Category Archives: Engaged Practice

A Letter of Support

In light of hearing from so many who are struggling amid these times of political changes, I felt called to offer this letter, of which I hope will offer some support and benefit.

Dear friends along the path,

I know you suffer, and I am here for you.

I see that your anger and fear are rooted in a fierce compassion for others and out of a strong desire to do what you feel and know is right. As a mindfulness practitioner, the question is not whether or not to be angry, it’s about how we utilize our anger to influence our thoughts, speech, and actions. Is our anger motivating us to become more informed and involved with an open heart and sense of connection and compassion, or with an un-grounded, frantic sense of heaviness and despair? What seeds are we sowing in our wake?

Do you feel as though anger is not only an appropriate response but a necessary one, in order to affect change? I remember feeling this way when I was in my early 20’s. It took me a long while to reconcile my mindfulness practice with my deep-rooted feelings of anger, related to those I felt were responsible for both large and small acts of environmental degradation. Without anger, I queried, wouldn’t I then become complacent and ineffectual? Wasn’t anger a crucial motivator? As my foundation of mindfulness was being built and strengthened, I came to understand that the answer, to both questions, was: no.

There resides a middle path to follow. One that allows us to become involved with matters of injustice, human rights, and environmental advocacy work (just to name a few) while also choosing not to carry around and spread the heavy burden of anger everywhere we go. May our anger and upset start us on the path of active engagement with the world around us, and may we then learn how to transform that anger into mindfulness, concentration, and insight, so that our speech and actions will cause as little harm as possible as we move forward.

Anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, if we’re not careful and attentive, it can easily overtake and overwhelm our lives, causing us to become embittered, cynical, miserable, difficult to be around, and mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. If we allow our seeds of anger to be nurtured, we will create a very hostile and unpleasant atmosphere within and around us.

Feel your anger, dear friends, experience it as it arises, without judgement or suppression – I would not suggest otherwise. But don’t stop there. Investigate it. Become inquisitive. Understand your internal landscape, so that your actions that carry forth will be well informed. Do not allow your anger to go unchecked. Do not allow your seeds of love, ease, equanimity, inclusiveness, and interconnection to go un-watered. The well-being of our family, community, country, society, and the world depends on our ability to embody and practice the tools that mindfulness affords us, especially in the midst of change, challenge, struggle, adversity, and fear.

With Love and Support,

Nicole Dunn
True Wonderful Flower
Be Here Now Sangha
Missoula, Montana

The Creative Tension Between Fostering Dialogue and Social Justice

I teach sociology and global studies at the college level, which means that thorny social issues regularly come up in my classroom. As part of observing the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in the classroom, I try both to foster dialogue between students of different worldviews, encouraging them to understand and respect each other, and also to create a classroom that cultivates social justice, particularly in giving those who belong to oppressed and normally silenced groups room to speak. But in mindfully observing the dynamics of the classroom, I have realized that there is a tension between these two goals, making it difficult at times to achieve both. If, in the name of open dialogue, we give too much room to speak to those who normally dominate the public conversation on social issues, they can silence those who are oppressed and marginalized. Sometimes I have found it necessary to intervene in classroom conversations in a way that cuts off a certain line of argument in order to create a space for where students from oppressed groups feel safe expressing themselves. The trick is doing so in a way that doesn’t permanently shut down students with worldviews reflecting the dominant belief systems and the experiences of the dominant social groups.

One time a student was talking about the case of a female college student who had been raped and filed charges against her attacker through the school’s disciplinary system. Rather than her attacker being disciplined, she herself was punished by the college. Another, male student expressed disbelief and asked if this wasn’t a case of the woman filing false rape charges. I think the male student’s response was honestly rooted in disbelief that such an obvious injustice could take place; I did not get a dismissive, misogynistic vibe when he spoke, then or at other points in class. But this could too easily have degenerated into a conversation about how prevalent false rape claims are and the repetition of myths promoted by misogynistic, so-called “men’s rights” groups that most reports of rape are false. This in turn would have created a classroom atmosphere that was unpleasant for women, especially any who had experienced sexual assault, something that is all too common. So I rapidly intervened and noted that, while false rape reports did happen, they were very rare and that it was more common for women simply not to report sexual assault at all, redirecting the conversation.

Another time, we were discussing Trump’s election campaign and the attacks he had been making against groups like immigrants and Muslims and one white student said she felt like the media had misrepresented his positions and unfairly villainized him. An LGBT student demanded to know if she was dismissing the fears of people like him, as well as immigrant and Latino students. Again, I intervened, this time before the Trump sympathizer could say something unintentionally insensitive and explosive. I stressed that people from different social backgrounds with different life experiences would have much different perspectives on issues like this and that her experience as a white person meant she wouldn’t see something the same way a (for instance) Latino immigrant would.

