http://www.UrbanDharma.org ...Buddhism for Urban America


The Urban Dharma Newsletter... February 4, 2003


In This Issue:

1. No One Praying?
2. Laying the Foundation for Social Action
... by Ajahn Pasanno
3. eBook: Buddhsim and Social Change
... An eBook by Ken Jones
4. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week:
Be the Cause- Portal for Progress
5. Book Review: Love in Action: Writings on Nonviolent Social Change ...
by Thich Nhat Hanh


1. No One Praying?

A Christian missionary found a Chinese Buddhist priest chanting in a temple. When the Buddhist priest had finished, the missionary asked him: "To whom were you praying?"

"To no one," replied the Buddhist priest.

"Well, what were you praying for?" the missionary insisted.

"Nothing," said the Buddhist priest,

The missionary turned away, baffled.

As he was leaving the temple the Buddhist priest added: "And there was no one praying, you know!"

2. Laying the Foundation for Social Action ...by Ajahn Pasanno

* http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/Buddhism/pasanno.htm

Adapted from a talk given at Fort Bragg, CA, March 23, 1998. Originally published in Fearless Mountain, Spring, 1999, pp. 1, 4-5.

From a Buddhist perspective, anything to do with other people can be considered social action: how we relate to the individuals close to us such as family or neighbors, to society at large, and to the world around us. The field of social action expands out, but it begins with ourselves and our relationships to others. The individual is at the core of all relationships between any parts of society. We must always return to that core, to recognize that our own actions affect other people and the society around us. This is simply the basic law of karma-anything we do affects ourselves and others. It's not a matter of "me" and "society," as if they were separate. There isn't really any separation. The two are interrelated all the time.

What we bring to the society around us are simply our own qualities of mind, of heart, of being-our intentions and how they manifest in our actions. In order to understand our effects on society, we first have to understand ourselves, to see these qualities more clearly. The ability we have to help others, or to do anything to affect others, is dependent upon the clarity, intention, and integrity with which we live our lives. These things are inseparable. As such, the way we train ourselves is equally important to any actions we take outside ourselves.

In Buddhist practice, the training laid out for an individual begins with how one practices with others. This is sila, or virtue-not harming others, being honest in the way one deals with others, being trustworthy in one's actions and speech. The practice of keeping the precepts is already social action. The precepts remind us of the ways our actions affect others. Oftentimes, people may think, Let's get to the "real" stuff about Buddhism-the liberation, the enlightenment; keeping the precepts is just a social convention, just the basics. But this "basic" stuff has an effect. It is important. The Buddha recognized that our actions have effects for ourselves and for others.

While virtue concerns itself with actions and speech, the second aspect of the Buddhist training is meditation, or samadhi-a training of the mind and the heart, a clarifying of mindfulness, awareness, and composure. These are essential to cultivate. If we are going to take any social responsibility, it has to be done with an open heart and a clear mind. We must develop a standard for reflection. We can then start to ask, what are the effects of our words and actions? Sometimes people get enthused about social action and forget about the ordinary activities in life. How do I deal with my family? How do I deal with the people closest to me? Or even how do I answer the phone? What do I put into the universe when I am irritated or upset? These are very ordinary, everyday things, preparing the ground for how we relate to the world around us. Paying attention to these things is social action. Dealing with the circle of people around us is social action. It is not different.

From a Buddhist perspective, the next step is recognizing the quality of wisdom, or pañña. There are many different levels of wisdom, but seeing things as they truly are is its essence. With a reflective ability of the mind, we can begin to see things as they truly are and start to turn towards that. This is not simply gathering new bits of knowledge or being zapped with some sort of enlightened energy. It is a turning inward to be able to open to all the ways things truly are and allowing our lives to be guided by that wisdom. How does this affect myself? How does this affect others? What is the way to freedom and liberation? What is the way out of suffering and dissatisfaction for myself and for others? Wisdom is seeing the different ways we entangle ourselves in things and the different ways we can be free.

