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Noninterference (Buddhism)

Noninterference is a Buddhist concept and practice which relates to the idea that all things are impermanent, with a resignation to events beyond human control.[citation needed]

Is there such a concept in Buddhism? If so does this concept have other names?

Is it true that this Buddhist concept applies only to "events beyond human control"?

The question occurred to me when I was trying to answer the question about "what do buddhists religious texts say about the environment?"

I tried to look it up because I got the feeling (rightly or wrongly) that maybe Buddhists would agree it's better not to be greedy, but that even so they may not go out and campaign or lobby against greed, or argue in favour of preserving the environment, or indeed argue about anything else.

My guesses (my attempts to answer this question myself) were:

  • I suppose that 'right speech' might be an argument for non-interference: don't say something unless you think it will be welcome.

  • Maybe non-attachment too would tend towards non-interference: perhaps I cannot try to promote some political view, unless I am attached to it. Maybe the Buddhist practice is that if the world doesn't seem to be as I'd want it to be then I should change my own view and not try to change the world.

  • Maybe non-self might tend towards non-interference: "who am I to interfere?" ... or "why am I doing this, there are only two motives for doing something, i.e. greed and aversion, and both/either of these motives are wrong" etc.

  • If it's true that it applies only to "events beyond human control" that perhaps that means hoping that some 'higher powers' (devas or bodhisattvas) will act.

I didn't find "noninterference" at all in a search of accesstoinsight.org

Google suggests it might be a concept in Chinese Buddhism (so, Taoist-derived, perhaps?).


I'm sorry if this question feels like I'm trying to make you write a Wikipedia article. The reason I'm asking is that I did have a feeling that non-interference might be an established practice.

Conversely can you give some examples of when this 'noninterference concept' would be wrong?

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Buddhism having so many different schools and lineages this maybe open to interpretation.

But no there is no concept of non interference in Buddhism. General take on the matter regarding action is that you should act proactively than reactively, i.e., your actions should not be a reaction of clinging and craving towards sensations, and your actions should be devoid of delusion, agreed and aversion. Also you should be rightly motivated (non deluded state of mind, generous and comparisonate) when doing the action. You should not be attached to the outcome as you are not in absolute control over how it would materialise.

Also general tendency in taking action and interference is that you take sides where you have compassion towards one person and not the other. This should not be the case. If you see someone doing something wrong to another you have to have equal or more comparison to the offending party as he is creating bad Karma through ignorance. Your motivation should be able help the victim and save the would be offender from his Karma or at least help reduce it. In mediation this should be the right motivation.

Rather than non action or interference you should act with the right volition and state of mind without attachments to the results.

For further information see:

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I think you already answer your own question by mentioning impermanence. Why act upon something that will slip away between your fingers anyway, without anyone having the slightest control. Phenomena both mental and physical are uncontrollable and ungovernable. Interfering with them will not bring anything good out of it. Interfering with phenomena will bring suffering in the end. When i use the word interfere here i mean after the 7th link in Dependent Origination where craving, attachment and becomming happens. That will only lead to suffering.

Instead non-interference is what one should practice meaning observing phenomena arising and passing away. The practice of insight meditation is your answer. As you mention yourself one should work on oneself and develop oneself instead of trying to change the world. Interfering with e.g. politics, environmental protection etc. will only treat symptoms since the root cause are Greed. Only that can be reduced by working on ourselves trying to develop the mind.

Let me try to give another example. One is sitting in insight meditation and observing phenomena. One is not mindful for a moment and the mind gets sucked into the maelstroem of e.g. a mental formation. Then when mindfulness returns one will see that suffering is gained through interfering with phenomena. When seeing that over and over the mind naturally begins to let go and just observe phenomena without interfering, engaging them.

I dont know if this answers your question. I think the term non-interference might not directly be found in the texts under that name but its a derivative from the practice of insight meditation or a result of the impermanent nature of phenomena.

By the way i think its good that you mentioned the doctrine of Anatta. Everything just becomes problematic when an I, Me of Self is added to the equation. This have also been discussed recently. Take a look at this question here. You might be able to take the same perspective here that when adding an experiencing, permanent entity or Self to the equation then suddently you have "someone" that interferes.

Lanka

  • Yes, "Why act upon something" and "one should work on oneself and develop oneself instead of trying to change the world" sounds like standard reasons ... but on the other hand, a story like this one or this one seems to advocate some mundane interaction with (interference into) the lives of others as well. – ChrisW May 7 '15 at 20:05
  • But anyway I think you answered my question: I think you're saying that non-interference is not a distinct/named concept but is a consequence of or derived from other views (impermanence) and practices (insight meditation). – ChrisW May 7 '15 at 20:09
  • Yes that was what i was trying to explain so luckely that got out right. I might not be right about this though. For me it was just natural to chain these things together when viewing it with basis in the texts and practice. I must say that i also do not understand why one should not mix daily living with meditation. I mean that is one of the purposes to work towards becomming more and more mindful in the everyday life. Without mindfulness how can one guard oneself? – Lanka May 7 '15 at 20:36
  • There is also the Sutta in which a Venerable Monk becomes overly attached to the bhikkunis and protector of them and he easily gets upset when someone speaks harshly about them and the Buddha instructs him to be mindful and at ease even if someone were to beat them with a clod. Can someone tell me the name of this Sutta? Anyway these instructions are for a bhikku who is in training not for laypeople. Laypeople can make merit helping the ones in need and the weak as it is also exemplified in a sutta in which the Buddha relates to a Brahma the good deeds he did to be born in that realm. – user4878 May 8 '15 at 12:33
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My attempts:

First of all on interference which means action:

"'I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir'...

"A disciple of the noble ones considers this: 'I am not the only one who is owner of my actions, …

Whatever they do, for good or for evil, to that will they fall heir.' When he/she often reflects on this, the [factors of the] path take birth. He/she sticks with that path, develops it, cultivates it. As he/she sticks with that path, develops it and cultivates it, the fetters are abandoned, the obsessions destroyed."

— AN 5.57

So non-interference arises through cultivating the path.

"And what is the cessation of kamma? From the cessation of contact is the cessation of kamma; and just this noble eightfold path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration — is the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma.

"Now when a disciple of the noble ones discerns kamma in this way, the cause by which kamma comes into play in this way, ...

.. The path of practice for the cessation of kamma should be known.' Thus it has been said, and in reference to this was it said."

— AN 6.63

Non-interference comes through desiring cessation of contact to cessation of kamma. The most noble of all (actions)kamma is ending of kamma.

When then can there be inteference? When one is fully enlightened i.e. when ones actions do not lead to any further kamma, and those actions are performed from metta, karuna, mudita.

To interfere means that one has a view on things and when one can be sure that the view created, is not from ignorance, then one can interfere.

Needless to say acting out of compassion is skilful etc. but not the path of the noble disciples but path of the bodhisattva.

Any why is non-interference desirable? From following it an arahant may arise that would benefit multitudes.

That’s my take on it.

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