Buddha was a homeless beggar on Spring Garden Road

homeless-londonBuddha was a homeless beggar on Spring Garden Road. It’s very likely that if Gotama Buddha were alive today, he would be diagnosed by mental health officials as mentally ill, psychotic, delusional. His “teachings” would be classified as the religious ravings of a schizophrenic. Imagine that you go up to a homeless guy who is begging for food on the street and he starts telling you about “emptiness” and “no self”? Today, Buddha would be classified by local law enforcement as a vagrant and arrested for vagrancy or panhandling, because he begged for his food on the street every day.

Buddha lived what he called “the homeless life”, in a twig shelter that he built himself out in the woods, owning nothing but the clothes on his back and a begging bowl. Siddhartha begged for his food everyday. You might object that the homeless on Spring Garden Road don’t beg for food, they beg for money. But in the Buddha’s day, 2600 years ago, no one had “money”. Kings and wealthy tribal leaders had gold and silver coinage. Food was “money.” Food was the currency of the day; people traded food or other goods and services. So if Buddha lived in Halifax today, he would be a homeless beggar on Spring Garden Road, begging for money. If you met the Buddha, you would probably say that he was dirty and he smelled bad, that he was young and healthy enough to get a job—why aren’t you working at a regular job, Buddha?

Want to be enlightened like Buddha? Give up all your wealth, your home, your professional status, your bourgoisie comfort and privilege, become homeless and beg for your food. Buddha taught that we don’t have to engage in extreme ascetic practices in order to attain enlightenment. But once he walked away from his wealth and power as a prince, and the wealth and security of his tribal family, he lived as a homeless person for the rest of his life. He never went back to the wealth, power and security of the “householder.”

Does that mean we should just allow homeless people to remain homeless? No, I’m not advocating that at all. Buddha taught that society must provide for people’s basic subsistence needs. We need to take responsibility for the suffering and poverty of homeless people by building more public housing, providing food, shelter, medical care and education to the poor of the world. We need public health, public housing, public transportation and public education that benefits everyone, including the poor. Moreover, we need to dismantle the systemic exploitation and neglect of 80% of the world’s population caused by the global capitalist system.


10 thoughts on “Buddha was a homeless beggar on Spring Garden Road

  1. You should atleast do some basic research before writing these type of articles which are far from reality!

  2. Most modern psychological treatments are based upon Buddhist understanding of human suffering ( read about CBT,DBT and mindfulness therapy).Your article is an ignorance of Buddhism and psychology both.

    1. All true but your comments have nothing to do with what was written in the article, which was about contemporary perceptions of homelessness, begging, and a presumed link with mental illness.

  3. Okay, so let’s say everyone had epiphanies and decided to give up everything to become homeless, or if an apocalyptic event occurred that destroyed all houses. It would only be a matter of time before someone would build a shelter made out of sticks or their own tepee. Then someone else might use geometry and basic engineering to construct a house out of wood to ward off the rain and insulate themselves from the elements. Soon enough, we’d be in the exact same position that we are currently in. Buddhism just seems full of contradictions like that…monks would have nothing to eat if everyone was a monk. And there would be no procreation if everyone was a monk (probably no good music either). “But that would never happen!” shout the infallible Buddhist apologists. Maybe it would never happen because it’s such a silly, unrealistic, unfeasible idea opposed to the basic premise of biological nature and logic. If monks are supposed to be completely unattached to all worldly pleasures and somatic desires, why don’t they use IV’s, vitamins, and stomach food tubes instead of eating food and drinking everyday?

