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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
buddhadharma| 57 |summer 2006 be quiet. The Dalai Lama recently said that he and other Nobel Prize winners have decided that the next time something like the Iraq war comes up, they are going to speak up more loudly. It can only be good to speak up, but shouting and yell- ing and being divisive is the kind of politics that causes a problem. paul halleR: I do think it’s important not to take a position that excludes others from the practice. When the Iraq war was beginning, I felt compelled to protest that. And there was some concern within our community that this was an exclusive activ- ity. At the time, though, I thought I was holding up a humanitarian value on behalf of all human beings. So, we became part of a broad coalition of organizations involved in the anti-war movement. At a collective rally, one of the groups stood up to oppose Israel. They had brought in a differ- ent agenda. It made me realize that we needed to proceed with care and to know who else we were getting together with. That is one of the caution- ary notes about political involvement. We need to be careful about who we are aligned with, inten- tionally or unintentionally. We need to be careful not to be part of putting forward agendas that condemn or criticize or harm others. Robina CouRtin: In the prison work we do, politi- cal agendas can get tricky – they’ve caused riots. There is an awful lot of rigidity in prison. You’re not allowed to have your cushion or your mala, to eat vegetarian food, and on and on. These guys could spend all of their time trying to get their rights, and go crazy. From that perspective, what- ever the issue is, including death row, we’ve got to stay focused on what our main agenda is: to help people deal with themselves right there. We keep our focus on that. Then, if they need to function politically within the prison, maybe they can do it without going crazy. That would seem to apply outside of the prison as well. buddhadhaRma: One practitioner I spoke with recently feels overwhelmed and despairing with all the news and images of suffering, day in and day out, and overwhelmed by all the different appeals to get involved. She is overcome by the pain of the world and not sure whether meditation is simply escaping that. paul halleR: I would make a distinction between helping someone to deal with the feeling of being overwhelmed by the world’s pain and the actual condition that our world is in. I think our world is in an endless multitude of conditions. For each per- son planting a bomb, there are many other people who are doing selfless, compassionate work. The world is extraordinary in its variety and diversity, and its response to being alive. beRnie Glassman: When people tell me they are over- whelmed and frustrated, or want to run away, or become frozen, I use the metaphor of our body. Let’s say we’re looking at just our own physical body. If we really see everything that’s going on in our body – all the cells that are being attacked by other cells, and the cancer cells that are coming up, viruses that are arising – we could be overwhelmed. But we can’t run away from ourselves. We have to do the best that we can. If our hand gets gashed, we know how to stop the blood flowing. We decide what we’re going to eat, or how we’re going to exercise. We don’t know the answers, but we do the best we can to nurture this one body. So if we really saw everything going on in your own body, it could be as terrifying as clearly seeing what’s going on in the whole world. If the whole world is your body, you relate to it in the same way. You do your best to nurture it as you go along, day by day. Robina CouRtin: There are two-and-a -half million people in prison in this country, more per capita than anywhere on earth. Just considering the sheer volume of all of that suffering, I could give up every day. But the wisdom of our practice teaches us to take it step by step, piece by piece, never giv- ing up. As the Dalai Lama says, “A bodhisattva thinks in terms of eons.” And also pays attention to the needs of the time. buddhadhaRma: If you’re having problems at the more immediate level – home life, children, neigh- borhood, people around you – is it better to focus for a while on that and then to work on the bigger picture? beRnie Glassman: You have to do everything all together. Imagine if you are very hungry. You could say, “I’ll just eat. That’s my focus. I won’t work or sleep or anything else.” It doesn’t work. Life is holistic. You can’t throw one piece out. paul halleR: It’s helpful to remember that all of the different facets of your world are not in competi- tion with each other. They support each other. Your eating, your working, your sleeping, your work- ing within your group, your working outside the group – they all support each other. Social engage- ment is not in competition, or does not detract from, seated meditation. It’s a complement to it; it will bring new insight to it. Similarly, sitting medi- tation will bring new insight to socially engaged Buddhism. That’s part of a holistic system – the dif- ferent parts can be in synergy. Or they can be in conflict, and I think the challenge of our practice is to discover, as best we can, the synergy. I would say 95 percent of people who meditate are getting into a nice, calm, relaxed place and are not necessarily doing the kind of immersion that happens when you’re at the bedside of somebody who is dying. To get to a place where you can have some peace and quiet for a couple of minutes is not what Buddhism is about. — Bernie Glassman ©coreyKohn2006.formoreinformationPleasevisitWWW.greyston.org