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Quote of the Week: John Daido Loori

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This week’s quote comes from the late John Daido Loori (1931 – 2009), founder of the Mountains and Rivers Order and Abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in New York. Loori, who studied with Taizen Maezumi Roshi, was also an acclaimed photographer. You can see some of his breathtaking photos of the natural world here.

This quote comes from the book The Heart of Being: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen Buddhism (which, by the way, is a wonderful book to read if you’re in the process of preparing to receive the precepts [ jukai]):

Because his experience as an astute social observer became interfused with his absolute wisdom, it is worthwhile to study [the Buddha’s] teachings about social and economic conditions in relation to spiritual practice and ethical life….

One of the central observations Buddha made about the breakdown of the social fabric is that poverty is the chief cause of immorality and crime. Theft, violence, hatred, cruelty, all result from poverty. It seems that ancient governments in India, like many governments today, tried to handle the problem of crime through punishment. They attempted to suppress it. Buddha said that attempts to control crime will ultimately be futile. This kind of control is like building a dam to hold back rising water. The barrier wil hold back the water, but the barrier will always need to be there, and there will always be the threat of the water’s spilling over or sweeping the dam away. Buddha said that if you want to eradicate crime, the economic conditions of people have to be improved.

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

7 responses »

  1. Wow – fascinating!

  2. Personally, I feel it is not the lack of money, rather the lack of value in self through believing the source of self value IS money. Money should only be used to survive and do service to humanity.

  3. Damn, I’ve never heard that before! Any idea which discourses this comes from?

  4. Hey Katie,

    I’m pretty sure it’s drawing on this source: Digha Nikaya: Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta. You can find out more here:

    and here:

  5. And here’s another reference — this is an article on Buddhism, globalization, and greed by David Loy, with lots of citations to Buddhist suttas:

  6. I would agree that much crime is economics based. It seems to me difficult to know exactly how much is, and doubtful that 100% of crime is. Still, a worthy goal to eliminate poverty.

  7. Pingback: Quote of the Week: Roshi Joan Halifax « The Jizo Chronicles

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