Posts Tagged ‘Compassionate Action’

Social Transformation Takes Work

January 16, 2018

Taking meaningful social action is hard for churches. Yet social transformation, which is really what churches are all about, only comes through the hard and persistent work of individuals and groups.

Social transformation — creating more just and compassionate communities — begins by addressing real needs and not imagined ones. There are lots of nice things to do to help people, but whether or not these things are truly needed or even effective should be considered carefully.

Let’s look at homelessness. The way to end homelessness is to house people. It is that simple. If the goal is to end homelessness, then our priority must be housing. Everything else is secondary.

There are many groups and churches who want to do something about homelessness. They want to feel good about doing good. So they gather hygiene products for the homeless. Or they make blankets. Or they gather coats, shoes, and other basic items for the homeless. They go out on holidays and serve food to the homeless. At Christmas, they buy gifts for the homeless.

All of these are wonderful and kind acts. But if we step back, if we look at it from a distance and with honesty, we will see that none of these projects has helped end homelessness. No one has been housed. At best, these groups have helped homeless individuals be a little more comfortable while remaining homeless.

Non-profits are partially to blame for this situation. We are not willing to tell the truth about these warm-hearted programs. We are unwilling to say to churches and donors: Thank you, but those things are not helpful. They will not end homelessness. What we need from you is housing. And since a lot of homeless individuals are employed, that housing just needs to be affordable based on the realistic earning capacity of a family or individual.

Homelessness persists, at least in the U.S., because churches and social groups have not been willing to do the actual hard work of housing those who are houseless. This might involve opening up church buildings to the homeless, or pressuring lawmakers to build realistically affordable housing, or some other approach.

JizoBig social changes involve sacrifice. Homelessness persists because we, as people of faith, do not truly believe that everyone deserves a home. We are willing to accept homelessness — even the homelessness of families and children — because challenging the status quo is uncomfortable.

If we want to create a more compassionate society, then we need to take action to address real needs in an effective way. Start local. Be effective. Charity is good and important, but we also need to work for structural change. By all means feed your hungry neighbor, but then begin challenging the systems that contribute to hunger in your community.

Charity is often easier than social change. There is something immediately satisfying about feeding a hungry person, or giving a coat to someone who is cold. But if you have to do that day-in and day-out for years, it gets old. So challenge broken and oppressive systems. Charity is a Band-aid. Social change is the cure.

Churches and Faith Communities have the resources to maintain the struggle over the long haul. We have Faith and Vision. However, realizing the Pure Land — the community rooted in love and compassion —  requires action. The Pure Land arises when we do the hard and tangible work of reducing poverty, oppression, violence, racism, injustice, and environmental destruction in our neighborhoods and local communities.

Peace, Paul

Photo: Jizo Bodhisattva, a protector — especially of children

Buddhism is Compassionate Action

January 8, 2018

My wife and I don’t live in the Hawaii of postcards and movies. Our Hawaii  is often overlooked and un-photographed. It is the Hawaii where 1 in 6 residents live in poverty and close to 70% of our school age children qualify for the free or reduced lunch program.

The majority of homes in our district don’t have county water. Housing, electricity, and gas are some of the most expensive in the nation. There is limited access to basic health care. Cellular and internet service, if you can afford them, are often unreliable or unavailable.

Which is not to say that Hawaii is special in these respects. There are impoverished communities across the United States, often hidden in the shadows of wealth and luxury. There are oppressed people in every state. Racism and classism are pervasive. Ironically, in “the land of plenty,” many barely have enough to get by.

In this part of Hawaii, if you are willing to look, the reality and pervasiveness of poverty is not hard to see. It is a community that is ripe for compassionate action.

It is in this place that I have found myself working in a non-profit that helps families. As a Buddhist, who feels strongly that the heart of Buddhism is compassionate action, the work is natural.

Unfortunately, much of Buddhism in the West is focused on individual salvation, self improvement, meditation, and spiritual experiences. It is a Buddhism of privilege, focused on the sufferings of wealth as opposed to the sufferings of poverty.

Buddhism, however, offers hope to all, not just the well-off and comfortable. The historical Buddha lived in the world. He walked the countryside, visiting villages and towns. He taught the mighty as well as the lowly. The Buddha was often the last hope of the oppressed: slaves, untouchables, criminals, and women. In the Buddha, these individuals found a refuge from the oppressive social structures of the day.

ChenrezigLike the historical Buddha, we need to live the Dharma in the world. We need individuals — Bodhisattvas — willing to get off the meditation cushion and leave the dojo to do the hard, slow work of peacemaking and social justice. We need Bodhisattvas protecting the biosphere through fierce compassion and non-violence. We need Bodhisattvas organizing people and preaching against violence, while living lives of love and compassion. We need Bodhisattvas working alongside the homeless and the poor to challenge the social structures that perpetuate poverty. We need Bodhisattvas who offer refuge to the oppressed and vulnerable. In short, we need Bodhisattvas to continue Shakyamuni’s work of building an awakened and compassionate community. A community that can work together to build a Pureland in our midst. A compassionate community that can move the world away from war, poverty, and discrimination.

