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Tag Archives: Engaged Buddhism

Radical Dharma Activism in Thailand

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Radical Dharma Activism in Thailand
The author, along with the 2013 BEST participants and teachers

The author, along with the 2013 BEST participants and teachers

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 activists offer workshops on anti-oppression feminism, collective leadership, gender and diversity, nonviolent direct action, and peacebuilding — all based in dharma teachings and practice.

Last summer, IWP launched a new training program called BEST — the Buddhist Education for Social Transformation. BEST is an innovative yearlong 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 taught a course at the 2013 BEST session and have been invited again for this year. I’ll offer a workshop on the Mandala of Socially Engaged Buddhism and will help facilitate other parts of the training along with Ouyporn and Ginger.

I’m running a small Indiegogo campaign to help me with some of the costs of doing this — I’d be so grateful if you would consider making a small contribution to help me get to Thailand again this year. And my biggest thanks to those of you who have already made a contribution to this fund. Thank you also for helping to spread the word about BEST to others who may be interested in applying for future years.

palms together,

Maia

An Invitation: Random Acts of Generosity

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Over the past few weeks I’ve heard about several great initiatives that could use a bit of your help to become manifest — so I am devoting this post of The Jizo Chronicles to spreading the word. If you’re able to spare a little change for any or all of these campaigns, you’ll help to make big change in the world!

Help BPF Compassionately Confront Injustice
The Buddhist Peace Fellowship has a long history of connecting dharma with social justice, and social justice with dharma. From Turning Wheel magazine  to hands-on training programs, BPF has long offered a place to bring Buddhist teachings into conversation with the larger world. Now you can give them a hand by contributing to this campaign which will fund an in-person gathering next summer as well as continue developing the innovative and participatory curriculum called “The System Stinks,” inspired by a phrase from the beloved Robert Aitken Roshi. Campaign end date: Oct 30, 2013

Documentary Film on Zen in America
Adam Ko Shin Tebbe of Sweeping Zen is working on creating ZEN IN AMERICA, the first documentary series of its kind to thoroughly examine the history and practices of Zen in North America. The series will visit Zen temples throughout North America to show how Zen Buddhism is being expressed in our modern culture.  Adam began filming for the series in July of 2013. Over the next several years he will visit the many practice centers  in North America. You can learn more about the project and make a donation here. Campaign end date: Oct 21, 2013

Restorative Justice in Thailand
My dear friend Rose Gordon is a gifted trainer of Restorative Justice (RJ). She’s been invited to teach RJ to Asian and Muslim activists and students in Thailand. She is doing this as a volunteer and won’t receive an honorarium… and she needs to raise her own travel funds. If you’re interested in helping her out, you can find her fundraising campaign here. Restorative Justice is a way to support  those involved in conflict discover how they affect one another and how to create a stronger and healthier connection among members of community.

Thanks for whatever you can do to support any of these worthy projects… keep the good karma moving around!

~Maia

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.

2011: The Year in Engaged Buddhism

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Day 31 at Occupy Wall Street (photo by David Shankbone)

Last December, I published a round-up of highlights from the year in socially engaged Buddhism. Here I continue that tradition and take a look back at 2011. As always, I welcome reader comments about important events or trends that I’ve missed. The Jizo Chronicles is always a much better blog when it’s co-created with my readers!

