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Which Side Are You On?

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Which Side Are You On?

Scales-of-Justice

 

Justice is traditionally represented by the symbol of a scale, where the strengths of a case’s opposition and support are weighed out, ostensibly with impartial objectivity.

This symbolism is noble but doesn’t take into account the often-unconscious biases that we carry into so many situations, the collective sum total of which amount to institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, and more.

Even so, the scale is an important symbol that helps us to visualize countervailing energies.

I believe that somewhere there is a metaphorical scale that is collecting the courageous responses that have been flowing so strongly these past weeks: from the thousands of people of color and white folks showing up in the streets of New York, Oakland, Chicago, St. Louis, and other cities – often in the face of police armed with military-grade guns and equipment, teargas canisters, and even tanks – to individuals who are writing brave words, folks like Paul Gorski talking about the challenging conversations we need to be having, and like Jessie S, naming how anti-black racism lives in each of us and what to do about it.

On the other side of the scale are the acts that have provoked these responses and the silence that so often accompanies them. This past week it was the decisions from Missouri and New York grand juries to not indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively. But these are simply the latest in a long long long line of injustices, and the conspiracy of silence and complicity which keep those injustices in place.

As terrible as these grand jury decisions have been, they are serving the purpose of waking up a lot of people who have been oblivious to or in denial of racial injustice. It’s pretty impossible to deny that something is horribly wrong when you watch the video of Eric Garner – a peaceful and unarmed man who did nothing more than selling a few cigarettes on the street – pleading for his life.

And then you realize that the officers involved are not being held accountable in any way.

And then you learn that young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by the police compared to their white counterparts.

And that African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites

The scale is there, waiting for you to weigh in. Which will it be? Speaking out the truth of this suffering and finding ways to respond to it… or remaining silent, eyes closed, living in the ignorance of your personal comfort zone.

I am speaking right now particularly to those of you who identify as Buddhist, and who happen to be white. If you choose to remain silent now, to turn away, you are weighing in on the side of perpetuating the injustices that run rampant in our society.

Because you see, something big is a’brewing right now, and you, me, we have a precious opportunity to step up and help it happen. This waking up is not just an individual thing. This process that the Buddha illuminated more than 5000 years ago involves everything and everybody. This is what he said at the moment of his waking up, “I and all sentient beings on earth, together, attain enlightenment at the same time.”

I realize the title of this article will irritate dharma practitioners who have studied and practiced the way of non-duality. I am one of you (a longtime dharma practitioner), and I get that. I get your concern.

And – this is an invitation to realize that non-duality includes points at which we need to take a stand on the side of love. You can hold a place of compassion for an individual officer who may have been trying his best in the moment, and yet call out the ways that he (or she) acted from a place of unexamined bias, and call out a ‘justice’ system that is blind to the reality of racism.

It’s time.

Which side are you on?


If you’re ready to stand on the side of love, here are some starting points:

  • Use your dharma practice to help you settle into a place of receptivity and curiosity…. And get in touch with your deep intention to help all beings be free from suffering, yourself included.
  • Listen. Listen to the experience of people of color without jumping to defensiveness or explanations. Be willing to be in a space of ‘not knowing.’ We have much to learn.
  • Understand that racism hurts all of us. Don’t act out of guilt. Realize it is in everyone’s best interest, including yours, to dismantle an unjust system.
  • Organize a conversation about institutionalized oppression, racism, and privilege in your sangha. Get inspired by the models of the East Bay Meditation Center and Brooklyn Zen Center who have put the values of diversity and inclusivity at the heart of their practice.
  • Show up in support of actions that are happening in your city.
  • Join up with Sangha in the Streets, a Facebook group where you can find out about ways to offer a contemplative presence at these actions, or initiate one yourself.
  • Start a conversation about what the Beloved Community would look and feel like, talk about your vision and listen to others. Check out this video from Dr. Lee Lipp, a senior practitioner at San Francisco Zen Center.

Above all, don’t be silent. Don’t turn away. You may not know what to do, but you can at least talk about that… talk about what you are seeing that deeply disturbs you, reach out to others, start a conversation about what needs to happen. And listen, always listen.

