Saturday, May 2, 2009

Engaged Shin Buddhism

Alfred Bloom
Emeritus Professor
University of Hawaii

In the 21st century many social and political issues are coming to a head culminating in
violent conflicts between and within nations. We need not enumerate all the problems here. For
Buddhists, the problem is to find a voice to respond with some degree of unity to those issues.
Unlike many other religious institutions in the West, Buddhism does not have a central authority
to speak for all Buddhists. Perhaps that is not even desirable. Individual organizations such as
Shin Buddhism does have a central organization in Japan and in the areas beyond Japan it is the
largest and well-organized Buddhist community. Nevertheless, it has not been able to speak with
a strong voice, despite the verse in the Juseige (Verses on Weighty Vows), chanted frequently in
temples, that the community would open the Dharma treasury universally within the world and
always being among the masses, speak with a lion’s voice. Other Buddhist groups are
compsed of small local fellowship focused on the practice of their tradition. The Tibetans
achieve a degree of unity through the activities of the Dalai Lama. However, the Buddhist voice
does not have a real focus with American society, particularly.

The reason, in part, for this lack of a social voice, is that during the long history of
Buddhism, over 2600 years, it has endured many forms of despotism and political or
government control. Only now in the West Buddhism has the freedom to speak out but it has not
been prepared to do so. Only one organization exists, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, to carry
the banner of Buddhism into the arena of social change and advocacy. It is a national
organization but in comparison to other religious traditions, small.

It is important for Buddhists to apprise themselves of the foundations in Buddhism itself
which can give direction for their participation in society. In a sense Enlightenment begins here,
in attaining understanding of the world to which we offer Buddhism and to engage the various
cultures in viewing life from the standpoint of Buddhism and its implications. Hopefully this
series of studies will help in that direction and point students to the resources that are available
to inform their understanding.

(161 pages) DOWNLOAD

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