Engaged Buddhist Visions of the Future by Kenneth Kraft

“The Kind of World We’d Like to Live In” The Symposium on Western Socially Engaged Buddhism held recently in Montague, Massachusetts was an extraordinary event. The reports that emerge will surely be as varied as the people who attended. As the discussion unfolded, I took notes on a developing theme: the promise of the future. Here are some further reflections. (purchase DVD’s of Symposium) Prophetic Engaged Buddhists use a variety of voices in relation to the future. Those who speak in a prophetic voice call for massive change. Robert Aitken Roshi, who was honored in absentia, liked to carry a protest sign that read, “The system stinks.” Peter Matthiessen quoted a tribal elder from an Arctic region decimated by oil spills and climate change: “God may forgive you, but your children won’t.” Alan Senauke and David Loy insisted that an effective movement must have a sharp countercultural edge. Assimilationist Others seek ways to make Buddhist resources more widely available in mainstream culture. This is an assimilationist voice. We learned, for example, that the low-ranking United States women’s hockey team won Olympic silver after adding mindfulness to their training regimen. Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence has been translated into thirty languages. Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction is fast becoming a standard part of modern medicine. Visionary A third variation, the visionary voice, takes best-case scenarios seriously. “We can say a lot about what we’re against,” Rabbi Michael Lerner told the group, “yet we don’t have a coherent vision of what we’re for.” Jan Willis invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a Beloved Community. Jon Kabat-Zinn suggested that we are on the verge of a second Renaissance. Melody Chavis, who works with prisoners on death row, applied nonlinear thinking to the future—however gloomy current trend lines may be, good things unexpectedly happen. Each of the Symposium’s chosen themes—justice, social entrepreneurship, wellness, the arts, community—became a domain ripe for realization. The following summary can be read merely as a wish-list. But it can also be read, in the spirit of the conference, as a mini-visualization of a possible world. Justice. Restorative justice replaces retributive justice. Nonviolence is the norm. Nuclear weapons vanish. The work of peacebuilding spreads exponentially, yielding reconciliation near and far. Humanity lives in harmonious balance with...

Learn More

Video: Engaged Buddhism Symposium Welcome

View the trailer now for excerpts of the welcome at the August 2010 Symposium For Western Socially Engaged Buddhism.  If you purchase the DVD, you could view this segment and others while supporting the community work of the Zen Peacemakers. Related Blog Posts: Eve: Organic & Protest History Contextualize Symposium Campus Bernie Establishes Hopes for Symposium. In this trailer Sensei Eve explains how the Montague property serves as the mother house of the Zen Peacemakers Sangha.   Bernie explains how the Symposium is rooted in the three tenets of the Zen Peacemakers and Chris Queen describes the “Thus Have We Heard” feature in which Ari Pliskin and Kaji Ruhl guide reflection on Symposium...

Learn More

Engaged Buddhism: Service or Revolution? by Alan Senauke

Musings on Montague: The Western Socially Engaged Buddhism Symposium — August 2010.  Originally posted at the Clear View Project. What is socially engaged Buddhism? Over the course of the week it was easy to see a number of contrasts or kinds of activities that all can be considered “Engaged Buddhism” or “Socially Engaged Buddhism.” I don’t see a particularly useful distinction between these two rubrics.  Engaged Buddhism, Socially Engaged Buddhism — both include a systemic view of suffering and liberation.  Elsewhere I have written: What is socially engaged Buddhism? It is dharma practice that flows from an understanding of the complete and endlessly complicated interdependence of all life. It is the practice of the bodhisattva vow to save all beings. It is to know that our liberation and the liberation of others are inseparable. It is to transform ourselves as we transform all our relationships and our larger society. Or, as Gary Snyder wrote, nearly fifty years ago in the Journal for the Protection of All Beings #1: The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both. Social Service These definitions, of course, demark a wide field of action. (The notion of a Western Socially Engaged Buddhism is something I will address later.)  On one end of the field is social service.  This might include hospice, tending the ill, feeding the hungry, bringing material and spiritual support to institutions and places in which people are suffering.  These places are essentially dukkha warehouses, with their own gravity or magnetism, drawing in and generating further suffering. In his early teachings the Buddha set down Four Requisites for establishing a practice of liberation: food, shelter, clothing, and medicine.  Providing these requisites in the spirit of compassionate, selfless action, without the smell of charity and without proselytizing, is Buddhist social service. Social Activism On the other end is social activism, social change, and even, as Snyder proposed, social revolution. This is the prophetic dimension of engaged Buddhism.  Since Buddhism really has no prophetic tradition, this vision of social transformation is truly a merging of West and East. Yet it has been transmitted from Asian teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan...

