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.

The problem is not just that people are geographically distant from us. The problem is that, even as there has been a compression of physical distance in practical terms, there has not necessarily been an accompanying compression of social distance—people’s life experiences remain very different, differences compounded by social inequalities in the resources and power that different social groups have access to. Such social distances can remain very great, even when geographical distances shrink. A historical example of this is slavery in the pre-Civil War US South, where slave-owners often had daily face-to-face contact with their slaves. This lack of physical distance did nothing to foster a closure of social distance and heightened empathy by the masters for their slaves. Such relationships were still marked by racism, exploitation, and violence. A contemporary example could be found in many offices, where the social distance between high-level executives and low-level clerical and secretarial workers is great. The distance may be masked by the use of friendly language, but that does not mean there aren’t high levels of exploitation and little real understanding by wealthy executives of low-paid workers’ lives and the challenges they face on a daily basis trying to make ends meet. If real empathy were present, the executives would most likely pay their subordinates better. The social distance between the CEO of a major apparel firm and the sweatshop workers laboring to make the actual apparel is even greater, given the physical distances, the lack of face-to-face interaction, and the fact that most apparel production is outsourced, so the sweatshop workers don’t even technically work for the company for whom they are producing goods, but an intermediary firm. On the flip side, geographical distance doesn’t necessarily result in social distance—members of the upper class around the world often identify with each other and see each other as part of a common community. This is reinforced by the fact that members of the upper class in developing countries often go to college in the US or Western Europe, leaving them more in common culturally and life experience with members of the first-world political-economic elite than the poor in their own countries.

Compassion fatigue is not bred by social distance alone though. Another real element for many people is a sense of powerlessness, that there is nothing the can do to address the problems of distant others they learn about through the news. When one feels powerless in the face of such suffering, in many ways, it makes sense to emotionally withdraw and focus on problems where one thinks one can make a difference. And people are not wholly wrong to feel powerless—while there is often more we can do than we think we can, doing such things are rarely easy, involving an uphill battle against the powers-that-be, involving a long process of movement-building and social struggle. Such people may still act with compassion, but just towards those in their immediate circle of family or friends or community, where they can see themselves making an immediate, concrete difference.

In more Buddhist terms, greater social and cultural distance makes it harder to cultivate an understanding of others and thereby generate compassion and generosity towards them. The growth of telecommunications technology and the ease of traveling to geographically distant places—time-space compression—may make it easier to learn about others in the abstract, but without similar reductions in the social distance between people, it is not necessarily any easier to cultivate understanding and compassion for those others. The organization of our global society undermines our ability to cultivate the Buddhist virtues of compassion and insight in regard to those who are different than us.

Being in a position of power is often extremely isolating, cutting off those in such positions from real knowledge about the lives of others. We often imagine it is the opposite, as do those in positions in power. If you are at the head of a large corporate, government or even non-profit bureaucracy, the bureaucracy is supposed to pass knowledge upward, so that the person at the top has a big picture view. But one of the privileges of being in a position of social power is that someone in that position doesn’t have to listen to anything that doesn’t suit them if it’s said by someone sufficiently far below them. Even if such a person is interested in listening to dissident views from below, they may never hear them because those below them fear to express the truth out of worry about negative consequences. People in lower level positions frequently don’t pass on information they think will upset their superiors, in order to protect themselves from being disciplined or fired. And, even if they do get their information, those in positions of power can simply overlook anything that doesn’t fit with what they want to believe. We all do this to some extent—psychologists refer to as confirmation bias—but those in power have a greater ability to do this, because it is harder for those whose experiences are being ignored to make those in power pay attention to them.

Take the example of exploited workers in a sweatshop factory mentioned briefly above. The workers have little way to directly enter into dialogue with those who hold power and make the major decisions—the top level executives, board members, and major investors of the companies that outsource to their factory. Indeed, one of the driving reasons behind outsourcing is not just cost-cutting, but avoiding having to deal with organized labor and more generally avoiding responsibility for the conditions in factories. The owners of the factories are under tremendous pressure to keep costs down if they want to maintain their contracts with the major, global firms. They often have little choice but to run sweatshops if they want to stay in business. The fact that they need to exploit their workers if they want to continue to operate means they are likely to come up with rationalizations to justify that exploitation to themselves and to feel little empathy.

Real social knowledge—a real understanding of those whose lives are different than ours—has to include some element of dialogue. We can try our best to imagine what it might be like to live through experiences profoundly different than out own, the result of a profoundly a different social background. Thay does this in his poem “Please Call Me by My True Names,” when he attempts to put himself in the position both oppressed people, like a girl raped by a pirate and a political prisoner in a concentration camp, and their oppressors, the pirate and the Politbureau member responsible for the concentration camp. We should all carry out such exercises on a regular basis—but we are likely to develop more insight if we can directly read or hear the words of the people whose lives we are imagining; and even more so if we can engage in a meaningful dialogue with them. Ideally, it would involve sitting down face-to-face on equal terms to engage in a deep discussion with each other. If that is not possible (and most of the time for most of us, it’s not possible), then at the very least we should be able to read or watch detailed accounts of others’ lives, including first-person testimony. Good documentaries, journalism, and social scientific studies can all do this. One of the problems is that inequalities in power usually mean that those in power don’t have to listen to others on equal terms, since they typically control the terms of the conversation. Generally, such dialogue on something approaching equal footing where the oppressed are free to speak their minds happens only after protracted social conflict, where the oppressed have built up their power through protests, boycotts, strikes, nonviolent direct action, and the like. In business-labor relations, collective bargaining between management and labor is supposed to foster a dynamic of equality, where workers can not only speak their minds freely, but work to advance their own well-being—but this is generally only possible if the labor union has built up a significant degree of power, through organizing workers and at least potentially having the ability to pressure management through tactics such as a strike. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” speaks of similar circumstances—of how civil rights activists’ attempts to engage in dialogue with business leaders in Birmingham to convince them to desegregate their businesses initially came to naught. The business leaders, many of whom were committed white supremacists, would promise to desegregate their business, then violate those promises. King says that it is only when civil rights activists’ protests had brought the city to a standstill, so that the businesses could no longer function, did business leaders actually take real steps towards desegregation. Without some degree of equality in power, there can’t be real dialogue and those in power will remain (sometimes willfully) ignorant of others’ lives.

A complicating factor in all this is that those in power often have less understanding of the social system they are part of and of other people in it than the oppressed. As a matter of getting by and sometimes even survival, members of oppressed groups must know what those in power think, especially what they expect of their subordinates, or risk retaliation. In the US in this day and age, this generally simply means being fired and losing one’s livelihood. In other times and places, it could mean losing one’s very life—a black in the pre-civil rights US South who was seen by whites as not being properly differential could well be lynched. In many parts of the developing world, the wealthy still have a feudal mentality and control the courts to the point that they can literally get away with murder. Those in power, on the other hand, rarely have any deep understanding of those beneath them. Their very power allows them to project their own beliefs onto their subordinates, letting them see the world and other people as they would like them to be, not as they are. When a rebellion breaks out—when people protest, when workers strike, etc.—those in power are often shocked that those beneath them are not content with their lot and by the idea that anything they do might be considered unjust.

These dynamics of social distance and inequalities in power often get further entangled in the creation of in-groups and out-groups—social groups we define as consisting of people like us (in-groups) or not like us (out-groups)—and the stereotyping of members of the out-group. The powerful often define the less powerful and more socially distant as part of an out-group, then stereotype members of the out-group in some way that justifies their oppression, exploitation, or marginalization. For instance, the powerful have often infantilized the less powerful, stereotyping them as childlike and therefore needing to be dominated for their own good—colonizers stereotyped historically colonized people as unable to govern themselves and these stereotypes are still often applied to people in underdeveloped countries, providing a rational for neo-colonial covert and military interventions. The powerful also sometimes objectify the less powerful, treating them in a way that ignores their ability to feel and suffer—for instance the way men often sexually objectify women, which leads to the rationalizations of crimes like human trafficking and forced prostitution, both major global problems. Finally, members of an out-group may be outright demonized, stereotyped as irredeemably evil. This is often done to one’s enemies in war, but also to socially vulnerable groups that the powerful scapegoat for societies problems, as the Nazis did with Jews and right-wing populists do today with immigrants and Muslims. Contrary to much popular supposition, encountering members of an out-group face-to-face does not always lead to people to stereotype less. Indeed, it may reinforce people’s stereotypes of the out-group, as confirmation bias leads them to see what they expect to see and have their views more deeply ingrained.

