Radical Dharma and Eco-Dharma represent two critical movements in contemporary American Buddhism. While Radical Dharma frames spiritual liberation as inseparable from collective social liberation and racial justice, Eco-Dharma frames spiritual liberation as inseparable from ecological care. Both movements draw heavily on Mahāyāna (and especially Zen) Buddhism. However, there are also rich roots for radical social and ecological engagement grounded in early Buddhist teachings. In this program we will explore these roots, and trace their growth in the modern development of socially and ecologically engaged Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia. We will focus especially on the engaged work of B.R. Ambedkar, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, Sulak Sivarksa, A.T. Ariyaratne and Thich Nhat Hanh, attending to their interpretations of early Buddhist teachings in particular. To help contextualize these figures and movements, a few sessions will outline the broader history of socially engaged Buddhism, and major figures and theories in the development of Mahāyāna approaches to engaged Buddhism.
This program is designed for intellectually curious Buddhist practitioners, and is suitable for anyone who wishes to have a stronger historical and theoretical grounding in engaged Buddhism.
Each week students will receive a brief essay summarizing academic research on the topic, short reading(s) from primary texts (classical or modern), discussion questions, and a select bibliography for further study. Some weeks may involve an additional video recording. Live sessions will review and expand on previously distributed materials with an emphasis on discussion.
There is no prerequisite for this program. Some students may be interested in reading Radical Dharma (by Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Jasmine Syedullah, Ph.D.) and Ecodharma (by David Loy) ahead of the program. Summaries of key ideas from these texts will be provided prior to the first session. It should be noted that these texts and their particular articulations of Radical and Eco-Dharma are the starting point rather than primary focus for the program. In that regard, we will not be delving into how the Black Radical tradition or modern ecological thinking have informed these movements, but will focus on how their conceptions of social and ecological engagement are complemented and supported by early Buddhist teachings and their modern Asian interpretations.