Learn More

From Vision to Buddhist Social Action

“How do we go from vision to action?” This question was asked at the recent Symposium on Buddhist Social Action at Zen Peacemakers. Here is a brief  account of what I found helpful in going from vision to action after completing my Zen Peacemaker seminary training for ministry. From spring 2009 through spring 2010 I co-lead with Kanji Ruhl the first 14 months of establishing Appalachian Zen House in Bald Eagle Valley in central rural Pennsylvania. This, the first of Zen Peacemakers’ Zen Houses is now led by Kelle Kirsten and Bob Flatley. Our mission was to serve, as an integral part of our Zen practice, the under-served people, beings, and natural environment in this depleted rural valley. The valley was Kanji’s childhood home, but I had never visited Pennsylvania before. Nor did I know well any other current secular community after being a monastic in a Zen Monastery for 8 of the 10 years prior. So my first task was to immerse myself in experiencing the life here. Meanwhile I was finding out the needs of the people. And I was finding out who could be attracted to serve in “enhancing the community’s ability for inclusive, non-sectarian, responsive and sustainable activity in harmony with the natural environment.” I was very fortunate to form relationships within three main groups of people that participated in our endeavors – the local protestant Christian communities, a dominant social aspect of the valley, liberal community- and environmentally-minded folk, and impoverished local people who were not overtly part of the above groups. Connections were also forming over the 14 months with teachers and students at Penn State University, as well as with other Buddhist groups, and I expect that these too are continuing to grow. 1.    Joining the local protestant Christian communities. An essential first step for my own connection with the local people, life, and area was for me to rent a cheap apartment and live alone in a small village. In this way I was dependent on my new neighbors for information and social interaction. Despite my foreign accent and their awareness that I was a strange “Buddhist,” these tightly-knit Christian communities were warmly welcoming and very generous. They included me in many social and community...

Learn More

Podcast: Comments from Symposium for Socially Engaged Buddhism

From Interdependence Project: Joshua Adler and Patrick Groneman took time at the Symposium for Socially Engaged Western Buddhism to speak with some of the participants and panelists about the socially engaged work that they are practicing, what drives them to do this work, and what, if anything, makes their work “Buddhist.” Music in this episode is taken from a live performance by Akim Funk Buddha. Organizations and Projects Referenced in this episode: Zen Peacemakers The Linage Project Buddhist Global Relief Akim Funk Buddha Wherever You Are Is The Center of the World Download the Podcast Here Subscribe to the ID Project Podcast Here or Via iTunes Here Please consider supporting the ID Project Podcast by signing up to become a member. More information is available on our donate...

Learn More

David Loy at the Tricycle Book Club

Join us Monday, September 20 at the Tricycle Book Club for the discussion of David Loy’s The World is Made of Stories. In this small book about big ideas, Loy attempts to tell the story of stories by engaging in a playful, energetic dialogue with wisdom quotations from a wide variety of sources. Everything that we know, Loy contends, we know from stories. He writes: “We play at the meaning of life by telling different stories.” If stories hold this much power, and we’re all storytellers (Loy also points out that to not tell a story is to tell a story), then what can we take away from this understanding? What stories should we tell about ourselves and our world? Come talk it out with us at the Tricycle Book Club. It’s free and easy to sign up. We’re looking forward to seeing you there. Buy the book from Wisdom Publications here. David Loy is a frequent Tricycle contributor. His previous books include The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory and The Dharma of Dragons and Daemons. He is the Besl Professor of Ethics/Religion and Society at Xavier University in...

Learn More

Socially Engaged Dudeism

Just had a nice conversation with Rev. GMS.  He is part of a church known as Dudeism and he attended the Symposium for Socially Engaged Buddhism.  He and others are exploring possibilities for Socially Engaged Dudeism. Several years ago Roshi Bernie Glassman met Jeff Bridges and thus began a long-term friendship. Bernie said to Jeff, “You know, a lot of folks consider the Dude a Zen Master.” Jeff replied, “What are you talking about … Zen?” Bernie said that quite a few people had approached him wanting to chat about the Dude’s Zen wisdom. Jeff said that he had never heard of that. This article revives a series of posts to let that conversation go on with those interested in the Dude. Bernie did a koan study using the Big Lebowski as source material and featuring Koans by the Coens. These koans will be posted on this blog with comments by Bernie and Zen students. The first one follows: What to do? Lebowski Koan: “What do you DO Mr. Lebowski? A Harvard student asks: “How do I choose my vocation?” Koryo Roshi* says: “Why do you put on your patchwork robe at the sound of the bell?” KoOn’s interpretation: “What will Gandhi do when he grows up? Roshi Bernie replies: The vocation chooses You! *Koryu Roshi is quoted frequently in this blog. Roshi Bernie calls him his “heart teacher.”  Koryu Roshi approved Bernie’s presentation of his first koan and also for his subsequent first one hundred koans. He finished his koan study (around 1000 koans) with his root teacher, Maezumi...

Learn More

Can Green Buddhism Save the Earth?

Peter Matthiessen, Daniel Goleman, Stephanie Kaza, Others Discuss Buddhist Environmentalism at Symposium “I wrote about vanishing wildlife 50 years ago. I wish I could say we’ve made more progress,” remarked the naturalist, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and Zen teacher Peter Matthiessen during a panel discussion on the environment held at the Zen Peacemakers’ Symposium on Western Socially Engaged Buddhism on Thursday, August 12. “We’ve made some progress, but there are more extinctions now than ever in the history of our planet.” That in itself is deeply alarming. But in addition, Matthiessen said, “Things that affect wildlife almost always impinge on people. And generally,” he stressed, “poor people are the first affected.” That includes native peoples, whose cultures are exceptionally rich but whose economic resources may be scant. Matthiessen spoke of traveling to an Arctic region west of the Brooks Range, “the last refuge of Ice Age megafauna — all three kinds of bears, and wolves; glorious — and a tremendous variety of migratory birds. There are no roads at all. The Indian people there are hanging on to their culture, they depend on the caribou, and they’re resisting the bribes of the oil companies. The oil companies call that area ‘the 10-02’; the native people there call it ‘the sacred place where life begins.’ It’s so sacred they won’t walk there. The oil company wants it.” People living in the Arctic, Matthiessen continued, “are our first global climate change victims. Whales stay next to the icepack, and as the ice recedes farther out to sea, the people have to go farther to reach them. At the same time, the permafrost is melting. As usual, our government is not taking good care of our native people. The spill in the Gulf of Mexico is very serious, but the Arctic is so much worse. The oil doesn’t break down in very cold water. And the oil companies themselves say there’s at least one spill a day.” Matthiessen quoted a tribal elder who said, “God may forgive you, but your children won’t.” The problem is complicated enormously by the fact, Matthiessen contended, that “Big Oil owns the country. They own Congress and the White House. Greed is their true nature.” Greed, however, is the good news for Daniel...

Learn More

Symposium: Ricard Says "You Just Need to Do It"

Buddhist Monk Advocates Compassion, Action “Compassion without action is just sterile,” keynote speaker Mathieu Ricard told a packed hall at the Zen Peacemakers’ Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism on Tuesday, August 10. “When people see suffering in the street and say, ‘It’s not my job,’ I don’t see that. If something comes your way, engage in compassionate action.” Ricard, a Buddhist monk for nearly 40 years at Schechen Monastery in Nepal, a close student of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and personal interpreter for the Dalai Lama, is also well-known as a photographer, a trained scientist (with a Ph.D. in cellular genetics) and a bestselling author. Less well-known, as Zen Peacemakers founder Bernie Glassman pointed out when introducing Ricard, are his donations of money to serve the poor. Ricard does not advocate simply giving money, however. “Compassion is about removing suffering in all its forms,” he told the Symposium, “in the world, in the street.” To undertake such work, he said, requires having “inner strength — emotional strength — and balance.” He also invoked the image of a wounded deer, seen as one’s mother and begging for help, as a technique for awakening compassion. “Compassion without wisdom is blind,” he emphasized. And when a situation arises that requires compassion, he said, the response is clear: “You just need to do...

Learn More

Burma's Saffron Revolution Comes To Symposium

Socially Engaged Buddhism at the Edge: Burmese Monks Speak of Torture, Imprisonment Two veterans of the “Saffron Revolution” — the peaceful revolt in August and September, 2007 of saffron-robed Buddhist monks in Burma, who led thousands of people in street marches to protest the brutal military dictatorship in that nation — spoke on Wednesday, August 11 at the Zen Peacemakers’ Symposium on Western Socially Engaged Buddhism. The monks shared a harrowing account of repression and cruelty. “We marched for freedom of speech, of writing, freedom of the press,” said one of the monks (whose names and photos are being withheld in this report to protect their families in Burma from possible government reprisals). “We marched for human rights.” The monks, who have received political asylum in the United States after their dangerous escape from Burma, are members of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance. One of the monks explained that in the street marches of 2007 they protested with “loving compassion. Just breath and chant. We chanted, ‘May all human beings be free from killing one another. May all human beings be free from torturing one another. May all human beings be well and happy.’ We didn’t break any law. We were met with brutality and arrests. Monasteries were raided at midnight and shut down.” These events, well documented in Western news media at the time, resulted in harsh treatment of monks detained by the Burmese police. One of the monks at the Symposium spoke of being repeatedly tortured while imprisoned. Other monks were killed. Three years later, an estimated 450 Buddhist monks remain locked up in Burma, under terrible conditions. “We’re supporting the monks in prison,” one of the speakers said. Many other monks live in hiding, disguised as laypeople. According to an All Burma Monks’ Alliance flyer distributed at the Symposium, the Alliance members work to achieve a fourfold mission: 1. “To support the many monks currently being held as political prisoners in Burmese jails. Prisoners in Burma are not given food, medicine, or any other sustenance. Their families must provide them with everything, and their families are desperately struggling to do this. We are helping them.” 2. “To support refugee monks who have escaped from incarceration and torture in Burma. Some live...

Learn More

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...

