Engaged Practice

Right Livelihood in an Unjust Society

What is Right Livelihood?

When doing research for this column, rather to my surprise, I couldn’t find all that much written on Right Livelihood, even though it is part of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. It is as if most Buddhist thinkers consider the matter relatively straightforward, simply a matter of choosing a job that at the very least does not violate the Five Mindfulness Trainings and ideally one that allows us to help others. But not everyone has the option to avoid wrong livelihood, given the structure of the job market in our society. For some people with few opportunities, the best they may be able to do in terms of a job is one that is at odds with the mindfulness trainings. Even for those of us with jobs that mostly qualify as right livelihood, in a society such as ours so riven with injustice, they are still likely to have aspects that are problematic in light of the mindfulness trainings.

The Buddha himself, of course, spoke of what constituted Right Livelihood. In the Pali Canon (the earliest layer of Buddhist scripture), the Buddha forbid people to work in trades that caused others harm, specifically naming occupations that involved the sale of weapons, living beings, meat, intoxicants, or poison. He also encouraged householders to work hard, since he saw being able to support oneself and one’s dependents as virtuous for a householder. But he also also encouraged laypeople who could afford to do so to be generous with their wealth. More specifically, in The Discourse on Happiness, the Buddha said “To have a chance to learn and grow, to be skillful in your profession or craft, practicing the precepts and loving speech—this is the greatest happiness. To be able to serve and support your parents, to cherish your family, to have a vocation that bring you joy—this is the greatest happiness. To live honestly, generous in giving, to offer support to relatives and friends, living a life of blameless conduct—this is the greatest happiness. […] To live in the world with your heart undisturbed by the world, with all sorrows ended, dwelling in peace—this is the greatest happiness.” In the Buddha’s eyes, for householders, practicing Right Livelihood was not only a matter of doing right, but being able to have a job that allowed them to bring joy to themselves and others, while maintaining equanimity and not being attached to the outcome of their livelihood.

Our Society’s Limitations on Right Livelihood

But how many people have such opportunities? In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thay, dealing with the difficulties of the contemporary world, paints a more complex picture. He warns that even monasticism can become wrong livelihood if monastics make unreasonable demands on laypeople. He also points out that many people are trapped in wrong livelihood. He encourages them to do what they can to change jobs or transform their occupation. As an example, he points to farming, encouraging farmers to switch over to organic production practices to the extent that they can, while recognizing that this is not always easy.

But many people have little control over their jobs. In a sangha I used to sit with, one person worked as a server at McDonald’s. This is clearly not right livelihood—he was serving meat and McDonald’s routine business practices contribute greatly to the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems. But, given his life circumstances, this was the job he could get and he was making the best of it. It is worth noting that such jobs are often not only harmful to others, but to the workers themselves. An extreme example of this is the way workers in slaughterhouses often develop PTSD from spending all day killing animals.

Bringing the Practice to Whatever Livelihood We Have

Even when we are trapped in occupations that are wrong livelihood, we can try to bring the practice to them and cultivate mindfulness. In The Hidden Lamp, a collection of wisdom stories and koans about Buddhist women practitioners, there is the story “Ohashi Wakes up Working in a Brothel.” Ohashi was a woman from the aristocratic samurai caste who sold herself into prostitution to support her impoverished family, when her father lost his position in the court. While living this life, she met the great Zen Master Hakuin. He did not condemn her for practicing wrong livelihood, but told her she could achieve enlightenment where she was—which, with diligent practice, she did. Eventually, married one of her patrons and, with her husband’s permission, became a nun. Commenting on this story, Zen priest Judith Randall notes that Ohashi’s reasons for entering prostitution were themselves part of the bodhisattva path—she sought to support her family, despite how degrading job must have seemed to an upper caste woman in a culture concerned with personal and family honor.

Like Hakuin, in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thay encourages us to try to make the best of whatever job we have by bringing mindfulness to it, engaging in practices such as telephone meditation and loving speech. This is something even people trapped in wrong livelihood can do, making the job a little better for the world.

My job—a college faculty member who teaches sociology and global studies—could certainly be considered right livelihood in many ways. A major part of my work is raising awareness of important social issues among my students, encouraging them to be open-minded to new ideas and to the experiences of people coming from much different social backgrounds than they do. And yet there are aspects of the job I wrestle with, because in my mind they are harmful to my students. There are many ways I could easily transform my job into wrong livelihood—showing a lack of compassion for my students when they are having life difficulties that make it hard for them to keep up with their work, using harsh speech or dogmatically imposing my views on them. These are things I mostly manage to avoid, thanks to my mindfulness practice, though I am by no means perfect. But there are still many parts of my job that trouble me and seem to be at odds with right livelihood. I must grade my students, despite abundant evidence from educational research that, over the long run, grading discourages learning. And, simply by following the norms of higher education, I am socializing my students for lives of obedience in the corporate workplace.

