Activism and Buddhism


We have decided to include links to two articles by Paul Fleischsman in this newsletter. Both appeared in the Barre Center’s INSIGHT JOURNAL. One, printed right on the heels of 9/11, is titled, “The Buddha taught Nonviolence, not Pacifism”; the ideas presented offer possible ways of relating to the attacks on the World Trade Centers. The second was published several years later and is called, “The Buddha Did Not Teach Buddhism.” The author of these articles is a practicing psychiatrist and a teacher in the Goenka tradition of Insight Meditation. Interestingly, he has also written a book of poetry with the suggestive title, YOU CAN NEVER SPEAK UP TOO OFTEN FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS.

Our Monday night sitting group is reading a book called, “The Engaged Spiritual Life: A Buddhist Approach to Transforming Ourselves and the World,” by Donald Rothberg, in which the author weaves together basic spiritual teachings, real-life examples, social context, and exercises. I haven’t read the book; but a recent discussion with some who have led me to suggest that they take a look at these two articles, both of which have been important in my understanding of activism in light of the Buddha’s teaching. We then decided to share the articles with the larger group through the newsletter with the hope that Fleischman’s ideas would help all of us in our attempts to develop a wise understanding in regard to the challenging events and political confusions in our world today.

Election campaigns are underway in this country. Next year we vote for a president, ideally a relatively wise, informed leader to guide us. We all know personally the heat and undeniable stress of anger and fear in this process. What shall we do?

The final paragraphs of Fleischman’s second article have an abiding meaning in my life in this regard. He wrote: “Dhamma encourages wakeful, thoughtful, personal choices out of which we build our own and our society’s future. We can use Dhamma as our global positioning system, our self reflecting mirror and guide on our somber and creative human trek… At the applied level, the Vipassana meditation that the Buddha taught leads to direct contact with the vibrations at the subatomic matrix of the changing world – the vibrations of love and compassion, the vibrations of ignorance, hate, and fear. To fully walk the Path, we must jettison our clinging to views, our textual search for soothing answers, and plunge into … direct awareness of reality beneath transient forms….

“When we will learn perfect attunement to it, we will walk the Path as the Buddha did, vigorously nonviolent, relentlessly compassionate, palpably relevant to our times and to all times, and aware that we will still leave behind us the ongoing sorrows of the world.”

Sharon Salzberg is purported to have said, in relation to some past political turmoil: “This is samsara [i.e., a world fueled by greed, hatred and delusion]; it is not to supposed to work…”

Almost in the same voice, Sylvia Boorstein reminds us of a sign she once saw, posted on the wall of a retreat center: “Life is so difficult how can we be anything but kind.”

May we all find our way to this depth of kindness, towards ourselves as well as towards others, while at the same time working wisely, wholeheartedly, and steadfastly in the service of the lives of all beings.

“I don’t have a message. My message is my life.” (Ghandi)

“Continue with care.” (Buddha)

Peace and best wishes,

Links to the Fleischman Articles:

From Barre Center for Buddhist Study’s Insight Journal. The first was written immediately after 9/11 (Spring 2002 issue). The second in ’05. Both by Paul Fleischman.

The Buddha Taught Nonviolence, Not Pacifism

The Buddha Did Not Teach Buddhism

Previous Post
Reflections on Dhamma by Our Teacher
Next Post
Solitude and Sangha

Dharma Reflections Archive: