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Dinner and Discussion: Buddhism and Social Activism

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Historically, Buddhists in every country have often been accused of passively running away from society to focus on withdrawn, inward spiritual cultivation.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?

Further reading:

-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

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  • Rob P.

    …They’re an engaged Buddhist group focusing on many social activist projects. The last group we’d like to mention is Buddhist Global Relief ( The group was formed in 2007, inspired by Bhikkhu Bodhi’s call to action in the essay “A Challenge to Buddhists” ( It emphasizes food aid and education in both the developed and the developing worlds.

    There are many more socially engaged Buddhist groups and we encourage you to take the initiative to seek out groups fitting your interests. And if you can’t find a group that matches your interests, you can always be socially active and start one yourself!

    Thanks once more and we look forward to seeing you all again soon. With Joined Palms,
    Eddie, Jody, and Rob

    1 · August 13, 2014

  • Rob P.

    Greetings everyone! It was wonderful to chat with friends new and familiar and we’d like to thank everyone who came out in spite of the nasty weather. A very special thanks goes out to Ven. Guo Xing and Ven. Chang Gan for taking time to chat and answer our many questions.

    As a follow-up, we’d like to highlight some Buddhist groups involved in social outreach. The first is the Tzu Chi Foundation ( Founded in Taiwan in the 1960s by Master Cheng Yen, herself a student of Master Yin Shun, it now runs many relief and outreach activities globally. The second group is the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (, established in the 1970s by Roshi Robert Aitken…

    1 · August 13, 2014

  • Al G.

    I know intellectually we are one, but being with this meetup group one can actually begin to experience it in a very real way and to become more aware of the necessity of the Sangha to help us begin to understand the Dharma. For me it has always been a joyful experience to have an actual conversation, which to me means to actually communicate. The way this particular event is organized this becomes possible. Although there may be disagreements on the way comments are expressed we all seem to be on the same page. In my view this always offers a great opportunity to gain new material for contemplation and also to affirm and maybe share what small measure of understanding is available. It is also a great privilege to have a real Master present to to share his Wisdom, Understanding and Teaching with us. Again, my thanks and appreciation go to Eddie, Rob and Jody for their efforts in creating the event and also to all those who were present. Xie, Xie Nimen.

    1 · August 13, 2014

  • Eddie Victor O.

    You guys have something good here, take it to the mountains tops. People all need to know the experience of Wisdom. It is not about right or wrong, or who can do it and who can't, it's about freeing yourself to listen to yourself where it all comes from. My teacher told me if you don't know be still and know, it's all within! One Mind!

    2 · August 13, 2014

  • Ron

    I'm asking this for the waiting list people: There are three spots open. Can those who are waiting be moved up?

    1 · August 12, 2014

  • Eddie Victor O.

    We are all Bodhisattva"s if we teach anywhere, Bodhisattva's are teachers. There are many levels or paths of Bodhisattva. The book The Way of the Bodhisattva show me in the second chapter called confession that I am not strong enough on my path to reach what the book calls precious attitude. "Precious Attitude " not even holy words but Precious Attitude. It got me right between my eyes. It made me feel I must upgrade my path. I am making it to light. If I am really looking for what I truly want, I must do the work within the mind where no one knows me but me. The Truth of me is free! Love you guys eddie

    August 7, 2014

  • Rob P.

    Eddie, glad you've enjoyed it. It's a
    classic for a reason. Hope to see you

    August 5, 2014

  • Eddie Victor O.

    Rob the book "The Way of the Bodhisattva" is a wonderful and seems to create in me a better understanding of the Buddha teaching. Thanks again eddie

    August 4, 2014

  • Eddie Victor O.

    I am going to Taiwan with my Tao group in August we will be moving from Temple to Temple for two weeks. I have to talk at least 3 times in tree temples. I am a first level Buddhist working the five precepts, If you really work on the five precepts you will really grow deeper on you path, but don't let the 5 precepts become a law, but let them become a lesson, you can't break a lesson you can break a law. Don't be attached to five laws be attach to five lessons this is the way of truth. Love you all eddie

    August 1, 2014

  • Eddie Victor O.

    Eddie, Rob, and Jody I am going to ask a few people to come with me that night who are either a Buddhist or really interested in being with a Buddhist teaching group. eddie "I love you guys"

    1 · July 23, 2014

    • Jody C

      Thank you! We enjoy your company too.

      July 23, 2014

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