I’ve tried to address these by implementing a grading system that is more transparent and, at some colleagues’ suggestion, this year I will be experimenting with rewarding students for creativity and risk-taking—even when they get things wrong. And I make a point of demystifying the “hidden curriculum” in my classes, explaining to students how all their college classes socialize them to be creative within the boundaries set by an authority figure, the skillset most valued for white-collar workers and professionals in a typical hierarchical bureaucracy. But this does not solve the problems, only blunts them—and, just as the McDonald’s worker must continue to do harmful things if they want to hang on to their livelihood, I too must do these things if I wish to continue pursue my career.

Additionally my ability to try to mitigate and demystify the harm I do is a privilege. A McDonald’s server can’t try to raise customers awareness about McDonald’s negative environmental impact, at least not without being fired from their job.

Interbeing, Social Organization, and Right Livelihood

Even should we somehow have a job that truly constitutes right livelihood, that does no injustice or other harm, we do not live in isolation. In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thay looks at the interbeing nature of right livelihood—even if we have a job that is right livelihood, by participating in our wider society, we create a demand for jobs based on wrong livelihood. A straightforward example of this is that, even if we are not butchers, if we eat meat, we create a demand for people to be in that trade. Probably most of the people reading this column don’t eat meat, but are you able to eat a diet that is entirely organic and otherwise ecologically sustainable? I buy what I can that it is organic, but I certainly can’t claim an entirely organic diet—and thus I contribute to farming that hurts the Earth and creates a demand for people to engage in wrong livelihood by engaging in conventional, environmentally destructive agriculture. Thay notes that even religious orders or charities are caught up in this dynamic, since they generally accept monetary donations from those who practice wrong livelihood.

What this means is that, if we want everyone to be able to work at right livelihood, it’s not enough to look at people’s individual choices. We need to look at how our larger social organization limits and channels people’s choices—and then we need to change how our society is organized, so people have better, less harmful options available to them. Many activist groups have been pursuing such goals for a while.

Moving to a Society that Supports Right Livelihood

Peace Conversion

One example is from the peace movement, in which activists have advocated for what they call a “peace conversion”—converting industries and factories away from weapons and war production to socially beneficial uses. In doing so, they hope to get the support of workers in such factories, by ensuring that they will be able to keep their jobs—the factories will stay in production, but be restructured for new products; and the workers will get retraining so they can continue to work there. Mary Beth Sullivan, summarizing the ideas of Seymour Melman, lays out what a plan for peace conversion might look like: The process would start with setting up local alternative use committees at military factories, each consisting half of management, half of workers. These committees would draw on their knowledge of the factory and workforce’s capacity to develop proposals about how to shift production in the factory away from war-oriented products to more socially beneficial ones. Ideally, this would happen at factories across the country and the national government would publish and promote the plans each factory came up with. The government would additionally make investments promoting the peace conversion, both in individual factories and in rebuilding public infrastructure, thereby creating market for the new goods.

The most successful peace conversion campaigns have been ones that actively involved workers in planning the conversion, drawing on their existing skills and knowledge of what the plant does. Brian Martin points to Lucas Aerospace in Britain in 1970s, where the initiative for a peace conversion came from the factory workers themselves. This is particularly important because in communities where people feel heavily invested in military production for jobs and prosperity, can be hard to win people over. When some of the initiative comes from the workers themselves, this can make people more open to the process. At the same time, outside peace activists need to be prepared to support workers in these factories, who are often vulnerable to firing or other forms of retaliation for speaking out.

Unfortunately, there is seldom support from those in management or other positions of power for such initiatives. Mary Beth Sullivan describes the effort by Speaker of the House Jim Wright in 1988-89 to hold hearings on a peace conversion bill. These hearings never happened—opponents of the whole idea mobilized charges of financial misconduct against Wright, forcing him to resign and thereby putting an end to any discussion of peace conversion in Congress. There will inevitably be an uphill struggle against those who are invested in the current power structures and feel threatened by such changes.

The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal involves a similar idea, but applied to environmental issues—investing in clean technologies and converting polluting industries to environmentally sustainable ones, including providing retraining for workers so they can work in these new industries. The Green New Deal not only seeks to ensure that people can keep their jobs, but to improve the quality of those jobs and create more jobs for the unemployed, while empowering workers through strengthening unions. Proponents of the Green New Deal also want to invest in communities that will be hardest hit by climate change—many of them also the poorest communities—to help them manage the transition to a world shaped by climate chaos. Some versions of the Green New Deal also propose funding these programs by slashing military budget, others by raising corporate taxes, and yet others by specifically targeting polluting industries by eliminating subsidies, increases taxes, fees, and fines. (For more details on various versions of the Green New Deal, see 1) Tom Athanasiou, “Bernie’s Secret Climate Weapon,” The Nation, September 30, 2019, pp. 24-26; 2) John Bellamy Foster, “On Fire This Time,” Monthly Review, November 2019, pp. 1-17; 3) Joshua Holland, “Think the Green New Deal is Pricey?” The Nation, September 30, 2019, pp. 4-5).

