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Engaged Buddhism is a term coined by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in 1960s in reference to the contemporary movement of socially engaged Buddhist action and practice in response to war and political situation in Vietnam. The term gradually gained currency and has come to refer more broadly to other movements, ideology, practice, and action informed by Buddhist values and principles and aimed at transforming individual, society and politics. It also has gained legitimacy among scholars as a category of research on contemporary Buddhism as the publications over the last two decades demonstrate. Many scholars argue that engaged Buddhism is strictly a modern phenomenon since it represents new forms of Buddhism that arose in response to colonialism and modernity; as such it is antithetical to the traditional Buddhist ideal of ending human suffering through radical detachment (or dis-engagement) from the world. For these scholars engaged Buddhism stands for the fourth vehicle that comes on the heel of the traditional three vehicles, or the earth vehicle because of global issues engaged Buddhism addresses, or neo-Buddhism that represents reformist Buddhism to meet the needs of particular time and place. Other scholars opt to view Buddhism to have always been engaged socially and politically and that engaged Buddhism in modern period is simply the latest manifestation of the perennial Buddhist goal (end of suffering) and motivation (compassion). Regardless whether it represents rupture or continuity, engaged Buddhism deserves serious attention for what it can contribute to the study of religion in history and modern/contemporary society.
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