BEST Program Overview The Buddhist Education for Social Transformation (BEST) course is an innovative yearlong certificated course focused on transformation of individuals, communities, the environment, and the world. The program is open to anyone seeking a Buddhist perspective in his or her approach to personal development, social justice and social change work. 

The program is organized by International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Justice (IWP), based in Chiang Mai, Thailand and builds on our experience working with social change agents from the grassroots to the government levels over the past 15 years.

The course is founded on the pillars of non-violent activism, spiritual practice, and anti-oppression feminism. The course is intended to support participants’ integration of spiritual practice and social action, grounded in structural analysis and an understanding of the interdependence of personal transformation and structural change. The course spans one year, with two intensive residential periods at the IWP center outside Chiang Mai, Thailand – July 18 – August 8, 2015 and ten days in July 2016.  The interim time (August 2015 – June 2016) is designed to include participant self-study, small group study, and an independent project that will be presented during the second residential period.  The intention is to form a strong community/sangha among participants as they journey through the yearlong program together.

The course is open to people of all identities, welcoming of all genders and sexual identities, spiritual/faith traditions and beliefs, ages, ethnicities, education levels, professions, etc. First priority will be given to activists living and working in the Asian region. The BEST course has been developed by IWP in collaboration with Upaya Zen Center, based in New Mexico, USA.  The course will draw on the knowledge, experience and wisdom of both centers (IWP and Upaya) in order to increase alliances between Asian and Western socially engaged Buddhists. The course aims to:

  • Develop leaders who are engaged in their own personal and social transformation.
  • Support social change movements in Asia grounded in minfulness and principles of nonviolence.
  • Help Asian leaders connect with each other and with activists globally to affect change from the grassroots to the global level.
  • Create space for mutual respect and understanding, and learning from each other.
  • Create communities of practice among spiritual activists

Specific topics covered in the course include:

  • Understanding Society
    • Exploration of direct and structural violence and oppression
    • Analysis of power and uses of power
    • Introduction to systems and complexity theories.
    • Analysis and application of theories of social service and social change
    • Reflection on spiritual-based models of peace building
  • Understanding Self
    • Exploration of the intersections of our multiple identities (gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, etc.), including working with our privilege and marginalization
    • The impacts of socialization and internalization
  • Self Awareness
    • Meditation and mindfulness practices as a base of personal growth and social activism
    • Transforming emotions of anger, fear, guilt, despair
    • Practices for self care and well-being, including identifying the signs of stress and burnout
  • Engaged Buddhism
    • Introduction to the theories and principles of engaged Buddhism
    • Study of the Buddhist precepts/mindfulness trainings for ethical action
    • Analysis of Buddhist teachings as tools for personal and social analysis
    • Deconstruction of patriarchal teachings in Buddhism
    • Buddhist psychology of social and environmental responsibility
    • Buddhist perspectives on the relevance of interdependence, causality, and impermanence in terms of social service
    • Study of socially engaged Buddhist activism around the world
  • Skills building
    • Empowerment counseling
    • Council training
    • Compassionate communication
    • Intersectional social analysis and critical thinking
    • Mindfulness practices
    • Feminist writing for social change

Program requirements In order to fulfill the requirements of the yearlong training program, participants will be expected to complete the following:

  • Participate in a total of 30 residential learning days at IWP.
  • For 2015, the  training dates are: July 18 – August 8, 2015 and Early July (10 days), 2016
  • Participate in online learning community with other students
  • Participate in peer mentoring circle (conference calls/emails throughout the year)
  • An independent learning project. This is an applied/research project that results in both a written document and a formal presentation.
  • Completion of readings and written assignments
  • Completion of a final portfolio, which includes all relevant documentation and the Final Project.

Teaching Methodology Buddhism emphasizes experience as a basis for learning and transformation. Different forms of daily mindfulness practices and meditation are designed to help participants form the foundation for their peace and justice work. The teaching methodology combines learning through experiential learning activities, discussion, skill building and spiritual practices. Experiential learning activities help participants move beyond the intellectual and informational levels to a more holistic model, in which participants use head, heart, hands, and spirit (intellectual, emotional, kinesthetic, and spiritual modalities) in the learning process.  Learning methods include small group discussions, role-plays, group challenges, audio-video and visual aids, exposure trips to witness from real situations, and daily meditation, mindfulness practices and yoga.

Teaching Faculty Faculty for the program include international teachers and activists with years of experience in engaged Buddhism and their specific fields.  Ouyporn Khuankaew and Ginger Norwood, co-founders of IWP, will be guiding instructors for the course.  Invited faculty include: Dr. Kathryn Norsworthy, Phra Paisal Visalo, Dhammananda Bhikkuni, Maia Duerr, Dr. Becky Thompson,  and Anchalee Karutach.  Click on each name for a short biography and/or link to her/his work.

Program cost The investment for the yearlong BEST course is $850 USD. This cost covers all tuition, food, lodging (in shared rooms), and program costs (e.g. student handbook and relevant reading materials) for the required 30 residential days, as well as mentoring and conference calls. We have made every effort to keep tuition as affordable as possible, given the costs we need to cover to offer this program. Please consider ways to fundraise within your organization and community and contact us for suggestions.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and early application is encouraged. Applications need to be received by May 1, 2015 to be considered for this year’s program. We will be able to offer limited scholarships for activists with low incomes thanks to the Nicole Sangsuree Memorial Fund.  Please contact us for details.  

Download the application here for BEST program 2015 .With questions regarding the BEST course, contact Ginger Norwood, course coordinator, at: