6) Some people say that your practice of Zen is nothing more than social activism and your students are no longer Zen-disciples but social workers and street-workers. They wonder how your students will ever wake up if they don’t sit in retreats for weeks and work instead helping AIDS-patients, opening child-care-centres and helping homeless people on the streets. How do you answer those critics?
When I first started to get involved in social engagement, people asked me similar questions. It confused me. Is it that people feel like activism will screw up the amount of time you put into meditation or the ability to realize the oneness of life? I turned the question back on them: ‘are you in retreats 40 hours a week? Or do you have a day job and then go on retreat once in a while?’ how is social engagement any different? Wouldn’t the arguement that doing social engagement dilutes our Zen be true for anyone who is not a full-time monk? For a school teacher who studies Zen, would people say you are doing nothing but being a school teacher?’
Or do people criticize because they are threatened? When I started to work in Yonkers, working with the homeless and unemployed, in an African-American community, a Pentecostal minister with whom I had become friendly said “Bernie, the Pentecostal ministers are going to hate you because you are doing what they should be doing and the only thing they can do is knock you.”
In the U.S., this question will be gone tomorrow. In Europe, it’ll take another 10 years.