Engaged Buddhism

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, Engaged Buddhism has grown in popularity in the West.[1]


The term was coined by the Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh, inspired by the humanistic Buddhism reform movement in China by Taixu and Yinshun and later propagated in Taiwan by Cheng Yen and Hsing Yun.[2] At first, he used Literary Chinese, the liturgical language of Vietnamese Buddhism, calling it in Chinese: 入世佛教; literally: '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.[3][4] They saw this work as part of their meditation and mindfulness practice, not apart from it.[3] Thich Nhat Hanh outlined fourteen precepts of engaged Buddhism, which explained his philosophy.[5]

The term engaged Buddhism has since been re-translated back into Chinese as left-wing Buddhism (左翼佛教) to denote the left emphasis held by this type of Buddhism. The term has also been used as a translation for what is commonly understood in China and Taiwan as humanistic Buddhism (人間佛教).

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.[6]

Socially engaged Buddhism in the West

In the West, like the East, engaged Buddhism is a way of attempting to link authentic Buddhist practice—particularly mindfulness—with social action.[7][8] 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.[4] Both centers are tied to Hanh's Unified Buddhist Church.[4] 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."[7]

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.[9]

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[4] 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,[10] Joanna Macy,[10] Gary Snyder, Alan Senauke, Sulak Sivaraksa, Maha Ghosananda, Sylvia Wetzel, Joan Halifax, Tara Brach, Taigen Dan Leighton, Ken Jones, Jan Willis and Bhikkhu Bodhi.

See also


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Queen, Christopher (2000). Engaged Buddhism in the West. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. p. 36. ISBN 0-86171-159-9.
  3. ^ a b In Engaged Buddhism, Peace Begins with You
  4. ^ a b c d Irons, Edward (2008). Encyclopedia of Buddhism. New York, NY: Checkmark Books. pp. 176–177. ISBN 9780816077441.
  5. ^ "The Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism".
  6. ^ Rahula, Walpola (1974). The Heritage of the Bhikkhu (1st English ed.). New York: Grove Press. pp. 3–7. ISBN 0-8021-4023-8.
  7. ^ a b "Engaged Buddhism".
  8. ^ "What's Buddhist about Socially Engaged Buddhism".
  9. ^ Stone, Bryan P. (2007). Evangelism After Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press. ISBN 1587431947. OCLC 70803303.
  10. ^ a b "Justify Your Love: Finding Authority for Socially Engaged Buddhism".

Further reading

External links

Benevolent Organisation for Development, Health and Insight

The Benevolent Organisation for Development, Health and Insight is a Non-Governmental Organisation that undertakes sustainable interventions to promote human rights, education, and health amongst disadvantaged people in low-income countries. Their activities are principally in India and Bangladesh. Their founding patron is the Dalai Lama and they had former projects in several countries, including in Tibet, most notably the revolving sheep bank. (See http://www.case.edu/affil/tibet/tibetanNomads/sheepbank.htm)

BODHI's past projects include adult literacy programs, health clinics, and education, all illustrations of engaged Buddhism. More recently, BODHI has primarily supported works with minority populations in India and Bangladesh, especially of Chakmas and dalits.

They have partnerships with local organizations and their volunteers. BODHI, founded in 1989, is one of the first Buddhist-influenced development organisations founded and based in the West. It has two branches, in the U.S. and in Australia. Its advisory board includes

Shelley Anderson

Bob Brown

Mila de Gimeno

John Guillebaud

Maurice King

Christopher Queen

David Rapport

Sulak Sivaraksa

the late Robert AitkenIt was co-founded by Dr Colin Butler and the late Susan Woldenberg Butler.

Bernie Glassman

Bernie Glassman (January 18, 1939 – November 4, 2018) was an American Zen Buddhist roshi and founder of the Zen Peacemakers (previously the Zen Community of New York), an organization established in 1980. In 1996, he co-founded the Zen Peacemaker Order with his late wife Sandra Jishu Holmes. Glassman was a Dharma successor of the late Taizan Maezumi-roshi, and gave inka and Dharma transmission to several people.

Glassman was known as a pioneer of social enterprise, socially engaged Buddhism and "Bearing Witness Retreats" at Auschwitz and on the streets.According to author James Ishmael Ford, in 2006 he

...transferred his leadership of the White Plum Asanga to his Dharma brother Merzel Roshi and has formally "disrobed," renouncing priesthood in favor of serving as a lay teacher.

