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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

The International View: “Ordinary American People are the Only Genuine Force to End Terrorism”

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I received the following essay in an email from my friend Ouyporn Khuankaew of Thailand.

This essay comes from the Santi Pracha Dhamma Institute, which was founded in 1986 by Sulak Sivaraksa. The institute’s name is derived from three principles on which it bases its work: Santi = peace, Pracha = people’s rule or democracy, Dhamma = righteousness or justice.

You may not like or agree with all of what this essay is communicating, but I decided to publish it (without editing) because I feel it’s important for those of us who live in the U.S. to be aware of how people from other countries perceive us, and to consider the counsel they offer in support of us.

__________________

The Ordinary American People are the only Genuine Force to End Terrorism

The 2 May 2011 Shame for a Nobel Peace Laureate

The date 2 May 2011 is as though an ending of a Hollywood action movie that the (believed to be) villain, played by Osama bin Laden, was killed and the “justice has been done” as said by the hero, played by Barack Obama. Perhaps this is the reason why Obama is suddenly very much admired and his popularity bounce back so high, like other action movie stars. This is the view of many American people who only see wars and fights in the movies. It is an unfortunate and short eye sighted view.

From the hero’s own words, the evidence to confirm the death of bin Laden is not a trophy to show around. Of course it is not a trophy, it is a stigma. The whole operation is a shame, as Obama admitted that the possibility of success is only 55%, and yet he decided to execute it. To cover the shameful operation, i.e. invading a sovereign country without warning for US’s own interest, attacking a house that the force is not certain if bin Laden stayed, killing an unarmed person in front of his family, not giving bin Laded a chance to speak, not taking him to a court of justice, not giving him a proper funeral, and so on, the US leadership even blames that sovereignty country of not reporting the Bin Laden’s whereabouts to the US.

Killing bin Laden, a man responsible for the 9/11, is not a real solution to the terrorism. It is a shame that Obama, a person who is in such a high position and receives the high recognition like Nobel Peace Prize is stupid enough to satisfy (or hypnotize) himself and try to satisfy (or hypnotize) American people and the world with easy solution to terrorism. To accept the reality that US has caused disaster in many countries through its rogue and violent foreign policies to soothe its delusion of self-claimed leadership of the world, seems to be too painful for the US authority. When the shameful mistake or consequence revealed, the only way that the US can think of is to commit even more violence to counter the disaster caused by the previous violence.

At most, it is as brief as a wink of an eye moment of victory of the US force. But as long as the truth remains, it is the loss. It is the loss of US leadership that will never be forgotten in the history of mankind like the disaster it did in Vietnam and other countries. The looser from such thoughtless operation is the American nation, and the victims are the whole American people. It is sad that Obama chose to be remembered as the Nobel peace laureate who triggers deep hatred in the heart of many Muslim people, rather than something more honourable.

Root cause of terrorism is right there in the US
If American people are really interested in ending terrorism, the self-criticism and the thorough contemplation on the whole history of American military and foreign policies is highly recommended. American people need to see the whole “movie”, instead of the disconnected “scene by scene”. The contemporary history could have still remained in the memory of many American people, such as the disaster the US has done to the nation and people of Vietnam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, to name just a few. The recent action is another disaster.

In order to truly end terrorism (not to end a terrorist) the root causes has to be examined. Unfortunately the terrorism and people like Osama bin Laden is the products of the US military and foreign policies. If American people ignore the content and impacts of such policies, and allow their government to continue, there is no hope to end terrorism. In the pursuit of the root causes, American people may come across questions like whether such policies really serve the interest of the ordinary American people or to serve the arrogance, ignorance, and interest of some powers that be in politic and economic sphere.

By the definition of the term “terrorism” people from other regions can rightly call the US the genuine and master terrorist. Bin Laden, his people and many ordinary people in the Middle East has never been content with the presence and the influence of the western countries, especially the US in their region. And possibly the hatred feeling is shared by many people in other regions where foreign military bases locate. The US’s constant and possibly ungrounded fear of loosing the hegemonic power propelled its numerous terror actions that have been carried out around the world since the time of anti-communism and the cold war.

The US military presence and political intervention in all regions is only to protect the US delusion of a global hegemony, and has never ever been for the sake of the native people, and perhaps even for the sake of ordinary American people. Good young men from ordinary American families are turned to be cold-blood murderers, and are traumatized for the rest of their live for the legal slaughter they committed.

