Mandala of Socially Engaged Buddhism

June 3, 2010, mentioned in her recent teaching on socially engaged Buddhism at Upaya Zen Centre, posted today at engage. 

originally posted at

I’ve referred to the “Mandala of Socially Engaged Buddhism” a couple of time in previous posts on this blog, and I’ve finally dug it up to share it with all of you. If you click on the graphic above, it should open up in a separate window with slightly higher resolution.

Some background on this mandala: It was inspired by a gathering of a number of Buddhist Peace Fellowship chapter leaders in 2003. Everyone shared the kinds of activities that their chapters had organized, and (just as importantly) how they organized these events, what qualities were important for them in the process of organizing.

I was the designated note-taker at this meeting. After digesting all I had heard that day, this mandala is what came to me as a way to summarize what everyone had shared. I realized that the types of activities or events seemed to cluster into four categories (the four quadrants of the circle above), and then I included the six qualities that people consistently named as important parts of the process around the outside of the circle. Later on, I added an archetype into each of the quadrants (e.g. “the healer”) as that was an interesting dimension to play with.

Here are some examples of the kinds of activities you might find in each of the four quadrants:

“Triage”: Stopping Harmful Actions, ‘Holding Actions’ (Joanna Macy)

• Participating in vigils, rallies, and marches against the war on Iraq

• Sitting in meditation vigil at state-sanctioned executions (death penalty)

• Writing letters or calling legislators to call a stop to harmful environmental practice

• Nonviolent civil disobedience and non-cooperation with life-destructive policies

Healing Polarities and Divisions

• Reconciliation or listening circles with groups that have “opposing” points of view

• Practicing Nonviolent Communication

• Addressing issues of racism, classism, sexism, etc. within our sanghas and in society

Building Cultures of Peace

• Working to establish a Department of Peace in the U.S. government

• Work with children and young people

• Building creative arts communities

• Monastic communities that are based on principles of sustainability and non-harming

• Practice simple, sustainable living, individually and in community

Education and Organizing, from a Dharma Perspective

• Empowering ourselves and others with information about a specific issue, such as the minimum wage (economic injustice)

• Inquiry/Analysis. Ask questions: “Why is this situation like this? Who is suffering from this injustice? How can we change it? Who has the power to change it? How can we leverage that power?”

• Designing actions intended to shift power and encouraging others to participate in the change process –provide contact information for legislators, suggested letters to write, invitations to vigils, etc.

The mandala was also influenced by Joanna Macy’s writings about the “Great Turning.” In fact, you’ll see some parallels in this mandala. Macy says that in order for us to navigate the transition from an industrial society to a life-sustaining society, three actions are needed: 1) Holding Actions (similar to the “Triage” in this mandala), 2) Alternative Structures and Analyses (similar to the “Building Cultures of Peace”) and a 3) Shift in Consciousness and Spiritual Awakening (not really a separate part of this mandala, but woven in throughout).

One of the most important points about this mandala is that it is completely interconnected. All four quadrants of action are equally necessary, equally valuable. No one’s work is more important than someone else.

Over the years, this mandala has been a very helpful tool to work with, both with individuals and groups, as we think through how we’ve engaged with social, political, and environmental issues. I’m wondering what thoughts you have about this mandala. Do you notice that your activism has tended to be in one of these quadrants more than others? Do you feel out of balance in any way as you engage with the world? Are the six qualities present in your life and activism? What else might be missing from the mandala?

I consider this mandala a work in progress, so I’d love to hear your feedback on it and any ways that you find it useful.


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