By Shyamal Sinha
The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) hosted its 18th general conference in Taiwan from 22–29 November, under the theme “A Conference on Interbeing: Transforming Conflict as Compassion,” aiming to provide platform for broad-based dialogue and cooperation to address the challenges facing engaged Buddhism over the next decade.
INEB co-founder Ajahn Sulak Sivaraksa underscored the fundamental Buddhist elements of bringing about social change at a global level to create the necessary conditions for a more peaceful, equitable society. “The word ‘interbeing’ is very much a Buddhist word coined by Thich Nhat Hanh,” he explained. “In the West, ‘being’ is about being an individual, but if you understand interbeing, we are all connected, which goes right to the fundamental teachings of the Buddha. Not only personally, but social and environmental interbeing—if we understand that, we can solve issues globally.”
The eight-day conference, a part of INEB’s 10-year strategic plan to strengthen socially engaged Buddhism worldwide, was divided into three distinct components. The intensive event began with a two-day tour of Buddhist social engagement and outreach projects in Taiwan. Highlights included a symposium on “Buddhist Approaches to Dying and Hospice Care in Taiwan” at the headquarters of the Dharma Drum Mountain movement founded by late Chan Master Sheng-yen (1930–2009), and onsite visits to Buddhist initiatives of the Tzu Chi Foundation—Taipei Tzu Chi General Hospital, which aims to provide holistic, patient-based medical care with an emphasis on acute and critical treatment, and a large-scale recycling project initiated by the foundation and run by elderly community members.
Building on these inspiring examples, the main conference explored the aspirations and challenges for socially engaged Buddhism at a deeper level, with a series of presentations, discussions, and workshops led by members of the global INEB community on activities, projects, and initiatives in communities around the world. Participants and delegates broached such themes as conflict rsolution, compassion and social enagement, social welfare, and social justice. The concluding three-day meditation retreat, led by three female Dharma masters—Ven. Shing Kuang, Ven. Dhammananda, and Ven. Tenzin Dasel—representing the major Buddhist traditions of Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana, provided participants with an opportunity for reflection and self examination on the experiences and learning points shared over the preceding five days.
“We must go back to the fundamental teachings of the Buddha,” Ajahn Sulak observed. “The Buddhia said in our lives, [we should seek] not fame, not fortune, not power, not money, but good friends—kalyanamitra.* Ananda asked the Buddha, ‘Is kalyanamitra the whole of the holy life?’ The Buddha replied, ‘No, kalyanamitra is the whole of the holy life.’
“Together, we can change conflict—dhukka—personally, and together we can work for change socially and environmentally. This is important,” he noted. “The Dalai Lama said the world will change only through ahimsa—nonviolence; the world will change only through loving-kindness. The Chinese way, the American way, the Trump way will not change the world, it will spoil the world.”
“The Buddha said metta [loving-kindness] can save the world; loving yourself, loving your neighbor is important, but karuna [compassion] is much more important. Karuna doesn’t just mean being compassionate, helping others. Karuna means you go and share the suffering of those who suffer. Sometimes we are the creators of that suffering—we, the middle class and upper class, our lifestyle helps create the suffering of the people, the suffering of the environment. So we have to go out and learn from the poor, the suffering ones—and they need not be Buddhists, they could be Rohingya, they could be minorities anywhere—you go and share the suffering with them. That is the root of changing the conflict.”
INEB was established in Thailand in 1989 by the prominent Thai academic, activist, and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa and a group of Buddhist and non-Buddhist thinkers and social activists with the aim of connecting engaged Buddhists around the world and promoting understanding, cooperation, and networking among inter-Buddhist and inter-religious groups to address global issues, such as human rights, conflict resolution, and environmental concerns.
Founded as an autonomous organization under the Bangkok-based Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation, INEB’s members include monks, nuns, activists, academics, and social workers from more than 25 countries in Australasia, Asia, Europe, and North America. While a Buddhist organization, INEB welcomes members from other spiritual traditions and recognizes the importance of interfaith activities, stating: “INEB’s philosophy and practice is based on compassion, social justice, non-violence, and co-existence as put forth by Gautama the Buddha. The network’s core mission is to confront and end suffering using analysis and action guided by the Four Noble Truths.” (INEB)