The US, like other government, claims that their actions are for the benefit of their people. The presence and intervention in the Middle East is also for this purpose. The US needs to ensure the supply of natural resources, in this case oil, which feeds the extremely industrialized American society and the affluent lifestyle of American people. The consumption of natural resources by the American society is always among the highest ranking. In order that natural resources to be consumed by the handful American population, the much larger majority of people in other parts of the world have to give up their share. Not only the consumption, but the whole unjust capitalist economic activities of the American are supported directly or indirectly by the rogue foreign and military policies, too.

If these kind of military and foreign policies of the US continue, they will only cause suffering and hatred among more and more people, and more bin Ladens are made out of those people.

The true root cause of terrorism that haunted American people is therefore, located right in their own country.  Fear, delusion and greed that poison the mind of US leadership manifest themselves in the actions that cause terrors and disaster to the world and then receive much more terrors and disaster in re turn. Without this awareness, hunting around the world for the terrorists is like chasing after shadow. You can’t catch it because it is you.

The genuine solution lies on the American people’s awakening mind
Alright, if the American prefer the strategy of “Hunting them down”, what is going to happen? The strategy would only fulfil bin Laden’s wish for the collapse of the US. How many resources, how much time and how many lives have been spent so far and get fear, hatred, distrust, terror and destruction in return? It is difficult to call this an effective investment. Of course it might be a lucrative market for weapons industry which brings about even more downward spiral destruction to the American.

From the May Day 2011 on, American people will not be able to live peacefully any more. The retaliation was already announced. By now they should realize the saying that “Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased”.

The peaceful life is definitely affordable for American people. But the price is quite high. That is the genuine sincerity for self-criticism of the mistakes in the past and the effort to take correct actions toward future. Of course it is hopeless to call to the powers that be. They are too distant from all kind of sufferings created by their destructive policies. But the hope lies on the ordinary American people.

America should be aware that in order to live peacefully, what needed is the awakening mind of American citizens. With such a sophisticate communication system, American people should wake up and see how their leadership’s propaganda makes them remain in the constant delusion and fear. In fact the American history is not that old, it is easy for the people to study it carefully about the oppression, domination and destruction the US leadership caused to the world and to the people.

American people with the freedom of expression should speak the truth and speak for those under the oppression and human right violation caused by the US foreign and military policies.

To educate themselves about the truth, to give the voice of consciousness to the leadership, to take actions to reverse the destruction, and to stop all forms of violence caused by them is a only long lasting solution to terrorism , provided that the freedom and rights are still enjoyed by the ordinary American citizens.

Our appeals
We call on American people the following:

  • We encourage you to learn more about negative impacts caused by the US military and foreign policies to different nations, people, and even environment. You should remember the Orange Agent that was poured down in Indochina regions by the US that killed trees, animals, water resources and of course people.
  • We encourage you to take a deep look at how your affluent lifestyle creates suffering for the people in other parts of the world, and become excuses for your powers that be to continue their domination.
  • We encourage you to investigate how your leadership are expert in rhetoric of and pay only lip service to justice, democracy and human rights protection.
  • We encourage you to withdraw your support to the leadership who are responsible for the rouge and violent policies that are the origin and the induction of terrorism.
  • We encourage you to take actions. You can participate in one of the many groups or people’s movements in your own area that are active in issues such as anti-war or anti-violence campaign, human rights protection, democratization and good governance.
  • We encourage you to reach out to ordinary people in the regions that are negatively impacted by the US policies. You can learn to feel their anxiety, hatred, fear, and sorrow. It is a true human experience, not the thrill from the action movies. If possible, you are also encouraged to share the physical suffering by making some donation. The non profit organizations or charity organizations in your area may be able to give you more advice in this action.

Quote of the Week: Sulak Sivaraksa

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Since I mentioned INEB in the previous post, here’s a quote from Thai activist Sulak Sivaraksa to end the day (by my clock, it’s 9:50 pm on Nov 12; somehow my WordPress time setting is different because it’s telling you I posted this on Nov 13).

Sulak founded INEB in 1989, and is the author of many articles and books including Loyalty Demands Dissent and Seeds of Peace: A Buddhist Vision for Renewing Society.

“Buddhism is not concerned just with private destiny, but with the lives and consciousness of all beings…Any attempt to understand Buddhism apart from its social dimension is fundamentally a mistake. Until Western Buddhists understand this, their embrace of Buddhism will not help very much in the efforts to bring about meaningful and positive social change, or even in their struggle to transform their ego.”

~ Sulak Sivaraksa

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