Buddhism and Social Activism
“Go forth, o bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, for the good, for the happiness of gods and men. Let not two go by one way" - Mahavagga, Vinaya Pitaka
The word “Buddhism” tends to conjure images of calm people meditating in quiet, peaceful environments. We probably don’t immediately associate Buddhism with social outreach, protest movements, and humanitarian aid. People often view Buddhist teachings as a vehicle for inner peace and tranquility rather than as a basis for social action. Indeed, many of the largest and most active charitable organizations are usually Christian while Buddhist charitable organizations have generally been far less prominent.
Historically, Buddhists in every country have often been accused of passively running away from society to focus on withdrawn, inward spiritual cultivation. While many students of the buddhadharma have followed this path, many practitioners have instead chosen to embrace the path of active social engagement. Even in the time of the Buddha, there was a distinction between those who lived in the forests far from society and those who lived in the middle of cities. For the second group, there is a long and rich history of Buddhist monastics being socially active by serving as teachers, overseeing schools, and running hospitals.
More recently, the Humanistic Buddhist movement that began in the early 1900s in China heavily influenced the Engaged Buddhist movement, which was pioneered by Thich Nhat Hanh in the 1960s and 1970s. The activist culture of this era continues to influence many Buddhist-inspired outreach activities. In Asia, many socially engaged Buddhist groups, particularly those from Taiwan, have become very prominent and are active internationally. Additionally, many Buddhist teachers around the world continue to call for more social engagement.
Join us for an evening of dinner and discussion as we explore the relationship between Buddhism and social activism. Some of our discussion points include:
-Is it better to focus on improving oneself before becoming socially engaged or can social engagement itself be a way to practice the Buddha’s teachings? What is the Buddhist basis for either approach?
-What role does/can social engagement/outreach play in our own practice?
-Are there activities that can potentially conflict with Buddhist teachings (for example protests or civil disobedience)?
-What kind of activities are current Buddhist organizations engaged in and is it enough? If not, what’s lacking?
-Wikipedia: Humanistic Buddhism
-“Buddhism and Social Action: An Exploration”. by Ken Jones
-BBC: “Meeting Taiwan’s New Age Buddhists”
-Shambhala Sun: “In Engaged Buddhism, Peace Begins With You”
-Buddhadharma: “A Challenge to Buddhists” by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Note: we are here to share and provide others with opportunity to speak. Also we need to be cognizant not to preach or solicit.
Look forward to meeting everyone,
Eddie, Rob, and Jody