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Buddhism generally has a very positive image in the UK, as a peaceful, meditative lifestyle. At the Network of Buddhist Organisations UK, we’d like to mess that up a bit! The image isn’t wrong; it’s just very partial, and it’s misleading. Lots of Buddhists are firmly committed to social action. You just don’t know about them.
All across Britain, there are Buddhists working away for the benefit of others, in their ordinary lives as nurses, police officers, social workers, charity workers, volunteers or anything else you can think of. And then there are all the Buddhists who run Buddhist charities and social projects helping others, through overseas development work, prison and hospital chaplaincies, mental health projects or campaigning on environmental social issues, to mention a few.
All this goes on all the time, and in Buddhist Action Month 2014 (BAM) we’ll be shining a spotlight on it. BAM’s suggested theme is global warming and the environment, but the month is intended to stir up and celebrate Buddhist social action in general.
Starting very small with Buddhist Action Day in 2012, we progressed to a whole month in 2013. This was moderately well taken up, but 2014′s campaign has started well with the leaders of one of the UK’s largest Buddhist denominations agreeing to adopt it nationally – not just across England but UK-wide, and even maybe across the Channel! Some UK members of this movement, the Triratna Buddhist Order and Community, are even thinking “beyond BAM”: inspired by the Quakers’ Minute 36 on sustainability, Triratna’s 40 or so retreat and urban Buddhist centres are talking about collectively moving towards a fairtrade, lower carbon lifestyle over the next few years.
Buddhist commitment to social action is based on a range of teachings and values including:
- wisdom and compassion
- karma – that our actions of body, speech and mind have consequences, for which we are responsible
- that craving, including over-consumption, causes suffering
- the five ethical precepts: undertaking to
- avoid killing and other kinds of harming
- avoid taking that which is not freely given
- avoid sexual misconduct
- avoid false speech
- avoid clouding the mind with intoxicants
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