Learn More

Montague Farm Café at Turner’s Falls Block Party

(One of the) Best Afternoon(s) of My Life. A small watermelon falls on path of the Montague Farm Zen House and bursts open to reveal black seeds in glistening intensely yellow flesh. Higgledy-piggledy, we are loading the little red truck with paper plates, chairs, chopping board, cymbals and bells, coolers filled with jars of coffee and pesto pasta, and box after box of vegetables all carefully bagged or wrapped in bundles courtesy of a generous organic farmer. Through the rear view mirror, miraculously, the stuff is not flying off as we drive from Montague to the summer block party at neighboring Turner’s Falls.  Our weekly meal, which typically occurs on our own farm, is taking a field trip. Our people jauntily play an assortment of instruments to lead the party’s opening parade, as we assemble our offerings in the shade of a tree on the cordoned off main road and begin shouting over the hubbub “Free food! What would you like? Come and eat!” That was at 1:30 pm. Somewhere along the way someone hands us a godsend bottle of cold water saying “Don’t get dehydrated!” Then suddenly it is 6:00 pm and we are loading the little truck with empty boxes and trash to head precariously back to Montague Farm where a large Symposium gathering sits talking about social action through microphones. What happened in between is a blur of action. Faces… closed, curious, doubting, toothless, on bicycles, in wheel chairs, ulcerated, bejeweled, speaking not-English, babies and children. “Would you like some pesto pasta or some rice and beans, cold coffee or tea? Have a slice of watermelon or some juice! Here is a piece of panettone cake!” “Would you take home some of these vegetables to cook? Who do you know who would like some? Take it for them! Feel this beautiful squash in your hand – it’s yours! It’s free!” “People give it to us — we give it to you. Join us noon to 3 o’clock every Saturday for free fun and food at Montague Farm. Come and serve, come and eat! See you there!” “Thank you very much! You are so welcome!” Yes it really is free! It is the best food on the block (I made it!) and...

Learn More

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...

Learn More

Thangkas by Mayumi Oda

Dear Friends, Thangkas (pronounced TAHN kahs) are Tibetan paintings portraying Buddhist deities or mandalas. Rich in symbolism and allusion, thangkas act as a teaching tool for students of Buddhism. Mayumi’s thangkas were painted during her activist years when she founded “Plutonium Free Future” in Japan and Berkeley, California. Known to many as the “Matisse of Japan,” Mayumi Oda has done extensive work with female goddess imagery. Born to a Buddhist family in Japan in 1941, Mayumi studied fine art and traditional Japanese fabric dyeing. In 1966 she graduated from Tokyo University of Fine Arts. In 2010, California Institute of Integral Studies awarded Mayumi an honorary degree of Doctor of Arts and Spirituality. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Yale University Art Gallery, and elsewhere. Mayumi has wonderfully donated the unique, museum-quality thangkas shown here to the Zen Peacemakers. There will be a silent auction during the Symposium for Socially Engaged Buddhism (Aug 9-14) to raise funds for the Zen Peacemakers activities in Socially Engaged Buddhism. Purchases are half tax deductible. We are inviting those on our mailing list to also bid. Each day we will announce the largest bid for that day and give individuals and organizations the opportunity to bid during the next day. At the end of the week we will announce the winning bid for these beautiful art treasures. White Tara [2003] Size: 11 feet by 5 feet Retail: $50,000 Minimum bid: $25,000 Dakini, the Sky Walker [1987] Size: 11 feet by 5 feet Retail: $50,000 Minimum bid: $25,000 Zen Peacemakers is a 501(c)(3) organization. You can bid on either or both of these extraordinary thangkas by calling Laurie at 413-367-5272 or by sending an email to Thangka Bid. With deep appreciation and with much love, Bernie...

Learn More

How do we finance and structure enlightened engagement?

What is the structure of the Engaged Buddhist Sangha and how is it financed? 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...

Learn More

Symposium: Has Buddhism always been engaged?

One major question we are exploring at the Symposium For Western Socially Engaged Buddhism is whether Buddhism has always been engaged. I explored this topic in the past and Symposium presenters are providing new insight. On Monday, David Loy shared ways in which traditional Buddhism was and was not engaged, including the view that the Hebrew concept of prophetic justice and Classical ideas of democracy added a new element. Likewise, Alan Senauke talked about the role of European anarchism in the development of Aitken Roshi’s philosophy. On Tuesday, the view that Buddhists have always been engaged spreading awakening and non-violence and providing medical services was expressed by Robert Thurman and also Jan Willis. Both argued that to suggest that Buddhism has not always been engaged is to accept the Western colonial view that Buddhists are escapist and quietist. Likewise, on Monday, Bhikkhu Bodhi argued that ethical principles regarding social conduct including treating others well and caring for the poor are an important part of the Buddha’s original teachings. Reflecting the difference between Western and Asian understandings of society, Sallie King provided a Buddhist critique of the concept of justice, which spurred some controversy. Roots of Socially Engaged Buddhism Panel: David Loy, Sallie King, Bhikkhu Bodhi and Chris Queen by Clemens M....

Learn More

Socially Engaged Buddhism: Suffering or Happiness?

