Don't monks have any urge to be an activist against for example all the violence against animals and human rights where they can help other people for their needs. How do they deal with those feelings of injustice, how can they justify themselves not to declare or demonstrate or be active in other way to stop these cruel things if they have a heart for the world. How can they just sit and meditate in a monestary?

6 Answers 6


This question is more broad than monks and monasteries. Just because they focus solely on meditation does not mean that everyone else is involved in addressing injustices... so, let me just slightly change your question to "how can one sit and meditate while..."

Where does all the suffering in the world come from?

Anyone who inflicted any suffering on a human being or an animal - wasn't it something in their minds that caused them to do that? Isn't the addressing of those causes in the minds critical to the lessening of suffering?

From the perspective of the one suffering - one can see quite quickly that the mind plays a huge role in interpreting events that happen. The sole difference between a painful event and something that happened and got taken in the stride, is the mind.

These two aspects taken together, argue strongly for mind training as the single biggest tool to counter suffering.

But...one may ask "How is working on my own mind helping anything? A is causing suffering to B. If anything, it's their minds that should be trained, not mine. My job is to fight A and save B".

Anyone who sits in meditation knows pretty soon that one has little control over one's own mind, let alone on anyone else's. At least, with one's own, there is some chance of influencing it. And why does that matter? Because we ourselves become A or B in situation after situation, many times a day (if we are mindful enough to notice that). Hard as it is to admit that I am an inflictor, it is easy enough to see that on the other hand, every inflictor is an "I". It is a fallacy to think that some people are of a different type (evil) and the rest of us are not. It is just the same type of mind, having been conditioned by different circumstances, which acts out differently. It is rare that one does harm for the sake of it. It is far more common that one just seeks what one desires and acts in a way that doesn't care about what happens to anyone else because of that. That includes some of the most heinous crimes in history like slavery and various kinds of exploitation happening up until today.

Are we aware of how, in the pursuit of convenience, fun and pleasure we ourselves cause harm without meaning to? Plantation owners in the American South and farmers under apartheid were just "trying to work the land..." right? The brutalities committed in Africa and elsewhere were just to "help industries back home in Europe by finding them resources", right? Or perhaps it was even the noble cause of "scientific and technological advancement of society back home". Until recently, we thought we were just driving to and from everywhere, having fun and convenience, enjoying the freedom of the road, not hurting anyone at all until having to face the catastrophic effect on the climate. Think my choices of buying and consuming something has no effect on human and animal suffering? I need to think again! So the mind, even of "us innocents who aren't hurting anyone" could use a lot of examination and cultivation.

This is not to say that one should not do anything externally to help anything. By all means. But while doing so, no need to come to it from a place of anger and agitation towards anyone. We can work towards goals but not neglect what is happening with the mind.

Also not to say that protest and activism don’t have their place, but it is a huge mistake to think that focusing on the mind is not one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. If you don't believe that, try this experiment - every time we ask "how can I deal with this person at work/school who is being a _____?" Also ask yourself "how can I make sure I'm not myself being like that person?", see what in the mind is causing such behavior from oneself. And see the magical effect this has on the environment around you after a period of time. Quite a different thing from taking refuge in identity ("they" are bad ones) instead of seeing what one can do on one's own end.

There is also something odd about asking this about monks and meditation alone - as if it is the sole alternative to human rights work or even remotely a factor in the causing of suffering? One can ask the same about a whole lot of other things - "how can someone watch TV while so many people are suffering?". Or going to the movies, or a bar or studying mathematics or philosophy, doing photography, sleeping in on a weekend, going on a trip with friends, playing with your children.. do people do all this because they "don't have a heart"?

As for monks...every field benefits from people who do it full time. Monks are those "pros" in the context of cultivating the mind. So if you can grok the value of mind work, such a question would not arise about monks.

Finally, I might add, it was precisely with the goal of reducing human suffering that the Buddha chose to go forth and search, and then to teach the path he found to others - not in disregard of it.


There are many examples of monastics actively involved in society issues, the Dalai Lama and Thích Nhất Hạnh likely being the most notorious figures worldwide. There are also monastic institutions that are explicitly geared towards being part of society and engage with it's problems, Fo Guang Shan being one.

Then, there are the many other monks who sometimes voice or actively participate in efforts to solve social problems. One example of the latter is a group of monastics including Bhikkhu Bodhi who gathered in Washington, USA and discussed climate change.

Other times, monastics participate in protests. And sometimes it's not pretty and quite polemic.

Then there are the monks who even took their own lives through self-immolation, sometimes for causes such as the one you mention.

So, this is a gist of state of affairs, which is one thing. Another issue is what the Buddha intended for the monastic community he created. In what is considered to be the earliest buddhists texts, we find the Buddha praising monastics who are secluded from worldly matters. In this case, monastics are training to attain Nirvana. And this goal, for a large part, does require "just sit and meditate" protected and away from distractions of the world.

However, there's no unanimous or simple position for whether buddhist monastics ideally should or not be involved, and to what extent, in such issues. It may depends of the tradition and particular sect values or teacher values -- his/her active engagement with the community, etc.

For one example of how buddhism might promote this, in Mahayana, the bodhisattva path is often associated with being part of the world, as opportunity for making meritous acts and helping beings.