Virtue, meditation, and wisdom are the tools we use in training ourselves in how to relate to the world around us. This training will help us to see the qualities that bring true benefit to our society-the qualities of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. These are the Brahma viharas, or divine abodes. In a way, these can be considered a goal of social action: creating a way in which human beings should live. Loving kindness is the wish for another's happiness; compassion is the wish to alleviate another's suffering. Sympathetic joy is the happiness we feel in the success of another. And equanimity is the ability to stay centered in the midst of life's ups and downs.

The quality of sympathetic joy is an interesting one in terms of social action. Its opposite is jealousy or envy. In many ways, envy is the foundation for competition and conflict. If a society is based upon competitive accumulation-like some societies we know-it can create conflict and a lack of appreciation and willingness to enjoy each other. Having come to the United States after living in Thailand for twenty-three years, the sense of competition here is very striking. In Thailand, there is a wide stratification in terms of socio-economic level and opportunity within society, but there is not a lot of envy or competition. People are often motivated to improve their economic lot, but they don't resent those who already have wealth or privilege. Similarly, there is usually not a looking down on or shunning of those in economic difficulty or from a poor background. There is an acceptance that people have accumulated different tendencies and have different abilities.

This acceptance has imbued people's consciousness. It is a sense of karma playing a role in people's lives over many lifetimes, a feeling of "who knows?" This lifetime can change; in other lifetimes it might be different. Rebirth is an accepted part of how they perceive the world - it's a long view on life. This takes away the edge of selfishness and competitiveness and brings a sense of appreciation for each other as human beings, a joy in each other's happiness. By turning toward this quality of joy, we can draw on our wish to help others, to be of service.

Acceptance also brings the quality of equanimity, a non-reactive clarity that allows one to stay centered. Equanimity is not indifference. It is the ability to return to a place of stillness, to be non-reactive, and to weigh things carefully. This is an important quality especially when considering social action or social responsibility. Without equanimity, we can get drawn into our own reactiveness-our views and opinions. We can think that we're always right, that other people are just a bunch of idiots. It's easy to get turned around and out of balance. Not being drawn into the web of our views and opinions but being able to settle and reflect-to ask, what is the way of balance?-equanimity is essential in undertaking social action.

* * *

In the social action projects I have been involved in, the Buddhist perspective has taught me some important things. Take a particular project, like protecting the forests. The monastery in Thailand at which I was abbot was quite well-known, with a large community of monks, novices, lay men, and lay women practicing and training there. I thought it would provide a good balance to set up a more remote branch monastery. Our new location was right along the Mekong River. It was in one of the last forests in the province, and around that time, the area was made into a national park. But this was just a designation on the map, and it caused a lot of problems. The area was full of stumps. It was being logged, and many villagers had made their fields there.

The Buddhist perspective was very helpful. We couldn't simply say, "These are awful, nasty people. The planet would be a fine sort of place if they weren't doing this." The reality was that they are doing this and that they are people just like us. They are trying to look after their families and to get ahead in the world. In order to do anything to protect the forest, we had to find ways to include them. How do you involve the people who are cutting down the forest? How do you include the merchants who are paying them? How do you include the civil servants who are taking the bribes to allow the cutting?

The teachings told us that problems come from people not understanding how they are creating suffering for themselves and for others. Problems and suffering come from desires and attachments. You can't simply wish that away. You've got to work on the basic problems of bringing knowledge and education into their lives. Why were they cutting down the forest? Of course, they wanted to live comfortably, to look after their families. So, we had to find ways to provide for them. Otherwise, it would be like trying to build a wall to stop the tide from coming in. Good luck! It's going to find a way. Instead, you have to think clearly and find ways to address peoples' needs, to include them and bring them in. This takes time.

