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Category Archives: Politics

A Buddhist Blessing for the New Mexico State House of Representatives

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roundhouse_winter3

This past week, I was invited to offer the opening prayer at the legislative session of the New Mexico State House of Representatives.

The woman from the Clerk’s Office of the capitol who called me with the invitation explained that the House has been intending to bring in members of diverse religious and spiritual traditions. She found my name because I’ve been attending monthly meetings of a local interfaith leadership group. I’m not entirely sure, but I think I may be the first Buddhist brought in to offer the opening prayer. I was honored.

Some of you have asked me how things went at the Capitol that day (this past Wednesday, February 6).

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A Place for Political Buddhists … The System Stinks!

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“Imagine thousands of people skilled in both organizing and Buddhism,
out in the world working to transform it in the ways we need most.
All with the compassion and wisdom practices that lie at the heart of Buddhism.”
~Katie Loncke

 

Are you a Buddhist who thinks that talking politics and taking action are an essential part of your dharma practice?

If not, you can stop reading right now.

But if you are, there’s a fantastic new project in the works from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship that you’ll love.

BPF has a special place in my heart — I worked there from 1999 – 2002 as the associate editor of Turning Wheel magazine, served on their board from 2003 – 2004, and then was invited back to serve as executive director from 2004 – 2007. While the structure and staffing of the organization have changed a great deal since then, the mission remains the same:  to serve as a catalyst for socially engaged Buddhism and to cultivate compassionate action.

Now, the dynamic new collaborative leadership of BPF, embodied by co-directors Katie Loncke and Dawn Haney, are creating “The System Stinks” (inspired by one of Robert Aitken Roshi’s favorite phrases). This will be a 12-month dialogue and crowdsourced curriculum, hosted online,  with options to participate by phone and in face-to-face, self-organized local study groups.

The “System Stinks” will create space and opportunities to explore themes like:

  • Getting Real About Nonviolence
  • Theft of Land, Theft of Culture
  • The Lies That Build Empire
  • Gender Freedom
  • Decolonizing Our Sanghas

Katie and Dawn write, “As Buddhists who care about politics, we need to find each other, learn about one another, and start to discover what role engaged and political Buddhists can play in today’s world.”

You can help make this initiative a reality by donating to BPF’s Indiegogo campaign. Some of the great perks for doing so include

  • A selection of 3 Engaged Buddhist Art postcards featuring exquisite original art by Hozan Alan Senauke, Roshi Joan Halifax, Aneeta Mitha, and Nopadon Wongpakdee.
  • The System Stinks curriculum + 12 postcards + a beautiful mug featuring the classic Buddhist Peace Fellowship logo.
  • An exclusive hour-long group phone call with an engaged Buddhist teacher: Joanna Macy, Bhante Buddharakkhita, Roshi Joan Halifax, and Alan Senauke.

So give our friends at BPF a hand and help be part of creating a very innovative practice/study/action opportunity for engaged Buddhists worldwide. The Indiegogo campaign ends on November 15th, so check it out soon!

And a special bonus: For the next week, everyone who contributes to BPF’s campaign at $30 or more will be entered to win one of 10 slots for a group phone call with a wonderful Buddhist leader — Joanna Macy, Bhante Buddharakkhita, Roshi Joan Halifax, or Hozan Alan Senauke.

Meditating on Wall Street [video]

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I’ve been waiting for this to happen…

Here’s a video from Day 12 of the occupation of Wall Street. The gentleman giving the contemplative pep talk is businessman and Hip Hop artist Russell Simmons, who is also an avid yoga practitioner.

I’m still wondering if there is any kind of organized Buddhist presence at these protests… if you know of anything, please leave a comment below.

A Declaration of Interdependence

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Photo: Paul Davis

One of the nice things about writing a blog for a while is that you can start “re-purposing” yourself, as they say, when it’s summer and you start feeling lazy. So as we enter into the Fourth of July weekend here in the U.S., here’s a post from last July. Still relevant, I think. May you all have a happy and safe weekend. ~Maia

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As the Fourth of July approaches, I’d like to offer an alternative way to think about and celebrate the day. How about a day of remembering how interdependent we all are?

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The Buddha and the Budget

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In which I offer you a couple of insights from wise people about what’s going on with the U.S. Congress and the federal budget, and share some ideas about what to do.

Quote #1, from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi


Speak up for the poor both in this country and abroad. The budget cuts made by the House will have devastating impacts on those most in need of help. Help make the U.S. a country of compassion, not of savage selfishness. Urge the Senate to preserve the funding allocations that can help the poor.

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Quote #2, from economist, Nobel Prize recipient, and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman:

There are three things you need to know about the current budget debate. First, it’s essentially fraudulent. Second, most people posing as deficit hawks are faking it. Third, while President Obama hasn’t fully avoided the fraudulence, he’s less bad than his opponents — and he deserves much more credit for fiscal responsibility than he’s getting.

