Berkeley, Parallax, 1996 (Ed. Kindle)

Historically, Buddhism could be seen as a way to take distance from reality as opposed, for example in China, to the active social engagement encouraged by Confucianism. Yet, in the early tradition, Nagarjuna advised the King on the best policies to follows for the general well-being of the people, and one could make the point that the concept of altruism, so naturally connected not only with the Mahayana, but also with the Hinayana schools, leads necessarily to commitment. In recent decades, the concept of engagement has been brought forward explicitly by some of the best known Buddhist masters, and especially Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama.

The concept of altruism as propeller of engagement is emphasised in this volume by various authors. The Dalai Lama, perhaps most clearly, says that in fact “the key is our altruistic mind” (p. 4), an idea to be extended from individuals to nations, and Thich Nhat Hanh maintains that “compassion is a sense of our shared suffering”, and additionally “the near enemy of equanimity is indifference” (p. 14).

Thich Nhat Hanh tells his experience as a peace campaigner at the time of the Vietnam War. He discusses also the controversial issue of monks who burnt themselves alive to sensitize public opinion despite the Buddhist precept no to destroy life, including one’s own. The pacifist anti-war campaigns in Vietnam were dictated by the necessity to “go beyond passive resistance and undertake positive efforts to overcome the war and the oppression” (p. 58).

So basically, in Kenneth Kraft’s own words, “the term ‘engaged Buddhism’ refers to […] active involvement by Buddhists in society and its problems” (p. 65), and even, according to Sulak Sivaraksa, it implies to “build up political awareness” (p. 74).

The main areas of Buddhist engagement are peace, toleration, environmental issues, and oppression of freedom and democracy.

[Roberto Bertoni]