Reasonableness is reflected in Marxian Engaged Buddhist’s (MEBs) ability to explain the structure and content of their commitments to doctrinally sanctioned Buddhist political behavior based upon empirical facts. This essay investigates how MEBs might explain and justify political behavior based upon doctrinal, empirical, and logical considerations. It responds to David Hume’s critique of the “Naturalistic Fallacy” by reflecting upon those sila that supply reasons that connect facts (what “is”) to preferred actions (how one “ought” to behave). It views Marxian analysis as a scientific endeavor, not a political dogma. Finally, it suggests that functional explanation that supplies an explanatory schema that is consistent with the epistemological and moral reasoning characteristic of dhamma.
Engaged Buddhism manifests a compassionate social consciousness and remains a rich topic of deliberation and debate. It employs objective observations of personal and social dukkha to determine actions for positive social change. Thich Naht Hanh, who minted the term, describes the genesis of the practice.
When I was a novice in Vietnam, we young monks witnessed the suffering caused by the war. So we were very eager to practice Buddhism in such a way that we could bring it into society. That was not easy because the tradition does not directly offer Engaged Buddhism. So we had to do it by ourselves. That was the birth of Engaged Buddhism.
Buddhism has to do with your daily life, with your suffering and with the suffering of the people around you. You have to learn how to help a wounded child while still practicing mindful breathing. You should not allow yourself to get lost in action. Action should be meditation at the same time.
Nhat Hanh’s description involves two of the “Three Pillars of the Dhamma.” The pillar of generosity (dana) is etymologically traced to an ethic of “benevolence.” The pillar of meditation (bhavana) in part involves the development of a critical faculty through “awareness,” the active consciousness of objective experience. In addition, the admonition against becoming “lost in action” suggests that political behavior should be guided by bhavana. Thus, Nhat Hanh inveighs against activism that is “idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones.”
Nhat Hanh’s vision offers three challenges for MEBs. The Buddha warns Vacchagotta, appropriately depicted as a “wanderer,” of the dangers of maintaining attachments to viewpoints that engender dukkha.
Vaccha, the position that ‘the cosmos is eternal’ is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, and fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding.
Hence, MEBs must identify their Marxian orientation as objective rather than a “feverish” revolutionary dogma.
A second problem involves how MEBs formulate sound deductive arguments from Marxian facts to Buddhist “Right Action.” Hume’s complaint concerning the naturalistic fallacy is that facts do not in themselves entail normative behaviors. Although Hume’s claim remains controversial, failing to stipulate minimally sufficient reasons to support intended behavioral conclusions at least obscures moral justification.
Finally, beyond objectivity and logical entailment, MEBs must seek an explanatory language that appropriately identifies empirical phenomena, their taxonomies and causal interactions. For example, the media and political progressives routinely explain the fragility of the American economy with reference to a “wealth gap” caused by “greedy” individuals and financial institutions. However, psychological and moralistic explanations do not address the facts of and causal relations among capitalist forces of production, social relations of production and an enabling governmental superstructure that interest MEBs. The world could be empty of greedy people, yet the mechanisms of capitalism, as Marxists identify them, will continue unabated. Many Marxists disapprove of politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren just because they refuse to completely oppose capitalism, however compassionately reengineered.
How might MEBs confront these three challenges?
One way to insure anti-dogmatism is to take Marxian analysis as a methodology for an empirical research program that utilizes teleological explanation common to the social sciences. Joseph Dietzgen’s describes such a scientific socialism.
Modern socialism, on the other hand, is scientific, just as scientists arrive at their generalizations not by mere speculation, but by observing the phenomena of the material world, so are the socialistic and communistic theories not idle schemes [my italics], but generalizations drawn from economic facts.
While the scientific status of Marxian analysis has significant critics, the work of Henryk Grossman, Andrew Kliman, Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy continues to be advanced as empirically robust.
Consider Marx’s fundamental “Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall.” The Law explains that capitalism produces increasing accumulation and economic growth by expanding productivity. Growth can be achieved by introducing labor saving technology that increases the efficiency of the productive forces. While productivity grows, an economic dysfunction is introduced. Marx claimed that all profit within capitalism arises from the surplus labor of workers. This is because, although productivity increases, profits “in the long run” will tend to fall as a function of the reduced amount of expended labor.