Engaged Buddhist News: Addressing Buddhist/Muslim Relations in Myanmar

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Bro. Tan, Bro. Ananda Fong and Datin Seri Mah chatting with Myanmar-Muslim delegates. (Photo from www.tbcm.org)

Bro. Tan, Bro. Ananda Fong and Datin Seri Mah chatting with Myanmar-Muslim delegates. (Photo from http://www.tbcm.org)

My friend Hozan Alan Senauke recently returned from the meeting of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) in Malaysia. One important development from the meeting was the formation of a Fact-Finding Commission to explore relations between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, which has been the site of so much violence over this past year. (For more background on this situation, see this article from Justin Whitaker.)

I’d like to share Alan’s message and the press release with you, as it is one small step toward addressing a terribly huge issue in Southeast Asia. Alan writes:

I am forwarding to you the press release for an important initiative that came out of our INEB meeting in Malaysia two weeks ago.  The meeting itself had an ongoing focus on interfaith relations, particularly between Buddhists and Muslims in South and Southeast Asia.  We read about tensions between these communities in Burma/Myanmar, but issues are also at a flashpoint in Southern Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.   

The challenge of organizing and staffing a truly open fact-finding commission is not going to be a simple or easy matter.  INEB and JUST, the sponsoring organizations, take this responsibility seriously, knowing that the well-being of our friends and allies inside Myanmar are at stake.

Peace,  Hozan Alan Senauke

Here’s the press release:

Joint Press Release by: International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) and International Movement for a Just World (JUST)

November 20, 2013

Towards the Creation of a Fact-Finding Commission on Relations
Between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar

The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) concluded its biennial conference on November 4 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, our first such meeting in a Muslim-majority nation.  The conference theme — Inter-Faith Dialogue for Peace and Sustainability — points to the interdependence of Buddhists and Muslims throughout Southeast Asia.  A long history of harmonious relations across all the nations of this region has been challenged in recent years by inter-religious conflicts rooted in a complexity of economic, political, social, and cultural tensions. INEB’s mission is to respect the integrity of all religions and people, restoring harmony wherever possible.

A significant outcome of this unique gathering was the affirmation of the establishment of an international forum for Buddhist-Muslim relations, drawing from members of INEB and Malaysia-based International Movement for a Just World (JUST).

At the close of the conference, a special session brought together Buddhist monks and laypeople, Muslims, and concerned friends from inside and outside Myanmar to consider conflicts and violence that have taken place inside that country over the last two years.  Participants in this session, including people of four religions and from interfaith partners inside Myanmar, called upon this interfaith forum to establish a fact-finding commission to examine relations between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar.

Collaborating with local civil-society bodies inside Myanmar, this fact-finding commission would have three objectives:

1. to bring forth the facts of Buddhist-Muslim conflict in Myanmar;

2. to ascertain the causes of this conflict;

3. to develop resources and proposals for the establishment of inter-religious peace and harmony in Myanmar.

Guided by these objectives, an open-minded interfaith group will research conditions inside Myanmar and offer advice and support for the restoration of inter-religious and inter-ethnic stability. Members of INEB see this work as the embodiment of our vision of peace and sustainability across the region and among all peoples.

— END —

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

INTERNATIONAL NETWORK OF ENGAGED BUDDHISTS (INEB)

INEB Secretariat Office

666 Charoennakorn Road, Klongsan, 

Bangkok 10600 SIAM (Thailand)

Tel. (+66) 081 803 6442      

secretariat@inebnetwork.org           

www.inebnetwork.org

On Finding an Appropriate Response to Climate Change

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This article was contributed by Shodo Spring, a Soto Zen priest who has organized the Compassionate Earth Walk, which will take place from July to September of this year. The walk will trace the Keystone XL route through the Great Plains. 

______________

A monk asked Yun Men, “What are the teachings of a whole lifetime?”
Yun Men said, “An appropriate response.”

For as long as I’ve been aware of climate change, I’ve been asking the question about an appropriate response. As far as I can tell, our culture is in the process of destroying itself, taking everyone else with it. When I learned permaculture, I realized that the problem was not technical – we already have the methods to sequester carbon, grow foods without fossil fuels, and generally live well by acting like the part of the planet that we are. The problem was spiritual. I am a Zen priest: that problem is my business. Still I did not know what to do. I signed petitions, learned to grow food, was active in my local Transition group, and got involved in local politics. When time allowed, I went to Washington and got arrested in front of the White House with 350.org – over the Keystone pipeline. Nothing was enough.

