Is the concept ‘Socially Engaged Buddhism’ a philosophical contradiction?

In light of our discussion about Buddhism and medical ethics, and the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai lama, and the other examples of Socially Engaged Buddhism in the book, how do you feel about Socially Engaged Buddhism? Is it a philosophical contradiction? Why?

Far from being a novel offshoot of Buddhist practice, Socially Engaged Buddhism is the proper approach to take. In the previous centuries, monks and monasteries were cut-off from the mainstream social, cultural and political spheres.  As a result, worldly affairs continued to be rife with corruption, greed, hatred and delusion.  Buddhist religious leaders were solely focused on contemplation, meditation and spiritual progress.  What inputs they offered to society came in the form of Dharma talks, individual advice, guidance, etc.  But this proved ineffective in terms of changing the collective consciousness of humanity as a whole, beset as it is by vices and base natural tendencies.  When we scrutinize founding texts of Buddhism, we find that the religious order is encouraged to participate actively in political, cultural and social matters.  But somehow this message was lost to generations of monastics.  The current trend of Socially Engaged Buddhism is an effort to set right a historical failing.

There is absolutely no contradiction in bringing Buddhism to the forefront of society.  Given that global environment is in a bad shape, the economic recession seemingly perpetual and warfare unceasing, there is a powerful case for more widespread practice of Buddhist principles.  The Socially Engaged Buddhism movement attempts to change the collective consciousness of humanity through key liaisons with government institutions, hospitals, schools and even business corporations.  People like Mathieu Richard, James Austin, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ajahn Brahm and His Holiness the Dalai Lama have all made significant interactions with common people.  They have touched numerous lives by extending and sharing their spiritual knowledge in numerous social forums.  For example, Mathieu Richard had participated in the World Economic Forum so as to deliver to world business leaders the message of putting collective happiness above greed for profits.  Likewise, Ajahn Brahm has reached out to thousands of commoners with his interesting and practically relevant Dhamma Talks (which can be found in Youtube).  Jon Kabat-Zinn has integrated mindfulness meditation into medical convalescence period.  These efforts have led to positive improvements across domains such as economics, medicine, psychology, etc.  Hence, Socially Engaged Buddhism should become the norm in the future.


Work cited

Fisher, Pat. Living Religions. 9th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2013. Print.