Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Roland

At the site of gruesome human medical experiments, Sensei Dr. Roland Yakushi Wegmüller has been serving and ministering the participants of the Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness retreat for the past 14 years. In this personal essay, Roland reflects on his role as the retreat’s doctor, the healing and kindness in the old camp, and the rich experiences and connections he’s had with his patients there. Deutsch nach Englisch.

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Dana Wiki: Helping Buddhist Organizations Get Involved in Social Service

Three 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...

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What's Your Story?

It is said that Huineng, the Sixth Zen Patriarch, experienced sudden enlightenment upon hearing a passage from the Diamond Sutra as it was recited by a monk chanting nearby on a city street. The actual passage from the Diamond Sutra which opened Huineng up to his True Self roughly translates as, “Abiding nowhere, raise the Bodhi Mind.” We also know that Huineng was unable to read or write and so would have never encountered this teaching if he had been dependent on reading it for himself. Case three of the Book of Serenity describes an encounter between the ruler of a country in East India who during lunch with the 27th Ancestor, Hannyatara, asked him, “Why don’t you read the sutras?” Hannyatara replied, “This poor follower of the Way, when breathing in does not dwell in the realm of the skandhas, and when breathing out is not caught up in the many externals. Always do I thus turn a hundred million billion rolls of sutras.” Tracy Chapman, a popular singer/songwriter wrote a lyric in one of her popular songs that goes something like this: “There is fiction in the space between the lines on a page and reality. Write it down but it doesn’t mean, you’re not just telling stories.” It’s easy to get hooked on words. Language is one of the most powerful tools known to humankind. And yet our words are always pointing to something beyond their reach. Try to capture in words a beautiful sunset such that you convey the actual experience of that sunset to another person who is not seeing it. Our words may paint a picture of a sunset and quite possibly create an image of one in the mind of the listener … but they will never convey the experience of the actual sunset being seen. It simply cannot be done … such is the nature of words and language. And yet, we often take their meaning to be the literal truth of our lives and reality itself. The term samskhara denotes one of the five skandhas. In Buddhist teaching, the skandhas are the five “aggregates” that make up the self. The other four being form, feeling, perception and consciousness. The five aggregates or “bundles” describe the intersection where various conditions...

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Special Ministries Discussed at Symposium

Buddhists Ministering on Prison Issues, Five Commitments, Food, Mental Health From prison hospice rooms to rooftop gardens in the Bronx, Buddhist ministers are redefining what it means to serve in the world, according to participants in a panel discussion on “Special Ministries” at the Zen Peacemakers’ Symposium on Western Socially Engaged Buddhism in Montague, MA on Wednesday, August 11. It’s about applying Buddhist dharma and mindfulness practice in different settings, said moderator Fleet Maull, a Zen priest and a pioneer in the field. Among his many projects, Maull has founded the Prison Dharma Network and the National Prison Hospice Project; the latter, established during the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s, was the first hospice project in an American prison. Today it lists 125 organizations in 15 countries and in 30 states of the United States. Very little Buddhist prison ministry existed in the 1980’s and ’90s, Maull said, and conditions in the prison hospitals were horrendous — he cited, as one example, terminal cancer patients in agonizing pain given Tylenol as treatment. From these hellish beginnings the National Prison Hospice Project emerged.  The Prison Dharma Network, meanwhile, is building a resource movement, Maull said, counting among its many programs an ongoing enterprise that sends dharma books to 2,500 prisoners. The Network ministers not only to prisoners but to prison staff, Maull emphasized. “Everyone,” he said, “is a bodhisattva and buddha-to-be.” Through these Buddhist ministries, Maull helps bring the dharma to some of the seven-to-eight-million people in America enmeshed in various ways within the nation’s prison-industrial complex. Prison ministry is also a focus of Anthony Stultz‘s numerous socially-engaged Buddhist projects with the Blue Mountain Lotus Society in Harrisburg, PA. These projects are organized around the Five Commitments, principles that emerged from a multi-faith World Parliament of Religions conference. The first Commitment is Non-Violence. The ministry of Stultz’s organization meets this Commitment, he said, by addressing the issue of bullying in local schools and offering mindfulness-based “true self-esteem” programs. The second Commitment is a pledge to create Solidarity and a Just Economic Order, which Blue Mountain Lotus works to fulfill not only through its prison ministry, but through collaborations with the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters, and through sponsoring a “mindful...

