This month is Buddhist Action Month in the UK when we try to be a bit more socially engaged. To quote from the website

Despite Buddhism's reputation for stillness and withdrawal from the world, UK Buddhists are engaged in a wide range of social-change projects, alleviating suffering at home and abroad

So leading on from this, I was wondering whether the Buddha promoted this kind of social engagement. Was the Buddha active in addressing political and social injustices of his time or did he more work within the social norms and bring about liberation in that way. I'm particularly interested in references to the Pali Canon to illustrate answers but answers from other traditions and texts would also be interesting.

  • What kinds of action were they promoting, what kinds of change were they hoping to effect?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 17:52
  • All kinds really. We are having an awareness raiser for veganism, some meditation flash mobs in Leeds City Centre, money awareness, something about the environment. I'm going to do a session about family and supporting others but that's probably going to be August now so won't quite fit into the program Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 17:56
  • 1
    @ChrisW here's the program leedsbuddhistcentre.org/june-is-buddhist-action-month Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 17:57

2 Answers 2


Let me narrow down "engaged Buddhism" to "applying the Dharma to social and political injustices".

In the Kathavatthu Sutta, the Buddha did not prefer monks to engage in discussions concerning mundane things:

Then the Blessed One ... addressed the monks: "For what topic of conversation are you gathered together here? ..."

"Just now, lord, after the meal, ... we ... engaged in ... conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state; armies, alarms, & battles; food & drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, & scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women & heroes; the gossip of the street & the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity, the creation of the world & of the sea; talk of whether things exist or not."

"It isn't right, monks, that sons of good families, on having gone forth out of faith from home to the homeless life, should get engaged in such topics of conversation ....

"There are these ten topics of [proper] conversation. Which ten? Talk on modesty, on contentment, on seclusion, on non-entanglement, on arousing persistence, on virtue, on concentration, on discernment, on release, and on the knowledge & vision of release.

At the same time, the Buddha advised the lay followers in the Sigalovada Sutta on how good friends should be. From here, I extrapolate that lay Buddhists can become good friends of their fellow members of society, and exhort them to be likewise. This can be one way to Engaged Buddhism.

  1. "Young man, be aware of these four good-hearted friends: the helper, the friend who endures in good times and bad, the mentor, and the compassionate friend.

  2. "The helper can be identified by four things: by protecting you when you are vulnerable, and likewise your wealth, being a refuge when you are afraid, and in various tasks providing double what is requested.

  3. "The enduring friend can be identified by four things: by telling you secrets, guarding your own secrets closely, not abandoning you in misfortune, and even dying for you.

  4. "The mentor can be identified by four things: by restraining you from wrongdoing, guiding you towards good actions, telling you what you ought to know, and showing you the path to heaven.

  5. "The compassionate friend can be identified by four things: by not rejoicing in your misfortune, delighting in your good fortune, preventing others from speaking ill of you, and encouraging others who praise your good qualities."


Actually for the followers, it is more about doing what they have to do for the closed ones as preached in Singalovada sutta. A good wife, a good son, a good friend can expect them to get rebirth in heaven. It is more about being the change you wan to make. But too much in Political involvement is never recommended in Buddhism and there are 31 topics a lay follower should avoid when he obeys the eight precepts or more. Kings and ministers are in the top of the not to list.
Lord Buddha had made significant social changes, but followers who are not enlightened were never encouraged for waging in such a change. Equality in Buddhism, ie anyone one from any caste, country or such was ordained if he had the ability to understand Dhamma and practice. Lord Buddha denied caste discrimination totally and it was a social change. And the increased social status of the woman. They got the chance to get ordained and Mother was called as the Lord Buddha of home. And when Magadha tried to wage in war against Vajji and capture it, Lord Buddha preached about Saptha Aparihaniya Dharma, which is can be thought to have the best elements from modern ideologies. Further, the Ten Royal qualities were also preached. And there are many other teachings for royalties.

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