Engaged Buddhism

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A contemporary movement formerly but now less commonly referred to as ‘Socially Engaged Buddhism’, concerned with developing Buddhist solutions to social, political, and ecological problems. The engaged movement cuts across the lay–monastic divide and includes Buddhists from traditional Buddhist countries as well as Western converts. It originated in the latter half of the 20th century and has increasingly become part of mainstream Buddhist thought and practice. The term ‘Engaged Buddhism’ was coined in 1963 by the Vietnamese (see Vietnam) zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh at a time when his country was ravaged by war. Nhat Hanh began to seek solutions to this and other problems by applying Buddhist teachings in a more activist way than had hitherto been the case. He has remained one of the leading protagonists of the movement and, now resident in France, has founded the ‘Order of Interbeing’ to promote worthy social causes. The aim of this and other ‘engaged’ groups is to reduce suffering and oppression through the reform of unjust and repressive social and political structures, while not losing sight of the traditional Buddhist emphasis on inward spiritual growth. In part, this development is a response to the charge that Buddhism has been too passive and aloof, emphasizing meditation and withdrawal rather than reaching out to the mass of humankind. Accordingly, the Mahāyāna Bodhisattva is seen as the ideal or icon for the activist. Some commentators trace the origins of the movement to the encounter between Buddhism and Christianity during the colonial period, and in the challenge to Buddhism to develop a ‘social gospel’ that speaks to the needs of the poor and oppressed along Christian lines.

Subjects: Buddhism.

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