CINCINNATI, OHIO USA. In April 2018 Interiority Wellness Sangha joined the affiliate network of Zen Peacemakers International. From their website: “We share with ZPI a commitment to self-inquiry, peace, justice, and the restoration of the Earth. We believe our affiliation with ZPI is an aligning of shared values and acts as a bridge which joins Interiority Wellness and our mission of karma yoga with ZPI’s social action mission.”
In Hinduism, Karma Yoga is the path to spiritual liberation through work done for its own sake, without attachment to the results. “Our mission of karma yoga (yoga in action) enables us to take a broad view of healing,” the IWS website declares. “…We understand karma yoga as a means of refining the heart by engaging in acts of selfless service through re-energizing a ‘socially-engaged spirituality,’ integrating yoga philosophy into mental health care, and social action.”
In its mission to support a worldwide movement of members and affiliates conducting humanitarian, peace-building, social and civic action, Zen Peacemakers International hails all yoga practitioners who harness their attention, empathy and embodiment for social change, and sees them as integral participants in our network. Among these, ZPI is grateful for the support of Guerrilla Yoga in Switzerland who fundraises with their actions in support of the Zen Peacemakers Native American Programs.
Below, Interiority Wellness Sangha Steward Janet Nash shares a reflection on American Society, activism, and the Three Tenets, as well as a brief report from a rally the group held to support Latin American immigrants through the Kino Border Initiative. Following these is a letter from Fr. Sean Carroll, S.J., Executive Director of the Kino Border Initiative.
On November 8, 2016, I stayed up late to watch the election results. By 10:30 pm, I went to bed because I could not bear what was happening. I, literally, cried. When I woke up the following morning, my late-night dread was confirmed and the rest, as you know, is history. Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States of America.
Over the past 20 months, I experienced sadness, anger, terror, dread, disgust, and even hatred. I said and posted many angry, even nasty, things. I separated myself from friends and family who are vocal supporters of the president. I also witnessed and was the object of the deep malice of many others on all sides of the chasm that is the current zeitgeist of our country. In fact, the propagation of divisiveness continues to be generated on all sides of the political spectrum.
On the one-year anniversary of the Trump presidency, I took a long hard look at myself. I decided that I’m tired of being angry and hateful. I continue to research activism without anger and hatred. I have been doing a good deal of Shadow work these days. The truth is I’ve cleaned up my act some, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
I voraciously read the Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh’s article on effective activism and his book, Love in Action: Writings on Nonviolent Social Change; Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Ron Owens, and Jasmine Syedullah’s Radical Dharma; Michelle Cassandra Johnson’s, Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga to Create a Just World; Andrew Harvey’s The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism; Fr. Bede Griffith’s Return to the Center; and very notably, I read Roshi Bernie Glassman’s Bearing Witness: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Making Peace.
While reading Bearing Witness, I must admit, I was stopped in my tracks when Roshi explained the Three Tenets he developed as the principles of the Zen Peacemakers order:
1. Not Knowing – letting go of fixed ideas about yourself, others, and the universe; not-knowing trains you to continually set aside fixed points of view. Not-knowing is described as a flash of openness or a sudden shift to being present in the moment.
2. Bearing Witness – to the joy and suffering of the world; the practice of bearing witness is to see all of the aspects of a situation including your attachments and judgments.
3. Taking Action – that arises from not knowing and bearing witness; the underlying intention is that the action that arises be a caring action, which serves everyone and everything, including yourself, in the whole situation.
It was then that I inquired about joining Zen Peacemakers, committing to Buddhism in a formal way, and finding a local dharma community. One of the concerns I had with committing to Buddhism was my misconception that it is a passive philosophy. I imagined monks meditating and doing nothing during the Viet Nam War and the Chinese takeover of Tibet. What I learned from my study of Roshi Glassman and others is that standing one’s ground and authentically living one’s values with compassion and without violence is pretty badass—and not at all easy. I’m still trying to interpret how this all manifests in my own life.
