Monday, July 18, 2011

Socially Engaged Buddhism

I believe Engaged Buddhism has a key role to play in solving our current social, economic and ecological issues in the world. Recently, I had the privilege to attend an exciting meeting organized by the European Buddhist Union at the Naropa Institute in Cadzand, the Netherlands. Participants, including Laszlo Zsolnai representing the Buddhist Economics Research Platform,  discussed various ideas on how Buddhism can contribute to a better world, evaluated the links between Buddhist practice and social engagement,  and encouraged communication and support among existing Buddhist initiatives worldwide.

Considering my working experience with emerging enterprises in Bhutan, I think there is a need for advanced business and management practices that are aligned with Buddhist ideas and values as opposed to simply trying to follow what companies in other countries have done. In my view, copying currently mainstream aggressive management practices can only lead to disaster in countries like Bhutan.

Below you can read the public letter crafted by the participants:

Letter from Cadzand on Socially Engaged Buddhism

On 18-19 June 2011, the committee ‘Buddhism and Society’ of the European Buddhist Union organised an informal networking weekend, hosted by the Naropa Institute in Cadzand, the Netherlands. Socially engaged Buddhist networks from the United States, Asia and Europe were represented.

The purpose of the brainstorming weekend was 
  • to share ideas on how Buddhism can contribute to a better world
  • to evaluate the links between Buddhist practice and social engagement 
  • to encourage communication and support among existing Buddhist initiatives worldwide
Over 2600 years ago, Siddhartha Gautama rejected all forms of social discrimination and institutionalized inequalities. Buddhism teaches that everyone, regardless of race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political ideology, nationality, social origins, property, birth status or other distinctions, has the potential to become enlightened. The global financial crisis reminds us that social and economic structures are fashioned by human minds, which also implies that they can be reconstructed.
No-self, impermanence and interconnectedness are inspirational core teachings that help us (with meditation and other contemplative practices) to identify suffering and the causes of suffering, and to act compassionately, with awareness of our own motivations.
Becoming aware of the suffering due to abuse, injury, poverty, illness, imprisonment, oppression and war continues to be a source of action for many Buddhists. Many types of initiatives have been developed in different parts of the world.
The participants at the meeting in Cadzand came to the following conclusions:

1. Many socially engaged projects by Buddhists are not well known within the broader Buddhist community. The participants identified a strong need to share ideas and methods. It would therefore be useful to set up a directory and network, a sort of World Forum for Socially Engaged Buddhism, to facilitate global communication and cooperation. The participants intend to support informal networks via mailing groups and the construction of a website where existing initiatives, ideas and literature are easily accessible.
2. As a first step it would be useful to organize a European symposium on Socially Engaged Buddhismin the near future (Summer 2013). This will be the third in a series of major conferences on the topic, following a symposium on engaged Buddhism in the United States (August 2010 in Montague, Massachusetts) and a forthcoming conference on ‘The Future of Buddhism: from Personal Awakening to Global Transformation’ by the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) in India (October 26-29, 2011 in Bodh Gaya). The proposed European symposium will highlight the activities of those who are already involved in engaged Buddhist initiatives and encourage cooperation among them. It will also bring together people who would like to do something and put them into contact with those who are already conducting projects. 
3. Finally, we participants at the networking weekend in Cadzand invite all Buddhist organizationsto reflect on existing or potential initiatives within their own communities. National Buddhist Unions in Europe might also consider appointing a national coordinator to gather information on local projects within their countries, and to forward that information to the international network. It is important that individual Buddhists and Buddhist organizations take a much more active role in responding to the ecological and social challenges that threaten our planet and its inhabitants. Our situation is urgent and time is running out.
4. We also welcome the various kinds of supportyou might be able to offer: sharing ideas, informing us about socially engaged projects, promoting such projects, administrative support, help with the construction and maintenance of a website, links to existing websites and social networking communities, etc.

May you who read this letter be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May everyone you meet be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

Cadzand, 19th June 2011

Somboon Chungprampree
Executive Secretary at the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)

Godfried De Waele
Dana Sangha / Board Member Zen Sangha Belgium

Paula de Wijs-Koolkin
Board of Directors, Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT)

Bernie Glassman + Ari Pliskin (assistant)
Founder of the Zen Peacemakers

Frans Goetghebeur
President of the European Buddhist Union

Professor David Loy
Representing the “Buddhist Peace Fellowship”, Berkely – USA

Harsha Navaratne
Chairman of the Sewalanka Foundation, Sri Lanka
Chairman of the Executive Committee of the INEB

Programme manager Karuna Trust, UK
Member Triratna Buddhist Order, UK

Geoffrey Pleyers PhD
FNRS Researcher U.C.Louvain (Belgium)
Chercheur au CADIS (EHESS-Paris)

Venerable Sithonh Xayavongsone
Director Laos Buddhism for Development

Frank Uyttebroeck
Representing the “Against the stream Buddhist Meditation Society”, Los Angeles – USA

Vajrapushpa (Ulla Brown)
Chair Karuna Trust, UK
Member Triratna Buddhist Order, UK

Zoltan Valcsicsak
Business advisor involved in Buddhist economics /  Founder of Friends of Bhutan in Hungary

Dr. Michaël Vermeulen, MD
General Practitioner involved in Human Rights and Buddhist inspired bio-ethics

Dr. Eilís Ward
Coordinator 2BA Programme, Department of Political Science and Sociology
National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland

Professor Laszlo Zsolnai
Director Business Ethics Center, Corvinus University, Budapest, Hungary

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