capitalism, and those under it, are composed of the three elements that cause suffering:

  • ego/ attachment- capitalism privatizes everything: the economy and the living; our survival and our love. what is our ego but a privatization of self into “mine” (and “theirs”), “myself” (and the “other”).
  • non-equanimity/ dissatisfaction- if capitalism would fall still, the result would be its demise- expansion and accumulation are its survival. and thus, the same can be said of its products: capitalists never feel like they have enough and workers never have enough.
  • alienation- capitalism disassociates itself from its surroundings through objectification and thus, we are disconnected, intimately, from our work for it is not ours, our people for they are our competition and the land for it is but a commodity.

3 thoughts on “

  1. I like this a lot. I think a lot about the way that Ego-ism relates to capitalism. However, I tend to think more about it like this — ego is a natural part of the contradiction that is being a human being. We are both ego (individual) and social. This seems to be a fundamental contradiction of being a human being. This fundamental contradiction is actually papered over under capitalism, and we are taught to think of ourselves as ego only. Both parts of our brain are necessary for our existence as a species. Without the ego, we never would have evolved to where we are now. The ego imbued us with fear and anger, both are necessary components of self, they help alert us to danger and respond to it to protect ourselves. So I think it is not that the ego exists that is the problem but that in capitalism the ego is presented as the whole of the existence. And like anything, evil to me is nothing but imbalance– capitalism breeds an imbalanced view of ourselves. We are individuals ONLY, we are Ego ONLY. This is wrong, and is a distortion of reality. In meditation we don’t ever overcome the Ego altogether, from what I understand, in that we don’t get rid of anger or fear altogether (we don’t rid ourselves of mara) we learn to exist peacefully with it. No?

    Also, I think its great that you highlight the attachment part of capitalism that has to do with desire for more and the pursuit of more being external and eternal. One cool way Marxism is super similar with buddhism can be seen in the concept of no-self. Just as Buddhism seems to point out that the idea of a concrete self is a lie — in the sense that there is no prefigured, “real” self, but a constant constellation of actions and thoughts which are fluid and changing every minute, (which has been verified by science telling us there is no part of the brain that is actual ‘self’ but that we are merely our habituated behaviors and energies, which have identifiable patterns).

    However, since that is true, this is not merely a feeling but a fact that capitalists need more. Marx points out that there is no “capitalist”, outside of this need for more. Once capitalists “stop needing more” they cease being capitalists. Once they stop needing more, they fall out of the relations of production that make them capitalists to begin with.

    Marx: “As the conscious representative of this movement, the possessor of money becomes a capitalist. His person, or rather his pocket, is the point from which the money starts and to which it returns. The expansion of value…becomes his subjective aim, and it is only in so far as the appropriation of ever more and more wealth in the abstract becomes the sole motive of his operations, that he functions as a capitalist, that is, as capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will.”

    Marx himself, says the capitalist does not exist, per se, as a concrete individual. A capitalist is a person involved in the relations of capital. He IS capital, personified! And capital is not a thing, but a relation. So you can see the parallels between buddhism and capitalism even more in the fluidity of Marx’s analysis! :)

    One good question to ask ourselves: would suffering cease at the “end” of capitalism (this is assuming we see the revolution as a one time thing, rather than an evolutionary unfolding process of many revolutions?) This is something that buddhism has challenged me on. I think as leftists we often play the game of lumping every aspect of suffering together into a product of capitalism, but I like how buddhism reminds us that capitalism or no capitalism, suffering is inherent to being human. I think in the past before I started thinking about Buddhism I thought that most suffering would be eliminated with the overthrow of capitalism. I guess that was my more idealistic phase. I now realize that acceptance of suffering is important, part of realizing that it is part of life, though its character would definitely change and im sure lessen once the people of the world had their basic human needs met — such as food, shelter, etc.

    I attribute the inevitability of suffering to the fact that we ARE a walking contradiction — animal/with higher reasoning/feeling etc., capable of understanding our own mortality, able to shape the world but not as able to see the way we are shaped by the world, etc. So, thanks for helping me to think about this and write about it. Your post was very thought provoking. <3

    • so many great points!

      i agree with you in that when defining ego as something related to self-preservation (i.e. fear can indicate real threat to safety), ego is necessary for our survival and is innately a part of us. but from my understanding of ego in buddhism, it is less about self-preservation as a cause of suffering and more about when self-preservation intensifies and expands into attachment. when we get attached to thing, situation, feeling, person or self-image xyz and when our stories about this attachment begin to take shape and root that is when ego becomes a cause of immense suffering. as capitalism has developed with its forces of alienation, of competition, of taking, with its deepened contradiction between self-preservation and community-preservation, our egos have too developed these qualities. attachment has become an extension of our survival (real or imagined).

      i’m happy that you pointed out the part in which i said capitalists “feel” as though they don’t have enough. when i was writing this, i kept fixating on this word for it didn’t seem to convey what i was actually thinking but it was hard for me to articulate exactly. but your articulation illuminated what i was missing: it’s not a feeling but a necessity. a capitalist needs to accumulate more and more in order to survive as a capitalist. and as much as this is true, at the same time i want to communicate the difference between the needs of the workers to survive in a real physical sense and the needs of the capitalists to survive in a class-sense (i.e. if they dont meet their capitalist needs to indefinitely accumulate they will no longer be a part of the capitalist class). hm, i will have to think about ways to communicate both!

      the question of the ceasing of suffering post-capitalism is a good one indeed! i don’t think suffering ceases when capitalism ceases because suffering was not born out of capitalism and it will not die from its death. but like you said, the characteristics of suffering that have become more pronounced in capitalism will shed some of its weight after its overthrow. to me, when capitalism breaks down and (if/)when the masses begin to have greater control over their ability to survive is when awakening, in a buddhist sense, becomes ever more possible.

      it was a challenge to express the many layers i was thinking about when writing this but so much gratitude to you for compelling me to think about this further! i now have a deeper and more clarified understanding of the interconnection between buddhism and marxism!

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