Economic Democracy

Looking forward, we need to think about a democracy conversion—moving towards workplace democracy, so all of us have democratic control over the place they spend most of our waking hours. We can’t really say we have a democratic society if the place we spend most of our waking hours—work—is run in a completely top-down, autocratic manner, akin to a totalitarian state. Philosopher David Schweickart has detailed a fairly complex model of what such a society might look like, which he refers to as economic democracy and market socialism. (See “Interview with David Schweickart,”, by Thad Williamson, for Dollars and Sense, March 4, 2005; and “Economic Democracy” by David Schweickart, for The Next System Project). Businesses would be organized as worker cooperatives. Depending on the size of the enterprise and the worker-owners’ own preferences, there might be regular town-hall style meetings where workers vote directly on major policy decisions, or there might be an elected board of directors, held accountable by active organization on the part of the worker-owners. Again, depending on the preferences of the worker-owners, everyone might be trained in and help carry out administrative duties; or specific people with expertise in management might run the company on a day-to-day basis, while remaining democratically accountable to the workforce. These worker-owned businesses would continue to compete with each other in the market. Another critical element of this system of market socialism for Schweickart is for all banks to become publicly owned, with charters directing them to work for the public good. That way decisions the banks make about what industries to invest in can be guided by decisions democratically made by elected public officials based on the common good, as opposed to the current model, which focuses on what is the most profitable. Schweickart argues this preserves the benefits of markets, promoting innovation, while eliminating the extreme inequalities in power that allow for exploitation. He also notes that such a transition wouldn’t have much disruptive impact on most people’s daily lives, while still profoundly transforming society.

Lest this sound like a complete pipe dream, it’s worth noting that many of the elements of this model already exist in the real world. The best known system of cooperatives is probably the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in the Basque region of Spain. Rather than a single monolithic corporation, it is a network of cooperatives, including its own bank and university. They are one of Spain’s major manufacturers. Less well known is the fact that one-third of the economy of northern Italy’s Romagna region is made of worker, consumer and social service cooperatives. Rather than one large network of co-ops as in Mondragon, there are several loose networks of co-ops, including one affiliated with Roman Catholic Church and another with the former Italian Communist Party. The existence of this network of cooperatives is facilitated by Italian law, which provides a support network of laws and other institutions that has allowed the cooperative system to grow and thrive. Based on these and other examples, Peter Gowan has developed a proposal for a legal framework and system of institutions that could foster the growth of worker co-ops in the US. An important element of this would be the gradual conversion of existing business by giving workers the right of first refusal to buy any business being shut down or sold and a system of public financing to support their buy-outs. Publicly owned banks also already exist, such as the Bank of North Dakota and the network of Sparkassen—small municipal banks—in Germany. Based on these, Thomas M. Hanna has developed a set of proposals for converting banks to long-term public ownership when the next financial and banking crisis inevitably hits.

A Mindfulness Conversion?

Finally, I would suggest we need a mindfulness conversion. On one level, there are too many industries that benefit from or actively promote unmindful behavior—think of the advertising industry, encouraging people to consumer ever more goods, in ways that are both ecological unsustainable and encourage people to mire themselves in behavior that feeds the three poisons of greed, ill-will, and ignorance. On another level, too many workplaces are saturated with unmindful, uncompassionate behavior like bullying or expectations that people will sacrifice their personal lives to their work duties. There are increasing numbers of companies with mindfulness programs, but often these are geared towards helping employees manage stress rather than reorganizing the workplace so it is less stressful and more nurturing to begin with. And it is rare that these programs extend to questioning the basic ethics of what the company does. A workplace culture grounded in true mindfulness and compassion would look profoundly different than what we see in most workplaces today. These would be workplaces where everyone is treated with respect and care, where everyone has good health insurance, where everyone’s job is enriching and rewarding, where everyone has a reasonable work-life balance, where everyone is listened to and empowered, where there are thorough-going attempts to root out inequalities based in gender, race, class, LGBTQ status, etc.


All these different types of workplace conversions can be complementary. Brian Martin argues that the democratization of economy—the conversion of businesses to worker co-ops—will help with peace conversion. As workers gain more control over the workplace, they are more likely to put those workplaces to uses that are beneficial to their communities rather than destructive. The same is true of a green conversion. Industries that promote war or environmental pollution are also obviously not consistent with ethically grounded mindfulness, so any mindfulness conversion would have to involve the conversion of such industries to peaceful and environmentally sustainable activities. A democracy conversion could also help potentially promote greater mindfulness, since a healthy democracy fosters more dialogue, reflection on one’s own ideas, and a willingness to listen to others’ ideas, needs, and aspirations.

Matt Williams
Truly Holding Peace
Lakeside Buddha Sangha
Chicago IL, USA


Prayer for Everyone During the COVID-19 Pandemic

May all doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers have the emotional strength and physical stamina to meet the challenges they are facing every day.

