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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
summer 2006| 52 |buddhadharma beRnie Glassman: Even though in this country we’re young in the world of Buddhism, already we’ve formed our own institutions and clubs, with rules as to what makes you a good member of the club and what doesn’t. All that has nothing to do with awakening. Whenever you form a club, you will be excluding some, and then you have to figure out what to do with the ones you exclude. The most common thing is to ignore them. Certainly, clubs and rules have their place, but we have to recognize that while the clubs and rules we establish will be great for a given number of people, we have to be very careful not to forget the people outside of the club. When I started working in Yonkers, I was working with home- less folk. There was no way that they were going to do the kind of meditation that we were talking about. They were automatically outside the club of the Zen community of New York. In order to work with meditation with these folks, we started every meeting with a minute of silence. So you can have many clubs and many different kinds of rules, depending on the people and the circumstances. Robina CouRtin: To a certain extent, it’s important to begin by minding your own business. The Tibetans say, “You don’t know who anybody is, so don’t judge.” If we keep our mouths quiet and look at ourselves instead, that’s a good beginning. Then, we can work with people according to our capa- bilities and their capabilities. beRnie Glassman: That’s what upaya is about. It’s not that any given upaya is bad or good, but there are many upaya, and they have different places and times where they apply. Robina CouRtin: At the Liberation Prison Project, we have six hundred people knocking on our door every month, so we give them whatever they need. Some of them would not be called Buddhists. Some are Christians. Through letters, phone calls, and visits, and by supplying books, videos, and CD’s, we help them understand that they can’t change the external situation – they can’t change their prosecutor, their judge, and their jury, and the disgusting prison situation – but they can work on their own minds. They can learn to see them- selves better, understand their own delusions, understand their own positive qualities, develop self-confidence, and become more content within their situation. We give them Buddhist tools, and they make use of them according to their capa- bility, just like any other student would. Part of the wisdom of helping others is knowing that the extent to which you’re able to help somebody is the extent to which they want to be helped. In the West, we’ve kind of institutionalized working for others. In Tibet, you didn’t join a Working on ourselves First By Reginald A. Ray In order to change the world, we have to change ourselves first. Before we try to engage in external politics, we have to gain some maturation in discovering the experience of non-self within. this is something that Buddhist teachers and engaged Buddhists emphasize repeatedly. in the 1970’s, one of the primary aspirations of my generation was to transform society from the ground up. But we heard our teachers say over and over, “the desire to change the world is a very good thing. however, if you don’t work on yourself first, you’ll bring all of your personal paranoia, arrogance, aggression, and preconceptions along, and you’ll just get in a fight with whomever you’re trying to change.” according to the Buddha, there are four ways in which we need to work on and change ourselves – four ways to approach the space of non-self – before we can attempt external political action. first, we need to be realistic about what’s possible in life. the Buddha said that there are no ideal situations: every situation in human life, without excep- tion, is conflicted, distressed, and filled with suffering. this means that if we are going to engage in political action, we need to be clear from the beginning that we are not striving to create an ideal situation. this is, of course, the first noble truth. the second point is that dharmic political action requires much understand- ing of karmic conditions. in order to work with a problematic situation, the first thing we have to do is understand the major causes and conditions behind the situation. the dalai lama often says, “all human beings just want to be happy.” if people are doing things that are making them unhappy, it’s because the causes and conditions of their life have brought them to a point where that is the only course of action they can see. the more we understand that, the more we can intervene in a constructive and effective way. this is the second noble truth, the cause of suffering. the third point, corresponding to the third noble truth, is that ultimate free- dom is not based on external conditions. the freedom we long for is already within us. this does not mean that external circumstances do not have an important impact on our ability to realize inner freedom, for they do. But the freedom itself is independent of all causes and conditions, and is available to anyone in any situation. the fourth point, corresponding to the fourth noble truth, includes several items. first, when we feel called to engage in external political activity, our pri- mary commitment must always be to our spiritual path, which values meditation and personal transformation. this must remain the foundation of all our attempts to transform external situations. next, we must understand that meditation, the centerpiece of the Buddhist path, is itself the most radical kind of political action. Why? in meditation, we step out of the value system of the conventional world and start to look at things from a fresh viewpoint. meditation is not activism as we usually think of it, yet it fulfills the definition in a radical way, because it is activity that fundamentally aims to change the world. finally, there is the knowledge that our political activities are also a way of working on ourselves. as we engage politically, our own arrogance, aggression, small-mindedness, and self-centeredness are going to be exposed. We should take these as golden opportunities, offering us a more informed, more humble, and less self-preoccupied way of working with others. adapted from “the Buddha’s Politics,” by reginald ray, in the forthcoming book, Mindful Politics: A Buddhist Guide to Making the World a Better Place, published by Wisdom Publications.