Many people, when they think of Buddhism, think of the Buddha’s First Noble Truth: life is Dukkha, commonly translated as “suffering.” When people think of Socially Engaged Buddhism, they often conjure images of earnest meditators leaving their cushions to tackle pressing social problems – hunger, war, environmental degradation, poverty – and the suffering those problems create. So can Buddhist social engagement actually be a path of happiness? At the Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism, noted Buddhist scholars Robert Thurman (pictured above with Symposium Host Bernie Glassman’s clown nose) and Jan Willis say yes. Speaking at the Zen Peacemakers’ Symposium on Western Socially Engaged Buddhism in Montague, MA, on August 10, they offered a compelling case for the importance in Buddhism of not focusing exclusively on suffering, but of realizing a happy life. “Enlightenment can be jolly!” Thurman said. “Only out of happiness can Socially Engaged Buddhism happen. I want to tell you: pursue the extraordinary and really pump up to be happy.” Citing the Dalai Lama’s bestselling book The Art of Happiness, he mentioned the consternation initially caused by the title among people who assume that Buddhism only speaks of suffering. “Happiness is nirvana, which is the cessation of suffering,” Thurman emphasized. “Freedom from suffering is bliss.” The Buddha didn’t say this more frequently or more explicitly, according to Thurman, because he was being conservative, speaking in a social context of Brahmin priests who mediated between the happy gods and the miserable people on earth. Part of the Buddha’s revolution was to show people in this life, right here and now, a path to happiness. Jan Willis declared that “Buddhism has always been engaged because it has always emphasized compassion, and it starts from the principle that everyone is exactly the same, in that all people wish to attain happiness and avoid suffering.” Yet this is not a shallow, or blithely oblivious, happiness. It’s not “don’t worry, be happy.” It’s “be concerned. Be very concerned. But manifest happiness.” Enlightened happiness, Thurman said, has to be lived while engaging other people in samsara, the realm of suffering. Thurman and Willis each gave moving examples of that samsara. Thurman mentioned a historical line that included the “genocide of Native American people” – including, he said,...

Learn More

Peacemaker Institute, Interdependence Project Enrich Symposium

Program participants are sharing their reflections on the Buddhablogosphere.  Fleet Maull from Peacemaker Institute responded to Sallie King’s critique of justice, Fleet shares his defense of a Buddhist basis for a concept of justice.  On his coverage of the 2nd day, Fleet asks whether engaged Buddhists can collaborate and whether new partnerships will emerge from this gathering.  Patrick Groneman from Interdependence Project has also been sharing daily synopses and...

Learn More

Top Seven Challenges of Western Socially Engaged Buddhism

The following seven challenges were expressed by participants at the first major Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism taking place August 9-14, 2010.  The event is hosted by the Zen Peacemakers and you could check out detailed coverage of the Symposium at the Bearing Witness Blog. 1. To practice social engagement as a Buddhist without being “drummed out of Buddhism” and accused of “staining the Dharma” (Bernie Glassman). Glassman mentioned that such accusations had been leveled at him by peers in his early days as a pioneer of socially engaged Buddhism. Yet, he said, according to Dogen – the thirteenth century founder of Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan – “the Dharma cannot be stained.” Certainly, he implied, such an argument should not be used to restrict social action by Buddhists. 2. To sustain a radical and internationalist Dharma vision (Alan Senauke). According to Senauke, the Buddha’s original vision was a politically radical, egalitarian one, which continues to be embodied by socially engaged Asian Buddhists today, such as Thich Nhat Hanh or the untouchables in India who engage in mass conversions to Buddhism in order to defy the restrictions of caste. We can’t limit our view of socially engaged Buddhism to the West, Senauke declared: “our labors are interwoven with those of people far away and out of our sight” across the oceans. He also mentioned Gary Snyder on the need for not only a Western social revolution, but for the inward-directed insights of the East. 3. To have contemplative and mindfulness practices accepted by our broader society (Mirabai Bush). Bush emphasized that the acceptance of such practices is better than it was 15 years ago, but resistance remains. She mentioned specifically universities, where mindfulness practice often is seen as an obstacle to critical thinking; and social activists, who find it hard to accept that they can work from compassion rather than anger; and lawyers, who ask, “How can I be a zealous advocate if I have compassion?” Nevertheless, Bush said, “The opportunities for practice among people you’d least expect to be open to it is extraordinary. We need to start by honoring where people are, and learn to speak their language without diluting the practice.” 4. To propagate a sense of hope (Bill Aiken)....

Learn More

Symposium: Robert Thurman- Buddhists Have Always Been Engaged

Robert Thurman was a monk ordained by the Dalai Lama and also became an Ivy League professor of religion.  One debate that is surfacing at the Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhsim is whether social engagement is part of historical Buddhism or whether it was introduced by a synthesis with Western concepts of human rights.  Thurman came down strongly in the side that Buddhists have always been socially engaged.  He described the monastic Sangha as ‘free lunch’ community organizers.  ‘Bikkhu’ doesn’t exactly mean monk, but rather ‘free luncher’.  In a society that recognizes that cultivating awakening takes time and energy and provides social benefit, people support monks.  So the monks go begging for lunch and after lunch, they throw in a sermon or some mediation.  This is a type of community organizing. This idea goes against the dominant Protestant ethic of ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch.’  The dominant ethic, wrapped up with American consumerist culture, is also reinforced by the university system, where dissertations that acknowledge enlightenment to the interconnectedness of life are regarded as fluffy romanticism.  The roots of the word Buddha come both from awakening and spreading it.  Historically, he argues, Buddhists have spread their faith less violently than other groups.  While they have been involved in some unholy wars, they have not generally gotten involved in holy wars.  Thurman talked about the upcoming Newark Peace Making Summit, which follows a similar conference 10 years ago and includes the participation of the Dalai Lama. photos by Clemens M....

