brought about by various kinds of socio-economic system. Marx's calls this process the "estrangement of labour" and he says:
"Estranged labour turns ... man's species-being, both nature and his species-property, into a being alien to him, into a means for his individual existence. It estranges from man his own body, as well as external nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect" (Economic and philosophic manuscripts, Coll.Wks, Vol. III, p.277).
In Buddhism the belief in an ego or a human essence (sakkâyadi.t.ti) arises out of ignorance and its consequences like greed or grasping, and is not dependent on any parti cular socio-economic mode of production. Because Marx had a deficient psychological theory of man he had to seek the roots of human alienation at the socio-economic level. As such he cherished the hope that it was possible to order society in such a way as to end all forms of alienation. While this may be true of some forms of alienation, it is clear that for the elimination of that kind of alienation which results from the estrangement of man from his true nature (through the postulate of a fictitious ego), a re-ordering of society is neither necessary nor sufficient. Furthermore it is this kind of alienation which is the most fundamental, but it is the one kind of alienation to which Marx devoted the least attention. Marx's belief that in his ideal socio-economic system mankind would be freed of alienation and the consequent illusions and become "whole" again is one that has still to be tested. As with many other of Marx's prognoses it is doubtful whether this would be realized, but it is still to be seen.
Thus though traces of the signata could be discerned in Marx's writings he does not give to them the centrality that they occupy in Buddhism. This coupled with the fact that Marx was interested basically only in one aspect of human activity (the socio-economic) explains why he was not able to draw the full implications of those categories used by him which have some relation to the signata of Buddhism.
We next turn to those aspects of Marxism which appear to be the most irreconcilable with the Buddha-Dhamma. The first of these is Marx's materialism. Buddhism is usually considered to be a non-materialist, even anti-materialist doctrine, and several passage in the Buddha's discourses are interpreted as implying that the materialist philosophy is either unsatisfactory or false or both. What we have to determine is whether the materialism which Marx proclaims and the materialism which the Buddha denounces are one and the same.
The first thing to note is that "materialism" as propounded by Marx and Engels is not the same as that which is usually denounced by religionists. Thus Robert C. Tucker has observed: "In Marx's mind the ancient philosophical terms idealism and materialism have taken on unique new meanings.... To begin with by materialism he does not mean this term what we are accostomed to mean when we use it in philosophical discourse. It does not have a physical or mechanical or physiological connotation, nor does it question the reality of concious mind. It does not refer to a theory about the stuff of which the universe is composed, although Marx assumes that this is material stuff" (Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1972, p.178). Marx was careful to emphasise his new usage by calling his theory dialectical materialism as against the mechanistic materialism of some of the early Greek philosophers, and we may add, their counterparts in India (e.g. the Carvakas). For Marx dialectical materialism in nature is a theory of progress through contradictions; for social man it becomes a theory of history, i.e.Marx's theory of historical materialism according to which the "economic base" determines the social, political and intellectual "superstructure".
When we examine the Buddha's discourses to discover the counterpart to materialism, we come across several concepts which are similar to materialism in the conventional sense but not identical to it. We may mention only two such concepts here (which appear to be the closest). In the Brahmajâlasutta of the Digha Nikâya we come across the concept of ucchedavâda, which could be more accurately translated as "annihilatlonism"rather than materialism. There this doctrine is supposed to imply "the cutting off, the destruction, the annihilation of a living being", in the sense that on death the individal dissappears without any karmic residue. A similar concept is described in the Sandakasutta of the Majjhima Nikâya as atthikavâda. This could be translated as "affirmism" (or even existentialism), but "materialism" could also be used. In this sutta Ananda (who is expounding the Buddha's views to Sandaka) describes the views of those subscribing to this philosophy as follows:
"Charity nor sacrifice nor prayer bring any results; neither do actions lead to good or bad results; neither this world nor the world beyond exists; ... neither are there teachers in this world who on the basis of personally realized super-knowledge can say that a world and a world beyond exists. Man is made up of the four great elements and on death the earth part relapses into the earth, the fluid part to the water, energy to the fire, the windy part to the air, and ~he sense organs pass over to space... Such as those who affirm this doctrine of materialism i'idulge in vain, false and empty talk. At the break-up of the body fools and the wise alike are annihilated and destroyed, but not are they after death".
"N'atthi dinna.m, n'atthi yi.t.ta.m n'atthi huta,m, n'atthi suk.tadukka.tâna.m kammâna.m phala.m vipâko, n'atthi aya.m loko n'atthi paro loko, ... n'atthi loke samanabrâhmanâ sammagatâ sammâpa.tipannâ ye ima.m ca loka.m para¤ ca loka.m saya.m abhi¤¤â sacchikatvâ pavedenti. Câtumahâbh–tiko aya.m purisa, yada kalâ.m karoti pa.thavî pa.thavikâya.m anupeti anupagaccati, âpo âpokâya.m anupe anupagaccati, tejo tejokâyam anupeti anupagaccati, vâyo vâyokâya.m anupeti amupagaccati, âkâsa.m indrîyâni sankamanti ... Tesa.m .tucca.m musâ vilâpo ye keci atthikavâda.m vadanti. Bâle ca pa¤.dite ca kâyassa bhedâ ucchijjanti vinassanti no honti param maranâ ti."
