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(Video) Aung San Suu Kyi Receives the Congressional Medal

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Today, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was conferred with the U.S. Congress’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. She was originally awarded this medal in 2008, but because she was then under house arrest in Burma, she could not receive it in person until today.

Calling it “one of the most moving days of my life,” Aung San Suu Kyi gave a beautiful speech to thank the people of America and the congressional representatives for standing by her and the cause of democracy for the Burmese people. With Secretary of State Hilary Clinton sitting next to her, she noted that some of the faces in the audience were ones that she saw while under house arrest.

Secretary Clinton told Suu Kyi, “It’s almost too delicious to believe, my friend, that you are here in the rotunda of our great Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy, as an elected member of your parliament.”

For those of us who have witnessed the struggles of those in Burma over the past decades, this was indeed a moment to savor… and a reminder that change is possible.

The Dharma and the Border

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Early this morning, I wrote this post for the Upaya Zen Center website. I wanted to share it here as well because it is such a wonderful illustration of socially engaged dharma and because in the past I have written on immigration issues on this blog. I was very moved by all the speakers, and particularly by two of them who shared that they were Buddhist or had practiced Buddhism. The dharma is deep and subtle, and knows no boundaries.

Last night, the deep quiet of the Upaya Zen Center temple embraced 20 visitors who started their journey a week earlier in Tijuana, Mexico. The Caravan for Peace and Justice with Dignity is comprised of men and women who have lost loved ones to the “drug war” waged by the United States since the 1970s.

Poet Javier Sicilia is at the heart of this band of pilgrims, leading them on a one-month journey across the U.S. to share their stories and to help Americans understand that our fate is entwined with theirs… in other words, to shine a light on our shared responsibility and karma in this war that has no winners and that has created so much suffering.

More than 100 people in the zendo listened with great attentiveness and compassion as members of the Caravan spoke about sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, who had been killed or disappeared in the course of this war. Sicilia’s son, whom he made clear did not use drugs, became a victim of drug war violence and his beaten and asphyxiated body was found, along with six of his friends, in a car along a highway in the state of Morelos in 2011.

The visit coincided with the last evening of Upaya’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Program summer intensive training period. Roshi Joan Halifax and Sensei Fleet Maull welcomed the guests, along with Upaya’s head monk, Shinzan Palma, originally from Mexico himself. Fleet, who had himself been a drug trafficker in his youth and spent 14 years in a federal prison on those charges, gave the group his unconditional support and recognized the responsibility that we all shared in this situation.

The group from the Caravan was clearly moved by the deep listening and support from the audience. At the end of the evening, we all chanted the four bodhisattva vows together, as Roshi reminded us that we were offering the chant in this case to these bodhisattvas from Mexico.

The Caravan will spend two more days in Santa Fe and then head to El Paso, TX, on August 20. Their final destination is Washington, DC, which they plan to reach on September 10. You can learn more about the Caravan here: http://www.globalexchange.org/mexico/caravan/

A Big Day in Burma: Aung San Suu Kyi Elected to Parliament

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New York Times photo by Adam Ferguson

A brief interruption in our series on The Protest Chaplains to mark a milestone in Burma (Myanmar).

Today, April 1, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, appears to have won a seat in Myanmar’s Parliament. This New York Times article does a good job of describing the elation that Suu Kyi’s supporters are feeling, and how this event may mark a turning point in that country’s long period of oppressive military rule.

There is a long way still to go, however. As this eyewitness account from Burma by Hozan Alan Senuake notes, many political prisoners continue to be held and the military junta is effectively holding on to power by keeping the vast majority of seats in Parliament for their cronies.

Even so, today’s election results seem to mark a significant shift, perhaps reflecting the pressure that the junta has felt internally and as well as from economic sanctions imposed by other countries.

As Alan writes at the end of his post:

The conversation [with the Burmese monk] was just beginning, but simply to meet and talk is a radical act.  As I was paying my respects to the monks, preparing to leave, one said quietly: “In the last twenty years we didn’t have such opportunities.  We couldn’t speak with foreigners.”

The opportunity for dialogue — all kinds of dialogue — is an encouraging sign.  But it is not enough.  Real change in Burma, or anywhere is a matter of access to resources, mutual accountability, and the power for people to determine the course of their own lives. When war has ended in Burma, when all the prisoners are free, when there are reasonable laws that apply to everyone — then we can start to celebrate.  Not yet.

To learn more about how you can support the struggle for a truly free Burma, visit any of these links:



					

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

An Open Letter from Buddhist and Yoga Teachers and Leaders in Support of the Occupy Movement

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Well, folks, I’ve been occupied by the Occupy movement lately and haven’t devoted much time to posting on Jizo. I am so grateful that Michael Stone and Ethan Nichtern took the initiative to write a powerful letter connecting the dots between yoga and dharma practice and the Occupy movement.  Here’s an excerpt:

This movement has given voice to a near-universal frustration with the economic and political disenfranchisement of so many. It offers a needed counterbalance to a system that saps the life energy of the overwhelming majority –– the so-called 99% –– generating vast profits for a tiny handful, without maximizing the true potential for widespread wealth creation in our society. While our practice challenges us to cultivate compassion for 100% of human beings without villifying an “enemy,” our practice also calls on us to challenge a system that causes such clear harm and imbalance.

We share in the thoughtful calls to address massive unemployment, climate change, the erosion of social safety nets, decaying infrastructures, social and education programs, and workers’ wages, rights, and benefits.

I was honored to be invited to sign the letter, along with other dharma practitioners I respect and love such as Roshi Joan Halifax, Sharon Salzberg, Acharya Fleet Maull, Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Sarah Weintraub, and more.

You can read the complete letter here: http://occupysamsara.org/

And I’ll be back with more good stuff soon. May you and all beings be free from suffering.

In Boston… Hanging Out With the Protest Chaplains

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Hi everyone,

I’m on the road this weekend, so just a quick note to connect with all of you and let you know what I’m up to. About a week ago, I got this great idea that I should do my Upaya Chaplaincy Program final project on the Protest Chaplains. In case you haven’t heard of them, this started out as a group of folks affiliated with Harvard Divinity School who felt moved to offer a spiritual presence at Occupy Wall Street.

Over the past six weeks, they’ve grown in numbers and are now at a number of occupation sites around the U.S. This weekend, I’m here in Boston to spend time with the original group of Protest Chaplains and hear about their experiences.

Today I spent the afternoon in the Faith and Spirituality tent at the Occupy Boston site. I’ll share more of my writing about this with you in the future… but the biggest thing I learned today was that the role of the Faith and Spirituality group here in Boston is to “keep the movement rooted in love,” in the words of one of the participants. They’re doing a good job.

Here’s a great video from last week at Occupy Boston:

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!

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