Learn More

Symposium: Sallie King- Buddhist Critique of Justice

Sallie King offered a Buddhist critique of popular conceptions of justice based on her experience at an international, interfaith peace council, where leaders of world religions gathered to address conflict. Listening to people struggling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict left the Buddhist contingent squirming.  From the Buddhist perspective, they heard same story from both Israelis and Palestinians. Dhammananda, one Buddhist nun,  said “I can’t understand what they are saying!  They seem to nourish their suffering, while I’ve been taught to let it go.” At Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel at Hebrew College, Buddhists heard stories of suffering and heroism.  Geshe Sulpan, a Tibetan monk, explained that the Tibetans were invaded by the Chinese because of their collective karma.  In past lives, he explained, the Tibetans harmed the Chinese. The monk challenged the Israelis to imagine having been a Nazi soldier in a previous life.  The main thing is to have compassion for mistakes made from egocentric or ignorant viewpoint.  The Chinese are now creating terrible karma for themselves and it is important to feel compassion and find peaceful solution for all.  King argued against four common forms of politics that perpetuate conflict instead of ending it: Identity politics: The sense of victimhood nourishes suffering and keeps it going generation to generation. Righteous Indignation.  The angry sense that we are justified and the others wrong. Justice: The insistence on finding justice before there can be peace.  King reported that while the Buddhists at the summit find ‘human rights’ to be a useful concept, they think justice is not so useful. Revenge: In particular the concept of justice based on retribution perpetuates conflict. During the question and answer time, Fleet Maull said that he doesn’t think that Buddhists should stick their heads in the sand all together regarding the idea of justice.  While he prefers a model called integral transformative justice, he says that even retributive justice, is a desire to return to wholeness, albeit a misguided one. If we don’t engage in these feelings and thoughts, Fleet argued, we risk irrelevance. King challenged us to engaged in a thought experiment, in which we ask ourselves whether there is anything we could achieve with the concept of justice that we cannot achieve without it, referring instead to...

Learn More

Symposium: David Loy Explains Institutionalized Delusion

David Loy asked ‘What was Buddha trying to achieve when he started teaching?’ He asked whether we can explore this question without projecting our modern understanding of private/public sphere separation, based on the Protestant Reformation.  He explained that what we today call religions are really “reduced civilizations” which were much more ambitious in their origins.  Thus Buddhism in Asia is both a great cultural and social tradition. We know very little about whether the Buddha envisioned broader social change.  His texts were handed down orally for generations before being recorded and of course they were edited. After Buddha’s passing, the Sangha became more dependent on royal patronage, which meant Sangha had to support royalty in turn.  While early Buddhism was anti-caste, the notion that an individual deserves their current position reentered the tradition. Maybe in order to survive in an increasingly autocratic world, it had to only address individual Dukkha and not social suffering. Eventually, the Asian tradition interacted and was influenced by Western ideas of human rights influenced by the traditions of the prophets of Israel and Greek democracy.  The Asian worldview doesn’t have much to say about justice, except for the concept of karma, which is often used to justify oppression. Now we can ask what is social awakening?   Asian Buddhism couldn’t challenge authorities.  Western revolutions have failed because its lacked the internal, personal change.  Its got to be both.  A root problem is that the sense of self in our society is haunted by sense of lack.  We project from our minds and we see this lack as something external that we don’t have- money, sex, fame.  The dissatisfaction based on clinging that the Buddha elucidated so clearly has become institutionalized in the forms of consumerism and militarism.   Our media is institutionalized delusion.  We must experience social awakening to overcome this...

Learn More

Symposium: Bikkhu Bodhi Elucidates Cannonical Roots of Engaged Buddhism

At the Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism, Chris Queen asked Bikkhu Bodhi to speak on the Canonical roots of engaged Buddhism.  Bikkhu Bodhi explained that many see Buddhism as a means of world-renouncing liberation, detachment and personal inward meditation.  Bikkhu Bodhi approached this task from the question of ‘What is the function of a Buddha?’, according to text. In the text, a Buddha is also known as a Dhamma Raja ‘king of the Dhamma’, who discovers, realizes and proclaims the Dhamma in full range and depth, including its applications to human life in all dimensions.  It is path to world-transcending liberation, but is also the total body of truth, goodness, justice and reality.  It is one person who arises in the world for the welfare of the multitude. In his book In the Buddha’s Words, he organizes the Buddha’s teaching according to 3 categories: Welfare in this life: teachings on moral commitment, social responsibility Welfare in future life: principles of ethics and cultivation to lead to desirable rebirth based on the law of karma Nirvana: the ultimate attainment, the escape from rebirth Many focus on third (though in a watered down form of being happy here and now) without attention to first two.  Engaged Buddhism has to do with the first two.  If we compare Buddhism with Jainism, Brahmanism and the Upanishads there is much more focus on addressing social ails. The Suttas identify greed as the source not only of personal suffering, but also of social problems: “Whatever action a person does because of greed, hatred, and delusion are unwholesome.  Whatever suffering a person overpowered by greed, hatred, and delusion causes upon another—by killing, imprisonment, confiscation of property, false accusations, or expulsion—all this is unwholesome too.” (Anguttara Nikaya 3:69) The internal causes are linked to external effects. Buddha proposes two primary practices to deal with the mind.  1) One is practice of giving generously.  If people knew the benefits, he proclaimed, they would never eat without sharing or allow miserliness to enter their hearts at all.  (Itivataka 26) 2) The second teaching from the Buddha is Silla (virtuous behavior/moral practice) This is summed up for lay community in the 5 precepts.  For example, “By abstaining from the destruction of life, the noble...