Buddhist Peace Fellowship

The Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF) is a nonsectarian international network of engaged Buddhists participating in various forms of nonviolent social activism and environmentalism. The nonprofit BPF is an affiliate of the international Fellowship of Reconciliation working toward global disarmament and peace, helping individuals suffering under governmental tyranny in places such as Burma, Bangladesh, Tibet and Vietnam. Currently headquartered in Oakland, California, BPF was incorporated in 1978 in Hawaii by Robert Baker Aitken, his wife Anne Hopkins Aitken, Nelson Foster, Ryo Imamura and others. Shortly after other notable individuals joined, including Gary Snyder, Alfred Bloom, Joanna Macy and Jack Kornfield. Generally speaking, the BPF has a tendency to approach social issues from a left-wing perspective and, while the fellowship is nonsectarian, the majority of its members are practitioners of Zen.

BPF's work includes:1 Sparking conversation at the intersection of Buddhism and social justice;

2 Training Buddhist political activists;

3 Mobilizing people to action from a Buddhist perspective;

4 Building a network of radical Buddhist activists.

BPF is currently led by codirectors Katie Loncke and Dawn Haney and a national board of seven individuals.

Buddhist modernism

Buddhist modernism (also referred to as modern Buddhism, modernist Buddhism and Neo-Buddhism) are new movements based on modern era reinterpretations of Buddhism. David McMahan states that modernism in Buddhism is similar to those found in other religions. The sources of influences have variously been an engagement of Buddhist communities and teachers with the new cultures and methodologies such as "western monotheism; rationalism and scientific naturalism; and Romantic expressivism". The influence of monotheism has been the internalization of Buddhist gods to make it acceptable in modern West, while scientific naturalism and romanticism has influenced the emphasis on current life, empirical defense, reason, psychological and health benefits.The Neo-Buddhism movements differ in their doctrines and practices from the historical, mainstream Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions. A co-creation of Western Orientalists and reform-minded Asian Buddhists, Buddhist modernism has been a reformulation of Buddhist concepts that has deemphasized traditional Buddhist doctrines, cosmology, rituals, monasticism, clerical hierarchy and icon worship. The term came into vogue during the colonial and post-colonial era studies of Asian religions, and is found in sources such as Louis de la Vallee Poussin's 1910 article.Examples of Buddhist modernism movements and traditions include Humanistic Buddhism, Secular Buddhism, Engaged Buddhism, Navayana, the Japanese-initiated new lay organizations of Nichiren Buddhism such as Soka Gakkai, the New Kadampa Tradition and the missionary activity of Tibetan Buddhist masters in the West (leading the quickly growing Buddhist movement in France), the Vipassana Movement, the Triratna Buddhist Community, Dharma Drum Mountain, Fo Guang Shan, Won Buddhism, Tzu Chi, and Juniper Foundation.

Dalit Buddhist movement

The Dalit Buddhist movement (also known as Neo-Buddhist movement) is a socio-political movement by Dalits in India started by B. R. Ambedkar. It radically re-interpreted Buddhism and created a new school of Buddhism called Navayana. The movement has sought to be a socially and politically engaged form of Buddhism.The movement was launched in 1956 by Ambedkar when nearly half a million Dalits – formerly untouchables – joined him and converted to his Navayana Buddhism. It rejected Hinduism, challenged the caste system in India and promoted the rights of the Dalit community. The movement also rejected the teachings of traditional Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions of Buddhism, and took an oath to pursue a new form of engaged Buddhism as taught by Ambedkar.

Engaged Spirituality

Engaged spirituality refers to religious or spiritual people who actively engage in the world in order to transform it in positive ways while finding nurturance, inspiration and guidance in their spiritual beliefs and practices. The term was inspired by engaged Buddhism, a concept and set of values developed by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Engaged spirituality encompasses people committed to social change from all the major faith traditions as well as people who refer to themselves as "spiritual but not religious". It has numerous iterations in practice yet common themes unite the many forms it takes. For some in the Catholic tradition, liberation theology guides their form of engaged spirituality.

International Network of Engaged Buddhists

The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) is an organization that connects engaged Buddhists from around the world with the aim of addressing with environmental concerns, human rights, and conflict resolution. It was established in February 1989 by Sulak Sivaraksa and has members in about 20 countries around the world, mostly in Asia, but also in the USA, Australia and Europe. Its members include monks, nuns, activists, academics and social workers. While it is a Buddhist organization some of its members come from other spiritual traditions and interfaith activities are part of its program. INEB holds an international conference of its members once every two years.

Ken Jones (Buddhist)

Kenneth Henry "Ken" Jones (18 May 1930 – 2 August 2015) was a Welsh Buddhist activist, poet, and teacher. He was considered an important voice in socially engaged Buddhism.