May all essential workers — police, firefighters, store personnel,
delivery people, and more — be safe from this virus as they perform their critical services.

May everyone struggling with illness from this virus be blessed with
healing and renewed strength. May all who are touched with sickness and death of loved ones be comforted in their anxiety and grief.

May all who are stressed financially during this time receive the
assistance and support they need.

And may we all have the strength to embrace our fears and sorrows — and also water seeds of joy — in this deeply challenging and uncertain time.

Engaged Practice Practices Sangha

A New Paradigm For Racial Justice and the Global Pandemic

Meeting suffering where it is – a path to freedom.

Centering the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in our practices meets the suffering where it is and offers a path to freedom. A New Paradigm for Racial Justice and the Global Pandemic” is an offering by Marisela Gomez and Valerie Brown. We encourage all Order members to read and practice these Contemplations on the Five Mindfulness Trainings

A New Paradigm For Racial Justice and the Global Pandemic

By Marisela Gomez and Valerie Brown

Let us open to a new and deeper way of understanding the Five Mindfulness Trainings, guiding principles for mindful and ethical living, which call us toward individual and collective awakening, compassion, and peace.  We are aware that we are interconnected.  What happens in Wuhan, China affects people in New York City. What happens to the Black body affects all bodies.  We are called forward.

The global pandemic is a gateway to suffering worldwide, disproportionately impacting Black people, indigenous, and people of color, who face poverty, sickness, displacement, and death.  They, we are not alone. Our lives and livelihood are interconnected. We are called forward.

We cannot exist independent of low wage workers, health care workers, un-housed people, single mothers, undocumented people, the unemployed and underemployed.  If one such person lives on the knife edge of racial, ethnic, social, structural, and systemic oppression and discrimination we are all affected.  We are called forward.

The practitioner dwells in the now, recognizing equanimity and instability, discrimination and non-discrimination, ill-being and well-being, practicing right view and engaged through compassionate action.  Aware of the cycle of racial, ethnic, and social inequities and discrimination, we courageously turn to practice wholeheartedly.    We are called forward.

Lighting a stick of incense, listening to the sutras, sitting upright and solid, palms joined, the practitioner looks within and in concentration the path and fruit of skillful action is revealed.  We are called forward.

Speak aloud these words with the sangha voice, a true river of understanding:

Acknowledging Beauty as Reverence for Life

Aware of the suffering caused by oppression and  generational harm based on racial,  cultural, social, and ethnic  inferiority and superiority and its resultant structures of injustices and harm, I acknowledge the beauty and violence inherent in life. I vow to resist being complicit in systems and structures that continue to perpetuate violence and hatred instead of reverence of life for marginalized groups. I recognize that  each person contributes to my individual and our collective awakening, and the co-creation of a world that celebrates  and affirms differences and similarities. All living beings can teach me something,  when I remember to pause, breathe, listen deeply  with a calm and open mind and heart, and ask myself: ‘is there more’ or  ‘ what else is here with me’’?’ I  honor  and respect  all life guided  by Right View and Right Energy.

Belonging and Connecting as True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by ignorance and aversion of my own and other’s racial, ethnic, cultural, and social history, its legacy and how this affects me whether I am aware of it or not, I am committed to connecting to these histories. I know that turning toward these histories with an open heart is my journey of awakening to true belonging. I will take the time to learn the history of the racial and ethnic group with which I identify as well as for other socially constructed racial and ethnic groups. Aware that there is no genetic or biological difference between different racial and ethnic groups, and that these identities were constructed by one group to establish dominance over others, I will turn toward racial and other forms of othering with an open heart and compassionate action. I know that this history has led to fragmentation inside and outside body and mind and brought much suffering to all beings. I vow to transform this suffering through the practice of connecting with an open heart. I will notice when emotions of belonging and othering arise and I will ask myself ‘why’? Whatever feelings, perceptions, or mental formations arise, I will embrace and when needed engage with love in action. I am committed to practicing Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood so I can help relieve this legacy of racial and social suffering.  I will practice looking deeply to see that true happiness is not possible without true connecting leading to belonging and understanding. 

Cherishment as True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by discrimination and oppression, I vow to understand its roots within my consciousness and my body and the collective body of the sangha and larger society.  I vow to recognize the ways in which I have benefitted or not-benefitted explicitly or implicitly from systems and structures that foster discrimination and injustice.  I am aware of the legacy of violence, especially unlawful police violence, perpetrated against Black people, indigenous people, people of color, differently abled people, people of various gender identities and expressions and sexual orientation, and others who are marginalized. I acknowledge the lived experience of all people to deepen my capacity for understanding and for greater compassionate action.  I am aware that narrowly constructed, prevalent interpretations of intimate relationships constrain how we cherish each other in our expression of love, leaving many further isolated and alienated. I am committed to looking tenderly at my suffering, knowing that I am not separate from others and that the seeds of suffering contain the seeds of joy.  I am not afraid of bold love that fosters justice and belonging and tender love that seeks peace and connection.  I cherish myself and my suffering without discrimination.  I cherish this body and mind as an act of healing for myself and for others.  I cherish this breath.  I cherish this moment.  I cherish the liberation of all beings guided by the wisdom and solidity of the sangha. This is my path of true love.  

