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Engaged Buddhism: INEB Nurtures Youth Leaders with Young Bodhisattva Program in Taiwan

Participants of INEB’s International Young Bodhisattva Program: For Spiritual Resurgence & Social Transformation. Image courtesy of INEB

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 on the theme “For Spiritual Resurgence & Social Transformation.” The program, which ran from 31 October—13 November, was held in collaboration with Buddhist Hongshi College in Taiwan, with 25 participants from 13 countries.

“The International Young Bodhisattva Program, established by INEB in conjunction with Buddhist Hongshi College, aims to develop young people’s confidence, capacity, and commitment to social and spiritual transformation,” INEB shared with BDG. “It is an exposure program centered on the values of loving-kindness and compassion for youth to learn about social engagement in Asia, particularly in the context of Taiwan.”

The International Network of Engaged Buddhists is a worldwide network of individuals and organizations who are committed to promoting and working toward social justice, environmental sustainability, and world peace. INEB was formed in 1989 by the renowned Buddhist scholar and activist Prof. Sulak Sivaraksa and a group of Buddhist leaders seeking to apply the Buddhist teachings and principles to contemporary social and political issues. Through its global network, INEB works to promote understanding, cooperation, and connection among inter-Buddhist and inter-religious groups, and to actively address urgent global issues such as human rights, conflict resolution, and environmental crises. 

Image courtesy of INEB
Image courtesy of INEB

“We’ve 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 in India and other countries. The program was revitalized in 2019, which was largely in part because there is now a Taiwan institution that can host us.”

The International Young Bodhisattva Program is now held in Tao Yuan, Taiwan, at Buddhist Hongshi College, founded by the celebrated Taiwanese Buddhist monastic Venerable Shih Chao-hwei, who has earned global renown as a socially engaged activist, scholar, and author, and as a leading voice for liberation, empowerment, and compassionate engaged Buddhism in Asia and beyond. 

“Our focus this year has really been 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 engage? And how do you apply this to the modern era? And I think for youth, how do you creatively express that and live that? And this is what we really wanted to dig into with this year’s program.

“I think it was really interesting to do this in a Mahayana context; INEB does a lot of work in countries with strong Theravada traditions, so I really appreciated the opportunity to be able to explore the bodhisattva concept in Taiwan, where we see a lot of what we call humanistic Buddhism and socially engaged work.”

Headquartered in Bangkok, INEB has established a wide range of social projects and outreach programs across Asia aimed at overcoming suffering and empowering vulnerable communities through the practice of the Dharma and social engagement—such as education and training programs, community development projects, advocacy and lobbying efforts, and interfaith dialogue.

“According to [INEB founder] Ajahn Sulak, socially engaged Buddhism is also about saying ‘no’ to authority. So this program in Taiwan was a great opportunity to explore various perspectives on engaged Buddhism and the bodhisattva ideal,” Wang noted. “One of the things that we did this year is that we had a pretty rigorous recruitment process for the participants, which was very helpful in terms of managing expectations about the program. 

“The Young Bodhisattva Program is intended as an exposure program incorporating some capacity-building and leadership elements. So we began the program by creating a sense of safety and a sense of community, and that includes practicing how to disagree with each other and normalizing disagreement as an aspect of community.

“And then the content part of the program comes in, which comes from workshops and exposure trips to Buddhist communities—both Buddhism with a capital ‘B’ and small ‘b’ buddhism*—such as Dharma Drum Mountain and Tzu Chi, and we also went to the Luminary Institute, which is run by a community of bhikshunis who have been providing adult education since the 1980s using very, very progressive education models for Taiwan. In this way we can examine what social engagement actually looks like.

“We ran a workshop on Buddhist social analysis using the Four Noble Truths, and we also had some content this year on creative expression and storytelling, which reflects the perspective that the work of a bodhisattva is also a creative process.”

Image courtesy of INEB
Image courtesy of INEB

INEB emphasizes the importance of developing an ethical, Dharma-based approach to its work, and encourages members to work collaboratively and respectfully with individuals and organizations upon a foundation of shared values and aspirations. The network also advocates the importance of environmental sustainability and the responsible use of natural resources, and has promoted sustainable development practices in various communities.

“In many countries, enduring peace and social justice remain elusive because of capitalism, authoritarianism, and the dominance of the corporate sector and non-democratic governments,” INEB observed “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 conflicts.

“Imbalanced development and societal divisions hinder the potential of the young generation. Buddhist thinkers and activists propose compassionate alternatives. The timeless teachings of the Buddha hold the potential to guide humanity toward a peaceful and sustainable world.”

* In his essay “Buddhism with a Small ‘b’,” Sulak Sivaraksa discusses the importance of the foundational teachings of the Buddha, presenting mindfulness, tolerance, and interconnectedness in a way that makes them applicable to individuals and entire communities, compared with the activities of institutional Buddhism with a capital “B.”

See more

International Network of Engaged Buddhists
INEB – International Network of Engaged Buddhists (Facebook)
Buddhist Hongshi College

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