The Right Location for Socially Engaged Buddhism.
Social Enterprise in 1980’s New York
I am starting to blog with Elephant Journal in order to promote Socially Engaged Buddhism, a vow I have observed for decades.
When I moved my Zen community from up-scale Riverdale, New York to dilapidated Yonkers in 1982, I lost many of my students. With several of us committing to live simply together and work without salary, we were able to scrape a successful business into existence. Not only did we eventually create a livelihood for ourselves, but the Greyston Bakery also grew to provide jobs and training for scores of people off the streets.
As Socially Engaged Buddhists, meeting the unmet needs of those forgotten by society is our spiritual practice. Thus, the Zen Peacemakers, a family and lineage of Zen practitioners integrating meditation with social action and service, was born in Yonkers, New York.
In addition to expanding Greyston to include an AIDS housing and an HIV Health
Clinic , child care center, community gardens, and other services, the Zen Peacemakers started gathering every year at Auschwitz for Bearing Witness Retreats. Through our work at Auschwitz and peace work in the middle East, a global network of socially engaged spiritual practitioners emerged. As this network provided me with the opportunity to teach all over the world, members also started to voice the need for a home and central headquarters.
When the availability of a farm that once belonged to a 60’s commune of back-to-the-land social activists in Western Massachusetts came to our attention in 2002, we thought we could carry on some elements of the previous tenants’ legacy. We decided to make that our base for socially engaged Buddhism, incorporating multi-faith work, a training institute (named after my teacher, Maezumi Roshi), a zendo, and service projects. The vision for developing the Montague Farm was to make its beautiful 34-acre campus a motherhouse for the Zen Peacemakers.
After investing in construction, we opened the Main Hall in September 2005 and have operated successful programs since then.
Socially Engaged Buddhism
For example, Elephant Journal columnist Ari Pliskin first came to train as part of our residential seminary. Because of his commitment to share our engaged practice through blogging and social media, I hired him to promote our Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism. Last summer’ Symposium was the campus’ climax to five highly successful years of resident trainings, growing organic vegetables and sharing them with the neighboring low-income community, Zen teachings, and multi-faith offerings
Finding the right location
However, despite offering meaningful trainings, valuable services to our neighbors in need and hosting warm gatherings of Buddhists and others from around the world, we could not consistently and sustainably bring in enough revenue to cover the costs of maintaining our campus and facility. We did not want to shift our focus to becoming a fancy mindfulness resort for cozy upper-class weekend get-a-ways. So, after three months of careful consideration and discussion, the Board of the Zen Peacemakers decided to put the
organization’s Montague Farm campus in Western Massachusetts for sale and eventually move its operations to a smaller neighboring location. As we did while based in Yonkers during the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Zen Peacemakers can rent conference facilities for large events. We now feel that more modest leased facilities will better help Zen Peacemakers fulfill its mission to realize and actualize the oneness and interdependence of life through study, practice and action for personal and social transformation.
Stay tuned for further updates about my work, including my plans to do clowning work in refugee camps and promote Socially Engaged Buddhism in Europe. Please contact my assistant Ari with any questions you have for me about socially engaged spiritual practice or social enterprise and I will address them in this blog.