Vulnerability as Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware that vulnerability is the essence of our true nature, our humanness, I vow to risk listening and speaking non-judgmentally with understanding and compassion to alleviate suffering and support peace in myself and others.  I vow to live with empathy, compassion, and awareness and to listen for understanding rather than disagreement. When I’ve hurt others through my unskillful action or speech, I vow to practice making a good apology that acknowledges what I have done and offers sincere regret, knowing that this supports the other person and me. I am committed to speaking that aligns with my highest aspiration and encourages honesty and truthfulness.  I am committed to generous and courageous listening that bridges differences and supports understanding of others who may be different from me.  I am committed to taking meaningful steps to become a true instrument of peace and to help others to be the same. When I am not able to understand the experiences of others, I vow to come back to my breath and my body, and to offer myself gentle patience while learning to support myself in developing greater awareness and skill.  I vow to practice awareness of my beliefs, perceptions, and feelings, aversions, and desires and to take refuge in mindful breathing and in the sangha to support greater stability, peace, and understanding.  Through my practices of vulnerability, patience, forgiveness, and deeply listening, I know that my speech will be guided by love and understanding. Practicing in this way supports Right Speech and Right Action and guides me to Right Insight. 

Welcoming as True Nourishing and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by the consumption of an inadequate history of racial and ethnic forms of social segregation, I am committed to healing myself and the world by welcoming, and practicing with this awareness. I will notice how my thoughts, perceptions, feelings, words, and actions may have been influenced by this inaccurate history. I will look deeply to understand how both physical and mental health, for myself, my family, and my society have been influenced by embracing and denying this racial, social, and ethnic history of inferiority and superiority and its legacy of inequities and injustices. I will cultivate joy to support me toward individual and collective wholeness. I will practice mindfulness of the Four Kinds of Nutriments to become aware of how edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness are all influenced by this history. Practicing with Right Energy and Right Resolve, my Right Action of consumption will include awareness of certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations and how they continue to foster wrong perceptions of racial, ethnic, and social injustices. My understanding of interbeing supports my conscious consumption that sustains a healthy understanding of differences, one that does not oppress or discriminate. This Right Insight will preserve peace, joy, and bring healing in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth. To assure that my descendants do not live in a racially, ethnically, and socially unjust world, I commit to diligently practicing with true welcoming on this path to nourish and heal myself, the sangha, and society.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings keeps us centered in life’s storms and joys and reminds us that life is a precious gift. The Trainings are a path to liberation and transformation.  Practicing these Trainings supports us toward racial and ethnic reconciliation and social change and heals deep suffering. The Five Mindfulness Trainings  helps us cross this shore of suffering and brings us to the side of true awakening and love

We are called forward.

Engaged Practice

Buddhists Help Get Out the Vote

In this time of great fear, it is important that we think of the long-term challenges—and possibilities—of the entire globe. Photographs of our world from space clearly show that there are no real boundaries on our blue planet. Therefore, all of us must take care of it and work to prevent climate change and other destructive forces. This pandemic serves as a warning that only by coming together with a coordinated, global response will we meet the unprecedented magnitude of the challenges we face. – The Dalai Lama

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

This is a truly critical time in American society. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, financial collapse, climate change emergency, and approaching a November election that threatens to exclude many eligible voters. As Buddhist teachers and leaders, we recognize that every vote and voice needs to be heard to help guide the next years of our society wisely.

A mutual caring community is one of the central teachings of the Buddha. In these times so marked by divisiveness and a lack of compassionate leadership, many of you have wondered how you and your whole community can help move us in this direction. Here are two crucial activities to encourage for everyone in your community:

  • Register to vote; and sign up for an absentee ballot: You and your community can do this through Over thirty states now have no-excuse absentee voting, and many others are considering allowing COVID-19 as a valid excuse.
  • Get your friends and family to register, sign up for an absentee ballot, and vote.

There’s more we all can do, and these actions don’t demand a lot of time.

1. Volunteer to do voter registration, absentee sign-ups, and get out the vote through these organizations.

  • State Voices: A network of nonpartisan state coalitions of hundreds of grassroots organizations. Reach out and see if there are volunteer opportunities.
  • National Voter Registration Day (Sept 22): Provides training and support on how to conduct voter registration, and will be making a heavy pivot to remote options this year, as well as a push to sign up for Vote-By-Mail (absentee). Includes legal guidance for voter registration drives.
  • Vote Early Day (Oct 24): Inspired by National Voter Registration Day and anchored by a number of large media and tech companies, this organization will also be providing toolkits and training opportunities for impactful work, including recruitment of election workers. Will be assisting voters with both mail and in-person early-voting options. Was in the works pre-COVID-19, but is likely more critical in a pandemic.
  • When We All Vote: The best-resourced, truly nonpartisan voter engagement organization.