In both cases, I acted to shut down a line of discussion, seeking to redirect the conversation elsewhere–doing so more instinctively than anything else, since the situation did not allow time for mindful reflection before speaking. In both cases, looking back, I think shutting down the line of discussion in question was the right thing to do, because allowing it to roll forward could have created a hostile classroom atmosphere where students belonging to oppressed and marginalized groups felt silenced. As it was, I appeared to have done so skillfully enough that the students who I was cutting off did not feel silenced either, since they continued to speak up in class. But these incidents drove home to me the fact that there can be tensions between fostering dialogue and social justice.

This is hardly a challenge limited to the classroom. In talking with other practitioners in the Plum Village tradition, I have noticed a real difference between those who emphasize a path to a better world through dialogue and those who advocate a path through nonviolent but more confrontational social justice activism. And it’s a tension in the larger world of social justice activism and peace-building. A Jewish friend of mind who is involved in peace activism in Israel and Palestine, including efforts to promote dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, has told me that many Palestinians have what she considers legitimate objections to engaging in dialogue at this historical juncture. While they do not oppose dialogue in principle, they oppose doing so now, while the Israeli occupation of Palestine is ongoing. They would, however, be interested in engaging in dialogue once the occupation is ended and some degree of equality has been achieved. But it’s difficult to have a meaningful dialogue when one party has their boot on the other’s neck, holding them down and silencing them. In his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. describes how civil rights activists had tried engaging in dialogue with the business leaders of Birmingham to end segregation in city businesses, but these dialogues continually failed because the business leaders were personally committed to segregation, fearful of the negative impact ending the practice would have on their businesses, and unwilling to engage in dialogue in good faith, making promises they would then renege on. King notes that Birmingham’s business leaders only began to engage in meaningful dialogue leading to social change once civil rights activists had begun engaging in more confrontational actions, such as boycotts and protests that shut the entire city down, turning public spaces into chaotic battle zones between nonviolent protesters and attacking police. According to my Jewish peace activist friend, many Palestinians have been similarly dissatisfied with their experiences in engaging in dialogue with Israelis. In many cases, they feel like they achieved real understanding–but after the end of the dialogue, many Israelis would take no further steps to help the Palestinians end the occupation. As far as the Palestinians could tell, the dialogue had helped the Israelis salve their conscience, but without taking meaningful action. Dialogue is not always meaningful or fruitful, if the larger social causes and conditions are not right.

How then do we mindfully handle the tension between dialogue and fighting for social justice? In my classroom, I seek to decenter the experiences of those from privileged backgrounds, while making the experiences of those who are oppressed the center of discussion and inquiry. Decentering the experiences of the privileged doesn’t mean dismissing them or ignoring them, but instead not making them the focus of attention, as they so often are in mainstream political discourse. Instead, we concentrate on the experiences of members of oppressed and marginalized groups, trying to understand the social causes and conditions that foster their oppression and what that means for people’s lived experience. This creates room for members of these oppressed groups in my classroom to speak up–for African-Americans, for instance, to talk about being harassed as possible shop lifters by store employees when they are simply trying to shop or students who are undocumented immigrants to speak of their fears of deportation. It gives privileged students a chance to listen and begin to understand the experiences of others belonging to social groups from who they may have heard little from in the past. And these privileged students can join in the conversation as well. I am not silencing them, but I am also moving the class discussion away from focusing on them. I hope by doing this I can create a space of genuine dialogue that also fosters conditions of social justice.

What we should bare in mind here is the goal of our practice as engaged Buddhists. Neither dialogue nor activism are ends in themselves–instead, we are seeking to deepen our ability to cultivate understanding of others and to find skillful means for putting compassion into action and making the world a better place. Dialogue, if done skillfully, can be a powerful means to deepen our understanding of others, seeing more deeply why people believe what they believe and do what they do–thus better allowing us to foster more compassion for others, particularly those whose beliefs, words and actions we may initially have found difficult to understand and angering. The goal of challenging inequalities in power–whether in classroom discussions or by protesting in the streets–is to create a world based on more compassionate principles, where people treat each other with more fairness and respect. Dialogue and social justice activism are both skillful means to these ends. While there is a certain amount of tension between two in practice, I think rather than abandoning one for the other, we should embrace both, finding ways to make them complementary.

Matt Williams
Truly Holding Peace
Lakeside Buddha Sangha
Chicago IL, USA

Who? Me? Change the World?

And so a question:

Am I a human manifestation who is conscious

or,

consciousness manifested as a human?

Me thinks the later.

From a single consciousness we humans spring,
and all are one.

With this awakening
I see that the suffering of one is the suffering of many
and that the joy of another is also my joy.

This insight suggests
a slight twist to the Golden Rule may be in order:
“As I treat others, I also treat myself.”

As I practice loving kindness, compassion and joy
the same will be manifest in others
and be returned to me many times over.

Our practice changes our consciousness
AND the consciousness of our world.
Maybe changing the world really isn’t so complicated.

Who? Me? Change the World?

Me thinks so……

I am Kabe Woods, True Field of Orchids (Chân Lan Điền) , the Co-Founder and Facilitator of the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

Serving The Ill And Dying

I began working as a healthcare chaplain in 2005, the same year I was ordained in the Order of Interbeing.  For those unfamiliar with the role, healthcare chaplains help patients cope with their changing lives using the patient’s own language of meaning, whether that language is religious, scientific, philosophical or based upon their life experiences.  This requires the chaplain to listen with compassion and respond appropriately, without proselytizing the chaplain’s own beliefs.  My chaplaincy and OI practices have grown and supported each other over the years and I’d like to share some insights into how they work together to help me serve the ill and dying. 

Precepts

Thay’s poetic and deep rendering of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings have been a constant source of inspiration, support, and correction for my chaplaincy practice.  I’ve recited the precepts every other week since becoming an aspirant, and with each recitation the precepts reveal something new, guiding me back when I’ve strayed or reminding me that, contrary to self-judgements, I’m doing ok. 

While all the precepts have at one point or another enlivened my chaplaincy, I’d like to mention a few that come up again and again.  Continue reading

Bumper Sticker Practice

Earlier this year I came up with a new mindfulness practice: bumper stickers! OK, let me explain. I like finding new and inventive ways to cultivate daily mindfulness. Being mindful means being mindful of something. And that something can be anything! Anything that allows us the opportunity to practice getting in touch and connecting with the present moment can be considered a practice of mindfulness. And it’s fun to find new ways in which to practice.

So in January, this idea of bumper sticker mindfulness came to me. For each month in 2016 I would practice noticing bumper stickers. In order to put a little extra weight on this new mindfulness practice, to help encourage me to do it, I would also write down the bumper stickers that caught my eye as being especially odd, funny or interesting. I then also resolved to write a blog post about it further into the year. And since I’ve recorded so many already I thought I’d stretch this bumper sticker practice into two blog posts, one now and one at the end of the year. As an FYI, my bumper sticker rules included only writing down bumper stickers I saw in action, meaning displayed on cars – so bumper stickers I saw for sale in a store didn’t count. I have a nice little notebook and an easily accessible pen in my car that I scribbled down all of the ones I saw, that I deemed worth noting. Here they are, in order of date seen:

Continue reading

Orlando and Beyond

Dear sangha, 
We are connecting with you at this time in order to encourage and support ways of practicing that can lead to personal and collective healing and transformation related to what is going on in the world. We wish to find ways we can be of support to each other as a community in responding to current events, to create loving connection rather than more trauma and fomenting fear.

The T​ransformation and Healing Committee of the Dharma Teacher Care Taking Council of North America would appreciate your sharing with the community your and your Sanghas response to recent events in Orlando. In particular, which teachings and practices are you using right now or did you use recently in your sangha in light of this event? For example we have heard that one sangha read from ​Thay’s book Calming the Fearful Mind – a Zen Repsonse to Terrorism.  Another sangha read out the names of the people who died at Orlando, sounding the bell after each name. Another sangha lit fifty candles. 

The ​Transformation and Healing Committee is charged with exploring and supporting engaged practice in the dharma teacher and OI communities. Orlando is a painful recent episode of violence. There have been many before, and given the conditions in the world now, there will be more. We can be more intentional about preparing ourselves to engage these kinds of situations by becoming more practiced in our Sanghas in processing current events, sharing the resources we use, learning skillful means from each other, and being a more active resource for the larger community. This message is going to Dharma Teachers Sangha and Order of Interbeing list with a request to forward to regional lists of Sanghas. We will also post on the OI website. 

With deep gratitude and joy in our practice together for collective awakening,

Signed.

John Bell
Richard Brady
Lyn Fine
Jack Lawlor
Kenley Neufeld
Leslie Rawls
Jo-ann Rosen

Order Members Call to Ban Fracking in California

Feb 7, 2015
Dear Governor Brown,

We write to you today to support you to support a ban on fracking–hydraulic fracturing –in California, and to support you in your commitment to address climate change, as you stated in your inaugural: we need to take “significant amounts of carbon out of our economy.” As a Fourfold Community (monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen) in the Plum Village Tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, we practice mindfulness to nurture understanding and love. Our tradition’s teachings are ecologically founded – we are not here on our own, we interare with everyone and everything. It is from this awareness that we write to you today.

The deep and devastating impact of hydraulic fracking on humans, many species, and the water of our planet is now known. It is also known that with strong political will it is possible to move a fossil fuel economy towards an economy increasingly based on renewable energy. We have seen in New York State that with a combination of strong political will and clear awareness of the devastatingly destructive nature of hydraulic fracturing, it is possible to ban fracking. We can do this in California as well.

Today, we join with our sisters and brothers at San Francisco Zen Center in supporting you to sign a bill banning fracking. Help turn us away from the age of fossil fuels with its immeasurable and lasting damage to the biosphere. Help California continue to take the lead, as it has in the past, with its extraordinary implementation of energy-efficiency standards during your first term as governor, with Assemblywoman Fran Pavley’s emissions legislation in 2002 that set nationwide standards under the Obama administration, and with the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

We know that our actions today help create what kind of future we will have. As Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “We have to live in such a way that a future will be possible for our children and our grandchildren, and our own life has to be our message.” At Deer Park, our practice center near San Diego, CA, we have taken a vow to do our best not to deplete the energy of the land and her resources, but rather to contribute to the regeneration of this beautiful land. Our solar energy system covers 90% of our usage of electricity.

To take a next step to stop contributing to devastating climate change, and to protect the beautiful land of California, we support you in signing a bill to ban fracking in California. Such a ban will reduce the carbon going into the biosphere, thus reducing contribution to climate change from this source, and it will help protect the land, water, peoples, animals and plants of California, now and in the future. We support you to support this ban. Thank you.

For the well-being of all life now and to come. The following names are all Order of Interbeing members located in California.

Kenley Neufeld, Chân Niệm Hỷ
Marc Jantzi
Gael Belden, True Wonderful Eyes
John Salerno-White, True Peace on Earth
Brother Phap Ho, True Protector of the Dharma
Juliet Hwang, True Emerald Ocean
Quyen Haduong, Chan Huyen
Leigh Ann Lipscomb, True Mountain of Goodness
Meredith Klein, True Summer Garden
Jo-ann Rosen, True River of Understanding
Beverly Alexander, True Holy Insight
Jerome Freedman, True Precious Light
Terry Barber, True Moon Heart
Ngoc-Tan Phan, Chan Mat Giai
Karen Hilsberg, True Boundless Graciousness
Phil Stein, True Precious Eyes
Margo Doxakis-Stein, True Garden of Understanding
Jacqueline Kim, True Beautiful Garden
John Freese, True Dharma Awakening
Lananh Nguyen
Jim Scott-Behrends, True Recollection of Compassion
Lyn Fine, True Goodness
Laura Alderdice, True Spiritual Communion
David Ostwald, True path of Equnimity
Terry Helbick, True Original Land
Susan Murphy, True Good Birth
David Nelson, Truly Holding Equanimity
Bryan Ferry, True Recollection of Awakening
Blanca Arias, True Ocean of Purity
Zachiah Murray, True Lotus Ocean
Nathaniel Vose, True Land of Compassion
Brandy Sacks, True Spiritual Contemplation
Andrew Deckert, True Wonderful Direction
Karen Hostetler, True Mountain of Deep Vows
Lynda Louise, True garden of togetherness
Meena Srinivasan, True Seal of Peace
Louise Dunlap, True Silent Teaching
Gary De Foe, True Buddha Garden
Sophy Wong, Chan Hanh Nguyen
Harriet Wrye, True Precious Smile
Laura Hunter, True Ocean of Teachings
Alice Christine Dawkins, True Wonderful Mind
Hac Nguyen, Chan Mat Trieu
Susan C Terris, True Fragrant Ocean
Natascha Bruckner, True Ocean of Jewels
Polly Chu, True Garden of Realizations
Elizabeth Nguyen, Chan Tri Tinh
Alexa Singer-Telles, True Silent Action
Tam Le, Chân Lưu Phong – True Flowing Tradition
Nu-Ha Phan, Chan Dinh Qua
Lennis Lyon, True Silent Forest
Sharon Moy, True Mountain of Clarity
Debra Rodgers, True Chrysanthemum Garden
Birgitte Moyer-Vinding, True Path of Light
Maria Nicora, True Garden of Goodness
Joshua Kaufman, True Shining Ocean
Miriam Goldberg, True Recollection of Happiness
Keith Mesecher
Mary Gorman, True Ever Lasting Ocean
Peter Kuhn, True Ocean of Joy
Robert Speer, True Silent Light
Denise Bergez, True Silent Shining
Marge Wurgel, True Crane Garden