What I am discovering from my insatiable study is that teachers and masters of all the great religions agree that compassion and love must be the foundation of moral—and effective—activism; think Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. When one is grounded in her values of compassion, love, justice, unity, and equality, she can focus her energy on manifesting them in her life and in the lives of others while letting go of the delusion of division. This is an ongoing practice. Some days are easier than others. My daily prayers are for the courage to live my values authentically and to find compassion for all, even those who appear in my deluded mind to be my adversaries. I know I have difficulty taking a balanced view of the current state of our country and the presidency. I continue to pray for the strength to respond to this president’s agenda with righteous effort to protect those who experience any form of prejudice, therefore.
Because I don’t want to react to the president, and his followers, with revulsion and self-righteousness, I must face some things in myself: there is a bigoted megalomaniac inside me, as there is in all of us. When I am threatened with difference, with change, and with competing power; when I must face into my fears, I sometimes react with aggression, maybe not physical aggression, but surely with verbal and emotional aggression. There are moments when I, too, enjoy my power over the weak and helpless. Though that is true, I must find compassion and understanding. Moment by moment, I must choose compassion, not only for those for whom it is easy to find empathy, but for those for whom I struggle to find understanding.
As stunning as it is to me, I am finding reasons to be grateful for our president. He has galvanized our country and has awakened in so many of us the clarity of what we do value and our fervor in protecting it. For me, one such example is the Constitution and Rule of Law. I am seeing the president in a different way these days. I see him as a lost and characterless human being who is bound to his ravenous desire for power and who is in need of compassion. That doesn’t mean I capitulate to his agenda—not at all.
I realize that I keep using words such as “voracious,” “insatiable,” and “ravenous” which remind me of the Hungry Ghosts, the realm of attachments in Buddhism. This leads me back to the Tenet of “Not Knowing” – remember “letting go of fixed ideas about yourself, others, and the universe; not-knowing trains you to continually set aside fixed points of view.” In those moments when I can let go of fixed ideas, the president is taken out of the equation. I can work toward manifesting my values in the world, and, at times, I can take it a step further, I can let go of the outcome of my effort.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna imparts the following excellent nugget to Arjuna: “don’t worry or desire for the result but perform your duty.” I can’t tell you how liberating that is for me. I can work toward the things I value, as described above, without attaching the motivation for my actions to the president and his behavior. They stand on their own. And, even more helpful is that I can do my best because it is my destiny and my duty while letting go of the outcome. The outcome, according to the Bhagavad Gita is not really my business. I simply work for compassion and love indiscriminately, and the outcome is whatever it is. One becomes, as Fr. Bede Griffiths characterized it, “a servant of Divine Love in action in the world…Everything you are and everything you do from this moment on must help human beings awaken to their inner divinity and to its responsibilities of urgent sacred action.” In his very wise book, The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism, Andrew Harvey clearly articulates the Oneness of Divine nature: “The mystical traditions all tell us that the One keeps birthing the universe through a dance, or “marriage,” of opposites. When we are in ordinary egoistic consciousness, we experience these opposites as antagonistic and unrelated. When, however, we are initiated through mystical realization into the One from which they emanate, we begin to become aware of the interconnectedness between them. We become aware, in awe and wonder, that what we thought of as solid matter is in fact concentrated light-energy, that what we have characterized as evil can birth a new level of good, that death is the gate into rebirth, that destruction is a condition for new creation, and that the sufferings we fear can become the ground for a greater compassion.”
And so, it is a practice, but having access to a new perspective while developing an expanded consciousness for this moment of our history gives me some peace.
Namaste – the Divinity in me sees and honors the Divinity in you—and in President Trump.
Janet Nash reporting after the July 1st Rally to support the Kino Border Initiative
“We had a wonderful turnout at the Families Belong Together Rally at Washington Park in Cincinnati today. Interiority Wellness, Zen Peacemakers, and Grace Tree Yoga & Growth Studio were able to fundraise for Kino Border Initiative, an organization that provides humanitarian aid, advocacy, and education for immigrants on both sides of the Mexico-Arizona border. It was inspiring to see so many like-minded, caring people come together to support such an important cause. Peace.”
Thanks so much for your gift to the Kino Border Initiative! I am very grateful for your wonderful support of our bi-national migrant ministry on the U.S.-Mexico border!
I am also so glad that you learned about our work from Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. and for all that your yoga studio and Zen Peacemakers International have done to make this gift. Your great generosity truly makes the fulfillment of our mission possible here in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.
All the best, Janet, and God bless,