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Occupy Wall Street: Buddhist Voices

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10:00 pm update: Please make sure to read the comments underneath this post — I’ve added a few more article and videos. Also please see the Calendar of Events.

The movement to Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has been building for the past month. Until just recently, there were very few Buddhists writing on the subject.

Over the past week, I’ve come across a number of essays and statements on OWS coming from Buddhist voices. I’m sharing and summarizing the ones I’ve found below – if you have more to add to this list, please write in the comment section.

Some of these will be featured in next week’s Upaya Zen Center e-newsletter, which always includes fascinating and provocative articles from the dharma world (and beyond).

• Chris Wilson, president of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship board of directors, compares OWS to the Arab Spring and states that BPF endorses OWS  “based on our agreement that the influence of money in politics is blocking many of the social justice and environmental goals that BPF promotes. It is also based on the fact that Occupy Wall Street has made nonviolence one of its primary commitments and thus far has kept that commitment.”

Read more here:


• In “We Are the 100%,” Ari Pliskin of the Zen Peacemakers offers a “mindful response” to OWS. Drawing on the precepts and particularly this one: “When peacemakers vow to be oneness, there is no Other,” Ari’s piece makes the case for a non-dualistic view of the current situation.

Read more here:


• Madrone Phoenix, a dharma practitioner based in Providence, RI, shares her experience visiting OWS in New York last week, and she reflects on her earlier experiences as an “angry activist” and how her Buddhist practice over the past few years has impacted her way of being involved in this movement. She writes, “i woke up to the notion that to occupy a place – to infuse it with kindness, consideration and deep love for all – is the place where liberation truly occurs whether in our minds, or in our streets.”

Read more here:


• Michael Stone, a yoga and meditation teacher based in Toronto, also visited NYC last week. He offers his perspective in an article titled, “Remaining Human: A Buddhist Perspective on Occupy Wall Street.” In it, he focuses on the ways in which this nascent movement is striving to be the change it wishes to see, through a commitment to nonviolence and a collective decision making process. Michael writes, “We need a language now that allows us to reimagine what a flourishing society looks like. Any meditator knows that there are times when the thoughts that stream endlessly through awareness can eventually grow quiet. But it’s only temporary. The stories come back. But they return differently. They have more space and they are –more fluid, less rigid. We need stories to think and make sense of a world – now an ailing world that needs us.”

Read more here:


• Rev. Zenju Earthlyn Marselean Manuel, past executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and Zen priest based in the San Francisco Bay Area, notes the troublesome connotations of the word, “occupy.” She writes, “The word brought up visions of invasion, people marching in to take over.  I also saw a consciousness of us holding down specific territories (turfing) that seems to persist as the way to conquer.”

Read more here:


• The Rev. James Ford, who has the distinction of being both a Unitarian Universalist minister and a Zen priest, begins his piece by echoing the words of Harvey Milk: “I’m here to recruit you.” Rev. Ford’s lengthy meditation, which he originally delivered as a sermon, weaves together themes from the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (a day of atonement) with political and economic analysis, but his main point is clear: get involved. He writes, “Sometimes you have to be outside. Sometimes you have to stand up. And sometimes you have to shout. You have to make demands that may be uncomfortable to the status quo. The Vietnam war ended for many reasons, but one principal among them were the people willing to mass together, take some tear gas, and bear witness to another way.”

Read more here:

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

12 responses »

  1. Some additions to this post:

    See Nathan’s post on “Occupy Minnesota: Zen Style” on his blog, Dangerous Harvests:

    And also “Politics and Practice: How we Face Social Injustice. Occupy Wall Street” by Meredith Arena on the Interdependence Project site:

    And this post on a related topic by Katie Loncke: “Labor Lessons from a Disney Musical, Part 2: Make Your Own Media.”

  2. Here’s a wonderful video of Tenzin Robert Thurman speaking to the OWS folks at Liberty Plaza about the imperative to be “cool heroes” —

  3. One more: an article that I co-authored with Roshi Joan Halifax titled, “This is What Compassion Looks Like” —

  4. Pingback: Buddhists speak on Occupy Wall Street | Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

  5. #OWS gives Engaged Buddhists an opportunity to raise questions. Maia, your quote from Robert Aitken Roshi, is interesting – “there is no Buddhism that is not engaged”. We are alive, we are compassion, we are engaged. But there are many Buddhists who choose to be disengaged. Many teachers are monks who have chosen refuge. Do they understand the world we live in? Yet these monks teach us, and it becomes easy to see Buddhism as not extending beyond the cocoon of the institution.

    #OWS is telling us that 1% are exploiting. The 1% are greedy, and in their greed they affect all society including Buddhists. Hopefully OCCUPY will spread enough that governments will respond.

    In my own Buddhism I got sucked into the institutional mentality, and have only just broken out of it. This is reflected in my blog,, that has become perhaps too political – especially as OCCUPY then started.

    Use insight to be engaged, not actively disengaging. Be balanced, detached but compassionate

    May the 1% join with the 99% in compassion, in caring, in Unity – or at least they could pay some taxes and allow their government to find people jobs.

  6. This STATEMENT OF CORE VALUES is in process of development at Occupy Santa Cruz. We are not sure that this will pass our general assembly but hope it may be of use to others.

    We address this statement to our selfs, taking conscious and aware responsibility for the knowledge that all beings are created interconnected, and that each, whether they be human, animal, plant, mineral, all affects the existence of the whole as they secure the unalienable needs of all beings for their own forms of food, shelter, and rest.

    Seeing that the strength, happiness and survival of our being is interconnected with all others, we commit ourselves to uphold the supreme ethics of compassion, respect, love and mutual consent, and to work on an individual, societal, and global level, on behalf of the organic unity of all creation.

    Such self-governance, held with consensus through the whole of humanity, forming the basis of all personal, societal, civil, business and international policy naturally forms a global society bestowing equal right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all

  7. The Providence Institute and other members of the Meditation Flash Mob: Providence plan to do an hour of sitting meditation at Occupy Providence Thursday, 10/20, at 8PM. PI Director will ring a gong to begin and end. It should be simple, just a demonstration of quiet love and dignity. The Institute is about a 15 minute walk from the park. We have a meditation class from 5:30-7, so if anyone is new to meditation and feels moved to join us, they can come to class and then walk over with us.
    Possibly this will initiate a contemplative space of mindfulness, and as Madrone witnessed in NY, a space where people can connect with their deep selves to stay grounded and focused on a positive path during the occupation. We need to bring our mindfulness to our activism.

  8. Pingback: Reflecting on a Year of Occupy « The Jizo Chronicles

  9. Pingback: Reflecting on a Year of Occupy | Shobogenzo Zen Center

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