  • Early in the year, issues of gender, power, and sexual relations in the dharma world were very much in the spotlight. In August, 2010, The New York Times published a story about the sexual improprieties of Zen teacher Eido Shimano. This set off a volley of letters and articles from within the Buddhist community that continued into January 2011, including this one from Roshi Joan Halifax.  Just a few weeks later, the same issue arose with Genpo Merzel and over the summer, within a Chicago Theravadin temple as well. Clearly, this topic is very much alive for all of us and needs to continue to be addressed in an open and constructive way in our sanghas. (By the way, one little-known resource for grappling with these matters is the book Safe Harbor: Guidelines, Process, and Resources for Ethics and Conduct in Buddhist Communities by Hozan Alan Senauke.)
  • In February and March, thousands of people congregated in the Wisconsin Statehouse in to protest the draconian budget cuts being proposed by Governor Walker. Among them were members of sanghas from Madison and other parts of the state, holding a space for equanimity and compassion. This uprising of “people power” and grassroots democracy foreshadowed the Occupy movement that would emerge in fall of 2011.
  • On March 11, the northern region of Japan was hit first by an earthquake with an 8.9 magnitude and then by a huge tsunami. The area was devastated by these dual natural disasters, and then came the worst news – waters from the tsunami had flooded nuclear reactors in Fukushima, triggering a nuclear meltdown. As always, the good folks from the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist-based relief organization, were on the ground offering assistance almost immediately. Buddhists from around the world contributed to help relieve the suffering, and Joanna Macy and Thich Nhat Hanh offered wise words.
  • Also in March, the Buddhist Council of the Midwest named Ven. Pannavati-Karuna as the winner of the “Women and Engaged Buddhism Prize.” Ven. Pannavati founded “My Space,” a nonprofit organization in North Carolina dedicated to providing a positive youth development program for homeless and at-risk youth.
  • Thai Buddhist activist Sulak Sivaraksa was the recipient of the 28th Niwano Peace Prize, awarded in Tokyo in May. The award was given “in recognition of his contribution to a new understanding of peace, democracy and development and to environmental preservation based on the core principles of his Buddhist faith.”
  • September 17 marked the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, which would soon explode into a global Occupy movement. Though voices from the Buddhist community were sparse in the first few weeks of the movement, by October more dharma practitioners were expressing solidarity with the spirit and values of Occupy. Tenzin Robert Thurman showed up at Zuccotti Park to talk about “a cool revolution,”  I penned this article with Roshi Joan Halifax which appeared in the Huffington Post, and Michael Stone and Ethan Nichtern organized Buddhist teachers and practitioners to sign onto this letter of support.
  • Another highlight of October was the bi-annual International Network of Engaged Buddhists conference, held this year in Bodh Gaya, India. The theme was “The Future of Buddhism: From Personal Awakening to Global Transformation,” and speakers included Anchalee Kurutach, Alan Senauke, Mangesh Dahiwale, Roshi Joan Halifax, Jeyanthy Siva, and Sulak Sivaraksa. 
  • Throughout 2011, an important background story was Aung San Suu Kyi’s increasing involvement in the political scene of Burma (Myanmar). Since her release from house arrest in November, 2010, Suu Kyi has taken part in numerous dialogues about the situation in her country, both with Burmese officials and with international journalists and diplomats (including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). For some commentary on this development and the current conditions in Burma, see Hozan Alan Senauke’s piece, “Burma Back at the Crossroads.”

In my own life, I’ve loved continuing to work closely with Roshi Joan Halifax on co-directing Upaya’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program, which I think of as a bodhisattva academy. This was a landmark year in which the Association of Professional Chaplains recognized our program as the equivalent of 42 graduate credits. I’ve been taking the program myself as student these past two years, am currently writing my thesis on the Protest Chaplains of the Occupy Movement, and if all goes well I will be ordained as a lay chaplain next March.

Because of my increased investment of time at Upaya this year, I’ll be posting less original material on the Jizo Chronicles in 2012. However, I will continue with my interview series here, as well as keeping the Calendar of Events updated. You can find more of my reporting on socially engaged Buddhism by looking over at Upaya’s blog.

And I’d love it if you’d check out my Liberated Life Project site and subscribe to it if you feel moved.  That’s where most of my original writing is going these days. I think of it as a “no-self, no-improvement” blog, in true dharma fashion : )

May all beings be happy, safe, and free in 2012…

Maia

Occupy the Present Moment: A Report from the Field

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On Saturday, I spent the morning with about a thousand folks here in Santa Fe including our small but powerful group of dharma practitioners.

Please visit my other blog, the Liberated Life Project, to read my reflections on the experience… plus see a few photos. Enjoy!