2. Help ensure that eligible voters get to vote in key states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin. Whether non-partisan or partisan there are many ways to help. There are many ways to do this.

3. Sign up to be a poll worker. Serving as a poll worker offers a dramatically under-appreciated opportunity to have an impact. Problems are made markedly worse or are mitigated to a substantial degree based on the quality of the poll worker. Chronic shortages of election workers nationwide cause long lines at the polls, especially at polling places that serve communities of color.

You can sign up to be a poll worker using this form and be connected to your local elections office.

Our collective involvement leading up to the November elections can really make a difference. Please forward this to as many teachers and Buddhist communities as you can throughout the United States. And thanks for joining us!

With lovingkindness, compassion and blessings,
Yours in the Dharma,
​100+  Buddhist Teachers

Engaged Practice

The Paradox of Globalization: An Engaged Buddhist Analysis

From an engaged Buddhist perspective, globalization involves a seeming paradox. The growth of global telecommunications systems and cheap long distance travel means that we have more opportunities than ever to learn about people distant from us. Geographers such as David Harvey speaks of globalization involving “space-time compression”—that, in practical terms, the world is becoming a smaller place as we communicate and travel more and more quickly over longer and longer physical distances. This potential to learn more about others means we should be able to deepen our understanding of them and therefore strengthen our compassion for other members of our global society. There is plenty of evidence of this at work—there are a lot of people involved in global humanitarian work and social justice activism, motivated by compassion for those physically distant from them, people they will often likely never meet.

But this does not seem to be the dominant social trend. Instead, the current manner in which society is globally integrating seems to be promoting social dynamics characterized by a lack of compassion, such as the exploitation of workers in sweatshops and xenophobia towards migrants. Even many people who don’t actively support such injustices react with indifference, pleading compassion fatigue.

Order of Interbeing

Behavior & Mental Health Difficulties

The Care Taking Council (CTC) of the North American Dharma Teachers Sangha adopted a statement on behavioral and mental health difficulties in sanghas. It was initially posted here in August 2016 but wasn’t easily discoverable. Therefore, we are reposting that document in hopes that it will better serve the community.

Mindful Approaches to Behavior & Mental Health Difficulties In Plum Village Sangha Practice (PDF) from the Mental Health and Well-Being Practices Committee.


Teacher Student Relationships

This article came across my email recently and I think it deserves a deeper dive. Although in our tradition we don’t have student-teacher relationships like what you might see in other traditions. Nonetheless, we definitely do mentoring and a dharma teacher is always involved for new aspirants. Even as we progress on the path, we may have a spiritual friend that we turn toward for guidance and support.

Andy Goldsworthy image
Andy Goldsworthy

I have been under a guidance of a Zen teacher for over 10 years. However, when I began to experience challenges in the process of meditation, I was misguided or misunderstood. In the end I felt more confused and discouraged. Please respond to this letter if you can, because your advice could help to shed a light on some aspects I cannot see. 

The question is posed by a student to Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel who has studied and practiced the Buddhadharma for 35 years under the guidance of her teacher and husband Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.

Read the article.

Dharma Teacher Lyn Fine poses a few follow up questions to consider. What resonates with your experience and thinking? What’s missing that you might want to add? What’s relevant/less relevant to the Plum Village form of practice? 

Feel free to respond below in the comments or respond to the OI email list (where this is also posted). And perhaps this could lead to a webinar or a sharing group on these topics.

Engaged Practice

Engaged Buddhism and Businesspeople

A History

Back in early 2013, a random encounter brought two strangers together that led to the Technology Leaders’ Circle Event with Thich Nhat Hanh and a small group of Silicon Valley CEOs on October 25, 2013. That event took place at the home of Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. 

Circle of CEOs at Dreamforce
Small group sharing with business CEOs.

Then in the fall of 2015, the Plum Village monastics participated in the annual Salesforce user conference known as Dreamforce. That year we were placed in the main (outdoor) thoroughfare of the conference where we offered individual consultations and a series of workshops on mindfulness and meditation. The intention was to bring the ethical dimension of mindfulness to the corporate world. The Plum Village community has participated annually since then and just completed our fifth conference on November 22, 2019. 

Our Purpose

The Plum Village monastics recently wrote about our participation in this conference. “It is our aspiration to help people touch insight and transform their suffering right where they are, ideally transforming their workplaces and companies as they do so. Suffering and wrong views are abundant in Silicon Valley, and we are committed to continuing to offer the True Dharma there. To seed collective awakening, we need to be everywhere in the world. We see how important it is to bring our spiritual voice to tech companies, which have a disproportionate influence on the direction of our civilization and the planet. When we share the Dharma, we share the complete teaching, with a clear ethical dimension. We have been actively challenging the companies where we offer the Dharma, and encourage them to re-examine their business ethics. We are confident that the authentic practice is transforming people in profound ways. We’re practicing as a community and we trust in the collective fourfold Sangha Eye and the Mindfulness Trainings as a compass to guide us as we tread this fine line, being vigilant and open-minded (not  careless nor dogmatic) about where and when to offer the Dharma.”

