Buddhists and their Values and Practices in Spanish-speaking Countries: A Sociological Exploration, Part Five

By Dr. José Antonio Rodríguez Díaz, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Barcelona, Spain


The vision, orientation, and relationship with others, along with participation or collaboration in organizations and social activities, shape the social dimension of the spiritual path and practice.

Trust in others is a central element in understanding both the systems of relationships in which one participates, and the social circles that are created thereby, and in understanding the social role that Buddhists play.

Buddhists’ confidence in most people is quite high, on a scale of 1 not at all to 10 completely, the average is 6.82. Levels of trust in others (closer or distant) shape the social circles of trust in which Buddhists live. Couples, followed by close family members and friends, occupy the central space of our social system of trust (with high averages on a scale of 1 to 5: 4.41; 4.17; 4.05). They are social spaces of strong and cohesive relationships. The second social circle of trust is made up of colleagues from the organization/association and from work. The third circle, with somewhat lower levels of trust, is made up of non-close family and people of other religions and/or nationalities. The least trusted, although they are above the midpoint of the scale of 1 to 5, are people recently met (average of 2.8) and neighbors (3.02).

Social Relationships

Social relations establish channels of communication between people and institutions and promote social cohesion. Both in their relationships with other Buddhists from other centers and traditions and in their communication with their personal social networks, Buddhists contribute to the creation of broad communities and the dissemination of the Buddhist worldview in society.

64% of those surveyed say they have relationships with Buddhists from other centers. And more than half (54%) have relationships with more than 1 person. These data reveal an important system of social relations between Buddhists of different centers and traditions, shaping a large and complex Buddhist community. Being close to several centers (29%, almost 1/3), to several teachers (more than half: 54%) and to several traditions at the same time (27%) weaves a fine network that enables a perhaps broader and more complex vision of Buddhism and that can also facilitate the creation and strengthening of relationships between different centers, communities and traditions, facilitating a sense of identity and broad community.

Social relationships create communication networks through which Buddhists, and their systems of values and practices, are inserted into the social fabric. A large proportion of practitioners responding to the survey (62%) talk about Buddhism and share their experience with non-Buddhists. Most of the non-Buddhists we talk to about Buddhism-related topics belong to the first circle of stronger relationships (with friendships 78%, with family 57%). This is followed by our conversations with the second social circle (co-workers (37%) and/or co-members in organizations 22%). After them would be talking to experts and finally to acquaintances in the neighborhood. Communication with the Buddhist outside social world is also crucial for its own survival and expansion.

Social role

The social role of Buddhists also takes the form of a high level of participation in civil and social organizations of various kinds, which are primarily oriented towards society. Through this participation, they enter the wider social fabric and contribute to its form and dynamics. Buddhists stand out for being members, obviously, of religious organizations (36%), but also of humanitarian organizations (29%), cultural organizations (25%), professional associations (23%) and sports and/or leisure organizations (23%). They are ways of creating relationships with the social environment and formats through which Buddhist visions and practices are disseminated throughout society in the hope of having a positive impact.

At the same time, they are involved in actions related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Almost half of respondents (46%) participate or collaborate in an activity related to the SDGs. The SDGs in which they are most involved (mention by more than 10% of respondents) are the goal of “improving health and well-being” (SDG3) (in which 20% of practitioners are involved), followed by SDG4 “for quality education” (in which 14% participate), SDG5 “gender equality” (13%), SDG13 on “climate action” (12%), and SDG10 on “reduced inequalities” (11).

In addition, a significant proportion of the practitioners (14%) collaborate with people from other Buddhist schools or religious traditions in some of these actions, creating an inter-Buddhist and interreligious relational system. The goals on which there is the most collaboration with other schools or religions are SDG3 (Good Health and Well-being: 21 people), SDG1 (End poverty: 13 people), and SDG4 (Quality Education: 13 people).

Collaborative relationships on SDG projects are less frequent and weaker among Buddhist traditions themselves. They are very strong among centers of the same tradition and with Catholic entities (possibly dominant in Catholic social environments).

Relations of Collaboration in SDG projects
With CatholicsWith Other ChristiansWith MahāyānaWith TheravādaWith Vajrayāna
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Vajrayāna followers stand out for their high level of collaboration with both practitioners of their own tradition (between centers) and with Catholics. The Mahāyāna follow the same relational pattern but less intensely. And the Theravāda have more relationships within the same tradition and with people of other religious denominations. Globally, internal relations within the same tradition and external relations with Catholic entities dominate. And the data point to a certain social distance and less collaboration between traditions. The social and physical environment, possibly with a high presence of Catholic social action entities, could explain the existing relational structure.

From all this we can highlight two elements. The important participation and/or collaboration of Buddhists in social organizations and also in social projects linked to the SDGs. The second element is the creation of collaborative relationships between centers, traditions and religions as part of this participation in organizations and SDGs. Interrelations create the social dimension, and actions shape it.

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