Several people (several questions and answers) in this topic use the word "corrupted", especially applied to "the world" and "society".

  • What does the word "corrupted" mean?
  • Does it have a standard meaning in Buddhism, or is it idiosyncratic? Is it an objective (observable, shareable) property (of the world), or a subjective (personal) feeling? Do all schools (or yanas) define it the same way? Is it mentioned in any suttas?
  • Is it related to the idea that the Buddha's Dharma may (or will be, has been) lost, misinterpreted, over time? Or is it a different perception, applied to "society" rather than "dharma"?
  • Why would someone say that the world or society is becoming more corrupt? Compared to when and where, or what? Do schools (and/or teachers) differ in their view of whether the world is "progressing", i.e. whether it's improving or regressing?
  • Perhaps it is simply an assumed term, like 'suffering', needing no further explication? Does it matter if it has a cause, grows worse or less so? We cannot change it, basically, like dukkha.
    – user2341
    Dec 19, 2017 at 23:25
  • Dukkha is (or was) explained further; starting with the first noble truth. The definition (of "corruption") might matter when people are offering life advice resulting from an observation that the world is corrupt ... as if it is corrupt, and as if that's a shared observation (i.e. people giving advice understand what "corruption" is being complained of. and vice versa). Also I wondered how the term relates to standard doctrine[s].
    – ChrisW
    Dec 20, 2017 at 0:06
  • I have been reading about Feyerabend's concept of 'incommensurability'. It reminds me of Cheryl Abram saying that everyone has their own world. Take the concept of 'Diunital' and wrap that up with Nonduality. Presto! I guess we still need to attempt to clarify terms.
    – user2341
    Dec 20, 2017 at 0:50
  • I think a word like "dusty" for example makes sense (as a metaphor) in a Buddhist context because it's used several times in the context of well-known scriptures (suttas). To the extent that suttas are trustworthy, it's not only a clear metaphor but a (morally) good one. But is society's being "corrupt" such a "good" description? I don't recognise it as an obviously-true description, as a well-known description, nor even as a (morally) good description, virtuous, skilled: perhaps it's hate-filled, proud or hurt, I don't know. Anyway if it's dharmic and helpful I wanted to understand it better.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 20, 2017 at 1:11
  • I recall Zen using the image of dust on a mirror. Rumi uses the phrase "polishing the mirror" also. It is possible that the word 'dusty' arose from a single usage in some distant past scripture and has spread. For me, the essence of the word 'corruption' is the decay after death, meaning that some principle that was preserving the 'life' of people (their morality or whatever) has died, and now things are decaying. Anything less dire does not need a word like corrupt, and so dusty misses the mark. I regret that I have no suttas to steer you toward.
    – user2341
    Dec 20, 2017 at 1:23

2 Answers 2


I'd say it's idiosyncratic. Each school has a somewhat different take on it. In Zen, we often refer to corruption as "red dust". Han Shan, for instance, refers to it often:

I was born just thirty years ago,
but I’ve wandered a million miles already.
Along the River through the green grass on the
banks, out to the borderlands, where the red dust roils.

I think the footnote in my copy of his poetry does an excellent job of explaining this idea:

"The word we usually translate as “dust,” or “the red dust,” is a conventional epithet for the klesas, or “defilements,” of life in the everyday world, everything from simple dirt, to the deep moral defilements we accept in the compromises and little hypocrisies of everyday lay living."

From Cold Mountain Poems translated by J.P Seaton

  • that poem is: 1出生三十年,2當遊千萬里。3行江青草合,4入塞紅塵起。wouldn't a translation as this better than that? 1Though for thirty years I was born, 2yet millions miles I've roamed. 3Tracking along the river green grasses spread but furl; 4entering the border the red dusts swirl. classical Chinese poem always goes with rhythm, also with graphical beauty like colors and patterns in words, and embedded meanings. i guess 境界 (image reflecting state of mind?), 意象 (image as metaphorical story-telling?) maybe is not as an element in English literature, however it's the very spirit in Chinese. i'm no expert though :) Dec 19, 2017 at 13:11
  • Ya got me. I don't speak Chinese in any form!
    – user698
    Dec 19, 2017 at 20:52
  • I like @Mishu米殊 translation, but for English-only reader, the other is a bit more clear.
    – user2341
    Dec 19, 2017 at 23:22
  • @Mishu米殊 I often like (or prefer) a literal word-for-word translation, without the translation's choosing or adding extra English words to make it rhyme or rhythm or grammar -- so something like, "born thirty years | when travel 1000 miles | ... | ...". What are the last two lines, translated in that style?
    – ChrisW
    Dec 20, 2017 at 10:19
  • 1
    [3] 行 walked / 江 river / 青 green / 草 grass / 合 close [4] 入 entered / 塞 border / 紅 red / 塵 dust / 起 rises Dec 20, 2017 at 17:07

The translation of "corruption" & "corrupt" is found in many places in the Pali suttas, such as:

As to this, bhikkhus, there is a threefold corruption and failure of bodily kamma, arisen from unwholesome volition, having a painful outcome and result; a fourfold corruption and failure of verbal kamma, arisen from unwholesome volition, having a painful outcome and result; and a threefold corruption and failure of mental kamma, arisen from unwholesome volition, having a painful outcome and result.

It is, bhikkhus, because of the threefold corruption and failure of bodily kamma, arisen from unwholesome volition … or it is because of the fourfold corruption and failure of verbal kamma, arisen from unwholesome volition … or it is because of the threefold corruption and failure of mental kamma, arisen from unwholesome volition, that with the breakup of the body, after death, beings are reborn in the plane of misery, in a bad destination, in the lower world, in hell.

AN 10.218

While the world can never be perfect, a morally uncorrupted world is described in many places in the Pali suttas, including simply as the Six-Directions & the respective duties/relationship obligations expounded within. A departure from the kammic lawfulness of the Six Directions is a corruption (rather than something "progressive").

And how, young householder, does a noble disciple cover the six quarters?

The following should be looked upon as the six quarters. The parents should be looked upon as the East, teachers as the South, wife and children as the West, friends and associates as the North, servants and employees as the Nadir, ascetics and brahmans as the Zenith

DN 31 Sigalovada Sutta The Layperson's Code of Discipline

Or the Conditions of a Nation's Welfare:

So long, brahman, as these endure among the Vajjis, and the Vajjis are known for it, their growth is to be expected, not their decline.

DN 16

The cause & condition for the creation & maintenance of the human world is wholesome sexual & family conduct. While the world has periodically engaged in wars & other unwholesome actions, a departure from wholesome sexual & family conduct is the primary cause of the corruption of the human world & regression into an animal, hell &/or hungry ghost world.

Bhikkhus, these two bright principles protect the world. What are the two? Shame and fear of wrongdoing. If, bhikkhus, these two bright principles did not protect the world, there would not be discerned respect for mother or maternal aunt or maternal uncle's wife or a teacher's wife or the wives of other honored persons, and the world would have fallen into promiscuity, as with goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, dogs, and jackals. But as these two bright principles protect the world, there is discerned respect for mother... and the wives of other honored persons.

AN 2.9

  • The last instruction Milarepa gave his followers is reported to be: "Act so that you have no cause to be ashamed of yourselves."
    – user2341
    Dec 19, 2017 at 23:19

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .