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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
7 fall 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly M any Buddhist practitioners question how to res pond to these globally difficult times. More than anything, the world is in need of a spiritual per spective. It is clear that science and technology alone cannot stop continuing warfare, racism, and environmental destruc tion. The illusion of separation that fuels global consumer ism and greed, fear, and ignorance needs to be transformed by the realization of interdependence, by the illumination of wisdom and compassion. Each of us must find our own way to contribute to this with the wisdom of our practice and our own unique capacities. Meditation is one important answer. And while I believe that yogis who practice compassion in their Himalayan caves offer an essential gift to us all, these days I find myself wed ding the meditation retreats I teach with engaged action in the world. For me, they are a complement, not a conflict. I have chosen to work for Barack Obama as a private citizen and believe in his integrity and vision, though I would never do so from the dharma seat. The dharma, the teachings of generos ity, virtue, lovingkindness, and wisdom, are nonpartisan. The benefits of dharma teachings can be used by Republicans and Democrats, by members of the Green Party and Libertarians, by Iraqis and Israelis. The dharma welcomes everyone and encourages all to awaken together. When I joined with Israeli and Palestinian peacemaking groups this winter to learn and teach, I became part of a web of shining connections rarely reported in the media. I found hundreds of groups working for peace in the region, such as Former Combatants for Peace, Bereaved Mothers, the Gan dhian movement of the Holy Land Trust, and the Palestinian and Israeli women who replant olive groves. To me, they represent the compassion of the Buddha in action. In working with the Insight Prison Project for prison re form or joining the marches for a free Tibet or helping to raise money for relief efforts in Burma, I join in the traditional prac tice of dharma students everywhere, who are committed to the spirit of service. Having received teachings and the immense generosity of the Burmese people when I lived there, how can I not respond in kind to the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis? I am doing everything I can to support the Foundation for the People of Burma (foundationburma.org), one of the few groups to have hundreds of workers getting aid into the Irrawaddy Delta. One of its volunteers, Maung Lay, drove a truck full of rice to three villages that had almost no food for two weeks. The military roadblock stopped him to confiscate the food. Maung Lay looked directly at the young soldiers and replied, “You will have to kill me first.” They let him pass and the food got through. When I hear stories like this, I am moved to do all I can to fundraise and to work with the media to raise public awareness, to show that there is a way to help. But how can you do this service work in the spirit of prac tice? As dharma practitioners, the first task is to make your own heart a zone of peace. Instead of becoming entangled in the pain or cynicism that exists externally, you need to face your own fear, your own sufferings, and transform them into com passion. Only then can you offer genuine help to the outside world. Albert Camus writes, “We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, our ravages. Our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to transform them in ourselves.” Find a way to quiet your mind and open your heart. Medi tate, turn off the news, turn on Mozart, walk through the trees or the mountains, and make yourself a zone of peace and compassion. You can get swept up in a frightened, barri caded society—or you can respond calmly, with both prudent action and a fearless steady heart. Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “When the crowded refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person stayed calm, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.” We are all in the same boat, which is reflected in the Bud dha’s teaching of interdependence. Your relationships with others, right speech, right action, and right livelihood are all part of the path of enlightenment, an expression of the enlightened heart. Gandhi put it this way: “Those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics do not know what spirituality really means.” As you sit quietly, you will see what is needed to bring benefit to the world. The Buddha taught that inner peace grows from mindfulness, compassion, and respect. When asked about the creation of a wise society, he said the same WAlTOPIE commenTary Buddhism’s Call to Action By Jack kornfield Jack Kornfield (right) marches across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco last April in support of democracy and human rights in Burma and Tibet.