Dana Wiki: Helping Buddhist Organizations Get Involved in Social Service

Dana Wiki's logThree years ago I started Dana Wiki, a website to help Buddhist organizations get involved in social service. On Dana Wiki, you can learn how to start and lead a small volunteer group in your Buddhist center or meditation group; get information on different types of social service; read Buddhist reflections on social service; learn about Buddhist teachers and organizations that are involved in social service; and find places to volunteer. The best part is that Dana Wiki is a wiki, which means that anyone, anywhere can contribute to and edit it.

Back in November I did an interview about Dana Wiki and American Buddhism in general with Rev. Danny Fisher for Shambhala SunSpace,Dana Wiki and the Future of American Buddhism: Danny Fisher interviews Joshua Eaton.”

I hope that Dana Wiki will become a hub where Buddhists involved in social service can share what’s working for them, get help with what isn’t, find material for Buddhist reflections on service, and connect with others. I also hope it will be a place where we can learn from religious traditions with a longer history in America about how to do more effective service work. Please join us!

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10 Asian + Asian American Buddhists Who Make a Difference

Kaz Tanahashi

This post originally appeared on The Jizo Chronicles


I’m taking this cue from Arun over on the blog Angry Asian Buddhist, which explores issues of race, culture, and privilege in American Buddhism.

As Arun notes in his May 23rd post, May was Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. He suggests: “…it would be great if the Buddhist blogging community took advantage of the eight remaining days in May to spend a little time—maybe just one post—recognizing the voices of Asian American Buddhists.”

I want to take Arun up on that invitation and highlight a few of the contributions of Buddhists of Asian and Asian American descent to the field of socially engaged Buddhism. Please note that the list includes people born in the U.S. as well as born in other countries… I couldn’t imagine a list about engaged Buddhism that left off folks like Kaz Tanahashi and Thich Nhat Hanh, so that’s why I expanded on Arun’s original suggestion.

This list is by no means exhaustive… I’m only touching on a few of the engaged Asian and Asian American Buddhists that I have known, worked with, and deeply appreciate.

(By the way, the list is organized alphabetically by first name.)

Anchalee Kurutach was born and raised in Thailand but has lived in the U.S. since 1988.  She has been involved with refugee and immigrant work for over twenty years in both Asia and the U.S. Anchalee is very active in both the Buddhist Peace Fellowship as well as the International Network of Engaged Buddhists.

Anushka Fernandopulle, a dharma teacher in the Theravada tradition, is on the leadership sangha of the East Bay Meditation Center, in Oakland, CA. In addition to her past service as a board member for the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and her support for many other progressive organizations, Anushka brings a dharmic perspective to politics: she serves as a mayoral appointee to the San Francisco Citizen’s Committee on Community Development, a commission that advises the city on community development policy.

Canyon Sam is a third generation Chinese American activist, author, and playright. She is the author of Sky Train: Tibetan Women On the Edge of History. After spending a year backpacking through China and Tibet when she was in her twenties, Canyon became very involved in advocating for Tibetan human rights and she helped to found the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Duncan Ryuken Williams, a Professor of Buddhist Studies at UC Berkeley, has written on Japanese Buddhist history, Buddhism and environmentalism, and American Buddhism. He is the author of several books, including Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds (Harvard, 1997).

Sister Jun Yasuda, whose picture graces the new masthead of the Jizo Chronicles, is part of the Nipponzan Myohji order. She has led and participated in peace walks to address issues such as nuclear disarmament, prison reform, and Native American rights for many years now. Sister Jun-san lives at the Grafton Peace Pagoda in upstate New York.

Kaz Tanahashi, born in Japan, has lived in the U.S. since 1977. Besides being an artist, author, and translator (his recently updated translation of Dogen’s Shobogenzo was just published earlier this year), Kaz is very active in environmental and peace issues. He founded the organizations A World Without Armies and Plutonium Free Future (with Mayumi Oda).

Rev. Ken Tanaka is a scholar and co-editor (with Charles Prebish) of the book The Faces of Buddhism in America. A leader in the Shin Buddhist community, Rev. Tanaka has called for the development of an “Engaged Pure Land Buddhism”

Mushim Ikeda-Nash is a Buddhist teacher, author, diversity consultant, and community peace activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mushim was coeditor of Making the Invisible Visible: Healing Racism in Our Buddhist Communities. Her work has been featured in two documentary films, “Between the Lines: Asian American Women Poets” and “Acting on Faith: Women and the New Religious Activism in America.