All these problems are exacerbated by the nature of the mass media and social media, both of which are primarily corporate owned and therefore oriented towards turning a profit, not bettering our mutual understanding of and compassion for each other. These tools could be used to lessen cultural distances by helping us better understand others, but that’s not typically the way they are used. Some of the problems are relatively obvious, as when journalists or social media users use blatant stereotypes or engage in sensationalist reporting or make unfounded claims. But the problems can be subtler, such as when well-meaning journalists depict people suffering from famine or war as passive victims, incapable of exercising their own agency, and needing outsiders to come in and save them. Such depictions evoke not compassion, but pity, what Tibetan Buddhists call the near-enemy of compassion—we feel bad for people, but see them as distant and other than us. It can also be a problem when journalists address social problems entirely in terms of individuals and their choices, rather than looking at systemic problems—and therefore raising the need for systemic solutions. The coverage of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism usually doesn’t cover the very real reasons people have to resent US imperialism, instead relying on stereotypes of freedom-hating terrorists, which often unintentionally (or intentionally) feeds into Islamophobia. Then there are things journalists prioritize covering—bad news and world leaders, not innovative projects for social change being carried out at the grassroots.

We as Buddhist practitioners can try to overcome social distance and compassion fatigue in part through mindful spiritual practices, which helps us cultivate compassion and focus on where we can help. But part of the answer is also political consciousness-raising—we need to systemically analyze the roots of social problems and how social justice movements can help address them. We need to look at how to lessen the inequalities in power and social distance, to counter the way we turn others into out-groups and stereotype them by challenging how pervasive such identity constructions and stereotyping are in our culture, such as the media, etc. Mostly, it’s our engaged practice out in the world where things will matter most. Changes in consciousness are a starting point, but the end point needs to be social change—cultural and structural change, systemic change—which change in consciousness does not guarantee. Often changes in consciousness will follow from changes in the social system, rather than the other way around. This is not so different from how our personal practice often works—we try to follow the mindfulness trainings because acting in accord with them helps cultivate mindfulness, insight and compassion in us. Changing how society is organized so people are pushed to act in new ways will gradually lead to transformations of consciousness as well, including among those who are initially less sympathetic to the movements we support.

Matt Williams
Truly Holding Peace
Lakeside Buddha Sangha, Chicago IL

Engaged Buddhism and Businesspeople

Plum Village Sign

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.

Engaged Parenting as Spiritual Practice

by Leslie J. Davis
This essay was originally published on Lion’s Roar at https://www.lionsroar.com/engaged-parenting-as-spiritual-practice/

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 DharmaMamas.com — a community for mindful mothers. lesliejdavis.com

A Preferential Option for the Poor and Oppressed in Buddhism?

In the Plum Village tradition, we all embrace the idea of engaged Buddhism as central to our practice. However, we have very diverse ideas about what constitutes skillful means in practicing engaged Buddhism. I have met people who think that simply by practicing loving-kindness meditation for all beings they are helping to make the world a better place. Others are involved in the helping professions, charitable work, efforts to promote dialogue and reconciliation, or social justice protest and other forms of activism. These various things are, of course, not mutually exclusive, but it is also certainly the case that we do not all see eye to eye on what we ought to be doing. And yet we relatively rarely seem to have conversations about which of these activities are really skillful means. I’m contributing this column as my part of my thoughts on this matter. I don’t imagine everyone will agree with it—and I think it is important that the sangha remain a place of refuge, where people with very different ideas about the most skillful means are all feel included.

In Roman Catholic liberation theology, there is a concept known as the “preferential option for the poor.” The core of this idea is that, in the social conflicts in our society, it is the duty of a virtuous Christian to support the movements of the poor in the struggle to create a society based on social and economic justice. So, a good Christian would support people fighting for democracy against a repressive military regime; slum dwellers fighting for basic services such as running water, electricity, trash pickup, and schools in their neighborhoods; or workers struggling to unionize—even in the face of active opposition from those in power, whether military leaders, business-owners, or the wealthy who don’t want to see resources go those in most desperate need of them. (I should also add that I am by no means an expert on liberation theology or Roman Catholicism more broadly—I’ve principally read up on this one aspect of liberation theology.)