This understanding reflects our own personal spiritual practice. We'd all like to sit down, cross our legs, close our eyes, and become enlightened-just like that. Instead, we have to take the time to lay a foundation, to become patient and clear enough to develop the path in a comprehensive way. Just as the Buddha taught us the Four Noble Truths as the basis for our own practice-suffering, the causes of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path leading to the cessation of suffering-the same applies to social action. We've got suffering, we've got a problem. What are all the different causes of that problem? What kind of end can there be to that problem? If we haven't understood the problem, we won't be able to see the causes. And if we aren't really clear about the goal we are working towards, we won't really know what kinds of path to develop. It works in society the same way it works in our own practice. The more we reflect on and practice with those truths for ourselves, the more we are able to apply them in our life, in very ordinary situations, with our friends, with our family, at work, with different problems happening in the community. That is social action.

How can we work together to do this? With our project along the Mekong, we began by drawing in people affiliated with the monastery who were interested in helping. In a Buddhist society, the monastery is a foundation we could build on, a field for social action. Because the monastery is dependent on lay people to support it, there is a day-to-day connection with the neighboring society. It is a web of support and interaction, so that when there is a problem in the community, we can easily recognize who is interested in helping. At first there were a few volunteers. When there was too much work for volunteers to do, we hired some people. Again, the money for their salaries came from offerings to the monastery from people in the community.

The forest project continued to grow. We even drew in people like the police. They had power, especially when it came to controlling who was taking logs out. Rather than getting into a confrontation with them, we asked how we could work with them. That was very easy at the time because one of the supporters of the monastery was the Deputy Superintendent of Police. He was a great resource for drawing in other honest police officers, who then had a few words with even more police officers and got them on our side. This takes time, it takes patience, it takes clarity. If you work in a confrontational way, it's difficult to achieve this. By having a strong focus on one's personal practice and integrity, by becoming more clear, centered, and pure-hearted in one's intention for doing good, the more one starts to connect with other people. In terms of social action, this seems to be a magnet, drawing other good people. It gets its own momentum going. So far, the forest project is working.  And besides being successful in its own right, it has been adopted as a model for trial projects in other national parks in Thailand.

During one of the recent elections in Thailand, I saw a handwritten sign on the side of a building. It said something like, "The forces of corruption are given more power when good people retreat." The "system" gains more momentum when we decide we don't want to deal with it, that things are hopeless. With social action work, we have to be patient, discerning, equanimous. We have to be willing to try and to fail. We have to recognize that sometimes things will work and sometimes they won't. And that they always work out in ways we may never have conceived. This is the same as returning to the foundation of one's own practice: keeping the precepts; developing clarity, tranquillity, and peace of mind; establishing wisdom through reflective investigation; cultivating the qualities of kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. These form the foundation that allows us to move out into the realm of social action.

Ajahn Pasanno is co-abbot of Abhayagiri Monastery. Originally from Canada, he spent 23 years as a monk in Thailand and served as abbot of Wat Pah Nanachat for 15 years. This talk was first published in the Abhayagiri Newsletter in Spring 1999.

3. Buddhsim and Social Change ... An eBook by Ken Jones

[Starting with this issue, I am going to add an eBook as an attachment once or twice a month. An eBook is a cross-platform (both Mic & Mac) PDF file that will let you read and print the original fonts and graphics. It let's the author have more control over his/her work, and it makes large print files (20 or more pages) more manageable. As far as I know, every new computer ships with the 'Adobe Acrobat Reader.' The Adobe Acrobat reader is a free download from http://www.adobe.com, as is their free Adobe eBook Reader (more advanced than the Acrobat reader).]

* Find below a excerpt from the attached eBook; Buddhism and Social Change by Ken Jones.

1.1 Buddhism and the new global society

It is the manifest suffering and folly in the world that invokes humane and compassionate social action in its many different forms. For Buddhists this situation raises fundamental and controversial questions. And here, also, Buddhism has implications of some significance for Christians, humanists and other non-Buddhists.

By "social action" we mean the many different kinds of action intended to benefit mankind. These range from simple individual acts of charity, teaching and training, organized kinds of service, "Right Livelihood" in and outside the helping professions, and through various kinds of community development as well as to political activity in working for a better society.