Ryo Imamura was politically active on the Vietnam War issue and farmworkers’ rights, and along with Robert Aitken Roshi helped to found the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in 1978. Ryo is currently a professor of East-West Psychology at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

Thich Nhat Hanh –  No list on engaged Buddhism would be complete without mention of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, who coined the term while he was still living in Vietnam during the war. Thay’s activism includes founding the School of Youth for Social Service (SYSS) in Vietnam, but probably his most important contribution to socially engaged Buddhism is his embodiment of what it means to “be peace” as a way of working toward peace.

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Prayer to Avert War by Khenpo Gangshar Wangpo

Last night, I finished translating the Prayer to Avert War by Khenpo Gangshar Wangpo (gang shar dbang po, 1925-1959). Khenpo Gangshar resided at Shechen (zhe chen) and, later, Surman (zur mang) Monastaries, both in eastern Tibet. He was also one of the primary teachers of both Thrangu Rinpoche (khra ‘gu) and the controversial Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (chos rgyam drung pa), who founded Shambhala International . . .

Continue reading at JoshuaEaton.net . . .

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Challenging Questions for Engaged Buddhism

This post originally appeared on The Jizo Chronicles on September 30, 2010, written by Maia Duerr


Okay, we’re going to mix it up a bit today. Lest you think that I am a birkenstock/patchouli-wearing socially engaged Buddhist, it’s important to know that one of my original intentions for The Jizo Chronicles was to give voice to many kinds of engaged dharma, and to demonstrate that it doesn’t all fall into the liberal/progressive camp. And that’s a good thing.

One of the hats I wear is directing the Upaya Zen Center‘s two-year Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program. I’ve been doing this with Roshi Joan Halifax since the inception of the program in 2008, and it’s one of the most deeply satisfying experiences in my life. One of the students from our first cohort (which graduated this past March) was Dr. Christopher Ford. Chris is a dedicated Buddhist practitioner as well as a brilliant man. A graduate of Harvard, Oxford, and Yale, he served as the U.S. Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation during the Bush Administration and he’s currently a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. Chris is the author of The Mind of Empire: China’s History and Modern Foreign Relations, and he has a website, New Paradigms Forum.

Chris and I have a lot of affection and respect for each other, even while our perspectives on a number of political issues are often quite different. But I have to say, one paper that Chris wrote while in our program — called “Nukes and the Vow: Security Strategy as Peacework” — really caused me to question a number of my own assumptions, both about nuclear disarmament as well as engaged Buddhism.

Because I know Chris well, because we have practiced alongside of one another, and because I have tremendous regard for both his meditation practice as well as his extensive experience working in the world of government policy and diplomacy, I really sat with challenging questions he posed in this paper. One of Chris’ points is that even as peaceworkers, we should be very wary of being absolutists and “theologizing” the idea of total nuclear disarmament.  He goes on to explore why abolition of nuclear weapons may not be the “skillful means” that advocates of nonviolence think it is.

I’m posting two short excerpts from the piece below. It’s a long article, so I’m including a link to the full version as a Word document here: Nukes and the Vow. I hope you take time to read all of it because one piece builds upon another, and it’s important to have the whole context of what Chris is saying.  I’m curious to hear what you think about all this, and I send a big bow to Chris for his great heart/mind.

It is relatively easy to vow to save all sentient beings; it is much harder to figure out how best to do it. Engaged Buddhism – that rich field of action in the world that devotes itself to the alleviation of suffering by trying to address unhealthy patterns and structures in human social life – aims beyond merely the transformation of individual hearts. It aspires also to systemic transformation. This inescapably entangles it, however, with quite conventional issues of public policy….

