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Wed Feb 20, 2013, 12:57 PM

American Buddhism: Beyond the Search for Inner Peace


February 19, 2013
American Buddhism: Beyond the Search for Inner Peace An Interview with Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi on Buddhism as a force for social justice
Joshua Eaton is a journalist, activist, and speaker. He is currently online editor for Spare Change News. He has also served as co-editor-in-chief of Cult/ure: The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School. Joshua holds a MDiv in Buddhist studies from Harvard University and a BA in psychology from the University of West Georgia. His writing has appeared in Buddhadharma, Global Post, Tricylce Blog, Flagpole Magazine, and other publications.

Ven. Bikkhu Bodhi: monk, translator, activist

When I showed up, the room at Harvard Divinity School was already overflowing. World-renowned professors were packing the aisles along with undergrads, standing in the doorways, and squeezing in behind furniture. At the front of the room stood Bhikkhu Bodhi—a short, soft-spoken Buddhist monk with a marked Brooklyn accent—who held the audience rapt even as he explained dry, technical details of meditation.

Born Jeffrey Block, Bikkhu Bodhi has a PhD in philosophy and years of monastic training in Sri Lanka. He is best known for his translations of the Theravada Buddhist scriptures from the Pali language into English—a massive undertaking. It soon became apparent that he also has large portions of those scriptures memorized, on top of his easy familiarity with Chinese Mahayana Buddhist scriptures. However, it wasn’t his impressive abilities as a translator and scholar that brought me there that day.

Since returning to the States Ven. Bodhi has established himself on the forefront of Buddhist social justice movements. Here his list of accomplishments is almost as long as his list of publications.

Ven. Bodhi and his students founded Buddhist Global Relief, which partners with local organizations around the world to increase food security and build local food capacity. He has also been deeply involved with climate activism, most prominently co-authoring the Buddhist Climate Declaration. And he has been active in both Occupy Faith and the Rolling Jubilee campaign, which is raising money to buy and abolish defaulted medical debts.

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