Engaged Buddhism

I live my life in widening circles
That reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
But I give myself to it.

We have been studied Engaged Buddhism at Clouds in Water Zen Center this winter and spring. Of course it’s redundant to say Engaged Buddhism because the main principle of Buddhism is to be totally engaged with each moment. However, the term Engaged Buddhism has been coined to mean work in the world particularly societal and civic engagement. All our ‘work’ can be termed service work.

Can we be engaged in social work or politics without harboring the three poisons: attachment or greed, hatred and anger, ignorance of inter-relationship? These are the three poisons that are the central hub that turns the wheel of samsara and suffering. If we meet the world with the poisons in our heart, instead of encouraging peace and healing, we contribute to the world’s suffering.

Tara Brach in her chapter on “Widening the Circles of Compassion: The Bodhisattva’s Path” in her book “Radical Acceptance” writes about the trance of the unreal other.  We normally live within the safety of our own tribe — people who have the same views, opinions, and culture as we have. We make up the “other” by grouping under one heading everyone who doesn’t agree with us or who is different. That “other” absorbs all of our projections and our shadow (the part of ourselves that we judge so bad that we won’t acknowledge it in ourselves and project it externally). The “other” becomes stereotyped and the real human becomes invisible. Tara Brach and Rilke admonish us to enlarge our sense of our tribe or widening our circle of compassion. We can live in a world where everyone is real and has their full dimension of humanity, even if they disagree with us.

Mahatma Gandhi: “ I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on earth. By a long course of prayerful discipline, I have ceased for over forty years to hate anybody. I know this is a big claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility.”

Longfellow: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

So, a Buddhist-based engagement in the world is quite radically different then our normal behavior patterns. We start with letting go of our opinions, to open to a “don’t know mind” which enables us feel the moment or event as it really is without our screen of projection. We strengthen our concentration and composure so we can bear witness to the deepest of humanity’s suffering without escaping the pain of it. And from that deep pain, and from our clear seeing, we can determine a course of action which might contribute to the well-being of ourselves and society.

As Buddhist practitioners, we have to negotiate the three A Trap and find the appropriate response to each situation.

The three A trap:

  1. Accommodation or Appeasement — saying yes or capitulating when we want to say no, driven by fear.
  2. Attack or aggression — we say no poorly, driven by anger, without concern for the relationship or connection.
  3. Avoid — we say nothing at all.

We practice composure and appropriate expression with courage and risk-taking. Each event and each response is fresh. We allow the equanimity phrase to penetrate us.

May we dwell in the great equanimity, free from passion, aggression and prejudice
and try to serve as best we can.