It is clear from these quotations that for Buddhism the operatiwe aspect of materialism whether of the ucchedavâda or the atthikavâda kind is the denial of the survival after death. Marx was not rash enough.to express any opinion on this question; and it is clear that the philosophical theory of dialectical materialism expounded by Marx is neither affirmed nor denied in Buddhism. In the more prosaic sense of materialism as a view affirming the importance of worldly goods for human welfare one may make a case for an opposition between Buddhism and Marxism. But even here it must be remembered that Buddhism argues for a "middle way" for both monk and layman, given the demands of their respective life styles. Marx himself considered that "accumulation for the sake of accumulation" was a characteristic of capitalism, and that in his ideal communist state the distributive rule would be "to each according to his/her need". So even here some reconciliation may be possible . (In passing it may be stated that the Sangha of the Buddha was perhaps the world's first communist social grouping.)
The other important aspect on which an incompatibility between Buddhism and Marxism could be established relates to the psychological theory of man, and in particular regarding the relationship of human conciousness to human activity. In his Preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) Marx makes this memorable statemant: "It is not the conclousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary their social being that determines their conciousness" . The same idea was expressed earlier in the Communist Manifesto: "Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man's ideas, views and conceptions. in one word, man's conciusness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life?".
At first sight it would appear that this Marxian relationship of conciousness to being is the opposite of the Buddhist. For do we not have the Buddha's famous aphorism: "Mano- pubbangamâ dhammâ manose.t.thâ manomayâ" (Dhp, vv.1, 2)? The interpretation of this famous opening line of the Dhammapada is by no means without difficulty. Ven. Nârada Thera translates it as: Mind is the fore-runner of all conditions" or conciousness determines being, the very opposite of what Marx was trying to say. Prof. Radhakhrishnan's rendering "(The mental) natures are the result of what we have thought" throws a slightly different light. In this latter rendering concious thought only 'determines' some innate disposition or tendency in man (which may or may not determine his actual being). I feel that in this instance the Radhakrishnan interpretation, with its non-ontological connotations, is the more accurate. There is a problem whether conciousness in the Western sense is equivalent to the nâma of the Dhamma or only to the viññâna component of nâma. The term mano (mind) is also ambiguous as it could refer to some or all of the non-Physical khandas. The Buddhist theory of the primacy of mind really applies only to the sankhâra component of citta, while "conciousness" as used by Marx is really equivalent ot the Buddhist viññâna. Thus when Marx was saying that conciousness is determined by being, this is really equivalent to the statement that viññâna is conditioned by bhava, a proposition which can be justified in terms of Buddhist psychology. This in no way compromises the autonomy of sankhâra in determining karmic formations. It is thus possible to reduce the differences between Marxist and Buddhist psychology, although these cannot be entirely eliminated. The problem is that psychology does not figure prominently in the writings of the early Marx. It is only in a very late work, in Engel's Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (1866) that we encounter something that could be compared to Buddhist psychology:
"... we simply cannot get away from the fact that everything that sets men acting must find its way though their brains - even eating and drinking which begins as a consequence of the sensation of hunger or thirst transmitted through the brain... The influences of the external world upon man express themselves in his brain, are reflected therein as feelings, thoughts, impulses, volitions - in short as ideal tendencies and in this form become ideal powers . (Selected works, Moscow, 1970, V.III,p.352).
The Buddhist notion of phassa (sense contact) is clearly conveyed here, and if we replace "brain" with citta, "feelings" with vedanâ, "volitions" with sankhâra, and "thoughts" with saññâ, the parallelism to Buddhist psychology becomes clearer. This is however a late piece of writing when Western psychology was beginning to rediscover some of the psychological insights proclaimed by the Buddha long ago.
Only a few other aspects remain to be considered. Both Marxism and Buddhism are humanistic philosophies. Marx's humanism is so obvious from almest everything that he wrote, that no detailed documentation is necessary. The Buddha also considered man as the arbiter of his own destiny. In both philosophies the affirmation of humanism is part and parcel of critique of religion and God. If a distinction has to be established it is that for Marx it is man-in-society that is at the center of his theory; for the Buddha it is man alone that is important, and the socio-economic scene is not fundamental to what is con sidered to be the essential aspects of the human situation.
Both Marxism and Buddhism are philosophies of action. Because of their different perspectives on humanism the action which Marx recommended is social and political action. Now while the Buddha does not necessarily decry this kind of action where it leads to human betterment, the Buddha points to a higher Ideal, and to a more fundamental kind of happiness. The Buddha, both in his time and in ours, has been accused of favouring contemplation as against action. When Sîha asked whether the Buddha advocated "inaction" he replied: "I proclaim, Sîha, inaction as to wrong doing by deed, word or thought; I declare the non-doing of all evil and unskilful acts [Aham hi Sîha akiriya.m vadâmi kâyaduccarltassa vacîduccaritassa manoduccaritassa, anekavihita.m pâpakâna.m akusalâna.m akiriya.m vadâmi]". And to the charge of action he says: "I proclaim, Siha, action as to good conduct in deed word or thought, I declare action in all skilful conditions (Aham hi Sîha kiriya.m vadâmi kâyasucaritassa vacîsucaritassa manosucartassa, anekavihitâna.m kusalâna.m dhammâna.m kinya.m vadâmi]". Just as for the Buddha for Marx also practice (praxis) is essential. The most famous of the "theses" on Feuerbach that Marx wrote was the last: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it" (Collected Works, V.V, p.4). The emphasis on practice leads immediately to a consideration of the respective ethics, becuase ethics lays down the norms for action. Whether the superficial rejection of an absolute standard of ethics, which Marx makes in his later writings is his real position on this matter has been variously debated. We do not have space to probe this question here. All that can be said is that it was the absence of an ethical norm even remotely resembling the Buddha's vinaya and sîla which was responsible for the transformation of Marxism from the humane, rationalistic and liberating system which Marx sought to create, and the dreary materialistic and authoritarian system it ultimately became in those countries where it was adopted as the official ideology in the twentieth century.