Beginning in the 1980s, practitioners, activists, and scholars began to document the growth of Buddhist liberation movements in Asia and socially engaged sanghas, organizations, and practices in the West. By now the list of books and periodicals, websites and blogs are in the thousands and exploding weekly (see for a sampling). After reading The Path of Compassion: Writings on Socially Engaged Buddhism, a collection of essays by Thich Nhat Hanh, The Dalai Lama, Sulak Sivaraksa, Christina Feldman, Maha Ghosananda, and others when it came out in 1988 (it's still in print!), I was inspired to travel throughout Asia and the U.S. to learn how social action could be considered spiritual practice by so many people. Working on the volumes Engaged Buddhism (1996), Engaged Buddhism in the West (2000), and Action Dharma (2003) with more than sixty other scholars opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of the new movement.

This summer the Zen Peacemakers are sponsoring the first Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism, from August 9-14, in Montague, Massachusetts. As you may see from the website,, the program has attracted an amazing array of practitioners, activists, artists, and scholars. The purpose of the gathering is threefold: 1) to honor pioneers and leaders of western engaged Buddhism, such as Robert Aitken Roshi (a founder of the BPF), Gary Snyder, Joanna Macy, Joan Halifax, Paula Green, Alan Senauke, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Peter Matthiessen, and Frank Ostaseski; 2) to invite scholars, journalists, and bloggers to reflect together on socially engaged Buddhism's past, present, and future (Tricycle magazine is a co-sponsor of the event); and 3) perhaps most importantly, to create an environment in which current leaders and practitioners can meet, brainstorm, and collaborate on the future of the movement.

If you are interested in learning more about the paths of Buddhist service and activism that will coexist in the coming years with the paths of lay spiritual practice, monastic ordination and community, and the intellectual interface of the Dharma with western science, psychology, and philosophy, you might consider joining us at the Zen Peacemakers' symposium in Massachusetts next month. It is certainly not limited to those who practice Zen -- indeed most of the Buddhist lineages are represented on the program, as well as voices from other faiths than Buddhism (the first evening is devoted to Hindu chanting!). Certainly the question that prompted Patheos to invite these posts -- Whither Buddhism? -- will be front and center in the minds of attendees.


Christopher Queen teaches Buddhism and Social Change and World Religions at Harvard University. He has served as board president of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies and currently serves on the board of the Zen Peacemakers. Chris has written and edited numerous books and articles on Engaged Buddhism and Buddhism in America. He began his training in Vipassana under Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Jacqueline Mandel at the Insight Meditation Society in 1978. Chris's research on the rise and spread of socially engaged Buddhism has taken him to India, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, and throughout the United States. He is currently working on two books: The Fourth Yana: The Rise of Socially Engaged Buddhism and The Passion of Ambedkar: How the Untouchables came to Buddhism.