Monday September 30, 2019

9 AM to 4:40 PM

Richmond | Dharma Drum Vancouver Centre
8240 No. 5 Rd

About this event

The Dharma Drum Vancouver Centre’s “Buddhism and Social Change” workshop proposes to address areas of dialogue between Buddhist practice and the complex social and environmental crises and transitions we currently face. Speakers will address specific questions related to their research. Audience members will have opportunities to ask questions and participate in discussions on how Buddhism can affect the our society and initiate or support social change.

   9:00 –  9:10

Welcome & introduce the 1st speaker Wendi A.

 Ven. Chang Wu

   9:10 –  10:05

1st presentation:

Re-Humanizing the Dynamics of Exchange
(45 min. talk+10 min. Q&A)

 Wendi Adamek

  10:10 – 11:05

2nd presentation:

Transforming our Social Karma: Buddhist Concepts and the Role of Academia
(45 min. talk+10 min. Q&A)

 Jonathan Gold

  11:05 – 11:15


  11:15 – 12:10

3rd presentation:

Ecodharma: A New Buddhist Path?
(45 min. talk+10 min. Q&A)

 David Loy

  12:10 – 12:30

Discussion, invite comments from audience 

  12:30 – 13:30

Lunch Break 

  13:30 – 14:25

4th presentation:

Hand Mirrors and Infinity Mirrors: Buddhism, Modern Subjectivities, and Social Change
(45 min. talk+10 min. Q&A)

 David McMahan

  14:30 – 15:25

5th presentation:

Chan Practitioners as Agents of Social Change
(45 min. talk+10 min. Q&A)

 Rebecca Li

  15:25 – 15:35 


  15:35 – 16:00

Participates take 5 mins each to comment on topics raised

 All speakers

  16:00 – 16:30 

Wrap-up discussion, invite comments from audience

 All speakers

Speaker Bios

Chan Practitioners as Agents of Social Change
Rebecca Li, Associate professor, The College of New Jersey, and Chan Teacher

This paper addresses the common misunderstanding that working for social change is not compatible with the cultivation of wisdom of emptiness for Chan practitioners.  In this paper, I focus on changes in various structures of stratification such as those based on class, race, and gender.  The phenomenon of social change is examined with two sociological concepts: (i) social construction of categories such as race and gender and how structures of stratification are legitimized, and (ii) the micro foundation of macro-level social structure and social change.  I argue that sociological insights on how social structures are perpetuated and change are congruent with Dharma teachings of karma and conditioned co-arising.  I examine how the integration of these insights into one’s practice can render Chan practitioners agents of social change regardless of their circumstances.

Dr. Rebecca Li, a Dharma heir in the Dharma Drum lineage of Chan Master Sheng Yen, started practicing meditation in 1995. She began her teacher’s training with Master Sheng Yen in 1999 to become a Dharma and meditation instructor. Later on, she trained with John Crook and Simon Child to lead intensive retreats and received full Dharma transmission from Simon Child in 2016.  Currently, she leads Chan retreats, teaches meditation and Dharma classes, and gives public lectures in North America and the U.K. Her talks and writings can be found at  She is the founder and guiding teacher of Chan Dharma Community and a sociology professor at The College of New Jersey, where she also serves as faculty director of the Alan Dawley Center for the Study of Social Justice

Ecodharma: A New Buddhist Path?
David Loy, Professor, Writer and Zen Teacher

Today humanity faces its greatest challenge ever: in addition to burgeoning social crises, a self-inflicted ecological catastrophe threatens civilization as we know it and perhaps even our survival as a species. Traditional Buddhist teachings help us wake up individually and realize our interdependence with others. Now we also need to consider how Buddhism can help us wake up and respond to this new predicament. And what does the eco-crisis imply about how we understand and practice Buddhism? Do we need an “ecosattva path”?

David Robert Loy is a professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbō Zen lineage of Japanese Zen Buddhism. His work focuses primarily on the encounter between Buddhism and modernity: what each can learn from the other. He is especially concerned about social and ecological issues. David’s most recent book is Ecodharma: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis (Wisdom Publications, 2019). Earlier books include Money Sex War Karma, A New Buddhist Path, and Ecodharma: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis.  In addition to offering workshops and meditation retreats, he is also one of the founding members of the new Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center ( Many of his essays, blogs, podcasts and videos are available on his website: In June 2014, David received an honorary degree from Carleton College, his alma mater, during its 2014 Commencement. In April 2016 David returned his honorary degree, to protest the decision of the Board of Trustees not to divest from fossil fuel investments.

Re-Humanizing the Dynamics of Exchange
Wendi Adamek, Associate Professor, University of Calgary

For some time I have been interested in religious or soteriological (“path”) aspects of sociological theories of economic exchange. A classic starting point is Marcel Mauss’s work on premodern cultural experience of “total social phenomena,” lived worlds wherein economic, social, and sacred ties were not separated. Recently, economist Kate Raworth in her “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist” articulated the need to recreate links between the practice of economics and practices of enabling skillful life-practice. She writes: “When political economy was split up into political philosophy and economic science in the late nineteenth century, it opened up what the philosopher Michael Sandel has called a ‘moral vacancy’ at the heart of public policymaking. Today economists and politicians debate with confident ease in the name of economic efficiency, productivity and growth— as if those values were self-explanatory— while hesitating to speak of justice, fairness and rights. Talking about values and goals is a lost art waiting to be revived.” (2017: 36.) While reintegrating values and the study of economics would be a huge step in the right direction, it is also abundantly clear that articulating values is not enough. Any attempt to adjust economic systems must grapple with complex global interdependencies and cultural sovereignties. In this paper I discuss some of the critical challenges and moral issues that arise when we try to articulate how (and whose) current social experiments might help humanize (ren 仁) the dynamics of exchange in a global multicultural context. I bring in some Buddhist perspectives, including Master Sheng Yen’s views on renjian fojiao 人間佛教 (Humanistic Buddhism).

