Engaged Buddhism and Social Activism


Engaged Buddhism 

  • A term that came about in the later half of the 20th century. 
  • Many Buddhist pracitioners were very concerned to save Buddhism from the tendencies within society which make us individualistic, narcissistic and consumerist. 
  • Engaged Buddhism seeks to be active in society at large, dealing with the issues of today, e.g homelessness, social injustice, sexism, discrimination, peace, nuclear disarmament, environment issues etc. 
  • Traditional Buddhism appears to be quite ''self-centered'' rather than outward looking. 
  • Buddhism is all about compassion - you cannot be a Buddhist if you're not compassionate. Compassion is essential to Buddhist practice. Therefore, Buddhists must get involved with solving the problems with society. 
  • Buddhism has a reputation and maybe a tendency to be ''quietist'' - Buddhists stay quiet rather than doing anything. 
  • However, Engaged Buddhism is not about just giving money to charity or working in a soup kitchen. It must be more than that and it must be about helping and compassion. 
  • There is a view that the world is simply the public realm of samsara. The world is just a cycle of suffering held by the Three Poisons. Only if we eliminate these poisons can we change the world for the better. 
  • Engaged Buddhism is most associated with Thich Naht Hanh - a Vietnamese monk who coined the term ''Engaged Buddhism'' and founded ''The Order of Interbeing''. 
  • Supporters of Engaged Buddhism say that it is simply Buddhism, or at least what Buddhism should be. Brings mindful awareness in all aspects of life, including the political. Buddhism believes that our doing flows from our being (hence the term ''inter being''). 
  • It is important to remember that Buddhists should not confuse doing with helping. Just because you are doing something, doesn't mean that you are necessarily helping. You could be doing something out of selfishness. 
  • This notion of helping people in Buddhism is distinctly Mahayana - a part of the bodhisattva vow. Theravada monks tend to focus more on improving themselves first rather than helping others (arhat path). 
  • A common misconception about meditation is that it only happens in solitude behind closed doors. In fact, meditation can be considered as just about any peaceful or helpful action. 
  • Thich Naht Hanh famously said ''you cannot sit and meditate while there are bombs dropping on the monastery. You must learn how to help a wounded child whilst still pratcising mindful breathing. The one thing I've learn is that power, money and fame still bring suffering. If you do not have peace and compassion within you - you will suffer very deeply''. 

Buddhism and Social Activism 

  • Thich Naht Hanh is the Buddhist monk most greatly associated with Engaged Buddhism and Social Activism. 
  • He fled Vietnam in the 1960's during the Vietnam War. 
  • In 1966 - he founded his ''Order of Interbeing'' - it had just six members, but today it has thousands. 
  • He formed the Order of Interbeing as a means of fighting against wrongdoing and injustice, in a world corrupted by war and hatred. He focuses on compassion…


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