Learn More

Queen Introduces Roots of Engaged Buddhism

Introducing the Roots of Socially Engaged Buddhism panel (including Bikkhu Bodhi, Sallie King and David Loy), Chris Queen stated that amazingly, there are conservative practitioners who believe that changing the mind is all that matters.  However, when he was visiting formerly untouchable converts to Buddhism who were victims of other people’s greed, anger and ignorance, facing discrimination, beatings and murder in India, it was clear that people suffer as a result of injustice as well.  Queen read an excerpt citing panelists David Loy and Sallie King from The Making of Buddhist Modernism by David L. McMahan.  McMahan speaks of the power of Buddhism to provide a powerful critique of dominant culture and the risk of the tradition getting watered down into a mere consumerist product: What, then, is the capacity for Buddhist modernism, now entering a post-modern, global phase, to challenge, critique, augment, and offer alternatives to modern, western ideas, social practices, and ethical values?… The Buddhist analysis of the relationship between craving (trnsa) and dissatisfaction (duhkha), for example, as well as its ascetic tendencies, can be fashioned into a formidable critique of the very foundations of consumerism, materialism, and the pathological aspects of capitalism (see, for example, Loy 2003; Kaza 2005). At the opposite end of this continuum are forms and fragments of Buddhism that have been absorved into western culture so thoroughly that they lose any potential to offer any real alternatives to or crituqe of its values and assumptions or offer anything new.  This is where Buddhism fades into vague New Age spiritualities, self-help therapies, and purely personal paths of self-improvemet…At the continuum’s furthest extremes, these fragments fade into pop culture, splintering into shards of Buddhist imagery that become tropes for countless products: Zen popcorn, Zen tea, Buddha bikinis, and Buddha...

Learn More

Bernie Establishes Hopes for Symposium.

Introducing the panel on the challenges of Socially Engaged Buddhsim, Bernie explained that when he first organized the Symposium, he wanted to honor the pioneers, give them chance to get together, see each other, share and network.  It would be a chance to learn new things and serve as sort of job and volunteer fair. The focus is on taking action and doing something!  After the Symposium, we will look at what new things may come of this event.  By the end of the Symposium, we will be explore putting together a declaration, a set of affirmations that reflect that. During the Symposium, Ari Setsudo Pliskin and Steve Kanji Ruhl will review salient points of the event during Thus Have We Heard sessions every day and Bernie will lead a session reflecting on What’s the Deal Here?  (A great Koan, he joked, introduced by Lenny Bruce.)  In this way, we will be looking for major developments. photos by Clemens M....

Learn More

Organic & Protest History Contextualize Symposium Campus

Sensei Eve introduced and contextualized the Montague, MA campus on which the first major Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism is taking place (She is the head teacher of the Montague Farm Zendo, the local mediation group.)  She discussed the campus’ role as the headquarters of the international 70-affiliate Zen Peacemakers Sangha and also as a multi-faith practice center.  Before it became the home of the Zen Peacemakers, the campus was a socially engaged commune.  From the commune, members of the Liberation News Services distributed information that the New York Times did not find ‘fit to print’ and in the 1970’s, it developed into a center of organic gardening (which continues to this day and provides vegetables for our community meals) and a center of anti-nuclear activism. photos by Clemens M....

Learn More

Zen Peacemakers to host Buddhist symposium

From the Daily Hampshire Gazette MONTAGUE CENTER – Most people probably know Jeff Bridges for his roles in Hollywood films, like his recent Oscar-winning role as troubled country singer Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart” or his role as The Dude, a slacker bowler in the Cohen Brothers 1998 film “The Big Lebowski.” But, most people probably don’t know about Bridges work to end world hunger. On Aug. 13, at 3:15 p.m., he will be giving a talk at Zen Peacemakers Ripley Road Farm about his No Child Hungry in 2015, a group with which first lady Michelle Obama is also working. READ...

Learn More

Buddhism symposium draws 500 looking to make a difference.

from the Springfield Republican Often, when people picture devout Buddhists, they see images of bald-headed monks performing foreign rituals in east Asia. But, Bernie Glassman, former aerospace engineer and founder and president of the Zen Peacemakers in Montague, is trying to change this perception with his organization’s presentation of the six-day, Socially-Engaged Buddhist Symposium, that starts Monday. The event will honor Zen master and author Robert Aitken and other pioneers and promoters in this country of mindfulness practice including the well-known author and travel writer Peter Matthiessen, who is an ordained Zen priest, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. “Buddhism is about realizing that we are interconnected,” said Glassman. READ...

