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Socially Engaged Buddhism

Sallie B. King

Publication Year: 2009

Socially Engaged Buddhism is an introduction to the contemporary movement of Buddhists, East and West, who actively engage with the problems of the world—social, political, economic, and environmental—on the basis of Buddhist ideas, values, and spirituality. Sallie B. King, one of North America’s foremost experts on the subject, identifies in accessible language the philosophical and ethical thinking behind the movement and examines how key principles such as karma, the Four Noble Truths, interdependence, nonharmfulness, and nonjudgmentalism relate to social engagement. Many people believe that Buddhists focus exclusively on spiritual attainment. Professor King examines why Engaged Buddhists involve themselves with the problems of the world and how they reconcile this involvement with the Buddhist teaching of nonattachment from worldly things. Engaged Buddhists, she answers, point out that because the root of human suffering is in the mind, not the world, the pursuit of enlightenment does not require a turning away from the world. Working to reduce suffering in humans, living things, and the planet is integral to spiritual practice and leads to selflessness and compassion. Socially Engaged Buddhism is a sustained reflection on social action as a form of spirituality expressed in acts of compassion, grassroots empowerment, nonjudgmentalism, and nonviolence. It offers an inspiring example of how one might work for solutions to the troubles that threaten the peace and well being of our planet and its people.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v

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Editor’s Preface

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pp. vii-xii

The University of Hawai‘i Press has long been noted for its scholarly publications in, and commitment to, the field of Asian Studies. The present volume is the fifth in a series initiated by the Press in keeping with that commitment, Dimensions of Asian Spirituality. ...

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pp. xiii

Many thanks to Henry Rosemont, editor of the series in which this volume appears, for the invitation to write this book, for guidance in envisioning it, and for meticulous editorial oversight. Thanks also to James Madison University for the sabbatical leave that allowed me the time to write it. ...

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Chapter 1 Introduction

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pp. 1-12

In the twentieth century, a politically and socially active form of Buddhism called Engaged Buddhism came into being and quickly became a large and powerful movement throughout Buddhist Asia; toward the end of that century, it also became very influential among Western Buddhists. ...

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Chapter 2 Philosophy and Ethics

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pp. 13-38

As we have seen, Engaged Buddhism is a noncentralized movement that emerged in response to multiple crises in modern Asia. The leaders and groups that make up the movement all draw upon traditional Buddhist concepts, values, and principles as they develop their various responses to the crises and challenges ...

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Chapter 3 Spirituality

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pp. 39-66

Sometimes scholars of non-Western religions avoid the term “spirituality,” feeling perhaps that the term has dualistic connotations of the “spiritual” realm versus the “material” realm—connotations that do not apply to Buddhism—or that it refers to a spirit or soul, as opposed to the body, which, again, does not apply to Buddhism. ...

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Chapter 4 War and Peace

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pp. 67-95

A number of prominent Engaged Buddhist leaders have come to international attention in the course of responding to war, invasion, military violence, or genocide; in efforts to prevent war; and in efforts to heal from war. Notable among them are His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in Tibet; Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam; ...

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Chapter 5 Economics

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pp. 96-117

Economic issues sound to many like something with which Buddhism would never concern itself. This, however, is true neither of the Engaged Buddhists, who have major concerns to eliminate poverty and to challenge consumerism, nor of the Buddha himself. Engaged Buddhism’s first task in the area ...

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Chapter 6 Ecology

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pp. 118-136

It is widely felt that there is a great compatibility between Buddhist principles—both concepts and values—and an ecological perspective. Some take this even farther, pointing to ways in which Buddhist thinking opens up new possibilities for ecological thinking. The Engaged Buddhists are among those ...

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Chapter 7 Human Rights and Criminal Justice

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pp. 137-158

The Buddha did not speak of either human rights or criminal justice. In response to current social needs, Engaged Buddhist leaders are creating new forms of Buddhist discourse and practice in these areas. While these are based upon traditional Buddhist values and ideas, they entail entirely new applications of them. ...

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Chapter 8 Challenging Tradition

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pp. 159-175

We have seen that karma is a crucial element in traditional Buddhist thought; without it traditional Buddhism is inconceivable. It continues to play an essential role in the thinking and action of Engaged Buddhists today, as we have also seen. However, a number of Engaged Buddhists have significant complaints ...

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Chapter 9 Conclusion

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pp. 176-178

Let us conclude this volume by briefly reviewing what is Buddhist about Engaged Buddhism. In other words, Engaged Buddhism is a form of spiritual social activism, but what makes it Buddhist social activism? This is important to note not because being Buddhist makes these ideas and approaches to social activism ...


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pp. 179-184

For Further Reading

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pp. 185-188


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pp. 189-192

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864354
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833350

Publication Year: 2009