Engaged Buddhism

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Engaged Buddhism refers to Buddhists who are seeking ways to apply the insights from meditation practice and dharma teachings to situations of social, political, environmental and economic suffering and injustice. Finding its roots in Vietnam through the Zen Buddhist teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh,[1] Engaged Buddhism has grown in popularity in the West.[2]


The term was coined by the Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh in the 1960's,[3] inspired by the humanistic Buddhism reform movement in China by Taixu and Yinshun and later propagated in Taiwan by Cheng Yen and Hsing Yun.[4] At first, he used Literary Chinese, the liturgical language of Vietnamese Buddhism, calling it in Chinese: 入世佛教; lit.: 'Worldly Buddhism'. During the Vietnam War, he and his sangha (spiritual community) made efforts to respond to the suffering they saw around them, in part by coopting the nonviolence activism of Mahatma Gandhi in India and of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States to oppose the conflict.[1][5] They saw this work as part of their meditation and mindfulness practice, not apart from it.[1] Thich Nhat Hanh outlined fourteen precepts of engaged Buddhism, which explained his philosophy.[6]

As early as 1946, Walpola Rahula identified an explicit social ethos present in the earliest recorded Buddhist teachings, noting that the Buddha encouraged early monks to travel in order to benefit the largest number of people and that his discourses to lay people often included practical instructions on social and economic matters, rather than being purely concerned with philosophical or soteriological concerns.[7]

In India[edit]

In India, a form of engaged Buddhism started as a Buddhist revival movement by B.R. Ambedkar, called Dalit Buddhist movement. Buddhist teachings invite us to take responsibility for ourselves, and this is being interpreted in engaged Buddhist circles as taking responsibility for the entire sangha, the larger community, and ultimately, our ecosystem on this planet Earth. Ambedkar’s approach tells us that if we spend too much time in per­sonal meditation practice, and in retreat from the world of social relationship, we will be irresponsible to our community. So we need to get off the cushion, get out of the house, get out there and start to educate, agitate, and organize. This is a collectivist notion of sangha as people working together for a society of justice, wherein our Buddhist practice becomes the engaged activity of social change.[8] According to Christopher Queen : "Ambedkar offered a socially engaged Buddhism that focused on economic justice, political freedom, and moral striving".[9] B.R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in 1956 and initiated what is called Ambedkar Buddhism, when on October 1956 in Nagpur, nearly 400 000 Dalits converted from Hinduism.[10] His book The Buddha and His Dhamma was published in 1957, after his death.

Socially engaged Buddhism in the West[edit]

In the West, like the East, engaged Buddhism is a way of attempting to link authentic Buddhist practice—particularly mindfulness—with social action.[11][12] It has two main centers from which its approach, spearheaded by Thich Nhat Hanh, is disseminated, namely the Plum Village monastic community in Loubes-Bernac, France and the Community of Mindful Living (CML) in Berkeley, California.[5] Both centers are tied to Hanh's Unified Buddhist Church.[5] Beside Hanh's efforts, the current Dalai Lama has voiced a need for Buddhists to be more involved in the socio-political realm:

In 1998, while on retreat in Bodh Gaya, India, [...] the Dalai Lama told those of us who were participating in a Buddhist-Christian dialogue that sometimes, Buddhists have not acted vigorously to address social and political problems. He told our group, "In this, we have much to learn from the Christians."[11]

Some Christians have rallied in attempts of bringing peace and hope to those distressed in the midst of political and social tragedies. The intention of these evangelizing groups is not to evoke tension or violence among groups or individuals, or to force any solutions onto individuals, however their goal is to provide comfort and demonstrate acts of love and kindness.[13]

Organizations such as the Soka Gakkai International, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Buddhist Global Relief, the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, the Zen Peacemakers led by Roshi Bernard Glassman and Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Interbeing[5] are devoted to building the movement of engaged Buddhists. Other engaged Buddhist groups include the Benevolent Organisation for Development, Health and Insight, Gaden Relief Projects, the UK's Network of Buddhist Organisations, Fo Guang Shan and Tzu Chi.

Prominent figures in the movement include Robert Aitken Roshi,[14] Joanna Macy,[14] Gary Snyder,[15] Alan Senauke,[16] Sulak Sivaraksa,[17] Daisaku Ikeda, Maha Ghosananda,[18] Sylvia Wetzel, Joan Halifax,[19] Tara Brach,[20] Taigen Dan Leighton,[21] Ken Jones,[22] Jan Willis. Bhante Sujato[23] and Bhikkhu Bodhi.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Malkin, John (July 1, 2003). "In Engaged Buddhism, Peace Begins with You". Lion's Roar. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  2. ^ Queen, Chris; King, Sallie (1996). Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia. New York: Albany State University Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-7914-2843-5.
  3. ^ Duerr, Maria (March 26, 2010). "An Introduction to Engaged Buddhism". PBS. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  4. ^ Queen, Christopher (2000). Engaged Buddhism in the West. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. p. 36. ISBN 0-86171-159-9.
  5. ^ a b c d Irons, Edward (2008). Encyclopedia of Buddhism. New York, NY: Checkmark Books. pp. 176–177. ISBN 9780816077441.
  6. ^ Hanh, Thich Nhat (April 12, 2017). "The Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism". Lion's Roar. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  7. ^ Rahula, Walpola (1974). The Heritage of the Bhikkhu (1st English ed.). New York: Grove Press. pp. 3–7. ISBN 0-8021-4023-8.
  8. ^ Queeen, Christopher. "A Fourth Turning of the Wheel? Ambedkar Buddhism". buddhistinquiry.org. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  9. ^ Queen, Christopher. "The Great Conversion". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Retrieved 2020-11-26.
  10. ^ "Ambedkar Buddhism". oxfordbibliographies.com. Retrieved 2020-11-26.
  11. ^ a b Jonas, Robert A. (2006). "Engaged Buddhism". Empty Bell. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  12. ^ Loy, David. "What's Buddhist about Socially Engaged Buddhism". zen-occidental.net. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  13. ^ Stone, Bryan P. (2007). Evangelism After Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press. ISBN 978-1587431944. OCLC 70803303.
  14. ^ a b Winston, Diana. "Justify Your Love: Finding Authority for Socially Engaged Buddhism". Urban Dharma. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  15. ^ Jeschke, Matt (December 23, 1994). "Interview with Gary Snyder". cuke.com. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  16. ^ "About Hozan Alan Senauke". Lion's Roar. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  17. ^ Lewis, Craig (June 6, 2018). "Compassion and Kalyana-mittata: The Engaged Buddhism of Sulak Sivaraksa". Buddhistdoor. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  18. ^ Bloomfeld, Vishvapani (March 28, 2007). "Obituary: Maha Ghosananda". The Guardian. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  19. ^ "About Engaged Buddhism: Roshi Joan Halifax". Upaya Zen Center. August 8, 2013. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  20. ^ "BuddhaFest Teaching: Tara Brach on Love". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. June 22, 2011. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  21. ^ "Our Guiding Teacher: Taigen Dan Leighton". Ancient Dragon Zen Gate. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  22. ^ "Ken Jones, Welsh Author and Activist, Dies at 85". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. August 10, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  23. ^ Lam, Raymond (December 9, 2016). "An Afternoon with Ajahn Sujato: Personal Courage and Restoring the Sangha's Moral Purpose". Buddhistdoor Global. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  24. ^ Valdez, Regina (October 4, 2016). "Fusing Contemplative Practice with Social Action". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Retrieved September 7, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

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