Learn More

Symposium Presenter Anne Waldman Appeals for help for Naropa

Waldman will present in the first Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism on the topic of arts and social change.  Read her full letter at Elephant Journal, co-authored with Lisa Berman or read the following excerpt: We want you to know that we are here, that we support and acknowledge our students, that we are up and running, and that the SWP staff, Reed Bye, Interim Chair of the W&P Department, and Naropa administrative staff and trustees are willing to meet with students to clarify and listen to concerns. We are part of a larger world and culture that is going through tremendous change, paradigm shifts of all kinds. We will all have to do with less and continue to cultivate our empathy and compassion and our artistic paths. We exist amidst huge waves of suffering as the oil spill continues to gush and harm many sentient beings and the vegetal world, as war rages, as financial cuts are made that affect everyone.  It is our duty to stay awake and to provide feedback in our own communities. The writing community here at Naropa has always been an activist one, and a spiritual one. We honor this...

Learn More

Dudeism=Buddhism? Bridges, Bernie and Symposium

Watch the Tricycle Web Exclusive Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman: A Conversation, click here. Jeff Bridges is scheduled to perform and present at the Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism. What is Dudeism? According to dudeism.com, a website dedicated to deploying the wisdom of The Dude (Jeff Bridges) from the comedy The Big Lebowski, Dudeism is a religion with the following creed: The idea is this: Life is short and complicated and nobody knows what to do about it. So don’t do anything about it. Just take it easy, man. Stop worrying so much whether you’ll make it into the finals. Kick back with some friends and some oat soda and whether you roll strikes or gutters, do your best to be true to yourself and others – that is to say, abide. In short, Dudeism is not Buddhism. However, dudeism.com does list the Buddha as one of the “Great Dudes in History”—along with Snoopy, Gandhi, and Jerry Garcia—citing the fact that “he bailed on his birthright and taught that you should go with the flow.” Read Full Article at Tricycle Image: Dude-vinci, from...

Learn More

SEB Symposium presenter Anne Waldman to perform Ginsberg’s “Howl”

At an exhibit on the photos of Allen Ginsberg displayed at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., beat poet Anne Waldman will do a reading of Ginsberg’s famous poem “Howl.” Like Ginsberg, Waldman was a key figure of both the Beat Generation and the transmission of Buddhism to the West. On August 14, Walman will give a keynote address, participate in a panel and lead a discussion on arts and social change at the first Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism.  You can register for that day alone or for as many days as you please of this historical event.  Read the full report of the gallery exhibit in the Washington City...

Learn More

Boston Herald Reports on Jeff Bridges' Participation in Symposium

“That Oscar winner Jeff Bridges will sing his Crazy Heart out at an Aug. 13 concert with his songwriter bud John Goodwin during the Zen Peacemakers’ ‘Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism’ in Montague. Goodwin co-wrote ‘Hold on You,’ a tune sung by Bridges in ‘Crazy Heart.'”  Bridges studies Zen with Bernie Glassman and you can watch a video of their discussion.  While Bridges has visited Montague in the past to participate in events, we hope that he doesn’t get whisked away by an unplanned demand to film a new movie. READ FULL ARTICLE LEARN MORE APPEARANCE AND...

Learn More

Video: talks by Symposium Presenter Bikkhu Bodhi on Integral Buddhism

Watch it at Danny fisher’s blog Bikkhu Bodhi, who is a leader of Buddhist Global Relief, will be participating in a panel and leading a discussion on the Roots of Socially Engaged Buddhism at the Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism in August. Buddhist Global Relief was inspired by Bikkhu Bodhi’s teachings and it works to relieve hunger around the world. There are still spots available at the Symposium. Sign up while you can!  You can sign up for part of the event or the entire...

Learn More

Saffron Revolutionary Monks from Burma to Present at Symposium

The Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism will now include three monks who were major leaders of the Saffron Revolution, and who have cameo’s in the excellent Burma VJ (below), who now live in Utica, NY. These are mature monks with remarkable experience to share. They are working with Symposium presenter Alan Senauke and the Clear View Project. Senauke discusses the role of social media in the Saffron Revolution in the Bearing Witness article Translating Cybersangha into Action at the Zen Peacemakers.  The Clear View Project has lead many Western Buddhists to support the Burmese monks in solidarity. While the primary focus of the Symposium is on Western Buddhism, there are a two special “spotlights” that go beyond this focus. The other spotlight is Rabbi Michael Lerner, who will speak about an interfaith effort for a Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S....

Learn More

SEB Symposium Presenter Jules Shuzen Harris, to Participate on New School Panel Discussion: ‘Conversations on Change’ in New York City

As announced by the Business Wire, Jules Harris will be a panelist for a conference in New York City tomorrow. At the Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism this summer, he will be part of a panel on Special Ministries along with Fleet Maull and Francisco Lugoviña.  From the Business Wire: the Vera List Center for Art and Politics to participate in a panel exploring new possibilities for civic engagement. Purposely designed as a conversation that crosses boundaries, the panel will address both commonalities and distinctions about how meaningful social and political change can be achieved. Appearing alongside Harris will be the physicist Sean Gourley, who has been researching the mathematics of war, and activist artist AA Bronson, currently leading the program, ‘A School for Young Shamans’, at the Banff Centre, an arts and culture center located in Alberta,...

Learn More