It is the work of many hands over many lifetimes. Each of us is capable of vowing to save (help) the people and beings around us who are suffering unnecessarily. Charity is good, but it is not enough. Poverty, violence, and racism are not individual sins, but social diseases. They are the fruit of pervasive social brokenness. They reflect our collective disordered heart that prioritizes material gain and power over love and compassion.

Thus our vow to help all is a vow of love. It is the vow is to heal our wounded and diseased society. It is a vow that extends unconditionally to all: family, friends, strangers, and enemies. Because the most broken-hearted members of society often cause the most harm and need the most love and compassion to heal. It is an almost impossible vow. It is the vow of Great Bodhisattvas. It is also an eternal vow. When we take this vow, we do not stand alone. We stand alongside the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas throughout time. This is why the simple vow of unconditional love and compassion towards all is known as the original vow of all Buddhas.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Deepening Your Practice in 2018

January 1, 2018

A New Year is upon us. It is a time of recollection and new beginnings.

2017 was a hard year. The wars in multiple Middle Eastern countries continued, without an end in sight. We came closer to nuclear war than we have in a generation. Overt expressions of racism and hatred are on the rise. And social media has become an inescapable cycle of suffering — driven by our seemingly endless greed, hatred, and fundamental ignorance.

This New Year, break the cycle. Make your resolution one that will benefit all beings. Make a commitment to deepen your spiritual / religious life.

If you don’t know where to begin, here are four concrete steps you can take:

Step 1. Schedule time every day for prayer and/or meditation. We may not recognize it, but we are all starving for silence. Prayer and meditation — contemplative silence — is the food that fuels our spiritual life.

Step 2. Spend a little time each day studying scripture — Christian, Buddhist, or other tradition. Scripture challenges our self-centered world view. It opens us up to new ways to see the world and the people in it. It offers us hope and the vision of a compassionate and loving world.

Studying scripture doesn’t need to be onerous. Read a few sentences or a short passage. Mull it throughout the day. Let it sink into your body and mind and work on you from the inside.

Step 3. Do good. Live your love and compassion through action. The world isn’t going to magically become more Just, Loving, and Compassionate. Prayer equals action. Each of us must do the work necessary to transform the world.

Look around and start local. Take action to address poverty, hunger, homelessness, oppression, racism, violence, hatred, environmental sustainability, etc. in your community. Don’t stop at Charity. Charity often only treats the symptoms. We want to heal the disease. Be proactive and work to transform the social structures that perpetuate social ills.

Step 4. Give thanks! Gratitude is transformative and healing. Many of us are awash in abundance and do not realize it. Spend a little time each day appreciating the many people and things that make life generally, and your life particularly, possible.

Change is hard. Be patient with yourself. Don’t give up. We need more compassionate and loving leaders who are rooted in deep and daily spirituality. Together, we can create a better world, a more caring and kind world. We can reduce suffering and violence and poverty. We just need to do the work and to hold tenaciously to — have faith in — the transformative power of lived love.

Peace, Paul

Radical Humility

November 13, 2017

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Being “Poor in Spirit” is often understood to mean, “being humble.”  This is not the affected humility of “polite society” with which we are all familiar. Rather, in this passage from Matthew, Jesus is describing a radical humility that opens us up to the “Kingdom of Heaven.” It is the experiential recognition that we are completely dependent upon others for our existence. Without the earth, the sea, the sky — the whole universe — we could not exist. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, are all the result of others’ work. Our body is a gift from our parents and the sustaining circumstances of life. Even our thoughts arise— usually unasked — from previous thought moments and experiences.

Radical humility deconstructs our personal and social myth of independence. It unmasks the lie of separateness! Radical humility reveals our total dependence on others.

While such a realization may be disheartening for some, within a religious context it is liberating. It is an experience of joyous gratitude, which is the heart of religious experience. All the little mundane moments of life are perceived as the gifts they are. Each moment is fresh and new. Humility allows us to rejoice in the simple pleasures of life: the air we breath, the water we drink, the love an support of friends and family. We discover Jesus’ “Kingdom of Heaven,” or Amida Buddha’s Land of Love and Bliss all around us.

What then do we do? Do we keep this joy and insight to ourselves or do we share it with others? Many choose the former. But in today’s challenging times we need people willing to live humble lives of overflowing gratitude. We need people willing to work to reify the “Kingdom of Heaven” — not through dogmatism or fundamentalism — but through loving and compassionate action. We need inspired visionaries working side by side to free the world from the evils of want, war, and discrimination.

The work begins, however, from a place of radical humility.  We start by recognizing our limitations and our dependence upon one another. No one is completely other or separate. No one can do it all. We are in this together.  Radical humility offers the key to spiritual and social transformation.

Therefore, may we all be “poor in spirit” and collectively discover the “Kingdom of Heaven,” in our hearts and in the world around us.

Peace, Paul