Wendi L. Adamek is Associate Professor in the Department of Classics and Religion at the University of Calgary and holder of the Numata Chair in Buddhist Studies. Her research interests include medieval Chinese Buddhism, Buddhist archeology, and living systems theory. Her forthcoming book Practicescape and the Buddhists of Baoshan centers on a community in Henan, China. Previous publications include The Mystique of Transmission: On an Early Chan History and its Contexts (AAR Award for Excellence in Textual Studies, 2008) and The Teachings of Master Wuzhu (2011). Born in Hawai’i, she earned her degrees at Stanford University and has held research fellowships at Kyoto University (BDK, Fulbright), Peking University (NEH, Fulbright), the Stanford Humanities Center, the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), and the Calgary Institute for the Humanities.

Hand Mirrors and Infinity Mirror: Buddhism, Modern Subjectivities, and Social Change
David McMahan, Professor, Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania

Buddhism has come of age in the West at a time when, according to many social theorists, the inherited European-Enlightenment sense of the self as a singular, autonomous individual is giving way to a fragmented and chaotic sense of subjectivity. This fragmentation is driven by the modern globalized economy, the ubiquity of media, and the disembeddedness of individuals from traditional communities that, in the past, have supplied a stable sense of identity. The felt loss of stable selfhood has created uniquely modern modes of anxiety and alienation. It has also created a space for certain Buddhist ideas and practices to emerge as ways of rethinking and re- feeling the sense of self and other. Among these are the doctrines of non-self and dependent arising, and the practice of meditation. I want to think about some particular ways these doctrines and practices have been reworked, in part, to help navigate the tension between the felt loss of the autonomous individual and the late-modern fragmented self. These reworkings contain a spectrum of different potentials regarding social change, from—on the one side—an emphasis on passive self-exploration, comfort, and personal success and wellbeing, to—on the other side—a decreased sense of separation and isolation from others and the natural world, a sacralization of the cosmos, and an expansive sense of ethical, social, and political responsibility.

David L. McMahan is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Making of Buddhist Modernism (Oxford University Press, 2008), Empty Vision: Metaphor and Visionary Imagery in Mahāyāna Buddhism (Routledge Curzon, 2002), and several articles on Mahāyāna Buddhism in South Asia and Buddhism in the modern world. He is also the co-editor of Buddhism, Meditation and Science (Oxford University Press, 2017), editor of Buddhism in the Modern World (Routledge 2012). He has written on Indian Buddhist literature, visual metaphors and practice, and the early history of the Mahāyāna movement in India. More recently, his work has focused on the interface of Buddhism and modernity, including its interactions with science, psychology, modernist literature, romanticism, and transcendentalism. He is currently researching the various ways that Buddhist and Buddhist-derived meditation is understood and practiced in different cultural and historical contexts, ancient and modern.

Transforming Our Social Karma: Buddhist Concepts and the Role of Academia
Jonathan C. Gold, Associate Professor, Princeton University

Buddhist conceptual resources such as dependent origination and emptiness provide insights into the social blights of racism and misogyny and other forms of beginningless, conditioned suffering. As our world’s “karma,” we know that they are are dispositional patterns within the minds of individuals, but also, crucially, social processes with causes and conditions at multiple interconnecting levels. A misogynist doesn’t necessarily hate all women; to be a misogynist is to enact a social role. Racism is not merely someone’s personal opinion; it too is systemic and structural. Knowing this helps us to assess our own culpability and our opportunities to intervene, and it helps us understand why even transformed institutions can leave biases in place, or even enhance them. Given such a complex tangle, however, how can we realistically hope to confront our most intractable social problems? Are they simply in our nature? A Buddhist should answer in the negative: They are our karmic inheritance, but that is not an unchanging nature. This paper proposes that the work of academia, especially social science and humanities work, can often, though not often enough, serve as a kind of “mindfulness” practice for the cultural “mind”—with methods and goals analogous to those of mental mindfulness practices. Mindfulness does not directly change behavior, but it accumulates over time into new understandings and “skillful” capacities. In the laboratory of the academy, we develop intellectual tools to assess, with cool composure, the causes and conditions of every kind of suffering, however “hot.” Study and teaching the constructed nature of identity and the historical patterns of bias, for instance, can help us change, as individuals, and eventually, as societies. It is a painfully gradual process, but it envisions a real transformation of our complex, shared karma.

Jonathan C. Gold is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion and Director of the Program in South Asian Studies at Princeton University. A scholar of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, he is especially interested in Buddhist approaches to language, learning and the ethics of personal cultivation. He is the author of The Dharma’s Gatekeepers: Sakya Paṇḍita on Buddhist Scholarship in Tibet (State University of New York Press, 2007) and Paving the Great Way: Vasubandhu’s Unifying Buddhist Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2015) as well as numerous articles, including the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries on Vasubandhu and Sakya Paṇḍita. He is co-editor, with Douglas S. Duckworth, of Readings of Śāntideva’s Guide to Bodhisattva Practice (Bodhicaryāvatāra), forthcoming from Columbia University Press. In his current work he is developing a Buddhist approach to contemporary problems in religion, politics and social thought.

Please register online at in advance

Organized by the Himalaya Program (, and co-sponsored by UBC’s Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society (何鴻毅家族基金佛學與當代社會課程 )