Kenneth Kraft

Kenneth Lewis Kraft (July 16, 1949-October 1, 2018) was a professor of Buddhist studies and Japanese religions (emeritus) at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Matteo Pistono

Matteo (Matthew) Pistono is a writer, teacher of meditation, and student of engaged Buddhism. He is the author of "Roar: Sulak Sivaraksa and the Path of Socially Engaged Buddhism" (forthcoming 2018), Fearless in Tibet: The Life of the Mystic Tertön Sogyal (Hay House, 2014) and In the Shadow of the Buddha: Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet (Dutton-Penguin, 2011), and has written about Tibetan, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian cultural, political, and spiritual landscapes for a number of outlets including The Washington Post, Global Post, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Lion's Roar, BBC's In-Pictures, Men's Journal, Kyoto Journal, and Himal Southasian.


Navayana (Devanagari: नवयान, IAST: Navayāna) means "new vehicle" and refers to the re-interpretation of Buddhism by B. R. Ambedkar. Ambedkar was born in a Dalit (untouchable) family during the colonial era of India, studied abroad, became a Dalit leader, and announced in 1935 his intent to convert from Hinduism to Buddhism. Thereafter Ambedkar studied texts of Buddhism, found several of its core beliefs and doctrines such as Four Noble Truths and "non-self" as flawed and pessimistic, re-interpreted these into what he called "new vehicle" of Buddhism. This is known as Navayana, also known as Bhimayāna after Ambedkar's first name Bhimrao. Ambedkar held a press conference on October 13, 1956, announcing his rejection of Theravada and Mahayana vehicles, as well as of Hinduism. Thereafter, he left Hinduism and adopted Navayana, about six weeks before his death.In the Dalit Buddhist movement of India, Navayana is considered a new branch of Buddhism, different from the traditionally recognized branches of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Navayana rejects practices and precepts such as renouncing monk and monasticism, karma, rebirth in afterlife, samsara, meditation, enlightenment and Four Noble Truths considered to be foundational in the Buddhist traditions. It radically re-interprets what Buddhism is, revises the original Buddha teaching to be about class struggle and social equality.Ambedkar called his version of Buddhism Navayana or Neo-Buddhism. His book, The Buddha and His Dhamma is the holy book of Navayana followers.

Parallax Press

Parallax Press is a nonprofit book publisher founded and inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh. It is part of the Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism. Parallax's mission is to publish books on mindfulness in daily life with the commitment to making these teachings accessible to everyone and preserving them for future generations; the company does this work to alleviate suffering and contribute to a more just and joyful world. Since April 2016 Parallax Press books have been distributed by Penguin Random House Publisher Services.

Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism

The Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism, Inc. (formerly the Unified Buddhist Church, Inc.) and its sister organization, the French Congregation Bouddhique Zen Village des Pruniers are the governance bodies of the monasteries, press and fundraising organizations established by the Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The name Unified Buddhist Church, which originated in Vietnam, was intended to signify that this tradition practices to embrace all the teachings of the Buddha, whether they belong to the Mahāyāna or Theravāda stream.

The organization represents Thich Nhat Hanh and his sangha in the United States. The Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism Inc. is the governing body for Parallax Press (Berkeley, California), Deer Park Monastery (Escondido, California), Blue Cliff Monastery (Pine Bush, New York), Magnolia Grove Monastery (Batesville, Mississippi), Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation (Escondido, California), and the Community of Mindful Living. Other initiatives of the PVCEB include Wake Up

and Wake Up Schools


Plum Village Tradition

The Plum Village Tradition is a school of Buddhism named after the Plum Village Monastery in France, the first monastic practice center founded by Thích Nhất Hạnh. It is an approach to Engaged Buddhism mainly from a Mahayana perspective, that draws elements from Zen and Theravada. Its governing body is the Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism.

It is characterized by the application of mindfulness to everyday activities (sitting, walking, eating, speaking, listening, working, etc.). These practices are integrated with lifestyle guidelines called the "five mindfulness trainings", which bring an ethical and spiritual dimension to decision-making and are an integral part of community life.

Religion and peacebuilding

Religion and peacebuilding refers to the study of religion's role in the development of peace. Scholars generally accept that religion has been, at different points in history, both advantageous and ruinous to the promotion of peace However, there have been many approaches to explaining this variability.

Nathan C. Funk and Christina J. Woolner categorize these approaches into three models. The first is “peace through religion alone”. This proposes to attain world peace through devotion to a given religion. Opponents claim that advocates generally want to attain peace through their particular religion only and have little tolerance of other ideologies.

