ENGAGED BUDDHISM

In ACTIVISM by Sonia Gomes10 Comments

The concept of interdependence of all phenomena and beings.

May all beings be happy.
May all be joyous and live in security.
Let no one deceive another, nor despise another, as weak as they may be.
Let no one, by anger or by hate, wish evil for another,
As a mother, in peril of her own life, watches and protects her only child.
Thus, with a boundless spirit must one cherish all living beings.
Love the world in its entirety, above, below and all around.
Without limitation.
With and infinite goodness and with benevolence.
While standing, or walking, sitting or lying down, as long as one is awake,
Let one cultivate loving-kindness.
This is called the Supreme Way of Living.
–Metta Sutta.

Metta is a good deed or a right action. The fragment transcribed above depicts well the interests, actions and intent of Engaged Buddhism. The purpose of Engaged Buddhism is based on the concept of interdependence of all phenomena and beings, as presented above, and the ideal is called the bodhisattva. This ideal of the bodhisattva says that no state of enlightenment, the ultimate goal of spiritual work in Buddhism, is complete if all beings are not free from suffering, which is a consequence of the erronous view of reality, usually translated as ignorance, attachment and desire. Yet, the Engaged Buddhism adds that, it is also our task to actively participate in the fight against the major threats of suffering, as hunger, disease, environmental destruction, war, discrimination covering almost the entire agenda of social modern activism.

Precisely what differentiates Engaged Buddhism from other forms of activism is the ongoing concern of obtaining full states of consciousness mindfulness or mental alertness, awareness about the world and in particular the operating mechanisms of our mind. It seeks for positive mental states, free from anger and selfishness, promoting compassion and joy.

Communities in Buddhism or sangha’s, previously confined to groups of monks or nuns, now have been extended to incorporate lay people, supporters and even non-Buddhists involved in Buddhist social action. The Engaged Buddhism also raises the idea that it is possible to have intent communities and mindfulness, which are collectively oriented to both inner spiritual work and concrete social action, for exemple, in prisons, hospitals, rural communities, slums, etc. So there are two actions: the inner work oriented in changing the understanding of the reality in which we operate, and the social action, which deepens the compassion, solidarity and the essence of the spirtual path towards these groups.

The full awareness of communities, when combined with social action to solve pressing problems and to block the makers of great suffering , are good news for the West, because there is thought upon the boundaries between the self and the collective; rethought concerning our community visions, new visions that are volatile and rooted at the same time, and redefination of  concrete commitments with optimistic ethics to all sentient beings, beings that feel , that have feelings, including supersystems that little could see, like the earth, the sea  or the whole universe. The Buddhist’s understanding, unlike the West theories, makes use of reason to some extent. From this point of view, it values ​​direct experience, experimentation, intuitive and emotional ways, the practice of and in the world. So it is not something we can learn from books or in universities. Texts, as this chapter, are merely referential.

The self vision of I or we, and therefore the community, is a concept that makes  part of one of the Buddhism’s basic principles: the interdependent origin or pratitya samutpada, literally meaning: dependence  arising. This Buddhist teaching is sometimes called the law of cause and effect, but this can give us the wrong idea, since, in the Buddhist’s view, cause and effect come together, and all that exists is the result of multiple causes and conditions. For the majority of the individuals, it is very difficult to understand this view of things and this vision of phenomena, which goes beyond our concept of time and space. However, much of the spiritual training, which Buddhism has developed, called technologies of inner growth or meditative, is aimed at achieving the correct understanding. For Buddhism this means looking at the world, understanding the interdependent origination of everything.

The view of reality, according to the concept of the interdependent origination, is actually a challenge: it is the product, according to Buddhism, of a patient and sustained effort to break up with our usual logic. So it is not very reasonable to try to rationalize this view. In Buddhism, theories and conceptual descriptions are relativized.

