- Ann GleigAnn GleigDepartment of Philosophy, University of Central Florida
Engaged Buddhism emerged in Asia in the 20th century as Buddhists responded to the challenges of colonialism, modernity, and secularization. It is often dated to Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s challenge to caste discrimination in India in the 1950s and the antiwar activism of Vietnamese Buddhist monastic Thich Nhat Hanh, although recent scholarship has pointed to the influence of Chinese Buddhist reforms occurring in the 1930s. Hanh coined the term “engaged Buddhism” to describe social and political activism based in Buddhist principles in the 1960s. The terms “engaged Buddhism” and “socially engaged Buddhism” were taken up by loosely connected Buddhists in Asia and the West who adapted Buddhism to a range of nonviolent social activist projects such as peacemaking, human rights, environmental protection, rural development, combatting ethnic violence, and women’s rights. With globalization and technological advances, engaged Buddhist organizations and efforts have spread across the globe. Reflecting the culture shift from the modern to the postmodern, generational and demographic shifts within these communities are marked by increased attention to intersectionality and postcolonial thought. Engaged Buddhists see their social and political activities as extending Buddhism’s classical focus on individual suffering to the suffering generated by unjust structures and systems, and set collective as well as individual liberation as a soteriological goal. While there is a consensus in academic scholarship that engaged Buddhism is an expression of Buddhist modernism, recent debates have arisen around whether conservative, nationalist, and even ethnocentric modern forms of Buddhism can be considered as forms of engaged Buddhism.