From Rev. Danny Fisher’s blog feed, I learned about the Jizo Chronicles by Maia Duerr (not to be confused with the Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva blog). In the post Socially Engaged Buddhism Beyond Labels, Duerr strikes a contrast between engaged Buddhism and socially engaged Buddhism.
So here’s my theory (others, like Ken Jones, have articulated it in a similar way). I see engaged Buddhism as akin to what Rev Coffin is talking about when he talks about charity. On a very basic level, it’s pretty hard to avoid being an engaged Buddhist. We see suffering, and we respond. There are many Buddhist groups that are organized in this way, like the Tzu Chi Foundation — doing relief work, addressing immediate needs such as hunger, medical needs, etc.I don’t understand where Duerr draws the line that separates engaged Buddhists from socially engaged Buddhists. Specifically what makes the Tzu Chi Foundation not a socially engaged Buddhist organization?
Socially engaged Buddhism, in contrast, is about looking at the structures that lie underneath these forms of suffering, and then responding to those structures. At the root of the hunger and homelessness, for example, are systems of economic and racial injustice (to name just a couple) where some people have the odds stacked against them. This doesn’t mean that people can’t transcend their conditions; of course they can. But it’s a system that contributes to a vast amount of suffering, and the big question is: does it need to be that way?