Ocean of Suffering, Ocean of Compassion: Person, Environment, Self, and World in Social Work and Zen Buddhism

Document Type


Publication Date



The person-in-environment perspective (PIE) is a foundational element of social work, and the way in which we interpret the person-environment relationship profoundly shapes our understanding of social work practice. However, a lack of research that systematically explores how unique worldviews interpret the person-environment relationship limits the field's ability to grow from humanity's manifold ways of being and knowing. This study helps fill this gap by illuminating: (1) How Zen Buddhist teachers who respond to suffering in ways that overlap with social work activities understand and experience their relationship to other beings and to the world; (2) How this understanding of relationship guides their work, and; (3) How this understanding of relationship alters social work's conceptualization of "person-in-environment" and "practice." Buddhist perspectives can help expand social work's philosophical diversity and provide fresh insights for the field because, while both social work and Buddhism are frameworks for responding to suffering, they often approach this goal from radically different worldviews. To illuminate this topic, I conducted standardized, open-ended interviews with a purposive sample of 35 Zen teachers in the United States. This research was guided by Baert's (2005) neo-pragmatist paradigm, employed a thematic analysis approach to interpreting interview data, and culminates in three theoretical propositions: bodyheartmindworld, oceanic compassion, and being-action. Bodyheartmindworld is a vision of the self-world relationship in which all beings are unique, yet inseparable, manifestations of a dynamic, whole reality. Oceanic compassion describes the impulse to serve others that arises from a recognition that all beings...

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

This document is currently not available here.



Rights Statement

In Copyright - Non-Commercial Use Permitted