Monday, February 04, 2008

Ordinary Mind and social activism

Dear Sangha-
Sunday morning we discussed this topic, and for those who were not with us, I would like to clarify the issue of social, political, and environmental activism with respect to the Ordinary Mind sangha. I am certainly in favor of each member of the sangha connecting with, supporting, and even challenging their communities in the ways that feel most appropriate. Such activity may take many different forms and may reflect very different methods and perspectives. All perspectives are welcome here.

Rebecca McIlwain, a member of the sangha, is offering a workshop intended to foster awareness and contemplation around participants' political engagement. We are providing the space and time for this workshop without officially sponsoring it, as we have done with other offerings that are congruent with the Ordinary Mind way. I think this will be a wonderful opportunity for those folks who would like to bring issues of political engagement into their meditation practice to help clarify their understanding.

We are happy to provide space and time for other groups with a contemplative focus as appropriate, without directly endorsing or sponsoring those groups. Scheduling depends on time and availability of the space. It is typical in cases such as this for a reasonable contribution to be made to Ordinary Mind in support of the sangha.

However, I want to make it clear that the role of Ordinary Mind is support and encouragement and practices for awakening in our lives right now, right here. Our methods involve zazen, inquiry groups, practice discussion, classes, and intensives. There will be no social, political, or environmental activism program officially offered by Ordinary Mind. This is an important point to understand. Certainly we are extremely sensitive to social, political, and environmental needs and the potential for healing and constructive action. And as I mentioned above, we support and encourage people to engage these issues wholeheartedly. There are many, many venues locally, nationally, and globally for such engagement. However, I feel very strongly that Ordinary Mind should not be directing such activity. It is not in our mission. What we can do, is to work with people engaged in these kinds of activities to help them find an appropriate expression and balance, avoiding burnout, anger, and polarizing, finding their own clearest and most beneficial manifestation of the dharma. We are entirely open with respect to the particular social, political, or environmental position a person may hold; we are most interested in their aspiration for a liberated life of openness, compassion, and wisdom.

I think the recently-coined term "engaged Buddhism" is a redundancy: there is no such thing as "disengaged Buddhism." We are in intimate relationships with each other, with our work, with our world, and we cannot escape engagement and activity with all of its karmic consequences. There is no privileged place to stand, outside of the whole. And so as the Dalai Lama said, we are responsible toward the whole world. Notice he did not say we are responsible for the whole world.

Again, our purpose and mission is liberation—mutual support and encouragement for waking up in this life, with all that this may mean for each person in terms of their engagement with the world. I would caution anyone who may assume that positions held by anyone in the sangha, including the teachers, somehow represent Ordinary Mind's "official" position. The Buddha taught the relinquishing of all views (not just the ones we disagree with, nor even just the ones we agree with). If you really understand what this means, the appropriate action will spontaneously emerge within each situation, each moment.

I'm taking a little time with this because it is an important issue as the sangha grows and develops. I realize that some folks have expressed an interest in forming social action groups within the sangha. This is of course perfectly fine, as long as these groups are not represented as official programs of the Ordinary Mind Zen group. They would be, rather, independent affiliations of folks with shared interests in a particular topic or issue. I am especially cautious about replicating in Ordinary Mind the social structures and apparatus that we find in so many spiritual communities which, no matter how well-intentioned, would ultimately prove a distraction from the central purpose of Ordinary Mind.

The Dharma is simple, yet incomparably profound. Our immediate, direct encounter with each other and with the reality of just this is our central teaching: this "crisis-resolving" encounter, in the context of openness, curiosity, and compassion is our method for realizing wholeness and well-being in our world. Not "the" world; our world. It is the source and functioning of true liberation. This is not like any other place or experience or path: let's not try to turn it into something familiar and reassuring.

As always, if you have any reflections or questions about this, please let me know.


Post a Comment

<< Home