Buddhist Peace Fellowship
The Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF) is a nonsectarian international network of engaged Buddhists participating in various forms of nonviolent social activism and environmentalism with chapters all over the world.
The non-profit BPF is an affiliate of the international Fellowship of Reconciliation working toward global disarmament and peace, helping individuals suffering under governmental tyranny in places such as Burma, Bangladesh, Tibet and Vietnam.
Generally speaking, the BPF has a tendency to approach social issues from a left-wing perspective and, while the fellowship is nonsectarian, the majority of its members are practitioners of Zen Buddhism.
The Buddhist Peace Fellowship is a grassroots movement established in 1978 by Robert Baker Aitken and Anne Hopkins Aitken, along with Nelson Foster and others, on the front porch of their Maui Zendo in Hawaii.
Sitting around a table, the assembled group discussed nuclear weapons and militarism within the United States in the years following the Vietnam War, finding that these issues must be addressed with compassion from a Buddhist perspective in order to bring about peace.
Original members were centered primarily in Hawaii or the San Francisco Bay Area, and by 1979 the group had roughly fifty members.
To stay connected, the group formulated a newsletter spearheaded by Nelson Foster which evolved into Turning Wheel—the quarterly magazine published by the BPF. Today it trades ads with others Buddhist magazines in an effort to mutually generate more subscriptions.
During this time much of their work was geared toward human rights efforts in areas of the world such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh, working particularly hard at freeing Buddhist prisoners of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.
This period in BPF history also was marked by the hiring of a coordinator and the development of national chapters.
BPF went through a turbulent period after longtime executive director Alan Senauke left at the end of 2001.
- Many individual activists from different traditions network through the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), an organization that facilitates individual and group social engagement in the United States and Asia and often works together with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB). The BPF is the largest and most effective of the engaged Buddhist networks.
The Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement (BASE) is an extension of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship established in 1995, offering training and internship programs based on the model set forward by the Jesuit Volunteer Corps for social workers, activists and human service workers.
The idea behind BASE was originally conceived of by Robert Baker Aitken during discussions at a BPF meeting held in Oakland, California in 1992, although it was Diana Winston who ultimately saw this vision through.
She was somewhat disheartened to find that many of the BPF members were not actively engaged in meditation, so she set out to develop a "training program that would integrate Buddhist practice, social engagement, and community life into one organic whole."
But it is also inspired by the BASE community of Latin America, which was founded in the 1970s as a vehicle for Catholic liberation theology...BASE emphasized social engagement as a path of Buddhist practice, not simply as a mode of Buddhist social service.
- —Seager, Richard Hughes (1999). Buddhism in America. pp. 207–208.
Another outgrowth of the BPF is the Buddhist Peace Fellowship Prison Project, a committee within BPF which works with prisoners and their families and other religious groups in an effort to address violence within the criminal justice system.
In 1993 the Buddhist AIDS Project (BAP), based in San Francisco, California was founded, a non-profit affiliate of the BPF run entirely by volunteers, serving individuals with HIV/AIDS, those who are HIV positive, their families, and their caregivers.
The two groups released "peace lanterns" into the air and participants held vigils and various talks. On Hiroshima Day of August 6, 2006, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship of Santa Cruz, California used the occasion to protest the Iraq War.
Participants of the group "displayed a three foot tall, hundred foot long, scroll listing 40,000 names of Iraqi civilians killed in the war.
Some members reported being told that their phones were likely bugged in the United States.
Due to its lack of a centralized leadership, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship has had trouble developing a "unifying strategy for social change." Another apparent issue involves its "failure to develop an adequate, in-depth social analysis to underpin its work."