In 1968, Buddhist poet Gary Snyder wrote a challenging piece called “Buddhism and the Coming Revolution.” In it, he says, “The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both.”

Ten years later, in 1978, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship took form as the first organizational flower of socially engaged Buddhism here in the West.

BPF was born on the back porch of the Maui Zendo, co-founded by Nelson Foster, Robert and Anne Aitken. The spark for BPF flew from Roshi’s in-depth study of 19th and 20th century anarchism and his long experience as an anti-war and anti-military activist. They were soon joined by Gary Snyder, Joanna Macy, Jack Kornfield, Al Bloom, and many others. Its ecumenical approach to the Dharma was a matter of principle, a real strength in the face of Buddhism’s sectarian history. At the start, there was a circle of friends, predominantly Euro-American Zen practitioners, most clustered in Hawaii and the Bay Area, with the rest scattered across the States. After a year there were only about fifty members, but it was a real network nonetheless, linked by friendship, common purpose, and by the dedicated work of Nelson Foster, who regularly published the newsletter and maintained active correspondence with members.

Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have long nurtured forms of spiritually-based activism and social transformation. BPF itself emerged as a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith umbrella of nonviolent peace and justice organizations. In those first years the ties between BPF and FOR were close and very encouraging for lonely Buddhist activists. From this branch of the peace movement, with its links to Jesus, Gandhi, Thomas Merton, and Martin Luther King, we began to find ways consonant with and parallel to the Dharma to explore suffering and social change.

From the start, BPF was working for human rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, in Vietnam, and in Cambodia, actively engaging with issues of war, disarmament, and nuclear weapons. BPF’s work has been consistent, but the problems we confront are deep and persistent. Over thirty years later, no major issue we have worked on has been completely resolved. We must remind ourselves over and over that the work of compassion is not about attachment to results, but about the process of compassion itself.

This is a great organization founded on the backs of both Buddhism and Anarchism.  Over time it has become one of the most prominent voices of Engaged Buddhism in the West, looking at social issues with insight and compassion that may sometimes be lost from other news sources/analysis.