Roots of Socially Engaged Buddhism: David Loy, Sallie King, Bikkhu Bodhi and Chris Queen by Clemens M. Breitschaft

Introducing the Roots of Socially Engaged Buddhism panel (including Bikkhu Bodhi, Sallie King and David Loy), Chris Queen stated that amazingly, there are conservative practitioners who believe that changing the mind is all that matters.  However, when he was visiting formerly untouchable converts to Buddhism who were victims of other people’s greed, anger and ignorance, facing discrimination, beatings and murder in India, it was clear that people suffer as a result of injustice as well.  Queen read an excerpt citing panelists David Loy and Sallie King from The Making of Buddhist Modernism by David L. McMahan.  McMahan speaks of the power of Buddhism to provide a powerful critique of dominant culture and the risk of the tradition getting watered down into a mere consumerist product:

What, then, is the capacity for Buddhist modernism, now entering a post-modern, global phase, to challenge, critique, augment, and offer alternatives to modern, western ideas, social practices, and ethical values?… The Buddhist analysis of the relationship between craving (trnsa) and dissatisfaction (duhkha), for example, as well as its ascetic tendencies, can be fashioned into a formidable critique of the very foundations of consumerism, materialism, and the pathological aspects of capitalism (see, for example, Loy 2003; Kaza 2005).

At the opposite end of this continuum are forms and fragments of Buddhism that have been absorved into western culture so thoroughly that they lose any potential to offer any real alternatives to or crituqe of its values and assumptions or offer anything new.  This is where Buddhism fades into vague New Age spiritualities, self-help therapies, and purely personal paths of self-improvemet…At the continuum’s furthest extremes, these fragments fade into pop culture, splintering into shards of Buddhist imagery that become tropes for countless products: Zen popcorn, Zen tea, Buddha bikinis, and Buddha bars.

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