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Symposium: Jon Kabat-Zinn on stress reduction

By Fleet Maull: What follows here is myparaphrasing of Joh Kabat-Zinn’s presentation: he is interested in strategies for change that do not lead to polarization, burnout and further conflict. While he has deep respect for the teachings and practices of the Buddha and feels connected to this tradition and its wonderful lineages, teacher and practitioners, he also feels the need to not personally identify himself as a Buddhist or with any particular religious identity and a need for us to move to a universal Dharma that can reach and/or include all people rather than being tied to Buddhism or Buddhadharma as a more limited identification alone. His work has largely focused on bringing mindfulness-based interventions into the fields and practice of medicine and psychology: mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (MBCB), mindfulness-based relapse prevention and so on. When he was a graduate student at MIT in molecular biology he was very aware that MIT was involved in all kinds of high tech weaponry development, he spent a lot of time not being in the laboratory but trying to bring a mirror of awareness to what was going on at MIT. As a graduate student and going forward he felt there must be another way to do science. He wrote a piece for the newspaper there at MIT about the need for an orthogonal institutions, institutions rotated 90 degrees in consciousness, meaning a 90 degree shift in consciousness and view that would move the work at MIT in a new, healthier direction. A 90 degree shift where everything is the same as it was before and nothing’s the same at the same time. This led to deciding to make this orthogonal shift his work and leading to the development of MBSR. After practicing mindfulness meditation for many years, beginning in 1966, thought why not create a clinic in a hospital, which are “dukkha magnets” (magnets of suffering). Called the clinic initially simply, beginning in 1979 at the UMASS Medical Center, a stress reduction clinic, so that it would not appear as something foreign, strange or esoteric to patients or the the medical staff. What meditation is … is paying attention and being kind to yourself. Working with referrals from physicians at the hospital, enrolled...

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US Social Forum: Fighting 'Compassion Fatigue' with BPF Director

The United States Social Forum was held in Detroit, Michigan from June 22-26, 2010, and gathered over 15,000 activists from around the country.  During that week I worked as a Spanish/English interpreter for some of the 1000 workshops offered, I performed at a political music concert for activists of faith, and co-led a workshop with Sarah Weintraub, the Executive Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.  Our workshop, “Caring for Ourselves and the World”, was very well received. Sarah will be one of the presenters at the August Symposium on Socially Engaged Buddhism at the Zen Peacemakers center in Montague In 2001, social movement leaders in Porto Alegre, Brazil, convened the first-ever World Social Forum as a space for progressive activists from around the globe to meet, learn and strategize with one another to strengthen  efforts for justice, peace and equality under the slogan, “Another World is Possible.”  Activists in the United States organized the first national Forum in Atlanta in 2007, and this year the second, in Detroit.   The diverse organizing group included young people, people of color, people with disabilities, poor people, people of various sexual identities, and Indigenous people.    The agenda was created by the participants themselves – thus at any given hour, we could choose to attend a workshop, a live cultural performance, a film festival, a protest march, a work brigade to serve the people of Detroit, a guided tour of some progressive aspect of Detroit’s past, or a “Leftist Lounge Party”.    A space was set up in the main event site for morning meditation followed by guided spiritual practices from a different faith each day. Sarah Weintraub and I had met in California in late April, and found we shared some common background.  We both had spent time immersing ourselves in human rights work in Latin America in countries in civil war (she in Colombia, me in Guatemala), and both had returned from that work showing signs of what’s commonly called “burnout”, also known as “compassion fatigue”.    Both of us had entered into Buddhist practice as one way of addressing our spiritual and emotional challenges, and both had remained engaged in activist work, this time, bringing some of the lessons of our overseas experience and our Buddhist practice into...

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Audio: Roshi Joan Halifax talks on Buddhism & Grief

Roshi Joan Halifax discusses the five ‘territories’ of grief. Roshi also shares how people close to the Buddha responded after his death and how current Western attitudes about death and dying impact people’s lives. She expounds on the physical, emotional, and spiritual symptoms that can manifest when one is grieving. Roshi shares intimate stories about her experiences with grief and death and offers suggestions to professional caregivers who work with the dying or bereaved....

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Montague Farm Zen House launches community meal

Montague Farm Café –the family-oriented community meal organized by the Montague Farm Zen House– had an extraordinary launch on April 10th with over 85 people, including tons of kids, attending. Residence program trainees (now accepting applications) will these meals in the future.  Our meals fill a gap in the free community meals offered in our surrounding towns (where a staggering 30% of families experience food insecurity and 18% experience hunger) and offer a wonderful and safe place for kids to play. We do outreach with the family shelters and community meals in the area, as well as the Department of Transitional Assistance, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and youth who have been in the foster care system. We also reach out to neighbors and friends and create a festive gathering. We are getting excited for our Montague Farm garden, where we will grow veggies for our community meals. We have a donation of seeds from both Fed-Co and Justin Idoine, in addition to one ton of compost from UMass-Amherst. Between April 22-27, the Deerfield Academy boys lacrosse team and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Franklin County helped us set up the garden and put in a fence. An ever widening circle -extra hands always...

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