October 20, 2011

Buddha Buzz: Teacher Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

As Occupy Wall Street stretches over the one-month mark, Buddhists from around the blogosphere have been sharing their thoughts about it, and in quite a few cases, participating in the "occupation." These Buddhist voices at Occupy protests around the U.S. run the gamut from lay practitioners, to teachers, to entire sanghas: Nathan Thompson over at Dangerous Harvests has been blogging about his experiences with Occupy Minneapolis, and Maia Duerr has blogged about her participation occupying the present at Occupy Santa Fe. Professor Robert Thurman went down to Wall Street and gave a speech there, the Interdependence Project and other NYC dharma centers are trying to hold daily meditation sessions in Zuccotti Park, and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship has members protesting in New York and other American cities. As Chris Wilson, Board Chair of the BPF writes clearly in his post "Occupy & Arab Spring,"

What role should socially engaged Buddhists play in this nascent movement? They should support it.

Whether you've been down at the protests or not, or even agree with the movement, these protests have undoubtedly opened a clear window into the frustration and anger that so many Americans feel about our struggling economy and the reasons for all its woes. But as Bodhipaksa, who teaches at the Aryaloka Buddhist Center in New Hampshire, writes on Wildmind in a post that compares Occupy Wall Street to the Kutadanta Sutta (in it, King Mahavijit successfully rids his kingdom of robbers by distributing grain and money to his people, eliminating the motivations to steal), this anger is an opportunity to practice.

Some people may feel anger, and anger can be healthy. I’m not advising people to get angry, but it may happen and it’s natural. The thing is to handle anger skillfuly. Anger is energy, and handled properly our anger can lead us to accomplish much good. Listen to Martin Luther King, Jr., and you hear an angry man —one who helped transform a political system that was not working for all people, but only for those with white skins (and not even all of those). If the energy behind our anger (a desire to overcome injustice, for example) is handled properly, it can be used constructively. But if it’s not channeled properly, anger can turn into hatred. Anger doesn’t necessarily want to cause harm—it can just want to overcome an obstacle. Hatred wants to hurt people, and anger can turn into hatred. This is the danger that faces us.

How do we handle our anger? Anger needs to be experienced within the context of compassion. Compassion is a natural response to other’s suffering. Read some of the stories on We Are the 99%. Feel for those people. Then if you’re still angry, feel compassionately and angry. Let compassion soften your anger so that your desire to change things is “clean” and free from the desire to hurt, despise, or belittle. Let go of hatred. Despising the 1% isn’t going to help.

And James Ishmael Ford (Zeno Myoun, Roshi) has some poetic advice for us on his blog Monkey Mind on how to occupy our hearts:

Now this is for the poorest and the richest and everyone in between.
We must travel through the heart of greed and see in it the heart of love.
And along this way we all need to look to who we are, what we do, what we refrain from doing.
Well, only if we really want to find a cure for this common hurt.
Which will come only out of each of us seeing our uniqueness, our preciousness, and the uniqueness and preciousness of the other, and, and, how all of us are woven out of each other, and the world, and, indeed, the cosmos itself.
Intimate beyond words ability to describe.
Greed become love...
Seeing deeply into what we do and what we say matters in this world of intimacy.
And, then, acting from that place.
Just a word of advice from a friend on the barricades: occupy Wall Street. Occupy Paris. Occupy San Francisco. Occupy Providence.
And, occupy your heart.

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Hunterji's picture

THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS to justifiably protest against. But what, I ask myself, is the most fundamental, cross-cultural oppression – the “meme,” if you will — that gave rise to this rant against the great vampire squid called Corporatocracy? My guess: it has something to do with flawed community.

Thich Nhat Hanh once remarked that the next Buddha would, in fact, be a community. It’s a timely Aquarian age perspective that I cannot help but sympathize with. However, having spent a good portion of my life living hip-deep in these viscous group-mind experiments, I find myself substituting the phrase “compressed egos” whenever I hear those starry-eyed words, “intentional community.” For me, community without Sangha is nothing short of Orwellian.

Don’t get me wrong. The experience of community (including the squid-like, corpgov variety) is absolutely essential — not because of what it offers, but because of what it doesn’t. Disillusionment is the entire evolutionary point of utopian Aquarian experiments: it flips us fast into the next sign, Pisces. It kills off every last shred of hope in the possibility of horizontal, egoic harmony, sending us screaming into a more timeless, meditative way of relating.

Sound a bit harsh? Looking for a more graceful dawning? Good news. Astrology has a few tips.

Forget, for a moment, about the 12 astrological signs and replace them with six polarities. One of these tense, opposing pairs of archetypal opposites takes place between the signs of Leo and Aquarius. Leo rules individual leadership; Aquarius rules group leadership. No organization of egos escapes some bickering between these two principles and, alas, no amount of group-sensitive leadership or expertly guided consensus will ever relieve this tension. What is needed is not a Leo/Aquarius compromise but the birth of a nondual awareness in the members of the group such that flawed authority — be it autocratic or democratic — is met with compassion. This compassion springs from the realization that the closest we ever get to the experience of fairness and unity amidst all this “evidence of separation” is to see its dreamlike unreality.

What do modern egos of all stripes find most unforgivable and worthy of protest? Samsara: The born-to-fail dream of Aquarian egalitarianism; the unfairness and dysfunction of living as a separate self grasping at a world-saving ideal; the un-hushable, eerie siren call from our soul to move past our collective Kumbaya ambitions and embark on a subtler, steeper and more inward climb.

But what of the Occupy Wall Street movement?

Does it make any sense for the safe-at-home-in-the-heart-of-God part of us to protest against the corrupt corporate state? Hell yes! Ever heard of “flash mob meditations?” (See accompanying article: Pure Pisces Protest). God is the 100% and she has no problem advocating for the 99%… so long as waves of compassion also go out to the 1% — the legions of cozy, compartmentalized number-crunchers that unwittingly protrude, like amoral, instinct-driven tentacles, from the heart of the squid.

erric.solomon's picture