What is Engaged Buddhism?
Engaged Buddhism, also known as Socially Engaged Buddhism, is not a sect but a Buddhist movement. Founded by Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh in the 20th century, Engaged Buddhism seeks to apply Buddhist teachings in a more activist and social manner than has been traditional.
Engaged Buddhism is a cross-denominational movement that involves the lay community as well as monks, western converts as well as eastern Buddhists. While maintaining the Buddhist emphasis on inward spiritual growth, Engaged Buddhism also aims to reduce social suffering and oppression through political and social reform.
The compassionate bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism (who postpone their own enlightenment to assist others) are looked to as the ideal by engaged Buddhists.
The term "Engaged Buddhism" was coined by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1963, at a time when his country was ravaged by the Vietnam War. The highly-regarded monk, who now lives in a monastery in France, has remained a prominent leader of the movement. He has founded the "Order of Interbeing" to promote social causes, and there are many other Engaged groups as well.
In his book Interbeing, Nhat Hanh lays out the following 14 Precepts of Engaged Buddhism (here paraphrased), which emphasize social change as beginning with oneself.
- Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones.
- Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others' viewpoints.
- Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrow-mindedness.
- Do not avoid suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.
- Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.
- Do not maintain anger or hatred. Learn to penetrate and transform them when they are still seeds in your consciousness. As soon as they arise, turn your attention to your breath in order to see and understand the nature of your hatred.
- Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. Be in touch with what is wondrous, refreshing, and healing both inside and around you.
- Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
- Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things of which you are not sure. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.
- Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.
- Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Do not invest in companies that deprive others of their chance to live. Select a vocation that helps realise your ideal of compassion.
- Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.
- Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.
- Do not mistreat your body. Learn to handle it with respect. Do not look on your body as only an instrument. Preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realisation of the Way. (For brothers and sisters who are not monks and nuns:) Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. In sexual relations, be aware of future suffering that may be caused. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights and commitments of others. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world.
- Damien Keown, The Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism (2004).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism (2005).
- Mission - Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Engaged Buddhist Organizations
- Buddhist Peace Fellowship - founded 1978; based in Berkeley, CA
- International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)
- UK Network of Engaged Buddhists
- Engaged Zen Foundation - with headquarters in Maine
- Benevolent Organisation for Development, Health and Insight - focused on Tibet