Read the rest of this entry

Buddhist Education for Social Transformation in Thailand

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ouyporn1

Ouyporn Khuankaew, co-founder of IWP

Ouyporn Khuankaew and Ginger Norwood are two Buddhist feminist activists based in Thailand who co-founded the International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Justice (IWP) in 2002. Through IWP, Ouyporn and Ginger and a wonderful team of other activists offer workshops on anti-oppression feminism, collective leadership, gender and diversity, nonviolent direct action, and peacebuilding.

In the winter of 2011, I was honored to spend some time at IWP (located north of Chiang Mai), and have a deep appreciation for the work that Ouyporn and Ginger are doing to support activists from all over Asia. Just a few weeks ago, Ginger graduated from Upaya’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program here in Santa Fe, so our connections with each other literally span the globe.

This summer, IWP is launching a new training program called BEST — the Buddhist Education for Social Transformation Project. BEST is an innovative yearlong certificated course focused on transformation of individuals, communities, the environment, and the world. The program is open to anyone seeking a Buddhist perspective in his or her approach to personal development, social justice and social change work.

I’m very excited to share this news with you for two reasons.

> First — If you are an activist based in Asia or if you know someone who is, the BEST training is now open for applications. The course is open to people of all identities, welcoming of all genders and sexual identities, spiritual/faith traditions and beliefs, ages, ethnicities, education levels, professions, etc. First priority will be given to activists living and working in the Asian region. The deadline for applying is May 1, and you can find the application material on this page. 

Second — I’m very excited that Ouyporn and Ginger have invited me to teach at BEST during the opening session this July. BEST has limited funding which is prioritized for supporting program participants. I don’t have enough resources to make this trip on my own, so I am asking for help to cover transportation to Thailand so that I may support this great program and teach a workshop on “The Mandala of Socially Engaged Buddhism.”

You can find out more on my fundraising page here: http://igg.me/p/221329/x/510470

I would be deeply grateful for any support you can offer, and my biggest thanks to those of you who have already made a contribution to this travel fund! And thank you also for helping to spread the word about BEST to others who may be interested.

palms together,

Maia

Robert Aitken Roshi on Gay Marriage: A Zen Buddhist Perspective

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equL

The big headline of the past couple of days has been the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing on the issue of same-sex marriage. There have been some excellent commentaries from Buddhist bloggers on the matter as well, including this one from Justin Whitaker at American Buddhist Perspective and this one from Kenji Liu on the Buddhist Peace Fellowship website.

But one piece of writing on this topic from a Buddhist teacher that isn’t so easy to find comes from the late Robert Aitken Roshi. Way back in 1995, he offered a Zen Buddhist perspective on the matter and came down clearly on the side of equality and justice.

One of the few places I’ve seen the document online is on the Queer Resources Directory: http://www.qrd.org/qrd/religion/zen.buddhist.perspective.on.same.sex.marriage

I’m re-posting the document here. As I read it, I am reminded once again of Aitken Roshi’s fiercely compassionate intelligence.

______________

A ZEN BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE ON SAME-GENDER MARRIAGE             

On October 11, 1995, some religious leaders gave testimony to the Commission on Sexual Orientation and the Law in support of same- gender marriage.  It was one of the most moving meetings of the Commission. Of the approximately 9 speakers, three submitted written testimony (two Buddhist and one Lutheran).  I have retrieved their testimony from the archives and will post each on to the internet.  The first is appended below.

Robert Aitken served much of World War II as a prisoner of war of the Japanese; one of his captors introduced Robert Aitken to Zen Buddhism. Today Robert Aitken heads the western region of the United States.

Aloha!

Tom Ramsey

Co-Coordinator, HERMP

Robert Aitken’s Written Testimony to the
Commission on Sexual Orientation 
and the Law

October 11, 1995         

I am Robert Aitken, co-founder and teacher of the Honolulu  Diamond Sangha, a Zen Buddhist society established in 1959, with centers in Manoa and Palolo [macrons are over first a’s in each word]. Our organization has evolved into a network of Diamond Sangha groups on Neighbor Islands and in North and South America, Australia and New Zealand.  I am also co-founder of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and a member of its International Board of Advisors.  This is an association whose members are concerned about social issues from a Buddhist perspective.  It has it headquarters in Berkeley, California, and has chapters across the country, including one here on O’ahu, as well as chapters overseas.  I am also a member of the Hawai’i Association of International Buddhists.