I believe ultimately, though, it depends on the personal inclination of the monk or nun. And many are inclined and do actively work on such issues, even if not as famous as the monks mentioned above.


It would be great, it would be a gift, it would be for the heal and luck of many, if it would be the case that monks generally "just sit and meditate".

Actually it just one under maybe 10.000 of even monks who really has given up what all beings, from the ant to the king, are after.

If you should have the luck to meet not only the first three heavenly messager but even the forth, stick with him, you met a real hero, a "lord of compassion".

Be informed, althought you might not understand today, that when coming accross of social active monks, as for example presented by Thiago, that you have met those destructing the path to liberation, wordlings, living on the faith of the country, not doing their task, causing much harm and suffering for many, for a long time. If calling them the greatest thieves in the world, one, if right investigated and proved, is out of that destinated to heaven.

One may find additional under:

[Q&A] Vinaya Rule which prohibits on engaging in political/social activities

[Q&A] Did the Buddha teach Engaged Buddhism?

And maybe you/one likes to read a touching and importand story of the Brahman "Tiger paw", to gain some more understanding, aside of honestly investigating the effects and origin of food.

Be informed, that one who would "just sit and meditate" for the sake of becoming, for gain others then release, would be not much different to those silly engaged.

No matter what the praise from fools or the censure from those who know, the censure from those who know is better than if there were praise from fools. And as for the pleasure from sensuality and the pain from seclusion, the pain from seclusion is better than if there were pleasure from sensuality. And as for living through unrighteousness and dying for righteousness, dying for righteousness is better, than if one were to live through unrighteousness.

No other gifts as that of being engaged in virtue, concentration and discernment, and it's share, giving of what one might own, in regard to their stand, would actually help.

If one, even if "blessed", is capable to accept a gift... beings are owner of their actions, and even such Dhamma giving can, if strong defiled, run out into harm, not to speak that it could be made in corrupt manner easily, as we know todays busines with Dhamma.

Feel free to take (upon the task to investigate honest) or throw gifts away. Your actions are just your destiny.

To understand the topic in all it's deep ressons this explaining is most useful, especially for "western" or better very wordily and short timely orientated mind: Wisdom over Justice.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]


The truth is that the causes of suffering are vast in number. Violence against animals and human rights are causes that certainly contribute to this number. It is true that Buddhist psychology focuses upon the more personal causes of suffering. Mahayana Buddhism, for example, focuses on the fact that we often lack sufficient compassion for others. By meditating on the development of compassion, we reduce the suffering of our friends and our children. In other words, Buddhist monks “sit and meditate” in order to deal with how they cause suffering to others. Being concerned about violence against animals and human rights is primarily concerned about how other people cause suffering. Which cause of suffering we decide to address, of course, is a personal choice to be respected but also to be investigated. The practice of Zen and Theravadin practice of mindfulness meditation can help us understand our own motives. Perhaps you may want to understand better why you direct so much anger at a group of people you obviously know almost nothing about.


Since everything is mind, by purifying ones own mind and setting that right, all the interactions you have will cascade peace throughout the universe rather than confirming the stored and untransformed chaos within oneself and ones community. Monks are in other words also working on an astral level. Also by meditating, one can see more clearly where. That being said, even though many monks are not practicing correctly, some practice far worse than laymen even, at least they have taken themselves out of the consumerist chaos and are propagating the Dharma on a social level. Lastly, anyone who meditates is basically not doing evil... It is basically a social boycotting of consumerism by just sitting... Even if it is for an hour. If everyone were to do this more we would have world peace and self awareness throughout the day... If there was a global culture of nightly 2 hours meditation and silence, we humans would evolve rapidly past all karma. GDP and other indices precious to capitalism would drop though.


My personal opinion:

  • Have you tried, "to be an activist against for example all the violence against animals and human rights"?

    Maybe I just wasn't very good at it, but my "activism" seemed to have limited (small or non-existent) benefit, especially with people who weren't already persuaded.

    So I'm not sure that "being an activist" is a worthwhile, beneficial alternative.

  • So far as I know, most religions (and most people) approve of some violence -- of violence against animals, for example, not to mention against some people.

    Buddhism is one of the few ethical doctrines, that I know of, that's "against violence". By being or becoming a monk, by acting and studying as a monk, monks help to transmit Buddhism (and Buddhist ethics), to keep Buddhism "alive" in the world.

  • Monks may be the more effective activists, if they ever do find occasion to act or speak.

    If I tell you, "Don't kick the dog", why would you listen to me? If a monk tells you, "Don't kick the dog", perhaps you'd listen, out of respect.

  • Monks set a good example, practice what they preach, and (ideally) control themselves even if they can't or won't control others.

    For example what should you do if you think that "consumerism" is a bad system, which encourages violence and exploitation? Perhaps an answer would be to live as a monk.

As for "how do they deal with those feelings of injustice", I think that would take a long answer -- but, in summary, I think that they practice Buddhism:

  • "Feelings of injustice" are presumably among the feelings identified in the four noble truths;
  • The feeling that you can or should do something about what others do may be a conceit;
  • There are rules for monks (the Vinaya) which help ensure they lead harmless and blameless lives;
  • There's doctrine (e.g. about the Brahmaviharas) which teach what the ideal social interactions/attitudes are;
  • etc.

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