This week’s quote comes from one of the pioneers of socially engaged Buddhism in the U.S., Robert Aitken Roshi. Aitken Roshi is now in is 90s and lives in his native state, Hawaii, where he still has a very close connection with the community he founded, the Diamond Sangha. In addition to being a co-founder of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Roshi has written many books and articles on Zen Buddhism as well as socially engaged Buddhism
In 2005, I was honored to spend several days with Roshi as we interviewed him for a documentary. The fierce yet caring light in his eyes was strong, and he made an unforgettable impression as someone who sees no separation between practice and engagement with social and political issue. He proudly showed us a photo of himself at a local demonstration wearing a rakusu and his BPF cap, and holding a sign that said, “The System Stinks.”
With assistance from his son, Tom, Roshi maintains a blog that will give you a good sense of his current contemplations and perspectives.
This quote comes from the essay “Envisioning the Future,” found in The Morning Star: New and Selected Zen Writings (Shoemaker and Hoard, 2003). It’s Roshi’s marvelous manifesto of what socially engaged Buddhism could be:
…With dignity and freedom we can collaborate, labor together, on small farms and in cooperatives of all kinds –savings and loan societies, social agencies, clinics, galleries, theaters, markets, and schools—forming networks of decent and dignified modes of life alongside and even within the frames of conventional power. I visualize our humane network having more and more appeal as the power structure continues to fall apart.
This collaboration in networks of mutual aid would follow from our experience of pratitya-samutpada, mutually dependent arising. All beings arise in systems of biological affinity, whether or not they are even “alive” in a narrow sense. We are born in a world in which all things nurture us. As we mature in our understanding of the Dharma, we take responsibility for pratitya-samutpada and continually divert our infantile expectations of being nurtured to an adult responsibility for nurturing others.