Notes on Buddhist Journalism—1-Aim is to reduce suffering through Middle Path norms
Posted on June 19th, 2011

By Shelton A. GunaratneƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚© 2011 Professor of mass communications emeritusƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ at Minnesota State U Moorhead

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ In a recent blog discussion on the Buddhist approach to journalism (BJ), I chided the namarupa bearing the funny label D. Andre for asking me to explain what I meant by BJ when I thought I had already explained the concept in the background paper I attached to my original post. I reiterated my explanation of BJ in summary form:

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ BJ is not the reporting of Buddhist events, although it can include them. BJ is based on the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path (NEP) and their operational mechanism embedded in the doctrine of paticca samuppada (dependent co-arising). These are the basic constituents of Buddhism that all sects agree on.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ BJ, overall, looks at journalism from the angle of reducing dukkha/unsatisfactoriness in the world. Thus, it tries to control nidanas such as satyasana (sixfold senses), phassa (contact), vedana (feeling), tanha (craving) and upadana (grasping)ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚the causes of suffering.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

I demonstrated in my background paper that mainstream journalism follows Western valuesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚impact, proximity, timeliness, prominence, conflict, the unusual, currency and necessity. These news values have made news a commodity.

BJ will make news a social good. News as a social good emerges when the journalist follows the path of

  • Right speech (abstinence from lying, divisive speech, abusive speech and idle chatter). This guideline is a call to avoid one-sided /biased editorials, comments and columns; defamatory writing; gossip writing, etc.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 
  • Right action (abstinence from taking life, stealing, and sexual misconduct, etc.)
  • Right livelihood (abstinence from activities that may harm others (by using journalism to promote animal slaughter, weapons trade, slavery, alcohol, etc.

These three normative goals form the sila (ethical conduct) dimension of the NEP. The Ten Commandments/Decalogue of the three Abrahamic religionsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚Judaism, Christianity and IslamƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚also contain similar injunctions: Thou shalt not kill (panatipata), steal (adinnadana), commit adultery, covet thy neighborƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s wife (kamesumiccacara), and bear false witness (musavada). Only the precept to shun intoxicants (surameraya) does not appear in the Decalogue, which also calls on to honor ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-thy father and thy mother.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ In short, the Buddhist code of ethical conduct is consistent with that of the Abrahamic religions. The practitioner of BJ will not only refrain from violating the norms of sila, but also discourage others from so doing. Stories meeting the criteria of ethical conduct appear in the quality press of the world even though the media conglomerates, the champions of capitalism, have secularized ethics to conform to capitalist needs. The Fourth Estate, backed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, has used the slogan of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-freedom of the pressƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ to render the Buddhist/Decalogue sense of ethical conduct utterly porous. Many popular newspapers thrive on highlighting ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-women, wampum and wrong-doingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚the expression a Texas editor used to mean sex, money and crimeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚to boost their circulation and advertising revenue. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Now, we come to the PaƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚±ƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚±ƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚ (wisdom) dimension of the NEP.

  • Right understanding/view (sammƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚-diƒÆ’‚¡ƒ”š‚¹ƒ”š‚­ƒÆ’‚¡ƒ”š‚¹ƒ”š‚­hi) of the Four Noble Truths (that dukkha/ unsatisfactoriness arises from the interaction of anicca/impermanence and anatta/no-self.) ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

From a cognitive psychological point of view, the NEP is an attempt to change patterns of thought and behavior. Therefore, sammƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚-diƒÆ’‚¡ƒ”š‚¹ƒ”š‚­ƒÆ’‚¡ƒ”š‚¹ƒ”š‚­hi, which is how one’s mind views the world, becomes supremely important to qualify as a BJ practitioner. It is imperative for the BJ practitioner to understand that there is no permanent living being/soul/atta called I. (For example, President Mahinda Rajapakse is the namarupa of a constantly changing pancaskanda (five aggregates: form/matter, feeling/sensation, perception/cognition, mental formations/impulses, and consciousness) whose material form will decay and eventually die. Thus, BJ practitioners will de-emphasize individualism, whereas it is the hallmark of Western journalism, which engenders egocentrism as well.

