This Month in Socially Engaged Buddhism
“A religious statue in a tsunami-devastated area in Natori city, along the coast.” Photo by Getty Images. Picked up from Danny Fisher.
Natural disaster. Conflict. Poverty. How do we respond?
To address these issues, Buddhists throughout the West are innovating new forms of practice, including the exploration of what it means to serve as chaplains and ministers; the organizing of outreach projects; and working to create centers that combine meditation with social service. In today’s post, I aim to provide a touch of my personal story in the context of my work with Bernie Glassman and the Zen Peacemakers and the development of Buddhism in the West. I’ll site a small handful of the 46 articles related to Socially Engaged Buddhism that I’ve culled from various sources over the last month. You can peruse these articles yourself at the Bearing Witness Blog or follow the blog through Facebook, Twitter or RSS in order to receive updates several times per week. Ari Setsudo Pliskin, Bearing Witness Blog Editor
His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Tradition & Modernity
Recent events related to His Holiness the Dalai Lama illustrate some of the tension between tradition and modernity. While he plays the role of a global religious figure and prays for Japanese Tsunami victims, Tibetans resist his attempt to remove himself from political leadership. Meanwhile, Tibetan monks travel through the U.S. (right) sharing Buddhist teachings about peace paired with cultural elements of dance, music and clothing. In transporting Buddhism to the West, what role should Asian culture and organizational structure play?
(Side note: I look forward to joining Bernie and His Holiness for the Newark Peace Education Summit in May. You may consider joining.)
What is the proper position for a leader in Socially Engaged Buddhism?
Another example of tension between old and new structures emerges with teachers closer to home form me. Bernie and Eve (technically Roshi Tetsugen and Roshi Myonen according to Zen lingo) cannot accept an invitation from their White Plum Asangha colleagues to attend a Soto Zen Buddhist Association meeting. How come? Bernie and Eve (as they prefer to be called) aren’t priests and the SZBA only recognizes priests as teachers. Bernie disrobed from being a priest in 1999 in order to affirm that lay practice is a legitimate path of Zen study. Affirming another path, next Sunday, Bernie will ordain the first Zen House Minister. Eve never ordained as a priest and focuses her energy on the development of a strong lay sangha, with lay leadership and lay-run rituals and liturgy
I’m so aaccustomed to lay teachers that the clerical debate from my perspective looks like it comes down to the fact that some teachers shave their heads and some don’t (see Bernie, before and after, left). Short of debating about the priesthood, among my friends in their 20’s, it is a tough sell to even call something “Buddhist”, even though they admire mindfulness meditation and physical based yoga ( I discuss this further in a recent podcast). While Zen teachers debate whether one needs to be a priest to be a teacher, the role of Buddhist chaplains is growing across the West. Last month, chaplains explored what it means to study chaplaincy at the University of the West, created a new website to connect chaplains in different locations and attended gatherings with chaplains from other traditions.
What is the institutional form for the future of Socially Engaged Buddhism?
Bernie created the Montague Farm Zen House, where I’ve been living, in order to combine Zen meditation with social service, taking the form of a free community meal. When the efforts required to finance the 34-acre home of the Zen House proved incompatible with Zen Peacemakers’ mission, we put the property up for sale. A Zen Peacemakers affiliate shares his experience at the last meal at this location.
While I was initially disillusioned by this change myself, I have since been ‘reillusioned’ by my own plans to continue living in a Dharma House dedicated to meditation and social service. I discuss these plans and other issues related to the future of Buddhism with two other young Buddhist leaders in a recent podcast (listen to the talk or read a summary). Hope you enjoy!
Many thanks to the Jizo Chronicles, the Interdependence Project, Tricycle and the many other Socially Engaged Buddhists out there who do the work and provide the content that make up the Bearing Witness Blog. A very special thanks to BW Blog Assistant Editor Rev. Travis Mujin Karuna, without whose help, the (nearly) daily frequency of this blog would not be possible and also to my partner and to my writing coach for their help with editing this message.