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Engaged Buddhism: INEB Launches Sangha for Peace to Tackle Regional Religious and Ethno-Nationalist Tensions

The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) has announced a new collaboration with partners in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand to promote interfaith harmony and to address the challenges of rising religious and ethno-nationalist conflict in South and Southeast Asia. The Sangha for Peace project will run for two years, supported by funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 

“South and Southeast Asia face a common challenge of rising religious and ethno-nationalist tensions as religious nationalist groups and networks are well established in each country,” Sangha for Peace project coordinator Surin Onprom said in a statement shared with BDG. “Recent increases in discrimination and violent conflict among religious groups have resulted in a common narrative that legitimizes oppression against ethno-religious minorities, especially Muslim groups. 

“Against this backdrop, a number of faith-based organizations and actors have been actively promoting peace-building and harmony through non-violent means. However, exchanges between these organizations are limited, as is the understanding of peace-building processes among Buddhists. More importantly, there is no regional platform for them to gather, learn, exchange ideas and strategize.”

Headquartered Bangkok, INEB has set up a wide range of projects and outreach programs aimed at overcoming suffering and empowering vulnerable communities through the practice of the Dharma and socially engaged Buddhism. INEB was formed 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. Connecting engaged Buddhists around the world, INEB works promote understanding, cooperation, and networking among inter-Buddhist and inter-religious groups, and to actively address urgent global issues such as human rights, conflict resolution, and environmental crises.

The Sangha for Peace project—designed to help foster a sense of community at the regional level between the most active intra- and interfaith engagement stakeholders in the region—will work to promote a comparative approach to challenges and problem-solving, and equip stakeholders with the knowledge and tools needed to enhance regional engagement.

“In order to accomplish the project outcomes, a regional network of 20 leading peace-builders consisting of individual project participants, supported by INEB and its in-country partners, will be established,” Surin shared. “These 20 participants will leverage their knowledge to conduct further outreach activities at the country and regional levels. INEB has an established history and relationship of working with in-country faith-based partners across the region. These relationships bring credibility, stability, and resources that will support project implementation.”

Addressing the initiative’s primary aims, INEB stated that the project is designed to “develop and nurture a regional network for peace-builders that will strengthen national and regional efforts to promote inclusive intra- and interfaith dialogue in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.” The project’s objectives are:

• To co-create, with country partner organizations, a regional learning community arising from a shared learning experience of cross-country intra- and interfaith exchanges.

• To develop a Long-Term Strategic Plan for the Regional Network of Peace-builders, linked to and complementing other intra and interfaith actions in the region. (INEB)

In executing the Sangha for Peace project, INEB will rely on close collaboration with three key partner organizations in Myanmar and four in Sri Lanka, working alongside four humanitarian partners in Thailand: the International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Justice, the Institute for Buddhist Management for Happiness and Peace (IBHAP), Sekhiyadhama, the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP) of Mahidol University, and the Thai Interfaith Foundation for Social Development.

INEB members at the AC/EC meeting in Nepal, 2018. Image courtesy of INEB

“I believe in the power of community and compassion—for the past 20 years, I have been working to defend the rights of marginalized people in forest-related conflict areas,” Surin told BDG. “I look forward to continuing to work in peace-building processes while empowering marginalized communities in need.”

INEB’s members include monks, nuns, social workers, and academics from more than 25 countries in Asia, Australasia, Europe, and North America, working together under the umbrella of kalyana-mitrata.* While founded in and motivated by the Buddhadharma, INEB nevertheless welcomes members from all 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)

Kalyaa-mittata (Pali) kalyaa-mitrata (Skt.), the Buddhist concept of spiritual friendship.

See more

International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)
Project Brief: The Sangha for Peace (INEB)

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