The second model, a response to the first, is “peace without religion”. Critics claim that it is overly simplistic and fails to address other causes of conflict as well as the peace potential of religion. It is also said that this model excludes the many contributions of religious people in the development of peace. Another critique claims that both approaches require bringing everyone into their own ideology.

The third and final approach is known as “peace with religion”. This approach focuses on the importance of coexistence and interfaith dialogue. Gerrie ter Haar suggests that religion is neither inherently good nor bad for peace, and that its influence is undeniable. Peace with religion, then, emphasises promoting the common principles present in every major religion.

A major component of religion and peacebuilding is faith-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Douglas Johnston points out that faith-based NGOs offer two distinct advantages. The first is that since faith-based NGOs are very often locally based, they have immediate influence within that community. He argues that “it is important to promote indigenous ownership of conflict prevention and peacebuilding initiatives as early in the process as possible.” The second advantage Johnston presents is that faith-based NGOs carry moral authority that contributes to the receptivity of negotiations and policies for peace.

Sulak Sivaraksa

Sulak Sivaraksa (Thai: สุลักษณ์ ศิวรักษ์; RTGS: Sulak Siwarak; pronounced [sùlák sìwárák]; born March 27, 1932 in Siam) is a visiting professor, writer, the founder of the Thai NGO and director of the Thai NGO"Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation", named after two authorities on Thai culture, Sathirakoses (Phya Anuman Rajadhon) and Nagapradeepa (Phra Saraprasoet). He initiated a number of social, humanitarian, ecological and spiritual movements and organizations in Thailand, such as the College SEM (Spirit in Education Movement).

Sulak Sivaraksa is known in the West as one of the fathers of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), which was established in 1989 with leading Buddhists, including the 14th Dalai Lama, the Vietnamese monk and peace-activist Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Theravada Bhikkhu Maha Ghosananda, as its patrons.

When Sulak Sivaraksa was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1995 for "his vision, activism and spiritual commitment in the quest for a development process that is rooted in democracy, justice and cultural integrity", he became known to a wider public in Europe and the US. Sulak was chair of the Asian Cultural Forum on Development and has been a visiting professor at UC Berkeley, the University of Hawaii, and Cornell.

Thích Nhất Hạnh

Thích Nhất Hạnh (; Vietnamese: [tʰǐk̟ ɲə̌t hâjŋ̟ˀ] (listen); born as Nguyễn Xuân Bảo on October 11, 1926) is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, founder of the Plum Village Tradition.

Thích Nhất Hạnh spent most of his later life residing in the Plum Village Monastery in southwest France, travelling internationally to give retreats and talks. He coined the term "Engaged Buddhism" in his book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire. After a long term of exile, he was given permission to make his first return trip to Vietnam in 2005. In November 2018, he returned to Vietnam to spend his remaining days at his "root temple," Từ Hiếu Temple near Huế.Nhất Hạnh has published over 100 books, including more than 70 in English. He is active in the peace movement, promoting nonviolent solutions to conflict. He also refrains from animal product consumption (veganism) as a means of nonviolence towards animals.

White Plum Asanga

White Plum Asanga, sometimes termed White Plum Sangha, is a Zen school in the Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi lineage, created by Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi. It consists of Maezumi's Dharma heirs and subsequent successors and students. A diverse organization spread across the United States and with a small presence in Europe, the White Plum Asanga

[I]ncludes teachers who represent the spectrum of styles to be found to American Zen—socially engaged Buddhism, family practice, Zen and the arts, secularized Zen, and progressive traditionalism."

Conceived of informally in 1979 by Maezumi and Tetsugen Bernard Glassman, the White Plum Asanga was named after Maezumi's father Baian Hakujun Dai-osho and then later incorporated in 1995 following Maezumi's death. Tetsugen Bernard Glassman was the White Plum Asanga's first President and his successor was Dennis Genpo Merzel. Following Merzel's term, in May 2007, Gerry Shishin Wick served as elected President of White Plum, until 2013 when Anne Seisen Saunders became the current president.

Zen Peacemakers

The Zen Peacemakers is a diverse network of socially engaged Buddhists, currently including the formal structures of the Zen Peacemakers International, the Zen Peacemaker Order and the Zen Peacemaker Circles, many affiliated individuals and groups, and communities formed by Dharma Successors of Roshi Bernie Glassman. It was founded by Bernie Glassman and his wife Sandra Jishu Holmes in 1996, as a means of continuing the work begun with the Greyston Foundation in 1980 of expanding Zen practice into larger spheres of influence such as social services, business and ecology but with a greater emphasis on peace work. Zen Peacemakers has developed from the White Plum Asanga lineage of Taizan Maezumi.

Topics in Buddhism
The Buddha
Key concepts
Major figures


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.