At the Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism various leaders are shedding light on the question of the structure of Buddhist community. On Monday, Bikkhu Bodhi explained that according to the sutras, the Buddha taught that lay people should donate to support monastics. Robert Thurman reminded us that the meaning of ‘bikhu’ is not monk, but ‘free luncher.’ This reflects host Bernie Glassman’s question of whether some kind of ordained or lay order would be useful today to organize Buddhist communities.
While our culture doesn’t have the tradition of financially supporting a community of religious devotees, we do have the structure of the charitable non-profit and also of social enterprise. How we organize ourselves reflects how we present ourselves. Steve Kanji Ruhl, founder of the Appalachian Zen House, talked about his decision to use his dharma name in rural Pennsylvania in order to challenge the dominant assumption that we live in a Christian nation. Is this a contrast to groups like Interdependence Project and Mirabai’s Center for Contemplative Mind in Society who take out explicit reference to Buddhism?
In our own society, we find new, appropriate forms of Buddhist practice that account for contemporary relationships and financial structures. In the BASE (Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship) discussion group, participants discussed the challenge of living in community, including the realization that not all interpersonal issues can be solved. In the Zen House group, we discussed the challenge of finding capital and ongoing funding for a project that has people who are excited to become engaged and inspiring vision to guide them.