Practicing with Societal Barriers to Observing the Mindfulness Trainings

Thay has compared the mindfulness trainings to the North Star—we can use them to guide us, but, just as we will never reach the North Star, we will never fully live up the mindfulness trainings, for the simple reason that we are imperfect beings. But, beyond our own imperfections, there are other reasons we cannot live up the mindfulness trainings, ones related more to society’s failings than our own individual ones.

The second of the Five Mindfulness Trainings begins, “Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting.” This is clearly an effort to update the ancient precept against stealing to encompass contemporary concerns about the exploitation of others and other social injustices in today’s global society. But there is a disconnect here, at least in how the mindfulness training is phrased, though doubtless not in the intentions behind it. When we approach the mindfulness trainings, whether the five foundational ones or the fourteen of the Order of Interbeing, we usually do so in the context of reflecting on our own actions and whether they have been consistent with our best intentions as embodied in the mindfulness trainings. This is unquestionably an important part of our practice. The second mindfulness training asks us to reflect upon our actions not only to make sure we’re not hurting others, but to look for opportunities to be generous—to actively help others, whether with our time, money, or other resources.

Continue reading “Practicing with Societal Barriers to Observing the Mindfulness Trainings”

Loving Response to the Rohingya Refugee Crisis

COORDINATED BY THICH NHAT HANH/NORTH AMERICA SANGHA

Dear Friends:

As many of you may know, since 2012 Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh has been consistent in his defense of the well-being of the Rohingya people, who are Muslim, against discrimination and violence in an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, Myanmar.

Rohingya Refugees
Bernat Armangue/AP Photo

Since last fall, over 647,000 impoverished Rohingya refugees …. that’s correct, over 647,000 in the course of only a few months…. have fled across the border into one of the most poor regions of neighboring Bangladesh, historically a country in great need itself.

Many practitioners in the Plum Village tradition have responded to this tragedy by addressing needs related to the health and well-being of the Rohingya people.  For example, members of Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston have been in regular contact with the Rohingya community in nearby Chicago.  Its leaders have returned from visits to the refugee camps as recently as last December.  They have consistently reported that Doctors without Borders, also known as Medicines Sans Frontieres, is the most visible on-the-ground presence helping the refugee camps.  Over 146,000 refugees were treated by Doctors without Borders in late 2017, suffering from infant malnourishment, respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, and diphtheria, primarily among children.  A great deal of emphasis has been placed on attempting to prevent the outbreak of disease, especially cholera. Our contacts returning from Bangladesh did not see much evidence of help from the Bangladeshi government, which is understandable when its limited resources are taken into account. Continue reading “Loving Response to the Rohingya Refugee Crisis”

Reading the News Mindfully

I will start with a confession: I am a news junkie, but one who, despite that, tries to read the news mindfully, though admittedly there is something of a contradiction in this. Thay has on a number of occasions encouraged us to read the news no more than once a week, warning that reading it more often can water such unwholesome mental formations as anger and despair. In my own experience, he is not wrong about the ways in which regularly reading the news can weigh down one’s spirit, fostering not only anger or despair, but also a certain degree of jadedness to the suffering one reads about. But, given that I teach and do research in the fields of sociology and global studies, I actually need to read the news nearly daily to remain properly informed about developments in areas I study and to teach my classes well. But, even given that, I read the news more than I need, sometimes checking my favorites news sites several times a day, as a way of taking a “break” from whatever I am working on. I do so partly out of unhealthy habit energy, but partly also out of a genuine interest in learning more about the lives of others across the world–out of wanting to deepen my understanding and thereby my compassion for the people I read about. Continue reading “Reading the News Mindfully”

Urgent Response to Rohinghya Suffering

Dear Friends,

In an effort to mitigate the suffering of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar into nearby Bangladesh, we are writing to enlist your help in our capacity as the Care-Taking Council of the Dharma Teachers ordained by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh residing in North America.

Since 2012, Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh and our Council has been writing to lay and monastic leaders of Myanmar, asking them to look deeply in order to see and understand the basic humanity and rights of the Rohingya ethnic minority living in western Myanmar, who practice a form of Islam.