MEBs can avoid the naturalistic fallacy by providing additional premises in the form of reasons that link facts to conclusions regarding Right Action. The determination of Right Action would result from a deduction from premises including both scientific socialist facts and the sila of the Noble Path. His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains.
Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes–that is, the majority–as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair.
The reader has likely noticed an appeal to “dysfunctions,” which Marx dubs “contradictions.” Functional explanation provides a familiar mode of thinking for Buddhists. It offers a teleology that specifies ends states that are or are not “in adequate, or effective, or proper, working order.” It describes how systems can manifest functional and dysfunctional states that satisfy or do not satisfy needs, based upon the proper operation of causally potent functional items.
The “Four Noble Truths” represent an objective functionalism on stilts. They refer to states of a system of human consciousness that are either in good working order (the enlightened consciousness – bodhicitta) or not so (the suffering consciousness – dukkha), as specified in the Abhidhamma. They claim that such end states have causes ascertainable through the functionality of mindfulness. They claim that the need to achieve bodhicitta can be satisfied by removing the causes of dukkha. This state of a consciousness in good working order is manifested by loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha); the Brahma-viharas. For MEBs, the functionality represented by metta, karuna, mudita and upekkha motivate compassionate social action. Thus, the Four Noble Truths thus represent a schema for an objective functional explanation of dukkha and its elimination.
Combining the Buddhist functional account of dukkha with a functional scientific socialism provides a “second-order” method for objectively and reasonably understanding the dukkha of capitalism. Reasons offered by the Noble Path become part of deductive justifications for specific political behaviors, supplying premises needed to avoid the naturalistic fallacy.
Marx’s Law is consistent with a functional model of Marxian Enlightened Buddhism. For MEBs, the functionality of the brahma-viharas motivate not only a concern ameliorating the effects of unemployment on people, but the dysfunctions of the capitalist mode of production that affect society. MEBs might not only wish to propose policies that ameliorate unemployment, but also wish to advocate for remedial changes in how technological innovation is applied to production and how economic growth might be managed in order to mitigate the systemic forces caused by capitalism.
The central claim of this essay, surely controversial at best and sketchy at most, is that Marxian Buddhism can provide a basis for objective functional explanations from facts to Right Action. The capitalist condition of private ownership of the means of production disempowers workers by “alienating” them from control over their economic lives. Private property is a functional condition of capitalist production that engenders the dysfunction of unemployment. Thus, private property becomes dukkha. This is the quintessence of the Marx’s objective analysis of class struggle under capitalism. Worker disempowerment is a good functional working order for capital but not for workers. That un-Buddhist inequality is explained through explicit reference to functional systems. MEBs provide explanations involving competing systems (capitalism versus human biology), functional and dysfunctional states (growing accumulation versus personal and social impoverishment), needs (increased productive capacity versus personal economic security), goals (maximal accumulation versus enlightened human freedom) and functional items (technology and labor). For MEB’s, the dharma encapsulates a functionalist scientific research program. Functional explanation, along with corroborating objective evidence, provides MEBs with increasing confidence in their ability to identify causal connections that provide a basis for enlightened political action.
 This article draws primarily from the insights of His Holiness Dalai Lama, Joseph Dietzgen, Thich Nhat Hanh and Sulak Sivaraska.
 Nhat Hanh, Thich. ‘Interbeing’: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism. Revised edition. (Berkeley, California, Parallax Press, 1993).
 Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. (London: John Noon, 1739).
 Karl Popper complains about claims for scientific socialism. One concern is that Marxian “laws” are unfalsifiable. We cannot discuss this claim in any detail here. I will only mention that the success of the theory of biological evolution, which routinely employs functional explanation, represents a significant counterexample to Popper’s objection.
 Grossman, Henryk. Law of the Accumulation and Breakdown. (Leipzig: Hirschfeld, 1929). http://www.marxists.org/archive/grossman/1929/breakdown/index.htm
 Kliman, Andrew. The Failure of Capitalist Production (London: PlutoPress, 2012).
 Baran, Paul A. & Sweezy, Paul M. Monopoly Capital: An essay on the American economic and social order (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966).
 Hempel, Carl. Aspects of Scientific Explanation and Other Essays in the Philosophy of Science (New York: Free Press, 1965), 306.