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Definitions, redux

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Writing a blog is kind of like thinking aloud and then having the whole world hear you and let you know when you’re full of it…

A couple of days ago I started out this blog, which has the subtitle of Socially Engaged Buddhism Beyond Labels, by doing some labeling myself. My blogging colleauge Arun, author of the excellent Angry Asian Buddhist blog, called me on this. In making the distinction between engaged Buddhism and socially engaged Buddhism, I ended making some arbitrary divisions and sticking the Tzu Chi Foundation into a pigeon hole of not being ‘socially’ engaged. As Arun wrote,

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?

Clearly, I should have done some more explaining here. What I was really trying to get at is how rare it is for us to look at issues from a systems perspective, oriented toward justice. It’s easier to  respond to individual situations. I tried to draw out the distinction between SEB and engaged Buddhism as a way of doing this.

When I created that original post, I deleted a paragraph which I now see is probably helpful:

“Of course, sometimes it’s not so clearly defined, and some organizations work on both levels simultaneously. Dividing things up like this will probably get me in trouble for being dualistic–the the ultimate Buddhist sin in some circles–but it is interesting to see how much more common ‘engaged Buddhism’ is compared to ‘socially engaged Buddhism,’ using this definition.”

So thanks to Arun for pointing this out, and I also want to take this chance to note that the Tzu Chi Foundation does some fantastic work all over the world, showing up in places of extreme need like the recent typhoon in Taiwan and flood in the U.S. Midwest earlier this year.


About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

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