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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
5 fall 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Shambhala Sun Foundation An independent, nonprofit corporation. Publishers of the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly. For many oF us in the West, Buddhism first appears on the horizon as a path to inner peace offering relief from the tensions of daily living. This perception is reinforced by popular culture, which pictures the Buddha as a man sitting motionless with crossed legs and closed eyes, seemingly lost to his surroundings. Seldom do we think that Buddhism might hold out practical clues for resolving the complex problems that weigh so heavily on our planet. The problems seem just too big for an ancient system of contemplative spirituality. Yet, I believe, if we as Buddhists are to adequately respond to the needs of our age, we will have to rise to the challenge. It won’t suffice for us merely to adopt Buddhist teachings as a route to deeper self-fulfillment. A predominantly per- sonal approach to spiritual growth falls short of Buddhism’s ethical ideals and misses half its message. Greed, hatred, and delusion are not only in our mind but in the food we eat, the gas we put into our cars, and the movies we turn to for entertainment. The Buddha taught the dharma on the basis of a far- reaching vision that pierced the depths of suffering in both its personal and collective dimensions. He offered his teaching not only as a method to tame the mind but also as a standard for ennobling us in all dimensions of our being, including the social, political, and economic. His discourses on lay ethics, communal harmony, and the duties of a king are testimony to his panoramic awareness. There’s a real danger today that instead of using the dharma as a sharp lens for examining the existential crisis we’re facing, we’ll turn it into an intellectual toy or a cush- ion to soften the impact of reality. Even “engaged Buddhism” doesn’t always live up to its potential. Though it starts off with valiant intentions, in practice it often settles for such things as operating soup kitchens or introducing mindfulness to cor- porate executives. While these activities are certainly good and praiseworthy, what’s sorely missing is the cutting edge of critical analysis that tackles our predicament at its roots. It’s easy to evade that task by falling back on scriptural fundamentalism or adopting Buddhist practice as an adorn- ment to a comfortable life. We need only look around, though, to see that time is running out. Our social and eco- nomic order has become a menace not only to our psycho- logical resiliency but to the future of civilization itself. We’re wreaking havoc on the habitability of our planet, putting our own survival at risk. As we struggle to stay afloat, Buddhism provides us with a clear perspective to ensure that our world remains viable. It offers an entire body of moral and spiritual values that can sustain our own well-being and nourish the wider webs to which we belong. The big question is whether we have the will and wisdom to implement them. Especially imperiled today are three ethical principles inte- gral to the dharma that we must uphold as guidelines to social policy. To insist on their social expression is not a matter of mixing religion and politics but of fulfilling our human responsibility; for if they were subverted, the consequences for millions upon millions of people would be unthinkable. The first principle is nonviolence and noninjury, which is constantly being bashed as America slips into a mindless mili- tarism decked in the trappings of patriotism. We’ve become almost inured to violence, whether against other nations, dark-skinned immigrants, or the natural world. The second principle is social and economic justice. To o many of our brothers and sisters are being kicked out of their homes, denied urgent medical care, and forced to endure the pangs of hunger. While the rich enjoy tax breaks and corpo- rate subsidies, ever more social services are being pulled away from those who need them most. commentary What Kind of World Do We Want? by Ven. bhikkhu bodhi Bhikkhu Bodhi is an American Buddhist monk and scholar who was ordained in Sri Lanka in 1973. he is the chair of Buddhist Global Relief (see page 89 for a profile of the organization) and currently resides at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York. melissaschaid