…by proposing sharp spending cuts right away, Republicans aren’t just going where the money isn’t, they’re also going when the money isn’t. Slashing spending while the economy is still deeply depressed is a recipe for slower economic growth, which means lower tax receipts — so any deficit reduction from G.O.P. cuts would be at least partly offset by lower revenue.

The whole budget debate, then, is a sham. House Republicans, in particular, are literally stealing food from the mouths of babes — nutritional aid to pregnant women and very young children is one of the items on their cutting block — so they can pose, falsely, as deficit hawks….

The bottom line, then, is that while the budget is all over the news, we’re not having a real debate; it’s all sound, fury, and posturing, telling us a lot about the cynicism of politicians but signifying nothing in terms of actual deficit reduction. And we shouldn’t indulge those politicians by pretending otherwise.

What to Do

“When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”
~Ethiopian Proverb

Be inspired by the massive display of peaceful people power in Wisconsin. Make your voice be heard and be visible.

1) Sign this petition:

http://www.one.org/us/actnow/2011budget/?rc=2011budgetfb

2) Educate yourself and others on what’s really going on

Many Republicans in Congress are using this budget debate to their political benefit, as Krugman notes, and throwing up a smoke screen that obscures what else is going on.

For example, did you know that nearly two-thirds of U.S. corporations don’t pay any income taxes, instead using tax loopholes and offshore tax havens? This while many corporations enjoy record profits and taxpayer-funded bailouts.

If as much effort was made to increase revenue through collecting some of these corporate taxes as is being spent on cutting from those most in need, we’d be closer to a balanced budget.

Another great source of information is the National Priorities Project. Want to find out how your taxes are being spent? Try out this tool where you plug in the amount of taxes you paid and then can see what percentage goes toward things like military, health care, foreign aid, etc. Do these allocations align with your priorities and values?

3) Organize, organize, organize! February 26 Day of Action

The House of Representatives has voted on the budget. Congress is currently on a break; when the U.S. Senate re-convenes on February 28 it will discuss and vote on the budget. From now until then, it’s time to organize.

US Uncut is a new movement (inspired by UK Uncut) that is about taking action against unnecessary and unfair cuts to public services across the US. US Uncut is organizing an International Day of Action on Feb 26.

Check this web page to see if there is an action scheduled for your community. If not, you can sign up to start one and find lots of great resources on this page.

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If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to visit my other website: The Liberated Life Project — a personal transformation blog with a social conscience.

The Power of Words to Harm and to Heal: In the Wake of Tragedy in Arizona

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Hundreds gather for a vigil at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix, Jan 8, 2011. (AP / Ross D. Franklin)

Cross-posted from The Liberated Life Project

Since yesterday’s terrible and tragic shootings in Arizona, I have found myself searching for some way to understand what happened and to ascertain what, if any, action might be skillful at this time.

Words are very powerful. It is words (and the thoughts and feelings behind them) that have created an environment of fear and hatred which permeates many levels of the United States, from politics to the media we ingest to the way we move through our daily lives. Words in some way contributed to yesterday’s event and to poisoning the mind of an already disturbed young man.

Like many of you, perhaps, I’ve been seeking some healing words over the past day. This morning I came across some writing from Marianne Williamson and it’s the first time since yesterday I’ve felt myself settle into a place deeper than my own fear and anger. I feel that Marianne’s words are so important that I want to share them in full with you here today:

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1/8/11: A NIGHT OF TRAGEDY AND TRANSFORMATION

by Marianne Williamson

“Bullets can’t stop love,” said Arizona official Steve Farley today, claiming that Arizona will be better for having gone through the trauma and tragedy of this day.

America is looking deeply at itself right now, and we have desperately needed to do that. Vigils are being held all over the state of Arizona, and on invisible planes we know that miracles are happening because of it. Hearts are softening; sanity is returning. People are remembering that all of us are human, and all of us are infinitely valuable. A deranged young man merely reflected the insanity of our current political discourse, and as the saying goes, “every problem comes bearing its own solution.” It has taken a tragedy like this to make us all take a deep breath.

All of us are praying for Congresswoman Giffords and the others who were shot today. But let’s put feet to our prayers, as well. Wherever we are and whoever we are, we can participate in de-escalating the violence of our society by de-escalating the violence in our hearts. Whoever we haven’t forgiven, tonight let’s simply do it. Whoever we’re thinking about with anger, tonight is the night to let it go. And to whatever extent we haven’t been a powerful voice for love in our own lives, let’s commit tonight to stepping up our game. Life is a serious business, and to whatever extent we haven’t been playing it seriously, let tonight be the night when we awaken from our stupor and decide to be a player in the healing of our world.

Among other things, let’s look deeply at how easy it is for deranged people to get guns not only in Arizona, but in other places in our country as well. If you feel this isn’t right — that it isn’t safe for us or for our children — then know the only way we will override the resistance of the National Rifle Association is if we ourselves get involved in the effort. The NRA is right that guns don’t kill people — that people do. But with so many unstable people out there, there is no rational reason for us to make it so easy for them.

May those who died in today’s massacre rest in peace. They have done what they came to do this lifetime, and it is time for them to sleep.