Teaching the dharma.
Teaching the Dharma in the Dreamforce meditation hall.

Dreamforce 2019

Through the years, we have offered feedback to Mr. Benioff and his team about how best to offer the dharma during this large (170k people) conference. As a result, in 2019 we were offered a larger and more dedicated space. We were situated near the exhibit hall and Salesforce bookstore where the vast majority of conference goers pass. The space included two dedicated meditation halls and three huts (smaller spaces) for small-group consultations and meditations. The images surrounding us were mindfully created and living plants were present all around. It felt very much like Plum Village, down to the mats and cushions, the bell, and monastics in brown. Throughout the convention center there were signs and directions to “Plum Village” and we were mentioned numerous times by both keynotes and fireside conversations (including a conversation between President Obama and Marc Benioff). Plum Village was in high demand and our dharma sessions were mostly full. 

The deepest part of the offerings was likely the individual and small-group consultations. During these periods, conference attendees were offered a short guided meditation followed by an introduction to our practice. In the program, these were called 20-minute Power-up. Then we could listen to the suffering and joys of those attending. Our team of 25 monastics (from Deer Park, Magnolia, Blue Cliff, and Plum Village) and one lay dharma teacher (that’s me!) were kept busy meeting with people and offering panels on the various aspects of our practice. 

Sr. Peace introduces walking meditation.
Sr. Peace introduces walking meditation.

In addition to the Power-Up sessions, we offered Guided Tea Meditation, Embodied Mindfulness, Mindfulness & Communication, A Mindful Look at Leadership, Total Relaxation, Eating Meditation, Walking Meditation, Innovative Decision Making Through Mindful Collective Insight, Compassionate Communication, Zen Deep Dive: 90-minute Immersive Mindfulness, Radical Mindfulness for Challenging Times, a film screening of “A Cloud Never Dies” and “Happy Teachers Change the World,” and a final dharma talk with Sister Lang Nghiem and Thay Phap Luu. Many of these sessions were offered several times throughout the four-day conference. Additional sessions were offered at the Executive Summit (a conference within a conference). All of these sessions were offered in a non-sectarian manner and each felt like any dharma talk you would hear at one of our monasteries. 

It was a lot! And this was just the four days in San Francisco, not counting the months of planning and preparation to pull this event off. The True Dharma was shared with thousands of people, mostly customers of Salesforce from around the world – from large corporations to small nonprofits and educators. One of the beautiful aspects of this experience is that we did touch a handful of people more deeply. In particular, the Salesforce employees who were with us almost 24/7, the production team, the audio technicians who sat through every session, and the ambassadors who welcomed people to each session. I heard from several who were very moved by the experience and how they felt blessed to be a part of our team for the week. 

Plum Village sign at Dreamforce.

Transformation and Healing

Even though we were only able to touch a very small number of people, there was likely thousands more that may have only heard of our community in passing. It could be that attendees will followup on their own by looking for a local sangha or may have the capacity to attend a full retreat. Regardless of the number, many were touched and perhaps have begun on the path of transformation. 

Cedar Grove Relaxation Room.

A few take-away quotes from those of us offering the dharma:

“We’re moving within the wave of Thay’s virtue. Marc is also Thay’s continuation.”

Br. Phap Luu

“As a monastic, I was able to offer more, because the conditions were more supportive.”

Sr. Le Nghiem

“It’s very satisfying to feel that the energy we put in was not wasted… people were helped, touched transformation.”

Br. Phap Linh

“We offer our Dharma with all our love, and we continue Thay’s wish to offer the practice to Businesspeople.”

Sr. Hoa Nghiem

“Thank you for inviting me. I super enjoyed the event. I really liked the Power Ups because we can be very close to the people. I led the total relaxation. It was wonderful.”

Thay Kai Li
Floating Cloud Meditation Hall.

All Retreats Calendar

As a member of the Order of Interbeing, we are asked to participate in 60-days of mindfulness each year. Even though this is only about one day per week, it remains a tall order for many. One method to fulfill this requirement is to join a retreat. In the Plum Village tradition, there are dozens of retreats to select from each year throughout the world. To assist with this, a calendar has been created listing all the retreats around the world offered by the monastics in the Plum Village tradition.

You also have the option to add this calendar directly to your own system by using this iCal link. If you notice something missing from the calendar, please complete this form to let Kenley know.

Engaged Practice

Engaged Parenting as Spiritual Practice

by Leslie J. Davis
This essay was originally published on Lion’s Roar at

When I first learned about Buddhist practice, I immediately saw its parallels with parenting. The two practices share the same basic tenets for living an ethical life. We are asked to transform suffering. We practice non-violence, loving speech, and deep listening. We vow to do no harm, protect our children from sexual misconduct, and practice mindful consumption. As a Buddhist practitioner, I was attempting to live by this code of ethics, but I wanted to go deeper. My role as a mother seemed the perfect place to begin.