Engaged Buddhism is not a separate school from others; it is more of an interpretation of social commitment that appears in all trends of contemporary Buddhism. It emphases the unity needed between the inner work and the work in the world, the social action as deep compassion, the result of a deep understanding of reality, their dynamics and mutual causalities. This, at a first glance, can be seen as a contradiction, since the West thinks that Buddhism is isolated from the world in search of spiritual development. However, in Asia and also in several western experiences, contemporary Buddhism has an active involvement in facing social problems and in solving great evils as hunger, environmental destruction and disease.

Buddhist social projects reconcile the typical ancient Gnostic elements of Buddhism with Buddhist social action, which follow the guidelines of the Buddhist dharma applied to the social field. This encounter of the gnostic with the rational realm can bring significant contributions and innovations to the field of Applied Social Sciences and also promote the preservation and the expansion of Buddhism.

If we are to succeed in the practice of loving speech, we need to know how to handle our emotions when they come to light. Whenever anger, frustration or sadness arises, we must have the ability to deal with them. This means not to fight with them, suppress them or cast them out: our anger and our disappointment are part of us, so we should not do this. When we oppress ourselves, we commit an act of violence against ourselves too. If we know how to return to conscious breathing, we will create a true presence of environment and will generate energy from the contact. With this energy we recognize and embrace our sorrow, anger or disappointment with kindness and love.

Social work and help performed without the practice of mindfulness can not be described as Engaged Buddhism. All who do this work run the risk of getting lost in despair, anger or frustration. If you are really practicing engaged Buddhism, then you know how to preserve yourself as a practitioner, while doing things to help people in the world. True Engaged Buddhism is, above all, the practice of mindfulness in everything we do.

May I become at all times, now and always,
A protector for those without protection,
A guide for those who have lost their way,
A ship for those with oceans to cross,
A bridge for those with rivers to cross,
A sanctuary for those in danger,
A lamp for those who have no light,
A refuge for those who have no shelter,
And a servant to all those in need.
–The Dalai Lama

About the Author
Sonia Gomes

Sonia Gomes

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Sonia Gomes is a Marketing & Branding Communication consultant, a Wellness Business Owner, Ashtanga Yoga teacher, and a Vajrayana lover. She enjoys beauty and creativity in every thing that life has to offer… Traveling and studying are her main priorities. She is Portuguese but totally in love with Indian Culture … Her vision and aim is to help and contribute for women equality rights and opportunities and also volunteer in some humanitarian health projects. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.

Photo by Mssrusso0.

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Comments

  1. For those interested, Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, offers an MA in Engaged Buddhism. Teachers include Tibetan Buddhist masters of the Kagyu and Nyigngma lineages but have also included Dr. Vincent Harding, Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, Sudarshan Kapoor, and others. I graduate from that program in 1997 (the first time it was offered) and recommend it to those who are searching for ways to integrate their Buddhist practice with their social/economic/political justice concerns.

  2. Just wondering if you are aware of the work of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, based in Oakland CA (but with national reach). They’ve been exploring and organizing folks around this intersection of dharma and engagement since 1978. Great resource.

  3. A very important and fundamental move towards a wholesome Compassive integration
    considering the interacting needs of a wider Global scale of Activities…May we be able to
    drop the tight boundaries of ISMS and ISTS to reach out for the depths of ‘Ancestral Humanity’…
    EmahO..~AhO…~*

    1. Sonia Gomes

      Dear Luz
      Thank you so much for your comment!
      You also have a great project for community ! Congratulations for your efforts!
      With love
      Sonia

  4. Seema sahoo

    Thank you Sonia , wonderful article. Teachings have inspired me and guided me to continually shape my life and work. If we cannot apply them for good of others and ourselves what’s the point? We cannot keep our eye shut when we see sufferings.peace starts with us, we cannot sit in pretzel positions not aware of surroundings , when there is suffering, war , hatred etc going on. We all are interdependent and noone from outside is going to come to save us !

    1. Sónia Gomes

      Dear Sheema
      Thank you for your words!
      I believe that we can aplly the teachings in a practical way and the future of Buddhism is so important . We have to be part of things , we are interdependent … So it’s our responsability to leave this world a better place !
      So, let’s work on it 🙂

  5. Very clear concept for living and being as Dhamma ..

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