Kropotkin and Buddha: Mutual Aid and Loving-Kindness
I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the life of the world’s foremost anarcho-communist, Peter Kropotkin, with the life of the world’s foremost teacher, Buddha. Both were born as princes, but they both voluntarily gave up their princely titles. The Buddha came from a warrior caste (Kshatriya), and Kropotkin was born to the descendants of both nobility and Russian generals. In fact, Kropotkin entered into a military school at a young age, and his memoirs detailed the hazing and other abuses which lead to the school’s notoriety. They were both also considered to live meritorious, if not near perfect, lives. In his work De Profundis, Oscar Wilde described Peter Kropotkin as “a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia” and living one of the “most perfect lives”.
Peter Kropotkin also recognized, in his work Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, that early Buddhist communities embodied the principle of mutual aid. In this context, mutual aid means voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit. The work itself was to demonstrate that, despite the claims of social Darwinists, “it was an evolutionary emphasis on cooperation instead of competition in the Darwinian sense that made for the success of species, including the human.”
In his work Ethics: Origin and Development, Kropotkin often praised both Christianity and Buddhism for they “gave man a lofty moral lesson.” He also noted that, “The principal point wherein Christianity and Buddhism differed from all preceding religions was in the fact that instead of the cruel, revengeful gods to whose will men had to submit, these two religions brought forward — as an example for men and not to intimidate them — an ideal man-god.” He also further contrasted them from earlier religions, noting that “the point where Christianity and Buddhism did introduce a new principle into the life of humanity was in demanding of man complete forgiveness for the harm inflicted upon him. Up to that time the tribal morality of all peoples demanded revenge, personal or even tribal, for every injury: for murder, for wound, for insult.” Later on, he also noted that “The life of these two teachers was passed, not in temples, not in academies, but among the poor, and from among these poor and not from among the temple-priests came Christ’s apostles. And if at a later date Christianity as well as Buddhism evolved into the ‘Church,’ i.e., the government of the ‘chosen,’ with the inevitable vices of all governments — such development constituted a flagrant deviation from the will of the two founders of religion, notwithstanding all the attempts that were later made to justify this deviation by citing the books written many years after the death of the teachers themselves.”
I have to say that many of my own ideas have been influenced, either directly or indirectly, by both Kropotkin and Buddha. I also cannot help but see a lot of similarities between the two, which is only accentuated by Kropotkin’s own appraisal of Buddha. I just thought I would share this, and ask if anyone else had any thoughts?