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Is the Buddha a Good Role Model?


If we look at the life of the Buddha, it would seem that he was rather self-absorbed, and that no benefit to society would occur by following his example. After all, he abandoned his domestic responsibilities and occupation during the vigor of his young adulthood and spent the rest of his life as a wandering mendicant with few possessions. Certainly, he doesn’t represent a typical example of “family values” that you might expect of a religious founder. However, while I don’t consider him exactly a social reformer per se, that doesn’t mean social factors played no role in his life or teachings. 


Growing up, he lived a very privileged existence. After his birth soothsayers predicted that he would either become a great king or a religious leader, and his father tried to make sure he became a king by surrounding his son with all of the pleasures and luxuries he could manage. As he got older the Buddha realized that his subjects, however well protected, would remain in poverty and would never reach moksha (spiritual freedom), the highest goal of Indian religion. The Buddha eventually rejected this life. He knew that gratifying the senses would not lead to permanent happiness, especially when so many beings outside of his palace were deeply suffering.


His decision to leave his kingdom was no doubt traumatic for his family. His wife and child must have felt abandoned. His father must have been very angry and disappointed. Clearly he was human and made mistakes, for he was capable of hurting others. He always maintained that he was not a god and should not be worshipped, for it was the path he discovered that was important. Rightly or wrongly, he did what he felt he needed to do. If he had become a king his focus would have been on domination and military control. Instead he became a religious leader whose teachings led devoted followers to nirvana, and millions to a life of morality and meaning. Even his own family members practiced his teachings. Indeed, it’s hard to argue that his agenda was purely selfish.

So do his teachings have any social value? Here is a selection of quotes which indicate that they clearly do.


Question: Why is it that you don’t often hear of charitable work done by Buddhists?


Answer: Perhaps it is because Buddhists don’t feel the need to advertise about the good they do. Several years ago the Japanese leader Nikkho Niwano received the Templeton Prize for his work in promoting inter-religious harmony. Likewise a Thai Buddhist monk was recently awarded the prestigious Magsaysay Prize for his excellent work among drug addicts. In 1987 another Thai monk, Ven. Kantayapiwat was awarded the Norwegian Children’s Peace Prize for his many years of work helping homeless children in rural areas. And what about the large scale social work being done among the poor in India by the Western Buddhist Order? They have built schools, child minding centers, dispensaries and small scale industries for self sufficiency. Buddhists see help given to others as an expression of their religious practice but they believe that it should be done quietly and without self-promotion. Thus you don’t hear so much about their charitable work.   

– Venerable S. Dhammika “Good Questions, Good Answers on Buddhism” (


“Don’t be afraid of doing good. It is another name for happiness, for all that is dear and delightful – this phrase ‘doing good.’


Whoever would live well,

Long lasting, bringing bliss –

Let him be generous, be calm,

And cultivate the doing of good.


By practicing these three,

These three bliss-bringing things,

The wise one lives without regret,

His world infused with happiness.”

– Itivuttaka Sutta


“People should be able to live without enduring poverty. Grain and other necessities should be given to farmers. Capital should be provided for traders, and proper wages should be paid to the employed. When people have security and can earn an adequate income, they will be contented, without fear or worry. Because of this, the country will be at peace and there will be no crime.”

– Digha Nikaya


“Wealth is neither good nor bad, just as life itself is neither good nor bad. All depends on what is done with the wealth. If it is obtained unlawfully and spent selfishly, it will not bring happiness. But if wealth come through lawful means without harming others, then one can be cheerful about it. One should remember the dangers of attachment to it and share it with others to create good purposes. If one can keep in one’s mind that it’s not the wealth, nor even the good purposes, but liberation from craving and wanting that is the goal, then the wealth will bring happiness. One should hold the wealth not just for oneself but for all beings.”

– Anguttara Nikaya


“A mother, even at the risk of her own life, protects her child, her only child. In the same way should you cultivate love without measure toward all beings. You should cultivate toward the whole world – above, below, around – a heart of love unstinted, unmixed with any sense of differing or opposing interests. You should maintain this mindfulness all the time you are awake. Such a state of heart is the best in the world.”

– Majjhima Nikaya


“It is in this way that we must train ourselves: by liberation of the self through love. We will develop love, we will practice it, we will make it both a way and a basis, take our stand upon it, store it up, and thoroughly set it going.”

– Samyutta Nikaya


“The venerable Ananda said to the Lord,‘Half of this holy life, Lord, is good and noble friends, companionship with the good, association with the good.’

Do not say that, Ananda. Do not say that, Ananda. It is the whole of this holy life, this friendship, companionship and association with the good.’”
– Upaddha Sutta

The Thirty-Eight Supreme Blessings

The Buddha was once asked by a deva [deity] what constituted the highest blessings. His answer provides a checklist of what is most valuable in this life.

1  Not to associate with fools.
2  To associate with the wise.
3  To pay respects where they are due.
4  To reside in a suitable location.
5  To have previously done meritorious deeds.
6  To be heading in the right direction.
7  To have much learning.
8  To be skilled and knowledgeable.
9  To be restrained by a moral code.
10  To have beautiful speech.
11  To be a support for your parents.
12 & 13  The cherishing of wife and child.
14  To make one’s livelihood without difficulty.
15  To make gifts.
16  To live in accord with the Dhamma.
17  To cherish one’s relatives.
18  To do blameless actions.
19  To cease and abstain from evil.
20  To refrain from intoxicants.
21  Not to be heedless of the Dhamma.
22  To be respectful.
23  To be humble.
24  To be content.
25  To have gratitude
The Six Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism:

Dana paramita:  May I be generous and helpful! 
Sila paramita:  May I be pure and virtuous!
Ksanti paramita:  May I be patient! May I be able to bear and forbear the wrongs of others! 
Virya paramita:  May I be strenuous, energetic, and persevering! 
Dhyana paramita:  May I practice meditation and attain concentration and oneness to serve all beings! 

Prajna paramita:  May I gain wisdom and give the benefit of my wisdom to others!