According to Buddhism, should one change oneself or change the world and why.

  • 1
    Please clarify, are you trying to plot "fight for truth, freedom, justice" against "reduce Dukkha" ? Please clarify what you are trying to ask. Ask directly also helps... no need to play with words. And no need to evolve your question based on my answer. Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 9:05
  • @PbxMan Once again, this is not a web forum. Please keep your questions to the point. "According to Buddhism, should one change oneself or change the world and why" - that woud be enough. Thanks.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 12:51
  • @AndreiVolkov don't worry all take it another forum. I cannot delete from here. Would you please do that for me?
    – user2428
    Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 12:55
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    Changing oneself and changing the world aren't mutually exclusive. Unless one is a hermit living completely isolated from the world, a layman who "changes himself" by observing precepts, practicing meditation, etc. would make a correlated positive impact on the world due to the positive effect on other people from his 3 gateways: mind, body, and speech.
    – santa100
    Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 14:52

8 Answers 8


The Buddha did not intend monks to participate in politics, as seen in DN 2:

"Whereas some brahmans and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to talking about lowly topics such as these — talking about kings, robbers, ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity [philosophical discussions of the past and future], the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not — he abstains from talking about lowly topics such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.

However, the Buddha did intend for lay people to participate in constructive nation building, in accordance with the Dhamma in DN 16:

At that time the Venerable Ananda was standing behind the Blessed One, fanning him, and the Blessed One addressed the Venerable Ananda thus: "What have you heard, Ananda: do the Vajjis have frequent gatherings, and are their meetings well attended?"

"I have heard, Lord, that this is so."

"So long, Ananda, as this is the case, the growth of the Vajjis is to be expected, not their decline.

"What have you heard, Ananda: do the Vajjis assemble and disperse peacefully and attend to their affairs in concord?"

"I have heard, Lord, that they do."

"So long, Ananda, as this is the case, the growth of the Vajjis is to be expected, not their decline.

"What have you heard, Ananda: do the Vajjis neither enact new decrees nor abolish existing ones, but proceed in accordance with their ancient constitutions?"

"I have heard, Lord, that they do."

"So long, Ananda, as this is the case, the growth of the Vajjis is to be expected, not their decline.

"What have you heard, Ananda: do the Vajjis show respect, honor, esteem, and veneration towards their elders and think it worthwhile to listen to them?"

"I have heard, Lord, that they do."

"So long, Ananda, as this is the case, the growth of the Vajjis is to be expected, not their decline.

"What have you heard, Ananda: do the Vajjis refrain from abducting women and maidens of good families and from detaining them?"

"I have heard, Lord, that they refrain from doing so."

"So long, Ananda, as this is the case, the growth of the Vajjis is to be expected, not their decline.

"What have you heard, Ananda: do the Vajjis show respect, honor, esteem, and veneration towards their shrines, both those within the city and those outside it, and do not deprive them of the due offerings as given and made to them formerly?"

"I have heard, Lord, that they do venerate their shrines, and that they do not deprive them of their offerings."

"So long, Ananda, as this is the case, the growth of the Vajjis is to be expected, not their decline.

"What have you heard, Ananda: do the Vajjis duly protect and guard the arahats, so that those who have not come to the realm yet might do so, and those who have already come might live there in peace?"

"I have heard, Lord, that they do."

"So long, Ananda, as this is the case, the growth of the Vajjis is to be expected, not their decline."


AN4.95 clearly lists the priorities of practicing to help oneself vs. others:

Not so good:

One who practices to benefit neither themselves nor others;


one who practices to benefit others, but not themselves;

Even better:

one who practices to benefit themselves, but not others; and


one who practices to benefit both themselves and others.

Notice that practicing to become a better person is seen as having more benefit that telling others how to practice. It sounds odd until you think about it, but when you think about it, would you follow the example of one who does not practice what they preach?

Hence it is best to practice and help others practice, but it's also ok to just worry about your own practice until you can help others.


Buddhism is not a religion that tries to change the world I think. Just like Buddhism don't give direct explanations of the nature of the universe. Buddhism's purpose is to lead people to experience the nature of reality themselves and give proper guidence to the people who have the intention to free themselves from suffering.

I remember a dhammaphada verse(thousands) that is not directly connected to this topic but I think it can give us some insight about Buddhism's approach to this subject

Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand-thousand men, is he who would conquer just one — himself.

Better to conquer yourself than others. When you've trained yourself, living in constant self-control, neither a deva nor gandhabba, nor a Mara banded with Brahmas, could turn that triumph back into defeat.

If a person is interested to the core of Buddhism(meditation) most likely s/he becomes less interested to changing the world, because meditation leads people to realize that trying to change or help others can be an ego demand and most of the things in the world are out of our influence. Also trying to change the world without changing oneself can cause harm to others because a person's state of mind directly influences the quality of his/her actions. But that doesn't mean that everyone who are deeply involved with meditation are less interested to changing the world. Trying to change the world can continue in the meditators as a habit even If the meditators greatly purify themselves. Meditation leads people to become more aware of the suffering of other living beings, so it is possible for a Buddhist meditator to become interested to change the world but eventually that desire would be diminished because of the realization of the uncontrollability of the forms and the degree of craziness of the humans.