Socially Engaged Buddhism Beyond Labels

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Let’s start with some definitions. What is it that we’re talking about? That ubiquitous term ‘engaged Buddhism’ is actually a couple of different things. At least a couple of different things, but I’ll just focus on two:

  • Engaged Buddhism
    and
  • Socially Engaged Buddhism

There’s a quote from the late Rev. Willliam Sloane Coffin that I find very helpful in distinguishing between the two:

“Justice is at the heart of religious faith. It’s not something that is tacked on. And justice is not charity. Charity tries to alleviate the effects of injustice. Justice tries to eliminate the causes of injustice. Charity is a personal disposition. Justice is public policy. What this country needs, what I think God wants us to do, is not practice piecemeal charity but engage in wholesale justice.” (from an interview with PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly)

So here’s my theory (others, like Ken Jones, have articulated it in a similar way). I see engaged Buddhism as akin to what Rev Coffin is talking about when he talks about charity. On a very basic level, it’s pretty hard to avoid being an engaged Buddhist. We see suffering, and we respond. There are many Buddhist groups that are organized in this way, like the Tzu Chi Foundation — doing relief work, addressing immediate needs such as hunger, medical needs, etc.

Socially engaged Buddhism, in contrast, is about looking at the structures that lie underneath these forms of suffering, and then responding to those structures. At the root of the hunger and homelessness, for example, are systems of economic and racial injustice (to name just a couple) where some people have the odds stacked against them. This doesn’t mean that people can’t transcend their conditions; of course they can. But it’s a system that contributes to a vast amount of suffering, and the big question is: does it need to be that way?

I’m not sure that anyone has ever surpassed the eloquence and wisdom captured in just a few lines in the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

The way I see it, socially engaged Buddhism comes from just about that same place. There are lots of things we can’t change, and we can practice with those conditions to find some liberation from suffering. But there are lots of things we can change – things which we’ve often been taught to think are ‘just the way it is’ and unchangeable. And then our practice is to work to change those things.

There are complexities beyond this, of course… how do we know that the change we seek will not cause more suffering? Let’s leave that side road for another time, just noting them as important to keep in mind for right now.

Political, cultural, and social conditions are often harder to see than the individual suffering that’s right in front of us, and we live in a culture that thinks psychologically rather than systemically. We are encouraged to see individuals rather than systems.

Because everything appears to starts with the individual, this makes some sense. When we say things, “I must be peaceful in myself before I can take action for peace in the world,” of course that is true. And yet, it can also limit us. Because we’ll probably never be entirely at peace within ourselves. So are we supposed to wait forever before getting involved with the world? And if we let the suffering of the world permeate into our hearts, as I hope we would if we are practicing dharma, then to some degree that suffering may upset our peace of mind. As it should.

As we advance in practice we may be able to hold all those realities and the suffering within them with equanimity, but for many of us this is more of a challenge. I like what Joanna Macy said about this dilemma:

“It is my experience that the world itself has a role to play in our liberation. Its very pressures, pains, and risks can wake us up—release us from the bonds of ego and guide us home to our vast true nature.”

So, having gone down some of these byways and offered my own distinction between engaged Buddhism and socially engaged Buddhism, I like this definition from Donald Rothberg and Hozan Alan Senauke:

Socially engaged Buddhism is a dharma practice that flows from the understanding of the complete yet complicated interdependence of all life. It is the practice of the bodhisattva vow to save all beings. It is to know that the liberation of ourselves and the liberation of others are inseparable. It is to transform ourselves as we transform all our relationships and our larger society. It is work at times from the inside out and at times from the outside in, depending on the needs and conditions. It is to see the world through the eye of the Dharma and to respond emphatically and actively with compassion.  (from Turning Wheel, Summer-Fall – 2008)

If I were to extend this definition, I would propose that any form of socially engaged Buddhism has to include the following elements:

  1. A ferocious devotion to a lack of dogma or doctrine. So, we don’t get to be smugly ‘right’ about anything, even things like ‘war is bad, peace is good.’
  2. A deep understanding of the truth of impermanence in all things.
  3. A willingness to take an honest look at our motives for action, and to not act from self-serving motives. The ‘self’ is a construct that has gotten us into lots of trouble.
  4. And paradoxically, a recognition that we need to include ourselves in our sphere of enlightenment, as Kobin Chino says (by way of Roshi Bernie Glassman).

That lays down the foundation for the topics we’ll look at on this blog, and the kinds of other thinkers who will be featured. Enjoy the ride!

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