Buddhism is a pragmatic teaching which starts from certain fundamental propositions about how we experience the world and how we act in it. It teaches that it is possible to transcend this sorrow-laden world of our experience and is concerned first and last with ways of achieving that transcendence. What finally leads to such transcendence is what we call Wisdom. The enormous literature of Buddhism is not a literature of revelation and authority. Instead, it uses ethics and meditation, philosophy and science, art and poetry to point a way to this Wisdom. Similarly, Buddhist writing on social action, unlike secular writings, makes finite proposals which must ultimately refer to this Wisdom, but which also are arguable in terms of our common experience.

In the East, Buddhism developed different schools of "traditions," serving the experiences of different cultures, ranging from Sri Lanka through Tibet and Mongolia to Japan. Buddhism may thus appear variously as sublime humanism, magical mysticism, poetic paradox and much else. These modes of expression, however, all converge upon the fundamental teaching, the "perennial Buddhism." This pamphlet is based upon the latter, drawing upon the different oriental traditions to present the teachings in an attempt to relate them to our modern industrial society.

From the evidence of the Buddha's discourses, or suttas in the Digha Nikaya, it is clear that early Buddhists were very much concerned with the creation of social conditions favorable to the individual cultivation of Buddhist values. An outstanding example of this, in later times, is the remarkable "welfare state" created by the Buddhist emperor, Asoka (B.C. 274-236).

Walpola Rahula stated the situation -- perhaps at its strongest -- when he wrote that "Buddhism arose in India as a spiritual force against social injustices, against degrading superstitious rites, ceremonies and sacrifices; it denounced the tyranny of the caste system and advocated the equality of all men; it emancipated woman and gave her complete spiritual freedom." (Rahula, 1978). The Buddhist scriptures do indicate the general direction of Buddhist social thinking, and to that extent they are suggestive for our own times.

Nevertheless it would be pedantic, and in some cases absurd, to apply directly to modern industrial society social prescriptions detailed to meet the needs of social order which flourished twenty-three centuries ago. The Buddhist householder of the Sigalovada Sutta experienced a different way of life from that of a computer consultant in Tokyo or an unemployed black youth in Liverpool. And the conditions which might favor their cultivation of the Middle Way must be secured by correspondingly different -- and more complex -- social, economic and political strategies.

It is thus essential to attempt to distinguish between perennial Buddhism on the one hand and, on the other, the specific social prescriptions attributed to the historical Buddha which related the basic, perennial teaching to the specific conditions of his day. We believe that it is unscholarly to transfer the scriptural social teaching uncritically and with careful qualification to modern societies, or to proclaim that the Buddha was a democrat and an internationalist. The modern terms "democracy" and "internationalism" did not exist in the sense in which we understand them in the emergent feudal society in which the Buddha lived. Buddhism is illserved in the long run by such special pleading. On the other hand, it is arguable that there are democratic and internationalist implications in the basic Buddhist teachings.

In the past two hundred years society in the West has undergone a more fundamental transformation than at any period since Neolithic times, whether in terms of technology or the world of ideas. And now in the East while this complex revolution is undercutting traditional Buddhism, it is also stimulating oriental Buddhism; and in the West it is creating problems and perceptions to which Buddhism seems particularly relevant. Throughout its history Buddhism has been successfully reinterpreted in accordance with different cultures, whilst at the same time preserving its inner truths. Thus has Buddhism spread and survived. The historic task of Buddhists in both East and West in the twenty-first century is to interpret perennial Buddhism in terms of the needs of industrial man and woman in the social conditions of their time, and to demonstrate its acute and urgent relevance to the ills of that society. To this great and difficult enterprise Buddhists will bring their traditional boldness and humility. For certainly this is no time for clinging to dogma and defensiveness.

4. Be the Cause... Portal for Progress

* http://www.bethecause.org/portal/

Contact Info

E-mail Addresses:

General: change@bethecause.org

Website: admin@bethecause.org

Networking: coalition@bethecause.org

Mailing Address:

Be The Cause

PO BOX 3575
Tustin, CA 92781

Telephone: 714-679-2983

The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve – Albert Schweitzer

The term Be The Cause means many different things to many different people. Our favorite definition was given to us by a volunteer during the first three months of operation: “Be The Cause is an empty space in which you can enter to be of service.”

