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I think it is more productive (and possible) to encourage people to increase their scope, and from that they can be freed to change themselves, and in their own way.

Ideas on how people should change, coming from rigid people or institutions, are probably not very successful except with those who are wanting authoritarian direction in the first place.

But the idea that "only people who want to change" change is something I disagree with. This idea of willpower is charming, but I believe it is the case that people are the way they are because it is already what they have chosen.

We change our entrenched habits when we are ripe for change. We overthrow our universe of thinking always for one reason [with respect to spirituality], because the ego-hold on us has lessened such that we've reached a tipping point where our old way of fitting in no longer feels right.

We can encourage and provide means such that people can exercise their muscles of compassion and wisdom. And then, we should stand back.


In today's political environment, the thought of changing people is quite appealing. There is a lot of ignorance and fear that is corrupting out society, and sometimes it seems like it would be great to be able to shed light into these people's lives. Easier said than done, and it really always comes down to the fact that we can only work on our own ignorance and development. Hopefully, if we are shining light on our own ignorance, we are also, slowly pulling a few other people along for the ride.


Chalip, neat, neat post. Thanks for posting in this frame. There are plenty of theories about social change out there. The position that postulates change as only arising from within when we are "ready," conceives of a person who is sovereign, even if unknowingly so. In other words, a sovereign agent, meaning is centered on them. I like to think that Buddhism asks us to recognize that we are far more fragmented than that. In fact, that it encourages us to confront our lack of unitary selfhood and sovereignty. Hence, I think the potential for change can arise out of the simplest things that we encounter, without any conscious recognition of our part, as conditions around us change and move us along with them.

That's not to say that at some times, especially regarding particular subjects, we are more disposed than others to open our minds, to change. There are moments when we might even not know that we are ripe for transformation in our attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, orientations.

What I want to salvage, if you will, is the flexibility that we as beings, living in a rather interconnected way, have a great deal of influence on our surroundings and others. We can exercise that compassionately and nicely. As Tom says, "encourage." We can also do that sagely. The changing itself probably always appears to the other as self-originating and initiated, but if we are all interconnected that cannot be so. We change as the cumulative effect of influences that ocassion at times subtle shifts in direction, attitude, and behavior (at other times more pronounced). Others play a great part in those cumulative effects.

Both perspectives are necessary. Personal growth and transformation occur from deep contemplation, from paying attention within (and without), as we also recognize that conditions without require that we look deeply within. So, perhaps it is like the Raven's Brew Coffee company product name hints at: "Resurrection Blend."

Zataod's last line is important: "if we shine a light on our own ignorance, we are also, slowly pulling a few other people along for the ride," if only because in it he/she disputes the line that precedes it. We don't only work on our own ignorance - that would presume again that we are totally independent beings. We work on our ignorance always as a result of being-in-the-world with others, in a symbiotic relationship.

Perhaps what this all means is that we need better distinctions about these things. Perhaps the distinction is that we need not be activists in seeking to change others. Although at times that is necessary. I hope we can do that through upaya, skillful means. But we always need to be one with change. Change (impermanence) is what constitutes us, what constitutes the world in every moment.

Thanks again!



I just had a conversation with a friend wherein she suggested that it is very hard for people to "change" their diets.

If this is so (and I don't know that it is - I seem to change my diet regularly)

then how hard is it for people to change anything else?

And what is change? Growth? Decay?

What kind of change do we want to happen? And what changes are going to happen anyway, in spite of our wants?

I do believe we have to live according to our hearts. And if that means being an activist, then one must do it.



There is a bodacious wealth of documentation on people changing in rather-expected ways because of what I would call ripening. As a father of an 18-yr-old, you aught to know that children change quickly and in sudden ways. This happens without any sovereign agent that I am aware of. Like bananas, people ripen. One day, Nacho, you will be fat, old and grey. Watch your hat; it's coming.

But, indeed, I agree that someone motivated to be introspective will encourage the ripening process and willed changes. In this, Buddhists have a leg up on most other people.

In very many ways, people get "stuck" at a point of their psychological development which obstructs the maturing/ripening process. The evidence of this would overwhelm any scientist.


Excellent discussion here folks. Thank you.

I'm not sure I can add much, I don't know how much of an effort we need to change people.

But I do have an understanding that, as others said above, by changing ourselves - others begin to change as well.

I have seen people, including myself, change by merely being in the presence of a Dharma practioner
Change is something that occurs with or without our help, I think the best thing we can do is take care of ourselves for now.

I believe that as we develop equanimity and gain some insight, skilful means will naturally follow from this.

I think I'm just agreeing with what everyone else has said, so I'll stop typing now. Thanks for a great post Chalip


I'm not so sure about changing people - or the world. This is partly a pragmatic thing. The world is big. We are small. It's a tall order! But also I think that such hopes of being able to change things are born out of an idea - and abstraction - of how things (others, ourselves, the world...) should be. And when we don't succeed we find ourselves frustrated, despairing, or lapsing into anger.

I'm not even as sure as I used to be about changing myself. I like Nacho's point that change is fundamental anyway. And perhaps all we can do is work to respond to the changing demands upon us with as much kindness and wisdom as we can muster. This may involve social action, although perhaps without a vision of how things should be - action simply because action seems the most appropriate thing to do. Or it may on the other hand involve contemplation, meditation, withdrawal.

We find ourselves called upon to respond to the unending sufferings of the world, and it is good to heed this call in one way or another; yet at the same time without the delusion that we can ourselves bring about the end of these sufferings.

There's a quote from the Talmud that I like: "You are not called upon to complete the work, yet neither are you free to evade

Thanks for the great and thought-provoking post.



Wow... Thanks everyone for engaging this discussion. I'll be back this weekend with a more substantive response. I just wanted to say I appreciate all of you.

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