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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
26 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY problem with socially engaged Buddhism in the US. In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008 the two largest engaged Buddhist orga- nizations, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the Zen Peacemakers, almost collapsed due to severely reduced financial support, and since then they have struggled on—often quite effectively, I’m pleased to add—in much reduced circumstances. Noticeably, however, some other Buddhist institutions are thriving financially. In the last few years, for example, Spirit Rock in Northern California successfully fundraised for a multimillion-dollar expansion program. Noticing this difference is by no means a criticism of that accomplishment, yet the contrast in public support is striking. Serious money is available for some high-profile meditation centers, where individuals can go on retreat, but apparently not for organizations that seek to promote the social and ecological implications of Buddhist teachings. This doesn’t mean that socially engaged Buddhism has failed. In some ways it may be a victim of its own success, in that some forms of service—prison work, hospice care, homeless kitchens, and so on—are now widely acknowledged as a part, sometimes even an important part, of the Buddhist path. Note that this is usually indi- viduals helping other individuals. My perception is that over the last generation Buddhists have become much better at pulling drown- ing people out of the river, but—and here’s the problem—we aren’t much better at asking why there are so many more people drowning. Prison dharma groups help individual inmates who are sometimes very eager to learn about Buddhism, but do nothing to address the structural problems with our criminal justice system, including racial disparities and overcrowding. In 2014 the number of homeless chil- dren in the US attending school set a new record: about 1.36 mil- lion, almost double the number in 2006–2007. Why does by far the wealthiest country in human history have so many homeless school- children and by far the world’s largest prison population? Buddhists are better at pulling individual people out of the river because that is what Buddhism traditionally emphasizes. We are