[Engaged Buddhist social theory] holds that the traditional “three poisons” greet, anger, and ignorance do not apply only to individuals; these behavior patterns must also be analyzed and combatted as large-scale social and economic forces.
Kenneth Kraft, “Looking Ahead,” from Engaged Buddhism in the West
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about engaged Buddhism not only in the more obvious, social justice, Buddhist Peace Fellowship sense of the term, but also in the more everyday sense of remaining engaged with the world outside the hondo, temple, or off the cushion. I think I often take for granted that my continual harping on social justice issues around these parts is an expression of engagement. Reading the article quoted above just now, though, some explicit connection was made in my brain.
So there are problems. There really is discrimination, poverty, sexism, and homophobia in this country, no matter how much we would like to believe that these things are nothing more than ephemeral prapaÃ±ca, illusory delusions of the unenlightened. The fact that they are real means that there is suffering out there, that people cope in a variety of ways. Some of us write exceedingly long blog posts about it. And this one attempts to answer the question of why you should care.
There are those who wish this conversation would go away, who staunchly claim that “race is a construct” and that we, especially as Buddhists, should be “better than that.” I want to address that point of view. I want to answer the question of why I think that having this conversation is important for Buddhists, for Buddhists of a certain political persuasion, and for people in general.
A confluence of thoughts came to me last night while I was laying bed, staring at the ceiling and unable to sleep. I started thinking about that endlessly fascinating conversation we’re having about karma. And Claudia’s comment about samsara got lodged in my head.
I was out of town for most of this past weekend for some personal, family related issues. (That’s all you get, Internet! I don’t hang out all my laundry, dirty or clean!) So I’ve been out of touch with my usual online sources blogs, Twitters, etc., etc. But one thing did catch my eye, and it’s been rattling around my head for a couple of days now. Claudia, of the wonderful blog The Bottom of Heaven, twittered (tweeted?) the following:
Can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of Karma on a meta-level; was the Middle Passage “bad Karma”? Is this a question Buddhists ask?
At the risk of being permanently labeled “that guy who does nothing but bitch about what’s wrong with everyone else’s approach to Buddhism but rarely advances his own cogent ideas or practical solutions,” allow me to explain what I think multiyana would mean and how it could be put into practice and why I think it’s important or worth talking about in some sort of general way.
I’ve got a couple of self-promotional sort of things to say. And then I want I want to talk about what a big fat jerk I am.
Ah, the more things change. If we hop into the way-back machine, we’ll find this editorial to Tricycle magazine from 1991 wherein then editor Helen Tworkov writes, “so far, [Asian-American Buddhists] have not figured very prominently in the development of something called American Buddhism.” Nearly two decades later and not much has changed. The mainstream Buddhist press continues to talk about white converts to Buddhism as if they’re the only thing that’s happening out there in Buddhist America. I had a feeling this would get worse after the Pew Report. Ah well. Frankly, I’m not surprised and am even a little equanimous about the whole thing. Despite the fact that we just elected a
black mixed race President, looks like some folks just can’t wrap their heads about this whole “race” thing and why it’s relevant to Buddhism.
Last night, Dana and I had a hankering (that’s right, I said hankering) for one of our favorite dinners: bread and wine and cheese. (It’s not unhealthy; it’s European!) So off to Whole Food I went. The woman who rang me up didn’t charge me for the cheese. I realized this as soon as I walked away from her register, before I’d left the store. For a second, I thought about just taking off.