In Buddhist peacework, our lodestar should be fundamental human security, rather than the talismanic presence or absence of nuclear devices per se. If we cannot be reasonably confident of real security in a nuclear-weapon free world, it might be better to have a world with nuclear weapons but in which we can have more such confidence. Depending upon our assessment of the anticipated conditions, in other words, it might be possible to make a Buddhist argument for the retention of nuclear weapons as one constituent element of the global security system. Make no mistake: I do not make such an argument here. Nevertheless, it may be incumbent upon all Engaged Buddhists to be at least alive to this possibility. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details; we should not let either pro- or anti-nuclear knowing get in the way of our employment of skillful means for the alleviation of suffering in this complicated and messy world of international political samsara.

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Auschwitz II — Zen Peacemakers' retreat, June 2010, from Jiko

I did not go to Auschwitz to find out what happened there, nor to understand the worst that the human mind can do. Nor did I go in sympathy with the suffering of the Jews and others killed and tortured there.

remains of human furnace at Auschwitz

The only reason to go was to discover to what my own heart and mind could open from staying with such a dire, unbearable, and unfathomable event. I asked how the potential or actuality of what produced Auschwitz, is present and manifesting in my life? Can this experience help me learn and connect with my own humanness, help me in choosing love/identity as the only motivation for action in my life?

We are taught in many religions that there is a “peace that surpasseth all understanding,” the stillness at the center of the storm, the great wisdom in which the small discomforts that can absorb our days and our energies are as nothing in the grand functioning of the cosmos, in the mightiness of God, or the cosmic void. What we experience is never personal — only our self-protective responses make it seem so.

For the first three days at Auschwitz I was uncomfortable at hearing, seeing all the horror, viewing reconstructed, imagined lives of Jewish communities before the holocaust, and imagining the dislocation and cruelty of their precipitous deaths without dignity, the removal of their freedoms in the grossest of ways. I tried to imagine the mind that could be unmoved while doing such terrible actions. I was wondering if my being relatively unperturbed in the midst of all this came out of such a mind, unable to connect, distant and cold. Or was it acceptance of the human condition?

My thoughts considered that I have studied old age, sickness and death intimately and deeply over quite a few years. We will all die, and death does not look too bad — my own near death experiences have felt like release and enfolding rather than fearful deprivations. Many of us die prematurely. Many of us suffer sickness and pain. Many of us, our lives and our passionate, loving dedication of sustained effort, are abused and misused. We lose hope, we lose our loved ones, our children, our countries, homes, possessions, and our families. Degree of these sufferings is different, and Auschwitz must surely be at a far extreme.

I have worked deeply with all these issues in my own life. Am I folding my hands reverently and say “Ah, so! The human condition!” from a place of wisdom and acceptance? Such deeds have been perpetrated in the American slave trade, the murder of women in the Inquisition, at Hiroshima, Rwanda, the annihilation of Aborigines in Australia, in New Zealand, to mention just a few, and they continue now. The wave of horror passes and we pick up our aliveness again. If we are spiritually deep, apparently, we never lose connection with peace and love.

Yet, at Auschwitz this thinking felt grossly disconnected…. Then a Bodhisattva came to my aid.

One of my ego trips is a fury of self-protective thoughts at being defined as incapable by those who control opportunities and resources for my work. I hate to be told, from what seems to me a mean and biased perspective, that I am this, I think this, this is all I can do, this is what I need, my intention is unworthy etc, by those who judge me from no experience, and with no respect or question in their minds and hearts. An example of this happened the second night in Auschwitz. It seemed but a miniscule version of the kind of discrimination encountered by those who died at Auschwitz. I recognized it as a readily accessible mindset to those who believe they have suffered in just this way themselves, my own dismissive, analytical, and critical mind being foremost in offense.

I struggled with my petty emotional pain in this situation. I wanted to escape also my irritation from high humidity heat, sunburn, painful swelling of my knees and ankles, frighteningly ugly accumulation of water under every wrinkle in my face from sun poison, consistently being unable to hear instructions, lack of fresh water, no tea or coffee, tasteless food, fierce attacks from mosquitoes and midges, the inadequacy of the sliver of soap provided to clean my daily sweaty clothes, constant leaks on the bathroom floor, etc., etc. I was annoyed by my wish to avoid these minor matters in such a setting of truly profound suffering.