Be The Cause properly defined is a movement dedicated to fostering progressive change.  We see our mission as three-fold:

Progress Together

To facilitate projects designed to create opportunities of collaboration among progressive organizations and individuals: With strength, in unison, and in numbers, we can create the change that we all wish to see in the world. We know that what we do is not about any one organization or any one individual. We know that we are all part of one big universal team, one big family. Through our collective efforts we will write the pages of a new history.

Inspire Change

To facilitate projects that build inspiration in the lives of the general masses: We believe that reaching out to the general public is a necessary aspect of re-creating a peaceful planet. It will take the few of us to lead the change for the rest of us. In the end we believe that Be The Cause will have a membership of 7 Billion volunteers.

In Service

To facilitate projects that are designed to assist with humanitarian efforts around the globe: Our global long term vision is to ensure that every being is entitled to food, water, shelter, clothing, education, and world peace.

Be The Cause is not just a network of progressive organizations and individuals. It is a network empowered. We will not just discuss ways to work together, we will work together. We will organize and partake in numerous projects, each with the goal of building inspiration in the lives of everyone we touch. Our long-term vision is to continue to support humanitarian projects around the world, to continue to build the network of progress, and to continue to build inspiration everywhere.

More on our vision

Like the many definitions of Be The Cause, there may also be many reasons why you choose to be involved. Some of you may understand the earlier quote by Albert Schweitzer and your involvement may come through your search for happiness. Some of you may understand that everything in the universe has been built on the principle of giving: the nature of the sun is to give, the nature of a flower is to give, the nature of us human beings, albeit forgotten, is to give.

Some of you may be here to be part of the change. Your recognition of the irrational behavior that the human species have displayed throughout time is what led your here. The quick degradation of our environment, our necessity to wage war on each other, our inability to provide for those not as fortunate… Being the intelligent beings that we are, we were probably sent here as the care-takers of this land. A quick overview of everything that exists will uncover that we are in fact the only species set out to destroy.

Irrespective of your own reasons of being here, you are already part of the change. Take a look at what you think needs to change, and work towards that end. Never give up, never give up hope, the planet depends on your dedication and faith. In the end, it will take our collective efforts to write the pages of a new history.

We welcome your assistance and suggestions on how to structure our organization to better facilitate the progressive change that we are all after.

5. Love in Action: Writings on Nonviolent Social Change ...by Thich Nhat Hanh

* http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0938077635/wwwkusalaorg-20

Amazon.com- Reviewer: Anne T. Hogan from Brooklyn, N.Y. United States... Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the planets greatest resources.He has given his life to teaching and the eradication of suffering[or perhaps the transformation of suffering]. I first encounterd Nhat hanh in a jewel of a book, THE RAFT IS NOT THE SHORE,a dialogue with Daniel Berrigan,S.J.[soon to be reprinted]Sine then, i have read as much of Thich hat hanh as I can.This book is a group of essays and statements to the press covering a period form early in the vietnam war{Nhat Hanh has been in exile since the mid 1960's] up to the gulf war. The opening is a play {a short one] that takes place in vietnam. The other essays [very well written] cover like minded subjects: Buddhism in Vietnam, on simplicity,refugees {boat people,specifically] and the title piece.Along with Maha Ghosananda, {called the Gandhi of cambodia, the patriarch of Cambodian buddhism] nhat hanh is a boddhitsatva, a living saint. we are graced by his presence,and his writings.

Amazon.com- Reviewer: E. Alexander Gerster from South Miami, Florida USA... This collection of writings by Thich Nhat Hanh spans over two decades of his reflections on nonviolence, peace, and reconciliation. The voice of a poet is mixed with the inner strength found in the works of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama. It is an important resource for anyone working for social change, or searching for strength from within.

Of Thich Nhat Hanh's more than sixty books, this one would be one of my picks of his "top ten," following closely behing PEACE IS EVERY STEP and BEING PEACE. Highly recommended.


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