I speak to you today as an individual in response to the Chair’s request to present Buddhist views, particularly Zen Buddhist views, on the subject of of marriage between people of the same sex.

The religion we now call Zen Buddhism arose in China in the sixth century as a part of the Mahayana, which is the tradition of Buddhism found in China, Korea, Japan and to some extent in Vietnam.  Pure Land schools, including the Nishi and Higashi Hongwanji, as well as Shingon and Nichiren, are other sects within the Mahayana.

The word Zen means “exacting meditation,” which describes the central practice of the Zen Buddhist and from which emerge certain quite profound realizations that can be applied in daily life. Most practitioners come to a deep understanding that all life is connected and that we are each a boundless container that includes all other beings.

The application of this kind of intimacy can be framed in the classic Buddhist teaching of the Four Noble Abodes: loving kindness, compassion, joy in the attainment of others, and equanimity.

Applying these Four Noble Abodes to the issue of same-sex marriage, I find it clear that encouragement is my recommendation. Over my long career of teaching, I have had students who were gay, lesbian, trans-sexual and bisexual, as well as heterosexual. These orientations have seemed to me to be quite specific, much akin to the innate proclivities which lead people to varied careers or take paths in life that are uniquely their own.

We are all human, and within my own container, I find compassion—not just for—but with the gay or lesbian couple who wish to confirm their love in a legal marriage.

Although historically Zen has been a monastic tradition, there have always been prominent lay adherents. Those who enter the state of marriage vow to live their lives according to the same sixteen precepts that ground the Buddhist monk’s and nun’s life in the world. This way of living opens our path into life. Like life itself, marriage is absolutely non-discriminatory and open to all.

Buddhist teaching regarding sexuality is expressed in the precept of “taking up the way of not misusing sex.” I understand this precept to mean that any self-centered sexual conduct is exploitative, non-consensual—sex that harms others. In the context of young men or young women confined within monastery walls for periods of years, one might expect rules and teachings relating to homosexuality, but they don’t appear.

Homosexuality seems to be overlooked in Zen teachings, and indeed in classical Buddhist texts. However, my own monastic experience leads me to believe that homosexuality was not taken as an aberration, and so did not receive comment.

All societies have from earliest times across the world formalized sexual love in marriage ceremonies that give the new couple standing and rights in the community. Currently both rights and standing are denied to gays and lesbians who wish to marry in all but three of the United Sates. If every State acknowledged the basic married rights of gay and lesbian couples, young men and women just beginning their lives together, as well as those who have shared their lives for decades, a long-standing injustice would be corrected, and these fellow citizens would feel accepted in the way they deserve to be.

This would stabilize a significant segment of our society, and we would all of us be better able to acknowledge our diversity. I urge the voters of California to keep gay and lesbian marriages legal. This is the most humane course of action and in keeping with perennial principles of decency and mutual encouragement.

The Intersection of Engaged Anthropology and Engaged Buddhism

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Scenes from the Life of the Buddha, Pakistan-Afghanistan, ancient Gandhara. Courtesy of Freer Gallery.

Four Scenes from the Life of the Buddha, Pakistan-Afghanistan, ancient Gandhara. Courtesy of Freer Gallery,

As some of you may know, in addition to all the other hats I wear, I am a bonafide cultural anthropologist. In fact, my beginning years as a dharma practitioner coincided with getting a graduate degree in anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco from 1993 – 1996.

This year, I was invited to participate on a panel at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, held last month in San Francisco. The panel was titled, “The Anthropology of Buddhism and the Buddhism of Anthropology: Crossing the Borders Between Religion and Science” which dovetailed nicely with the theme of the entire conference: Borders and Crossings.

I thought some of you might be interested in reading the paper that I presented at the conference, a rather personal reflection on my experiences as both a Buddhist and an anthropologist… and an exploration of what “engagement” might mean. I’d love to hear your comments.

Read the rest of this entry

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.

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