  • Right thoughts/conceptions (sammƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚-saƒÆ’‚¡ƒ”š‚¹ƒ¢¢”š¬‚¦kappa) in its threefold form: thoughts of renunciation (as opposed to those of sense pleasures); kind thoughts (as opposed those of ill will); and thoughts of harmlessness (as opposed to those of cruelty). The worldview of any namarupa is intimately connected with sammƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚-saƒÆ’‚¡ƒ”š‚¹ƒ¢¢”š¬‚¦kappa, which concerns the patterns of thought and intention that controls one’s actions.

The third dimension, Samadhi (mental development), of the NEP requires the BJ practitioners to discipline their minds as an ongoing activity through three mutually interacting paths:

  • Right effort (samma vayama)
  • Right mindfulness (samma sati) exemplified by the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness (see Satipatthana Sutta): the body, feelings, mind states and mental objects.
  • Right concentration (samma samadhi) culminating inƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ jhanicƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ absorptions through the meditative development ofƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ samatha.

These three are forms of meditation, the benefits of which are well known in the contemporary world. BJ practitioners will produce better copy when they purify their minds. Buddhist philosophy recognizes the central role the mind plays in each namarupaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s existence. A detailed exposition of the Samadhi dimension is not needed at this stage because our aim is not directing each BJ practitioner to reach Buddhist Enlightenment but to enlighten their journalism to reduce world suffering in the Buddhist sense.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The NEP functions as an interdependent, interconnected and interacting composite of eight paths operating as a system. All of its three dimensions are porous. This is best illustrated in the operational mechanism of paticca samuppada, from which I have extracted the following additional normative guidelines to distinguish Buddhist journalism from other genres:

  • Adopt mutual causality as the preferred method of journalistic analysis and interpretation because everything in the universe is interconnected, interdependent and interacting. Nothing is independent. Samsara is bhavacakraƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚the wheel of becoming, which has no beginning or an end. Therefore, analyze all the possible factors giving rise to a global/national/local crisis; and interpret how they impacted on one another to produce the crisis in question.
  • Advocate the need for humanity to work in harmony with Nature, including all flora and fauna.
  • Discourage conspicuous consumption, but try to obtain the maximum of well being for the minimum of consumption.
  • Overall, when in doubt about the sagacity of applying either extreme of a noble path, select the Middle WayƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚a point in the continuum between yang (positive) and yin (negative).

BJ aims to reduce world suffering whereas mainstream journalism tends to increase suffering. Advertising, the primary source of funding mainstream news media, has shaped news into another commodity. Advertising creates a namarupaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s craving (tanha), affects its six senses (satayatana), as well as its attributes of feeling (vedana), grasping (upadana), and contact (phassa) thereby inducing it to volitional action (sankhara). Thus, it should be obvious that BJ cannot and should exist outside the capitalist largesse of advertising. BJ is by definition a social good. It can co-exist with mainstream commercial media only in communities and nations that are willing to establish media outlets through state and local government or private foundation funding. As nothing in the world is independent, BJ media outlets must readily recognize their interdependence with their funding sources, their audience, and all other pertinent elements. A panel of respected people from the media outletƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s coverage area, not the funding source/s, should judge the performance of the editors on a regular basis. Membership of each such panel should change on a rotating basis.


One Response to “Notes on Buddhist Journalism—1-Aim is to reduce suffering through Middle Path norms”

  1. gunarat Says:

    Let not the market-oriented Western-style journalism paradigm continue to destroy the moral and ethical fabric of the Orient. This is the most propitious time to organize a worldwide movement to launch a Buddhist-oriented humane journalism to re-civilize the world.

    Please read the article carefully and try to fathom the pitfalls and advantages of my proposal.

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