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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
summer 2006| 56 |buddhadharma paul halleR: It might also depend on whether they need to be thoroughly challenged, to go beyond their safety and security into the unknown, or whether it is a time for stability and definitiveness. buddhadhaRma: We’ve all had the experience of try- ing to help somebody and making a big mess of things. Is there an argument to be made for stopping before you help to consider whether you’re simply going to add more neurosis to the situation? paul halleR: No matter how well-intentioned we are, we’re never presenting an absolute solution. We’re just presenting a relative solution, and we need to hold it with some tentativeness and see what effect it has. It helps to realize that we’re here to serve others, and not to somehow have them join our club or make us feel better because we’re helping out. Robina CouRtin: Since we can’t bear to see all this pain out there, we often just jump in out of idiot compassion. When we see this yearning to make it all nice, sometimes we need to back off. beRnie Glassman: The word “help” has a hidden trap. I prefer to use the word “offering.” When you say “help,” you are implying that you’re going to make it better, you’re going to fix it. If you’re in the world of offering or serving, the offering may not be wanted. That’s fine. The best I can offer may create more problems, it may create fewer problems, and it may be totally ignored. That’s irrelevant. paul halleR: Speaking of concern with outcomes, the efficacy of helping can get quite challeng- ing and interesting when we get into the area of politics and advocating for a position, such as opposing the death penalty or nuclear arms. At different times in the politics of San Francisco, I have decided to take a stand. At one point, we got engaged in trying to pass a proposition to cre- ate more public housing. We went door to door, distributing leaflets encouraging people to vote for it. I would like to know what Robina and Bernie think about those sorts of initiatives. Robina CouRtin: Whether you call it a capital “P” politics or just helping people, if you’re sincere, you’re simply trying to make the world a better place. Many of the young monks and nuns in Tibet have been the main political activists. They are trying to effect change, but they don’t do it with expectations. As Bernie was saying, the outcome might be what is wanted or it might not be. All that matters is your motivation. paul halleR: But in deciding to go around and leaflet people, you are endeavoring to create a certain outcome. Otherwise, you wouldn’t do it. Robina CouRtin: I walk out the door with the expec- tation of the outcome that the street will be there. I can’t guarantee the street will be there, I can’t guarantee the law will be passed. But you do your best to make that happen, without expectation of result. beRnie Glassman: It seems like my whole life, in Bud- dhism, I’ve been running up against people say- ing, “That ain’t Zen.” Life is Zen. So why exclude politics? paul halleR: Have you been engaged much in the political activities of the different localities you’ve been involved in? beRnie Glassman: Yes, but I tend not to get involved in “anti-” things. My own preference is to pro- pose things, get involved with actions that I think should be done. I’ve been involved in efforts to get together with other progressive clergy to form a spiritual coalition that offers a different view from the far Right. But I’ve seen a huge absence of Buddhists in that. Rabbi Michael Lerner has been spearheading such an effort, and he asks, “Who are the Buddhists who would play this game? Who would get involved?” When I was heavily involved with creating hous- ing in Yonkers, each year the state housing legisla- tion would be circulated to the church groups for comment. The draft legislation would go to the Catholic charities, to the United Jewish welfare group. There was not one Buddhist or Hindu group involved. And I would ask, “Where are they?” buddhadhaRma: Many people feel they practice Bud- dhism to become nonbiased, but politics is biased by definition, so they don’t wish to get involved. Robina CouRtin: It’s far too abstract to say, “I don’t want to have an opinion.” In fact, it’s impossible. If it’s beneficial, please have an opinion. If it’s not, Community gardens project at Greyston Foundation in New York ©coreyKohn2006.formoreinformationPleasevisitWWW.greyston.org