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A Trio of Marvelous Engaged Buddhist Talks

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Jimmy Santiago Baca

We’re in a rich stretch of time here at Upaya Zen Center, where I direct the Buddhist Chaplaincy Program. On Sunday, we graduated 13 chaplains, and we’re currently training 43 students in our second and third cohorts. I’ll write more about all that soon.

For now, I thought you might enjoy three powerful dharma talks given here at Upaya over this past month. Upaya provides these as a service to the community; any donation you feel inspired to give to support these offerings is greatly appreciated.

Ouyporn Khuankaew on Feminism and Buddhism for Transformation
Ouyporn is the founder of the International Woman’s Partnership for Peace and Justice in Thailand. She begins by speaking about her motivation for becoming a peace activist and feminist. Ouyporn also discusses the meaning and importance of engaged Buddhism in Thailand.

Jimmy Santiago Baca on “Seeing it to the End (And All the Stops In Between)
Jimmy Santiago Baca begins with a variety of compelling stories related to his life in prison and the way in which writing and reading became an important part of his life at that time. He moves on to discuss his book “A Place to Stand”, and his present work teaching literacy in prisons.

Eve Ensler on “The Future is Girl”
Eve Ensler begins by speaking about the process of writing her new book, I’m an Emotional Creature. She also explores a variety of topics including the pressures on girls to conform, the importance of social change, and her work in the Congo.

Celebrating International Women’s Day

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Women in Bukavu, DRC -- photo by Paula Allen of V-Day

Monday, March 8, is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women, and also to remember the suffering experienced by so many women and girls around the world.

Last week, I sat in the Upaya Zen Center zendo with about 50 other people as we listened, captivated, to Eve Ensler, creator of the Vagina Monologues and V-Day. You may not know this – Eve is a practicing Buddhist. She didn’t talk a lot about Buddhism explicitly, but everything she spoke about emanated dharma – realness, authenticity, deep compassion, healing and transformation, and activated practice.

By the end of the evening, I knew a lot more about the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has been the site of a horrific war for the past 12 years. During this time, nearly 5.4 million people have died and hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped and sexually tortured. It is one of the most dangerous places in the world for women.

Through the work of Eve and her colleague, Dr. Denis Mukwege, the suffering of these women is coming more into global awareness, and programs are being developed to support their leadership and to, as Eve says, “turn pain into power.” But in so many other places around the planet, women continue to be the targets of oppression and brutality.

So here are a few things you can do to mark International Women’s Day:

  • Nominate someone for the Women and Engaged Buddhism Award, to be presented at the May 1 conference. This award recognizes and encourages initiatives in Engaged Buddhism by women and is intended to nurture new or little-known projects that are underway at the time of the application. Application deadline is March 26.
  • Support Eve’s project, The City of Joy, which will be located in Bukavu, DRC, and will support and train women to be community activists. They will have access to services including education and income generating activities, as well as leadership training. They will also receive programming in: group therapy; storytelling; dance; theater; self-defense; comprehensive sexuality education (covering HIV/AIDS, family planning); ecology and horticulture; and economic empowerment.
  • Attend a showing of “Half the Sky,” a one-night event on March 4 inspired by stories from the New York Times bestseller “Half the Sky” by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about women and girls everywhere turning oppression into opportunity.

What are your thoughts on International Women’s Day?

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