ENGAGED DIALOGUE: The Best Happiness Is Peace

The Buddhist Channel, Sept 29, 2014

"There is the inner tangle and the outer tangle. This generation is entangled in a tangle. And so I ask of Gotama this question: “Who can disentangle this tangle?” -- Buddhaghosa, Visuddhi Magga (Path of Purification) 5th century.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -- Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

OAKLAND, CA (USA) -- Engaged Buddhism asks each of us a provocative question. Can we take some difficulty challenging us right now, and find its correlative topic or theme in society … view it there as the same as within us, just on a different order of scale … and work on it in society, as well as ourselves, simultaneously, as one?  Healing yourself, healing others – the two are intertangled.

Ajahn Sulak Sivaraksa and Joanna Macy's dialogue, inaugurating the 2014 national gathering of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, shed light on such themes. And when the floor was open for questions, people's questions weren't abstract but, rather, concerns based out of working on real issues.

When the topic of capitalism came up, Ajahn referred to his latest book, The Wisdom of Sustainability. In his engaged Buddhist view, capitalism is a manifestation of  dukkha. So when we say a social system is predicated on unlimited growth, we need mindfulness so as to understand the cause.  Likewise, when he said America is ruled by corporations, it was like stating the three sides of an isosocles triangle each equal 90 degree. What might be less obvious to many is that one Coca Cola bottle, in some countries, can equal an entire day's wages 

Joanna Macy continued the thread. Instead of our taking arms against some disembodied evil, a problematic situation could be diagnosed in terms of the fundamental, universal Three Poisons, institutionalized. Si a consumer society is an institutionalized form of greed. Thus, publicly traded companies aren't necessarily citizen-centered. The people who work in them, particularly the COOs, must maximize profits, or they're out. But we don't need to view human beings who work in corporations as the enemy, but, rather, as in bondage, and so liberate them, and each other. At every stage, we can find our spiritual friends.

Ajahn asked aloud what would society look like beyond advanced capitalism? --Buddhist practice might be a preview. In that, you'd already be contented, as wealthy as any rich man. You'd practice dana, selfless generosity, as part of your friendly practice of metta.  You wouldn't be controlled by deceiving advertisements. You'd realize a car is a luxury – (in Holland, a private car is taxed) – and might bicycle, instead. In your simple lifestyle, you'd come back to your roots.

American government looks hard to change, Joanna Macy admitted. Yet there are grass roots alternatives all around. She pointed to Yes magazine ... the book America Beyond Capitalism, and the co-operative movement, as a few examples. Affirming this is a very exciting time, she likened it to the time of the Buddha, during the growth of the Ganges economy. 

A slogan of the Wobblies pertains to the engaged Buddhist approach: “forming the structure of the new world in the shell of the old.” It would waste time trying to dismantle the current structure. What's necessary is inventiveness, ingenuity, trust, spiritual community. As the world crashes around us, we don't have to look for card-carrying Buddhists, just people working for the same cause.

As to the actual work itself, she noted that one of the great social inventions of the 20th century has been the study group – joining people to learn what's happening in the world and to work together. [This writer was reminded of Everyday Democracy, as a contemporary instance.] She pointed to nuclear work as an apt topic, asking are we willing to contaminate the planet forever. It's caused so much suffering and loss that it's just too hard to take in alone as one individual. But one doesn't need to pull back. What ever one might think one lacks can be provided by brothers and sisters. And working together within a spiritual context also leads to honoring – and loving – one another.

Ajahn encouraged the gathering to honor the poor. And to work with NGO's. And not regard difficult people as bad, because we are all bad and good. “We must be homo sapiens,” he said, “not homo hipocriticus or homo economicus.” Encountering “difficult people” is a reminder to  learn to confront dukkha in real life. And, running up against power, we need to not see anyone as “enemy.” Rather we can thank them for showing us, by their actions, how much we love this earth. How would we have known otherwise how much we want to work with others for the preciousness of life.