Buddhism is not a political movement, don't have "Sharia Laws", don't try to conquer the world, forcibly trying to change an individual's desires or have rules that restricts people's freewill so it is up to the individual to decide to interfere the world politics or try to change the world or not. But "doing good deeds" to other people and living beings is certainly what Buddhism directly recommends to it's followers but that is not the same thing as trying to change the world I think.


that's a clear example of somebody who needs to work with their inside.

Anyone who acknowledges Dukkha (Suffering) and wants to eliminate as such, need to work with their inside.

According to Buddhism is it bad for her to try to change her external conditions or perhaps she is encouraged to do so because after all she is taking action for the everybody's well-being?

Another xxx VS xxx....

It is for her to decide. Is she experiencing Dukkha? Does improving her external conditions directly lead to less Dukkha? If yes, Go for it. How about improving the inner conditions first?

Whether her external conditions prevents her from improving her inner conditions, is a different matter of fact and cannot be determined unless you articulate the exact situation.

  • This answer doesn't make sense now after the question was edited.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 9:28
  • Yes. Pbxman kept changing the question after I posted the answer. He even deleted his account now. Probably just trolling and realized its much harder than he/she thought... Commented Feb 18, 2019 at 2:25

If the world has many problems, it is up to the people of the world to sort out those problems rather than Buddhism.

I may be a Buddhist in this world and thus choose to not purchase sweatshop goods or choose to not support certain politicians, which may include not supporting the government of the nation I live in.

However, every other person, be they Buddhists or non-Buddhists, must also contribute to this. If others do not join in the path of goodness then I alone cannot change the world (even though my own Buddhist actions are moral & harmless).

For example, if I have a problematic neighbour, I sort out the problem. I talk to the neighbour or go to the police or go to a court of law. I do not wait for a Buddhist in a Superman outfit to save me from my bad neighbour.

Similarly, while illegal immigrants should not enter into the USA or any other sovereign nation, if this is really a major issue, it is up to the American people to sort out this issue. It does not require SuperBuddha to save the day, like in a Hollwywood movie.

The girl working in the sweatshop can try to educate herself and move out of the sweatshop. Regardless, it is American companies operating most of these sweatshops and the American people buying most of the sweatshop goods. America is a democracy. People can boycott sweatshops and lobby to have clothing made again in the USA. If people do not think importing all of their goods is a problem then that is the will of the people; just as it is the will of the American people to destroy nation after nation in imperialist wars. SuperBuddha cannot stop this.

In short, these political matters are for the people of the world to sort out. The people of the world may include Buddhists. But Buddha is not a SuperBuddha from a Hollywood movie.

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yes people who want to change the world and babble about revolutions and are obsessed with rights completely fail to understand that nobody can be forced to be mindful nor being secluded from sensuality and that there is no punishment to forbid non-mindulfness and so on.

The people who love the idea of helping people do not even manage themselves to be mindful for more than a few hours, yet they have no problem fantasizing themselves has been good people able to make other people better. It is part of their insolence of claiming to know the dhamma, when all they do is being infatuated to the toxic pile of garbage that is the aggregates, always trying to salvage sensuality by claiming that sensuality is skillful, always daydreaming and building stories that deep down in their heart, they are not bad people already, so that they leave room for a little improvement in order to have a purpose in life, because daydreaming about not changing their ways is all they have in their life. When they see that they have no skills to better themselves, they long for some external source of improvement which would make everybody better.

In fact, most of the people addicted to sensuality do not want to stop clinging to sensual pleasures. Some of those people even claim that nibanna would be the most horrible event to happen to anybody.


If Buddhism has taught me anything, it's that you can't engineer happiness. Real joy in this life comes only by a wholehearted engagement with emptiness. Any attempts to engender joy, no matter how valiant, are ultimately impermanent. Institutions wither, people die, and the enthusiasm that burns so brightly at the heart of many social programs ultimately burns out. Worse, no intentional act, no matter how pure in intention, is wholly wholesome in its impact.

I remember when I was a kid and working at a coffee shop. This well dressed, well spoken man used to come in all the time. Apparently he used to be a doctor in the country he grew up in. His medical license didn't transfer, so now he was studying up to take his exams in America. The man was a saint. He was kind, generous in spirit, and just a pleasure to be around. He once was named Mr. Barbados back in his home country and was very interested in bodybuilding and weightlifting - an interest I shared with him. Everyday he'd come in and ask me how my workouts were going. He even came to see me lift a few times at some powerlifting meets.

I saw this guy pretty much everyday for a year. One day he comes up to me and says that he needs me to proctor a test for him. I agree. He tells me, "don't worry about me cheating, I'm a Jehovah's Witness. We don't cheat!" I was flabbergasted by his admission. If you know anything about this sect of Christianity, you'll know that bearing witness - essentially proselytizing - is at the heart of their practice. I never heard him mention a peep about it. I asked him about it. "Good sir," he says to me, "do you think I would cheat?" I tell him no. "Do you think I am a good man?" I said of course. "Are you happy to see me when I come in?" Absolutely, I said. "That is my witness. That is my light of Christ."

Atta dipa. Be your own light. We can only illuminate our own way and let that brightness shine on the paths of others. What will be your witness? How will your light shine in the world?


One cannot change the world.

One can only change oneself and that is done by practicing the Dhamma.

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