But for the rest of us, it is time to wake up. To pray yes, but also to act. To think deeply, but also to speak powerfully. To feel concern, but also to act with courage. God’s blessing doesn’t just mean that He does something for us; it also means that He does something through us. And now is the time to let Him. God bless Arizona, God bless America and God bless us all.

Solidarity and Indra’s Net

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Tibetan Mandala of Indra's Net, from happyhaiku.blogspot.com

Today I’m thinking about Indra’s Net, mutuality, interconnection, and solidarity.

It all got started from something I posted on my personal Facebook page this morning, after digesting yesterday’s news that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed on the same day that the DREAM Act was defeated.

I posted this:

So gays and lesbians now have the right to fight and kill but not to love and marry… I’m confused. Should we celebrate?

In a short amount of time, there were 27 comments following that status post. Into the mix, I had included a comment from Nichola Torbett, a friend who used to work at Tikkun and now runs Seminary of the Streets. Of everything I’ve seen over the past day, I thought Nichola’s observation was the most insightful, as well as poignant. She noted that it’s not a coincidence that the DREAM Act failed to pass on the same day the Senate repealed DADT and wrote:

Ultimately, the repeal of DADT is far less disruptive to the status quo and the dominant worldview that must be maintained in order for inequality to continue. It’s much easier and clearly self-serving to let more people join the armed corps who secure and maintain compliance with American dominance than it is to start allowing chinks in who has access to the spoils of that dominance.

Wow, talk about speaking truth to power. That, I thought, really got to the heart of the matter.

However, almost none of the other commenters seemed to be on the same page. Some people thought that it was important to celebrate this step toward equal rights for LGBT people, that every step is important. Others minimized the connection between the two issues, noting that there are so many variables involved in Congressional procedures that it’s impossible to draw a parallel like that. Some referred to the very long struggle that Blacks went through (and are still going through) for civil rights.

While the commenters were respectful and I agreed with a lot of what they said, I also felt like I detected a whiff of impatience and disdain for what Nichola and I were pointing towards… a kind of “don’t be negative… let’s be grateful for what we’ve got” tone.

I realize that I’m conflating two issues here so it may be difficult to see where this is going. First, there’s the issue of gays in the military and how exactly this repeal is related to progress toward the goal of equality. I’m actually not so charged up about that… I truly do feel confused about what to think about it, just as I said in the original Facebook post. It’s kind of like the “good news, bad news” Taoist parable.

But the second issue has to do with how connected we are to each others’ struggles, and this is the one that I am feeling more passionate about. These two issues — DADT and the DREAM Act are tied together, for the reasons that Nichola so eloquently stated. Even if they have taken different legislative paths to come to yesterday’s conclusion, there is a link here. When I learned yesterday that the DREAM Act had died, I felt unable to be in any kind of celebratory mood over the DADT repeal.

I can’t really put it any better than Martin Luther King, Jr., once did — “None of us are free until all of us are free.”

The DREAM Act, which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act,  has been winding its way through Congress since 2001 and has been defeated and re-worked several times to address concerns. The bill itself was pretty simple. It would have provided qualifying undocumented youth for a way to be eligible for a 6-year long conditional path to citizenship that would have required completion of a college degree or two years of military service. It would have changed for the better the lives of thousands of young people who, through no fault of their own, came to this country without documentation. Now, at the mercy of the virulently anti-immigrant tone of this country, the bill went down in flames, to quote Fox News.

So what’s the Buddhist link here? Joanna Macy describes Indra’s Net like this:

In that vision of reality from the Hua Yen scriptures of Buddhism, the jewel at each node of the net reflects all the others — sarvasattva, all beings — and catches its own reflection in them too, back and forth, in an ongoing display of our interconnectedness.

We as gays and lesbians are not separate from immigrants to this country, are not separate from the unemployed and working poor, are not separate from the disabled… and so on and so forth. (And even though it feels obvious to me, I might as well say it here — we as Buddhists are not separate from Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Buddhists.)

A number of years ago, I became familiar with the work of Jobs for Justice and was really impressed by one of their practices. Members of this labor organizing group make this pledge:

During the next year, I will be there at least five times for someone else’s fight, as well as my own. If enough of us are there, we’ll all start winning.

How much are we there for each other? How much have I, as a lesbian woman, shown up for the struggles that my immigrant neighbors face? And vice versa? What does solidarity really mean to us, as Buddhists, as human beings?

We’ve got a ways, to go, I think… and we can change it all in a heartbeat as well.

Addendum:

Today, I also came across these two quotes (from Twitter) from Lt. Dan Choi:

We must deport the fear-mongering and bigoted mindsets of undeserved privilege #DreamAct

‎”Our dreams and realities are inextricably linked. I support the DREAM Act because the American promise is for ALL.”

I think Lt. Choi’s words are a perfect end to this post; he exemplifies exactly what I’m trying to describe… here is an Asian American gay man who was kicked out of the military under the DADT law, speaking out for the rights of immigrants. He gets my vote for bodhisattva of the day.

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If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to visit my other website: The Liberated Life Project — a personal transformation blog with a social conscience.

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