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Michael Welton – Can Buddhism Save the World?

The topic of socially engaged Buddhism is complex and very important to the future of the dharma in our troubled, fast-moving and intensely competitive global world. Buddhist scholar Stephen Batchelor says that phrase “socially engaged Buddhism” was coined in the 1930s when some monks opposed France’s occupation in Viet Nam.

In his lucid historical study, The Awakening of the West: the encounter of Buddhism and Western culture (1994), he tells the story of Thich Quang Du who, while sitting in meditative calm repose on a street in Saigon, poured gas over his body and torched himself on June 1, 1963.

Images of monks aflame—“seated like a Buddha engulfed by fire in a country ravaged by war sears itself into the Western mind” (p. 353)—aroused incomprehension among those who imagined Buddhists as totally other-worldly.

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