Engaged Buddhism

“Don’t turn away from suffering. Stay with it.
Something will occur to you to do, and it is very important that you do that thing.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen monk and peace activist

'Protect Immigrants' Vigil

Since its inception in the mid-1990s, Valley Insight has had a commitment to what is known as “Engaged Buddhism.” Among our early founders were political and social activists who had discovered peace of mind and a greater understanding of the world in the wisdom of the Buddha. In addition to increased mental clarity, we — somewhat surprisingly — experienced “hidden reserves of strength and energy that we didn’t know existed” (Bhikkhu Bodhi, 2010) through our committed and deepening meditation practice.

An involvement in social, racial, economic, and environmental justice issues has continued to be a part of Valley Insight’s collective spiritual development, as well as that of individual sangha members. For twenty-five years this relationship between our formal Dharma practice and our active presence in the world has helped to grow our sangha into a caring community, one that has relevance, to us as individuals and to those with whom we share this world — our families, friends, and the greater communities of which we are a part, locally and globally. Dharma teacher Gregg Kramer calls this approach “the Whole Life Path.” What we do in this world has an effect in the world and in our own hearts. Waking up happens everywhere. Altruism brightens our hearts.

Joel Lazar, a board member and activist, noted, “Our commitment to the Dharma informs and sustains our capacity to respond with greater mindfulness, compassion, resilience, and wisdom … Our activism, in turn, broadens and deepens the significance of our aspirations toward inner transformation. The Engaged Buddhism initiative offers opportunities and support to sangha members who wish to participate more fully in the justice activities of our time — racial, economic, gender, environmental, and more — as an essential dimension of greater personal and collective awakening.”

We believe one of our roles as an engaged Buddhist sangha is to support our community members in exploring how Dharma study and practice can help frame and stabilize our participation in activism and service. Many of our other initiatives focus on raising awareness within our group around specific issues of concern and on sharing information about the local opportunities for involvement. We understand that is important for us to work together with our friends and neighbors in the Upper Valley community and beyond.

Valley Insight Affinity Group

A group of activists within the sangha gathers monthly as an Engaged Buddhist practice group. After a time of silent meditation, there is an informal discussion where participants talk about their experiences and ideas about current issues within the frame of Buddhist understanding. They share their work and often inspire and support one another. At times, they work on a project together. For more information, or an invitation to these meetings, please contact Joel Lazar: joel.S.Lazar@dartmouth.edu or Doreen: doreen.schweizer@icloud.com.

Valley Insight Book Group

The book group meets bi-weekly to read and discuss a mutually agreed-upon work from our perspective as Buddhists. Thus far, our selections have been chosen because they correct the historical record and offer perspectives that are important counterpoints to a European-centric point of view. We’ve read Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson; Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi; and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Anyone can participate in the group but discussion of any one book is limited to 25 people. Joel Lazar, Joyce Mechling, and Karen Summer coordinate the group. For information, contact us: GreetingsfromValleyInsight@gmail.org.

Mailing List

We maintain an informal mailing list, primarily for people within the sangha or other local Buddhist groups, who are interested in learning about educational programs or direct actions related to social and economic justice issues, especially, but not exclusively those in the Upper Valley area and in the states of NH and VT. Please contact us at GreetingsfromValleyInsight@gmail.org if you’re interested in being added to this list.

Primary Initiatives

As a sangha, we’ve organized events, meetings, and other activities to help to educate ourselves and others about important issues, especially in ways that broaden our understanding of how the Dharma can bring additional depth and balance to our work in the world. Such a focus allows us to become more effective organizers and activists — without the ‘burnout’ and despair often associated with this type of work.

Here are some of the primary areas of focus over the past several years:

Climate Change

We recognize the existential threat of the climate emergency and have organized a number of ways for Valley Insight members to learn more about it and to develop ways to respond. In 2020, a number of us participated in Bhikkhu Analayo’s Mindfully Facing Climate Change course. In 2021, we sponsored an Eco-Sattva training, based on a curriculum developed by the nationally-based One Earth Sangha. For more information, contact us: GreetingsfromValleyInsight@gmail.org.

Racial Justice/White Awareness/Racial Affinity Group

Since the early 2000’s Valley Insight has had a sangha-wide commitment to inclusion and diversity. (Please see our policy.). For many years, we’ve offered classes, retreats, and programs on how White people can become more racially aware. In 2018, we hosted Dharma teacher Ruth King’s public talk on based on her book, Mindful of Race, which led to two study groups. A small group of people from these groups went on to form a racial affinity group within the sangha in 2019, and, in 2020, a larger group took part in Ruth King’s Mindful of Race yearlong international training cohort. This group continues to meet monthly. Since 2019, we’ve worked with the City of Lebanon, NH, and the Black Heritage Trail of NH to organize a public reading of Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” on the 4th of July.  For those who may wish to form a sangha-based racial affinity group, MoRE can offer information and support. For more information, Carol Rougvie: cbrougvie@gmail.com.

Immigrant Justice

A number of years ago, Valley Insight joined with 14 other faith communities in the Upper Valley as the United Valley Interfaith Project (UVIP). UVIP concentrated on direct action across lines of religion, race, class, and geography on immigrant rights, fair housing, aging with dignity, and other issues affecting the Upper Valley community. Actions included influencing local officials on various issues; activists training; vigils in support of immigrant rights outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices in Manchester, New Hampshire; and helping to shelter and feed undocumented immigrants locally. Some of these actions were conducted in partnership with other organizations, like the NH Immigrant Solidarity Network (NH ISN). UVIP officially dissolved in June 2021, but many of its programs are being continued by the Upper Valley Chapter of the Granite State Organizing Project and Valley Insight activists continue to be involved in their actions and those of other groups like NH ISN.

Prison Sangha

Since 2002, a group from Valley Insight has been traveling to the Northern NH Correctional Facility for Men, a state prison in Berlin, NH, to meet with inmates for an afternoon of Buddhist Dharma Study and meditation practice. Learn more about our Prison Sangha program and contact us at GreetingsfromValleyInsight@gmail.org if you would like more information.