What is the interaction between practices like meditation and social change? When I began an activist path I did not see any interaction. I wasn’t practicing Buddhism then and I had pretty much turned away from Judaism, the religion I was born into. Judaism and Christianity have very strong social justice components that have always existed within them. But I was very assertively a secular person; I wasn’t interested in religion.

When I became interested in Buddhism there was not this thing that we would now call “Engaged Buddhism.” In Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh was creating something by this name. This was done by taking Buddhism out of the monastic life and temple life into the streets to help people.

Related to this, in the United States there was a key essay written by beat poet Gary Snyder that talked about what he was then calling Buddhist Anarchism. A lot of what Gary had to say right from the beginning had to do with a way of looking at Buddhism that remains completely relevant today. At that point I still didn‘t see the connection, but Gary had it really integrated.

In “Buddhist Anarchism” Snyder says, “The mercy of the West has been social revolution. The mercy of the East has been individual insight into the self/void. We need both.” I’ve studied anarchist literature to an extent. Robert Aitken really studied it very thoroughly and in fact gave his library of anarchist books to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship when I was there in the late 90s. He drew the idea of “building the new within the shell of the old” from the Wobblies [an international industrial labor union]. In a sense you can see this idea in the early Buddhist sangha, in the community. The Buddha drew models of self-organization, direct democracy, of collective and consensus decision-making, and he created a community that grew and grew in the course of his lifetime and afterwards. You could say that the early Buddhist sangha was deeply democratic. And it wasn’t a representative body. Each person had to take responsibility for him or herself, and they’d come to decisions collectively and collaboratively. I think there is some parallel there.

Full text can be found here http://www.tricycle.com/blog/wrong-mindfulness

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