On Sunday, I posted a quote by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, who I think I can safely say is one of the world’s most beloved dharma teachers. To get more coverage for this blog, I also ‘tweet’ updates on new postings through the Twitter accounts that I maintain, @fivedirections (for my consulting business) and @UpayaChaplains (an account I run for Upaya Zen Center’s Chaplaincy Program).
Soon that post was ‘re-tweeted’ from @BarkingUnicorn, preceded with the acronym AYFKM. Once I figured out that AYFKM meant “Are you fucking kidding me?” I was a little surprised… who was this Barking Unicorn and what did he have against my post and/or Thich Nhat Hanh? I decided to ask him, and here’s what he messaged back to me:
What the quote recommends does absolutely nothing to solve the problem, only makes one feel good for no reason. Which is OK.
Remember — all this is going on in Twitter where every correspondence has to be less than 140 characters. It’s great for getting right to the point.
Once I got over my initial ego bruise that someone was dissing my blog, I started to think about this comment some more. After all, it takes chutzpah to critique Thich Nhat Hanh. And I realized, the comment actually gets to the heart of some of my own questions about how to ‘be’ a socially engaged Buddhist.
On the one hand, Barking Unicorn is right — Thich Nhat Hanh’s quote encourages us to take care of ourselves and our minds, and by doing so we will better know how take care of the problem. But that doesn’t directly address the problem. And there are plenty of Buddhists (and others) who take that approach as a cop-out to grappling with some pretty tough issues… it’s kind of like the New Age philosphy: by linking hands and meditating during the Harmonic Convergence, we will make a more peaceful world.
I think there is a missing step. Meditation and mindfulness are wonderful, indispensable practices. If we are socially engaged Buddhists, they must come before anything else…. the energy of our intention is crucial. And yet, I don’t think that can be the end point. We still need to roll up our sleeves, sit down with people from various sides of an issue, and do the difficult work of dialoging, organizing, calling our Congressional representatives, voting, protesting, whatever else is called for to shift society toward more justice and peace. And then, back to meditation, we need to practice with whatever the outcome might be.
My tendency has often been to skip through the meditation piece and move right to the action, often resulting in not-so-great results and burnout. I’m continually trying to find this balance of action and reflection. Which is why this blog will go dark for the next week, as I return to deep practice once again, to nourish my soul and prepare myself for whatever work is to come. I’ll be sitting Rohatsu sesshin at Upaya Zen Center and at home this week and turning off my computer and phone until December 8.
A bow to Barking Unicorn, whoever you are, for bringing all this up. And maybe the whole point is his last sentence, “Which is OK.” Maybe everything is OK. That will be my koan for the next seven days. In the meantime, let me know what you think about Thay’s quote, which you can find here.
Have a good week!