    I am well-educated (even though the universities are indoctrination centers) and seriously considered living homeless at one point to not give into the beast system, but guess what, that is the easy way out, though nonetheless difficult in a different way. Still, if you despise the difficulty and frustration that goes with waking up every morning, helping people in your job, making music, writing books, and contributing to the world despite its inherent dysfunction, yet you still do it, that is as much a sacrifice as living without anything. After all, if everyone became homeless, who would build this public housing you so desire? Who would heal all the people if doctors (who usually come from rich families) became homeless halfway during med-school? Who would farm the fields if everyone chose to meditate all day? I swear, Buddhists can’t seem to understand that what they have is a belief system, not the master key to all knowledge in the universe. Wish you all the best though and am willing to change my mind. I am just sick of all the Buddhist supremacy around here since it is the only RELIGION currently impervious to criticism, although that is beginning to change as it becomes more and more involved in politics, aka the CIA funded Dalai Lama, Buddhists’ violent conflicts with Muslims (funny how Buddhists in Sri Lanka and elsewhere can use violence to “defend their culture” against a so-called Muslim invasion, yet when white people do it, it’s racist). My dad is Muslim btw. I personally like the Native American spirituality. Now there’s something I can get behind

    We should blame the Industrial Revolution for all of our problems. Not conservatives, leftists, the capitalist system, the communist system, the Christians, the Muslims, the white supremacists, the Jewish supremacists, the black supremacists, etc. The world went to shit after the Industrial Revolution. Tribal cultures were way better for us physically, psychologically, sexually, spiritually, etc. There was never such a thing as S&M bondage in tribal culture because there was no reason for it. There is a reason for it in our loveless, backwards culture/world. Buddhism has become a bandaid for modern living rather than the answer to our problems.

    Lastly, Buddha sucked dick for coke. Wish you all the best and much love

    1. “I swear, Buddhists can’t seem to understand that what they have is a belief system, not the master key to all knowledge in the universe. Wish you all the best though and am willing to change my mind. I am just sick of all the Buddhist supremacy around here since it is the only RELIGION currently impervious to criticism”

      I totally agree with you that Buddhism is an ideology, and “not the master key to all knowledge…” I think overall that’s part of what I’m trying to say with this blog. You should check out Speculative Non-Buddhism blog for more on that.

      As for Buddhism being impervious to criticism, that is changing. And it’s changing because more Westerners, who are mostly raised Christian, are practicing Buddhism. But we weren’t born into it, so we tend to have a more distant, sometimes critical view towards it, as outsiders to a non-western cultural system.

      “The world went to shit after the Industrial Revolution.” True, but then we wouldn’t have light bulbs or the Internet. So just like somebody has to go to work so Buddhist monks can eat, somebody had to invent computers so we could tweet and post shit on Facebook.

      No, this ‘budda’ sucked dick for heroin. Coke users run Fortune 500 companies.

  4. Lol, best reply ever. I wish you all the best my friend. Will continue to read your stuff and support you. God bless

  5. “The world went to shit after the Industrial Revolution.”
    The IR was little more than a tiny predictable blip on the trajectory put in place by agricultural “civilisations’, which is what broke tribal cultures. The latter had been gone for centuries in regions where industries developed.

    And it is pretty much a universal natural law the *everything* goes to shit with major ecological changes (volcanoes, meteorites, agricultural revolutions). Lament it for fun and artistic profit as much as you wish. That’s just entertainment. What (if anything) can be built from the chaos is what matters. Not that I’m optimistic on that front. I think we’ve chosen our course now (ie. inequality, environmental destruction & war).

    “And it’s changing because more Westerners, who are mostly raised Christian, are practicing Buddhism.”

    That’s a very American perspective (not “Western”)! I grew up in the UK and now live in Australia. I haven’t met anyone who was raised a Christian since I worked on a hardscrabble Scottish farm (run by grimfaced Plymouth Brethren) in the 1980s.

  6. To the main point of the article though: I’m sure you’re right. More generally: we’ve reached a pitch where *any* authentic life would have to be deemed pathological. Those who survive *apparently* intact (ie. who look like they are functioning normatively) only do so by one variety or other of extreme measures, like walling themselves off psychologically from their fellow humans, placing themselves above the Other, feigning rectitude etc etc). Buddhism for the most part functions in society as just one of those mechanisms (as pointed out by Zizek and others). Not that I’m blaming individuals for this. We all have to find some way to function (or we don’t). There doesn’t seem to be an easy way.

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