On the third afternoon I chose to attend to the Jewish service at Birkenau, my first delighted encounter with a Hasidic liturgical offering. How I loved the light, warmth, clarity, storytelling, and flowing melodiousness, even at the sites of the gas chambers and furnaces for humans at Birkenau! Processing back along the railway track to the entrance gate of Birkenau we sang together a sweet song, the first words of which seemed to be, “How could anyone ever tell you, you are anything less than beautiful? How could anyone ever tell you, you are less than whole?”

Suddenly the cry emerged, a cry from my own sufferings. Scenes of discrimination, physical and mental abuse, and misunderstandings from many points in my life appeared vividly and in quick succession. And as I cried out in at my own pain, the agony of those who died and were tortured at the camp, of Christ, of the human condition, were caught in the all-encompassing sound that ripped through complacency, denial, and intellectualization to reach beyond the cosmos. The connection at last was happening.

Only then tenderly and joyfully, it seemed, could I tend the suffering of all I encountered, myself not excluded.

And I realized that the only person who could tell me that I was less than beautiful, less than whole, was myself. There was no one I could blame whatever the circumstances. I/we/it fundamentally can never be violated.

Was this a glimpse of the triumph of the human spirit, the transcendence of death by love, joy and peace unending? Was this what the spirits of Auschwitz were telling us? Go forth and love one another!

In the ponds formed from ash of so many murdered humans, jewel green frogs and radiant blue mayflies mate. Where every blade of grass prisoners then had eaten, there are wild flowers now among wild grasses and bright leafed birch trees.

Auschwitz poppy

The suffering, the peace, the love are just one thing with gratitude unending.

Naomi Shihab Nye wrote it: Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore…

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Building the Buddha of the Future: Community

Panelists at Symposium Discuss Socially Engaged Sanghas

“The Buddha of the future,” said moderator Alan Senauke, speaking at the Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism and paraphrasing Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, “will be sangha” — that is, community.

But what makes a socially engaged community? Senauke, a Soto Zen priest and vice-abbot of Berkeley Zen Center and founder of the Clear View Project, asked this question of his panelists on August 10. “What makes your community work?” he added. ‘What are the challenges?”

In war-torn Colombia, building a socially engaged community can mean helping to support villagers in their work to heal strife and create productive lives, said Sarah Weintraub, executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF).

She explained that the BPF’s Dharma in Action Project works with the Reconciliation Accompaniment Project in Colombia, allowing participants to be “present with those people and bearing witness” so that the Colombian villagers involved in the project “can live their peace work and grow their crops.” It also trains socially engaged leaders through “hands-on, on-the-ground experience.”

Another example of community social engagement, Weintraub said, is the BPF’s Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement (BASE), focusing on “practice, study,and action. It’s awareness training, in relation to each other and social change, taking who we are as a starting point for action.”

Yet a third example of socially engaged community-building, according to Weintraub, are efforts such as the “BPF 2.0″ project, connecting people through Facebook and through other sites online.

Socially engaged community also can mean a monastic group that ventures into the world to confront injustices. Clare Carter, a member of the Nipponzan Myojoji Japanese Buddhist Order, has walked on lengthy international pilgrimages to raise awareness of the legacies of slavery and racial oppression, and to demonstrate for peace.

Yet living in community can itself be a powerful practice, she emphasized.  “In sangha we run into things and keep working on it minute by minute — it’s constant practice, with no getting away from it.”

Young people often live in desperate need of community, and Ken Byalin and John Bell spoke of their own inspiring work in developing opportunities for youth.

“The educational system was worse than I thought,” said Byalin, a Soto Zen Buddhist priest, speaking of how he came to found the Lavelle Preparatory Charter School. “I was ready for a bigger community.” As a result, the Lavelle Prep School was created to help students who encounter emotional challenges learn how to flourish in a demanding yet nurturing college preparatory program that features small classes, outstanding technological resources, first-rate teachers and a curriculum — and educational community — designed to meet students’ emotional and social needs.

When such needs are met, extraordinary things can happen. John Bell, of YouthBuild USA, spoke movingly of how that organization has helped thousands of young people choose new directions for their lives, through right action — forging peace treaties between gangs, for example — and right livelihood, through projects such as young people building affordable housing within their communities.  “Youth are despairing but they want to know their true nature,” Bell said. “They want to make a contribution, to be happy and safe.”

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