The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) recently conducted its annual International Young Bodhisattva Program, a two-week experiential learning initiative for young leaders and social activists with the theme “For Spiritual Resurgence and Social Transformation.” The program, which ran from October 31 to November 13, was held in collaboration with Taiwan's Hongshi Buddhist College, with 25 participants from 13 countries.
“The International Youth Bodhisattva Program, established by INEB in collaboration with Hongshi Buddhist College, aims to develop young people's confidence, capacity and commitment to social and spiritual transformation,” INEB shared with BDG . “This is an exhibition program focused on the values of kindness and compassion for young people to learn more about social engagement in Asia, particularly in the context of Taiwan. »
The International Network of Engaged Buddhists is a global network of individuals and organizations committed to promoting and working toward social justice, environmental sustainability, and world peace. INEB was established in 1989 by renowned Buddhist scholar and activist Professor Sulak Sivaraksa and a group of Buddhist leaders seeking to apply Buddhist teachings and principles to contemporary social and political issues. Through its global network, INEB strives to promote understanding, cooperation and connections between inter-Buddhist and inter-religious groups, and to actively address pressing global issues such as human rights, resolution conflicts and environmental crises.
“We have been running the Young Bodhisattva Program since the early 2000s,” project coordinator Doreen Wang told BDG from Taipei. “Originally in Thailand, and I think sometimes India and other countries. The program was revitalized in 2019, largely because there is now a Taiwanese institution that can host us.
The International Young Bodhisattva Program now takes place in Tao Yuan, Taiwan, at the Hongshi Buddhist College, founded by the famous Taiwanese Buddhist monastic, Venerable Shih Chao-hwei, who gained worldwide fame as a socially engaged activist, scholar and author, and as a leading voice for liberation, empowerment and an engaged and compassionate Buddhism in Asia and beyond.
“Our focus this year has really been on exploring the concept of what it means to be a bodhisattva, which is one of INEB's earliest imaginings of engaged Buddhism,” Wang explained. “What does it mean to commit? And how do we apply this to the modern era? And I think for young people, how do we express that creatively and experience that? And that's what we really wanted to explore with this year's program.
“I think it was really interesting to do this in a Mahayana context; INEB works a lot in countries with strong Theravada traditions, so I really appreciated the opportunity to be able to explore the concept of the bodhisattva in Taiwan, where we see a lot of what we call humanistic Buddhism and socially engaged work .
Headquartered in Bangkok, INEB has implemented a wide range of social projects and awareness programs across Asia aimed at overcoming suffering and empowering vulnerable communities through Dharma practice and social engagement , such as education and training programs, community development projects, advocacy and lobbying activities. efforts and interreligious dialogue.
“According to Ajahn Sulak (founder of INEB), socially engaged Buddhism is also about saying 'no' to authority. So this program in Taiwan was a great opportunity to explore diverse perspectives on engaged Buddhism and the bodhisattva ideal,” Wang noted. “One of the things we've done this year is we've put in place a pretty rigorous recruitment process for participants, which has been very helpful in managing expectations for the program.
“The Young Bodhisattva Program is designed as an exposure program incorporating some elements of capacity building and leadership. So we started the program by creating a sense of safety and a sense of community, which involved practicing how to disagree with each other and normalizing disagreements as an aspect of community.
“And then comes the content part of the program, which comes from workshops and exposure trips to Buddhist communities – both capital 'B' Buddhism and small 'b' Buddhism* – like Dharma Drum Mountain and Tzu Chi, and we also went to the Luminary Institute, run by a community of bhikshunis who have been providing adult education since the 1980s using very, very progressive educational models for Taiwan. So we can examine what social engagement actually looks like.
“We held a workshop on Buddhist social analysis using the Four Noble Truths, and we also had content this year on creative expression and storytelling, which reflects the perspective that the work of a bodhisattva is also a creative process. »
INEB emphasizes the importance of developing an ethical and Dharma-based approach to its work and encourages its members to work collaboratively and respectfully with individuals and organizations on a basis of shared values and aspirations. The network also advocates the importance of environmental sustainability and responsible use of natural resources, and has encouraged sustainable development practices in various communities.
“In many countries, lasting peace and social justice remain out of reach due to capitalism, authoritarianism and domination of the private sector and undemocratic governments,” observed the INEB. “The ecological consequences of human consumption and a profit-driven ideology have fueled greed. , competition, oppression and exploitation. Structural violence has led to poverty, ecological crises, discrimination and conflict.
“Unbalanced development and societal divisions hinder the potential of the younger generation. Buddhist thinkers and activists offer compassionate alternatives. The Buddha's timeless teachings have the potential to guide humanity towards a peaceful and sustainable world.
*In his essay "Buddhism with a Small 'B'", Sulak Sivaraksa discusses the importance of the Buddha's fundamental teachings, presenting mindfulness, tolerance and interconnectedness in a way that makes them applicable to individuals and entire communities, in relation to the activities of institutional Buddhism with a capital “B”.