We and other Buddhist leaders wrote to the government of Myanmar in February of this year as well to ask that its military cease military operations against Rohingya refugees causing them to flee Myanmar into impoverished Bangladesh.

As you have probably learned from newspaper sources, notwithstanding its receipt of many such letters appealing for peace, Myanmar military operations increased sharply this summer, causing an estimated 500,000 Rohingya refugees to flee into one of the most remote and poverty-stricken areas in Bangladesh within a period of approximately 30 days, sometimes at the rate of 20,000 people each day, only to hide in forested hillsides.

Is what has been happening consistent with the Buddha’s teachings? Continue reading “Urgent Response to Rohinghya Suffering”

On a National Resolution of Atonement

The following letter was written by Robb Kushner, an Order of Interbeing Aspirant. Robb has given permission to post and share this very instructive and thoughtful statement.

~ Kenley


Letter to Sen. Cory Booker – On a National Resolution of Atonement
Jersey City, NJ 07302

14 August 2017

The Honorable Cory Booker
359 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Booker:

The tragic events in Charlottesville this past week have caused me to revisit a powerful idea: a National Resolution of Atonement – and I want to share this with you in the hopes that you may want to bring it up in Congress.

It is time for our country to officially atone for the twin atrocities of centuries of unconscionable subjugation of Native Americans – including stealing their lands – along with the tragic enslavement with ensuing subjugation of African Americans.

The Germans have atoned for their perpetration of The Holocaust. We as a nation desperately need to face up to these tragic elements of our past.

In atoning for these twin atrocities that have been an integral part of our history, we can send a message to the world and to all future generations that we are indeed fully dedicated to the immortal declaration that “all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

We are truly a nation of immigrants, and this has always been our key strength and point of uniqueness. We need to celebrate the diversity across our land that makes us such a blessed country.

In addition, by adopting this kind of national atonement, we will send a clear and unequivocal message that racism and bigotry will never be tolerated – in any manner – in our national dialogue, including public displays and assemblies.

I trust that you will give this idea the kind of serious consideration it deserves. And I hope to hear your thoughts in response.

With deep gratitude for your dedicated service to our state and country,
Robb Kushner

With copies to:
Sen. Bob Menendez
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Kamala Harris
Sen. Al Franken
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Sen. Chuck Schumer
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Tammy Duckworth
Sen. Lisa Murkowski
Sen. Susan Collins
Sen. Claire McCaskill
Sen. Chris Van Hollen


In addition to the letter, the following practice statement from ARISE  (Awakening through Race, Intersectionality, and Social Equity) is very relevant to this topic.

GATHA FOR HEALING RACIAL, SYSTEMIC, AND SOCIAL INEQUITY: Aware of the suffering caused by racial, systemic, and social inequities, we commit ourselves, individually and as a community, to understanding the roots of these inequities, and to transforming this suffering into compassion, understanding and love in action. As a global community of practitioners, we are aware of the disproportionate racial violence and oppression committed by institutions and by individuals, whether consciously or unconsciously, against African Americans and people of color across the United States and beyond. We know that by looking deeply as individuals and as a community, we can engage the collective wisdom and energy of the Sangha to be our foundation for Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Mindfulness, and Right Insight. These are the practices leading to nondiscrimination, non-harming, and non-self which heal ourselves and the world.

Practicing Compassionate Political Speech Through Deep Looking

Because of its emotionally charged nature, it is difficult to engage in political speech in a mindful, compassionate way. I often ask myself, How do I remain compassionate when criticizing others? Can we criticize others without disparaging or demonizing them, especially when we speak of them perpetuating injustices and other forms of harm to others? On a number of occasions, in sangha and on retreats and days of mindfulness, I have talked with other practitioners about these difficulties. On the one hand, some have told me that they deal with these challenges by simply not speaking of such contentious topics at all. While this may be appropriate for some people at some points in their practice, if none of us speak to these issues–to say nothing of working actively around them–changes for the better will not occur. On the other hand, I have talked to some practitioners who I felt were seeking for a Buddhist rationalization for speech that is not just angry but laced with ill-will by, for instance, making a distinction between anger and outrage, with the former to be avoided but the latter to be embraced as a mindful, positive reaction. Continue reading “Practicing Compassionate Political Speech Through Deep Looking”