April 13, 2011

Natural disaster. Conflict. Poverty. How do we respond?

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.

Some stories form the Bearing Witness Blog

Yoga, meditation program helps city youths cope with stress

Source: Los Angeles Times

Once the domain of New Agers and suburban moms, yoga has become firmly planted in Baltimore’s inner city, and now researchers believe the ancient practice may help elementary school students cope with the stress of growing up in impoverished, violent neighborhoods.

Researchers and lay people alike think yoga may help adults reduce stress. The popularity of the practice has surged, and it’s used as therapy for cancer patients and battered women, and as a treatment for back pain and depressionREAD MORE

Buddhist Recovery Network plans conference on recovery from addiction

“Recovery from Addiction in a Buddhist Context” is the theme of a coming conference brought to us by the Buddhist Recovery Network, which “supports the use of Buddhist teachings, traditions and practices to help people recover from the suffering caused by addictive behaviors.”

Hosted by the Against the Stream Meditation Center, the conference will take place from May 19-22, in Los Angeles. Presenters will include Kevin Griffin, Darren Littlejohn, Noah Levine, Gregg Krech, Chönyi Taylor, Thérèse Jacobs-Stewart, Jeffrey McIntyre, Lauri Carlson, Pablo Das, Joseph Rogers, and Barbara West…READ MORE.

The 2011 Women in Engaged Buddhism Award

to Be Presented to Venerable Pannavati-Karuna at this Year’s Buddhist Women’s Conference in Chicago

On Saturday, March 26 the 2011 Women in Engaged Buddhism award will be presented at the annual Buddhist Women’s Conference in Chicago. This  year’s award will be presented to Venerable Pannavati-Karuna to support the work of My Place, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a positive youth development program for homeless and at-risk youth in North Carolina…READ MORE.

Dharma Ocean Delegation to Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism

A Vajrayana Approach to Social Action

Central to the view of the Vajrayana Maitri Project is the conviction that the Bodhisattva path remains one of the core pathways of Buddhist practice and fruition.  With this foundation, the Vajrayana Maitri Project intends to contribute to the larger evolution of a contemporary Bodhisattva life way that integrates traditional Vajrayana Buddhist principles and practices with practical wisdom and methods of enlightened social action….READ MORE

More from the March Round-up on Socially Engaged Buddhism:

Past Events

March 24-27, 2011, Dallas, TX Association of Professional Chaplains Conference

March 26, Chicago, Buddhist Women’s Conference

Upcoming Events

May 14, 2011, Richmond, CA, May 27, 2011, NYC, NY Seva Benefit Concerts

May 19-22, Los Angeles, Buddhist Recovery Network conference

May 19-22, Detroit Street Retreat

September 22-25, 2011, NYC, NY Street Retreat

Women in Socially Engaged Buddhism

Book: Out of the Shadows: Socially Engaged Buddhist Women

Talking women, Buddhism, and International Women’s Day

Buddhist Production, Feminist Effort, and the God of Work

The 2011 Women in Engaged Buddhism Award to Be Presented to Venerable Pannavati-Karuna at this Year’s Buddhist Women’s Conference in Chicago


More on Japan: Joanna Macy and Thich Nhat Hanh

Bodhisattva Action Alert: Ways to Help Japan

Buddhists Respond to the Crisis in Japan

Buddhist Compassion in Action

Tzu Chi Foundation response to the Massive quake in Japan

Chicago Buddhists Pray for Japan


Bernie Glassman :: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Today’s world of socially Engaged Buddhism.

Joan Halifax: Realizing Socially Engaged Buddhism

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