At the time, my two teenagers were just a toddler and an infant. I sat in meditation when I could, but it wasn’t often. After my first retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I was inspired to make mindful parenting my daily practice. I tried to remember to breathe as I changed diapers, picked up Legos, and stirred the oatmeal. I mindfully cleared tables of paints and Play-Doh, trying not to complain about the mess. I aimed to view my tidying up as providing a clean canvas for my son’s next creation. It was difficult at first. Following my breath helped me reframe my complaints into gratitude. I could smile at the gift and privilege of having a healthy, creative, and messy toddler.

But it was exhausting to be mindful all the time. I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I experimented in short blocks of time. I would set a timer and bring as much presence to the present moment as I could for just 15 minutes. And then I would stop. That was all I could handle. I gave myself a lot of leeway and permission not to practice mindfulness perfectly. It’s a practice after all, and I had to keep practicing, embracing my imperfections as I stumbled along.

I started learning about what my Buddhist teacher, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, called Engaged Buddhism. Referencing the Vietnam war and his tradition of socially engaged Buddhism, Nhat Hanh said, “Engaged Buddhism is just Buddhism. When bombs begin to fall on people, you cannot stay in the meditation hall all of the time.”

I’ve found the same to be true with parenting — you cannot stay in a meditation hall and be a parent. You have to be in the trenches with the present moment.

For years, I thought I wasn’t practicing “Engaged Buddhism” because I wasn’t as politically, socially or environmentally active as I wanted to be. Being a mother of two children, one with special needs, took most of my energy. I had a nagging and harsh judgment of myself that I wasn’t doing enough. But, eventually, I realized that day in and day out my children demanded that I show up for them and be in the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Engaged Buddhism is the kind of Buddhism that is present in every moment of our daily life. While you brush your teeth, Buddhism should be there. While you drive your car, Buddhism should be there. While you are walking in the supermarket, Buddhism should be there.”

Buddhism was there as I helped my kids brush their teeth. As I drove the carpool, grocery shopped, tied shoes, and wiped noses. As a mother, every moment is an opportunity to practice. Parenting was my spiritual practice, and parenting was indeed a form of Engaged Buddhism.

Thich Nhat Hanh also says that to be an Engaged Buddhist is to be connected to your breath and being present in every moment of daily life. For parents, the word “every” is a tall order. I don’t try to be present in every moment. I try to simply be as present as possible for as many moments as possible. Practicing this way, I am more connected to myself and my children. I experience more joy. When I forget to bring mindful attention to individual actions, entire days slip by in a blur. When that happens, I find myself harboring regret and guilt. When Buddhism is there, I suffer less.

Meditation has deepened my ability to accept what is actually occurring with my family instead of focusing on what I would prefer to occur. When children are young the quality of the moment can change in flavor and intensity quite rapidly. When anger flared and food was thrown, yelling inevitably happened. I used my breath to anchor myself and tried to calm everyone down. It didn’t always work, that’s for sure, but with practice, the kids were soon reminding everyone to take a deep breath.

“Buddhism has to do with your daily life, with your suffering and with the suffering of the people around you. You have to learn how to help a wounded child while still practicing mindful breathing. You should not allow yourself to get lost in action. Action should be meditation at the same time,” says Thich Nhat Hanh.

Children and teens suffer, and their suffering is very real. They need our action and support as they navigate their own difficult experiences. As a mom, I have the opportunity to see my actions as meditations every day. If I stay connected to my breathing and respond mindfully to homework stress, and struggles with a disability, then my actions are a beautiful meditation.

“As a mindfulness practitioner, we have to be aware of what is going on in our body, our feelings, our emotions, and our environment. That is Engaged Buddhism. Engaged Buddhism is the kind of Buddhism that responds to what is happening in the here and the now,” says Thich Nhat Hanh.

This awareness of the body is so important for parents. Are we sleep deprived? Are we in physical pain? Are we sad or lonely? What is happening right now in our environment whether we’re at work or in the grocery store? Tuning in to these conditions allows us to respond more mindfully to our ourselves and our children.

When I sit and meditate on my cushion, I can bring the quality of my meditation into my daily life. The very essence of the sitting experience — awareness, presence, calmness — carries over into my mothering. It is at the root of how I treat myself, my spouse and our children. When I practice Engaged Parenting, I experience it as a deep spiritual practice that brings me joy and transforms my suffering.

As parents, we may not think we are doing enough, but mindful parenting is enough. “The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment,” says Thich Nhat Hanh. As we care for our children in the present moment, we care for the future. That is Engaged Buddhism.

About Leslie J. Davis
Leslie J. Davis (True Auspicious Dwelling) is a writer who practices meditation and mindfulness in the Plum Village Tradition of Thích Nhất Hạnh. She lives in Ojai, California, with her husband and two teenagers. Leslie is the founder of — a community for mindful mothers.